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Revolution #136, July 20, 2008
What follows is a highly concentrated, though still developing, synthesis of some important trends in the world economy and inter-imperialist relations—and some of the manifestations of this in the structure, functioning, and posture of U.S. imperialism. Some illustrative, benchmark data are woven in.
This is a research essay about changes in global capitalist accumulation, newly emerging relations of strength among imperialist and regional powers, and the force of competitive pressures and tensions. It is about great-power rivalries in a world system based on exploitation. To use an analogy to the complex motions of large parts of the Earth’s crust and upper mantle, this is a discussion of shifting tectonic plates in the world economy: some of their longer-term movements and some of the more sudden and unexpected eruptions.
The analysis builds on the article “Financial Meltdown and the Madness of Imperialism”1 and is an application, focused on issues of world economics, of Bob Avakian’s conceptualization of this period as one of “transition with potential for great upheaval.”
THE WORLD SYSTEM DOES NOT STAND STILL
The U.S. remains the dominant, still hegemonic, power in the world. But it is facing heightened economic pressures and growing strategic necessity. Major transformations are taking place in the world imperialist system. Of central importance are shifts in the distribution of global economic power and the emergence of incipient constellations of geoeconomic and geopolitical power—that is, potential blocs of countries with growing capacity to challenge U.S. global dominance. China is a highly dynamic element in this equation.
These phenomena are interacting with other contradictions and conflicts in the world, especially the post-9/11 military offensive of U.S. imperialism and its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the difficulties it has been experiencing, and military threats against Iran.
The significance of new competitive challenges to U.S. imperialism will be missed if they are measured by the degree to which they present themselves as a mirror “counter-hegemony” to U.S. imperialism—militarily, economically, and institutionally. This is not what these challenges embody at this time. And though there are emergent elements of that, they are not concentrated in a single power.
No potential challengers to U.S. imperialism are seeking to go toe-to-toe with the U.S. militarily, or to confront it in a major way, in this current conjuncture. But the existence of these challenges (and challengers) means that U.S. imperialism has to look more and more over its shoulder.
U.S. imperialism is seeking to preserve and extend its supremacy against a backdrop of eroding economic strength and an increasingly fragile and unstable world financial architecture based on the privileged role of the dollar. And, importantly, this is occurring in a period of dynamic flux in the world system—in which new poles of power are appearing as cracks in U.S. global hegemony widen.
The collapse of the social-imperialist Soviet bloc in 1989-91 represented the most significant change in inter-imperialist relations since the end of World War 2. The creation of a new, more integrated geopolitical framework for capital accumulation contributed to the acceleration of a massive wave of globalization. This was facilitated by new technologies and consolidated under the U.S.-led project of neo-liberalism: privatization of government assets, opening up of markets to foreign capital, loosening of regulations over business, cutbacks in social spending and labor protections.
Leaps in the industrialization of world agriculture and the transnational integration of food production and transport have sped up the destruction of traditional agricultural systems in the countryside of the Third World. This has furthered a process of historically unprecedented urbanization focused in the Third World: the movement of populations from rural areas to cities, the breakneck growth of cities, old and new. For the first time in human history, more than half the world’s population lives in cities, with one billion people inhabiting the contemporary slums within and surrounding Third World cities. This is, as Mike Davis aptly put it, a “planet of slums.”2
Also arising, and unexpectedly, out of the particular resolution of contradictions concentrated in the collapse of the Soviet Union, but involving other factors as well, was a reactionary transnational Islamic fundamentalism that remains a real material and ideological force in the world.
Notes on Political Economy and “The New Situation and the Great Challenges” (published respectively in 2000 and 2002) present analyses of much of this.3
These developments are now interpenetrating with and being influenced by:
These phenomena are interpenetrating with and influenced by two closely connected developments. There is intensifying global competition for resources, fueled by the major industrial powers’ growing demand for energy, supplies of which are shrinking (whether or not the notion of “peak oil” is scientifically valid), and by rivalry to gain control over these resources. And global ecological stresses are approaching a tipping point beyond which it may not be possible for human society to counter long-term damage to climate and ecosystems, while the short-term effects grow more serious. Environmental stresses are impacting food production and price, population movements in response to natural disasters, and social stability—as in a country like Somalia that has suffered the combined effects of drought and lower crop yields, U.S. backed-invasion by Ethiopia, and institutional breakdown and urban chaos resulting in humanitarian crisis.
There are many different levels at which geoeconomic and geopolitical changes are taking place; and particular historical factors are operating. But these are not random trends and events. At the deepest level, what underlies these changes is the nature and logic of the capitalist system: the compulsion to expand and maximize profit to gain competitive edge; the blind, anarchic growth, and the short-term horizons of capitalism; and the inherent tension of a system in which production is highly socialized and globally interconnected, involving the interlinked and collective efforts of thousands and millions of wage-laborers, while the means of producing wealth, the wealth that is socially produced, and even knowledge itself are privately controlled and deployed by a small capitalist class.
II. SOME SALIENT POINTS ABOUT THE NEW ECONOMIC GEOGRAPHY OF THE WORLD ECONOMY
At the end of World War 2, the U.S. accounted for roughly 50 percent of world gross domestic product (GDP), and an even higher percentage of world manufacturing capacity. This reflected the historically specific outcome of World War 2: the rise to preeminence of U.S. imperialism and the destruction of much of the productive capacity in the imperial-industrial heartlands of Western Europe and Japan.
By 1960, the U.S. share of global GDP had fallen to 30 percent; today it stands at some 21 percent. The relative economic decline of U.S. imperialism dates back several decades—1968-71 is a kind of turning point, marked by the European challenge and abandonment of the gold-U.S. dollar standard. The emergence of Japan as an industrial-financial competitor, and major exporter of capital, in the 1980s marked another kind of turning point.
But what is different today is something even more seismic in magnitude and suddenness: China’s rise in the imperialist world economy. In 1976, socialism was overthrown and capitalism restored in China (following the death of Mao Tsetung and the arrest of the so-called “Gang of Four”).
The phrase “China’s rise” is both descriptive and analytic. China is not an imperialist power, but it is a growing and competitive world economic and geopolitical power in the world imperialist system.
The sheer size of China’s rapidly growing economy; its central place in the global accumulation process, as a destination of imperialist capital and axis of world manufacturing; its massive export earnings that have contributed to China’s central bank becoming the world’s largest foreign holder of dollars; China’s regional impact in East Asia and global reach (into Africa and South America, for example); and its rapidly expanding military capability—all this is having profound effects on world economic and geopolitical relations. And for reasons that need to be explored further, the baton of leadership for an East Asia-based challenge to U.S. dominance in the region seems to have passed from Japan to China.
A. The New Economic Geography
of the Planet
Table 1 measures one important aspect of the new economic geography of the planet: the share of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of different countries. GDP quantifies in money terms a given country’s output of goods and services in a given period, typically a year. From a Marxist perspective, the GDP measure is flawed and incomplete: it covers over the reality of exploitation, issues of equality and inequality, the environmental costs of production, etc.
But this measure is useful for getting some sense of economic performance, the distribution of global economic strength, how that has changed over particular periods, and how this might influence competition and rivalry.
Table 1 provides a useful portal into some important trends in the world economy.
The U.S. is still the single largest economy in the world capitalist system. But its economic supremacy is being eroded. Some time in the early 2000s, China eclipsed Germany to become the world’s third largest economy. Now it has overtaken Japan. And among the biggest five economies, China’s growth rate, 9 to 11 percent annually over the last 20 years, ranks first, with India not far behind at 8 percent in recent years—while the U.S., Japan, and Germany have been growing at 2 to 4 percent. China’s sustained high rate of growth is unprecedented in the history of capitalism.
China’s share of world manufacturing output rose from 4 percent in 1995 to 8 percent in 2005. In 2006, Germany had the highest share of world manufacturing exports (9.2 percent), followed by the U.S. (8.6 percent), with China in the third position (8.0 percent). 4
Moving on to another important measure of strength in the world economy: capital export, or capital that is invested by firms from one country in another country. Table 2 focuses on a key and very large component of capital export, foreign direct investment (FDI). This outward direct investment is capital invested by firms from one country in production facilities (like factories and mines) in the receiving country.
Five countries—the U.S., United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, and France—account for 50 percent of the stock of outward direct investment. In 1960, the U.S. alone held almost half of the world’s stock of outward foreign direct investment; its current share of world investment is in the range of 20 percent. Between 1960 and 1985, Germany and Japan substantially increased their share of accumulated outward world investment. Japan’s share continued to rise through 1990 but then declined sharply in response to internal slowdown and the East Asia financial crisis of 1998.
The European Union (EU) countries have maintained their share of the stock of total world outward direct investment, while the U.S. share has declined. And the EU is now the largest source of outflows of direct investment capital. All this takes on greater significance in a context in which the EU in the last few years has become a much more cohesive and integrated bloc with a currency that is vying with the dollar internationally. The EU has actually overtaken the U.S. as the biggest investor in Latin America. But the U.S. is still the single largest exporter of FDI. And it is, far and away, the single largest investor-country in Latin America. With NAFTA, it has welded a tighter regional network that also serves as a platform for world investment and rivalry.
These are all indications of a reduced international economic gap between the U.S. and other imperialist powers and competitive positioning.
In 2007, 167 of the largest 500 companies in the world were based in North America, 184 were based in the European Union, and 64 in Japan. Over recent years, the U.S. share of this total has declined.5
About 15 percent of the accumulated stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) is now in the Third World. But outflows of FDI to the Third World on a year-to-year basis have been rising as a proportion of total annual flows: in the range of 25 to 35 percent of the world total in the last ten years. Flows of capital to countries in the Third World have also been quite volatile at times—as in the movements of imperialist capital leading up, and in response, to the East Asia crisis of 1997-98.
Most foreign direct investment by imperialist countries goes to other imperialist countries. This has to do with several factors: the productive forces and national markets of the imperialist countries are more highly developed and afford a wider range of investment possibilities than in many Third World countries; investments often involve expensive buyouts, mergers, and takeovers of large enterprises; there is rivalry among imperialist corporations and powers to gain strong market positions inside highly developed national imperialist and continental markets; and, at the same time, some of this investment, like oil refineries, is linked to related investments in Third World countries.
On the other hand, a growing proportion of FDI in manufacturing is going towards the Third World, especially China. Rates of return on FDI in manufacturing in the Third World are generally, and often considerably, higher than in the developed capitalist countries. And overall profitability of investments in the Third World is influenced by the existence of subcontractoring networks that thrive on intense superexploitation—for instance clothing and parts and supplies produced in sweatshops.
Another signal development: the oppressed countries now, as Table 1 shows, account for 41 percent of the world’s output; this is up from 36 percent in 2000 (and less than 30 percent in 1990). This is mainly a product of China’s (and secondarily India’s) rapid growth as centers of imperialist-led accumulation. A great deal of material production is shifting to the Third World. And 80 percent of the Third World’s commodity exports by value are now manufactured products—a sea change from previous periods of imperialism.6
The so-called BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—represent 21 percent of the world economy. To be clear, this is neither an economically integrated bloc of countries like the European Union, nor an alliance of states (and one of these BRIC countries, Russia, is an imperialist power). Actually, the term was invented by the Western financial and investment community to designate large, high-growth and high-profit markets.
Nonetheless, there is some limited analytical validity to grouping these countries together: they are rapidly growing “emerging markets” for productive and financial investment; they are playing an increasingly important role in the world economy; they are either major producers or consumers of energy; and some are collaborating with others in various and significant ways, especially Russia and China.
At the end of the first Gulf War in 1991, of the 20 largest companies in the energy industry, 55 percent were American and 45 percent were European. But in 2007, according to a study by the financial firm Goldman Sachs, 35 percent of the 20 largest energy companies were from BRIC countries (and most of these companies are state owned), about 35 percent are European, and about 30 percent are American. Russia and Brazil are major energy producers.7
China and India, on the other hand, rely heavily on imports to meet their energy requirements. But China’s state-controlled energy companies are becoming major international players, as evidenced by the 2005 attempt by the Chinese oil company CNOOC to acquire the U.S.-based Unocal Corporation (which held extensive oil reserves in North America and Asia).
B. Ongoing Divide Between Imperialism and Oppressed Nations…But New Maneuvering Room for Some Third World Regimes
Energy producing countries in the Third World like Brazil, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Iran have not broken out of structural dependency on the imperialist world market—in terms of reliance on foreign technology; refining, marketing, and transport; etc.; extreme vulnerability to fluctuations in price; and so forth.
Accumulation of capital. The production of surplus value (the source of profit) based on the exploitation of wage labor; and the investment and reinvestment of profit by competing capitals on an expanding, cost-cheapening, and technologically more advanced (and productive) basis. This is a process, as Marx said, of the accumulation of wealth at one pole and misery and agony of toil at the other.
Capital export. The outward flow of investment capital from one country to another. Capital export consists of foreign direct investment in an existing enterprise of the host country or the building of new facilities (as when GM opens a factory in China), and other forms, such as bank loans, investments in stocks and bonds, etc.
Gross Domestic Product (GDP). A measure of a given economy’s production in a given period, usually a year. GDP includes goods and services. Various systems of price calculation allow for international comparisons of GDP.
Hegemony. The power over the world economy exercised by one state in a particular historical period through economic, political, military, financial, and cultural means.
Imperialism. The stage of development of capitalism as a world system of exploitation reached in the late 1800s. We live in the age of imperialism. Imperialism involves five key features: a) the dominance of monopoly (large, highly centralized, and powerful units of ownership and control) over the organization of production and distribution; b) the merging of banking and industrial capital into huge financial blocs; c) the central importance of the export of capital to overall profitability; d) the economic division of the world by large corporations, cartels, and the great powers into spheres of influence; and e) the complete territorial division of the world by the imperialist powers into colonies, neocolonies, and zones of influence, so that struggle between the leading imperialist powers will involve the re-division of the world.
Transnational. Refers to activities, movements, and organizations that span international boundaries. General Electric is a transnational corporation: with a home base in the United States, it operates in many different countries.
Oil- and energy-led development continues to have profoundly distorting effects on agriculture, urban-rural relations and social structure, and exacts a high human price. Venezuela under Chavez imports 70 percent or so of its food, while the landed oligarchy remains largely in place. The shantytowns in Caracas are still home to a huge concentrations of urban poor, many locked out of the formal economy.8 The “other side” of Brazil’s ethanol boom is the hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of injuries for the plantation workers harvesting the sugar cane from which the fuel is made (and U.S. companies like ADM and Cargill are major investors in Brazil’s agro-energy sector).
But for the local ruling elites, real economic power is concentrated in these spheres of oil, natural gas, and biofuels production. And a certain confluence of developments has afforded some dependent Third World regimes greater maneuvering room. U.S. imperialism has focused attention on its wars for greater empire in Iraq and Afghanistan. The steep, though by no means permanent, rise in raw materials prices has generated high earnings and some financial clout. And the fact that a rising economic power like China is pursuing its own competitive global agenda and has accumulated substantial financial resources to do so means that a country like Venezuela can counter certain U.S. pressures by turning to China for loans and credits.
The changing economic geography of the planet involves a major dispersion (globalization) of productive capacity. But “the world is not flat”—nor is it flattening. Advanced productive forces are still lopsidedly concentrated in the rich countries. GDP per capita in the rich countries is still more than five times higher than in what the International Monetary Fund calls “middle-income countries,” like Brazil, Mexico, and Turkey. GDP per capita in the rich countries is more than 19 times higher than in low-income countries, such as most in sub-Saharan Africa.9 Vast differences in wage levels and huge swaths of humanity subjected to brutal conditions of super-exploitation trace out and underscore the oppressor-oppressed nation divide.
Globalization is having contradictory effects. It is resulting in higher levels of industrialization in the Third World, and income gains for sections of middle classes. But this is not overall equalization. In this phase of imperialist globalization, one of its most significant differentiating effects has been to increase unequal development among and inequalities of wealth within Third World countries. China’s income distribution is among the most unequal in the world—right up there with that of the United States and Brazil.
The changing economic geography of the planet is also affecting world agriculture—to devastating and unequal effect in the Third World. Imperialism is transforming national systems of agriculture into globalized components of transnational production and marketing chains detached from local need—that is, food is grown more and more for export, not to feed people locally, or land is taken out of food production.
Where, historically, food production has been at the foundation of the economies of most of these countries, increasingly, agriculture is becoming less “foundational” to many national economies of the Third World. Food production has been swept into the vortex of speculative commodity and financial markets at the same time that imperialist-led agro-industrial cultivation of biofuels displaces food crops. Basic food staples are no longer being produced in adequate supply in many parts of the Third World—while the forces of world competition, imperialist control over new agricultural technologies, and the vagaries of world price further undermine food security.
And so in early 2008 a global food crisis unlike any experienced before in modern economic history exacts, and continues to exact, a terrible human toll in large parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This too is an expression of the deep divide between oppressor and oppressed nations.
2. Mike Davis, Planet of Slums (London: Verso, 2006). [back]
3. Revolutionary Communist Party, Notes on Political Economy: Our Analysis of the 1980s, Issues of Methodology, and the Current World Situation (Chicago: 2000, RCP Publications); Bob Avakian, “The New Situation and the Great Challenges,” Revolutionary Worker #1256, October 26, 2004, rwor.org/a/1256/ba-newsituation.htm [back]
4. U.S.-China Business Council, “U.S. Manufacturing: Dying…Or Still Going Strong,” uschin.org; World Trade Organization, International Trade and Tariff Data, Statistics Database, stat.wto.org/Home/WSDBHome.aspx?Language=E. [back]
5. Fortune, “Global 500 2008,” money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/global500/2008/index.html. [back]
6. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, “Manufacturing Trouble: UNCTAD Report Examines Emerging Tensions in the Trading System,” 2002. unctad.org. [back]
Revolution #136, July 20, 2008
This issue of Revolution includes the special supplement, “SHIFTS AND FAULTLINES IN THE WORLD ECONOMY AND GREAT POWER RIVALRY: What Is Happening and What It Might Mean,” by Raymond Lotta. This is the first of a series identifying and analyzing major changes in global economic, political, and strategic relations in the world.
We are encouraging readers to get this supplement (and the entire issue) out far and wide, in print and online. And we are encouraging discussions of this series, starting with this first installment, among circles of readers, and at Revolution Books outlets and stores.
The following points can help guide discussions of this first installment of this series:
Revolution #136, July 20, 2008
Iran’s Missile Tests:
On July 9 and 10, Iran conducted military exercises that included test firing a number of long- and medium-range missiles, as well as various rockets and torpedo launchers.
The U.S. imperialists and Israel immediately denounced Iran’s actions as “provocative” and “unacceptable,” as if they were the unprovoked acts of madmen bent on war in an otherwise peaceful region—a tone that was echoed in the U.S. media coverage which featured front-page and headline news pictures of Iranian missiles being launched.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Israeli rulers stepped up their own threats of war: “We are sending a message to Iran that we will defend American interests and the interests of our allies,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared. “We take very very strongly our obligations to help our allies defend themselves and no one should be confused about that.” (Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2008)
Israel’s Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, warned that Israel had “proved in the past that it won’t hesitate to act when its vital security interests are at stake....We must work towards an accord—but if not, then we must strike our enemy when it is required.” (Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2008)
But who’s the real aggressor here? Iran’s military exercises came in response to a whole history of U.S. imperialist aggression in the Middle East, years of threats of regime change, reports of U.S. military preparations for war, and rapidly escalating U.S. and Israeli military threats and maneuvers which point to a real and growing danger of a U.S.-Israeli military attack.
Provocations and Threats By the U.S. and Israel
Iran’s missile tests took place the day after the U.S. and Britain concluded their own naval exercises in the Persian Gulf—right off Iran’s shores. Yet there was no outcry in the imperialist media about those exercises, in fact one had to search the coverage to even find mention of them.
The U.S. and Britain claimed they were undertaking their naval maneuvers because Iran threatened to impede Persian Gulf shipping if attacked. Why did Iran make such a threat? In part, because in early June,Israel conducted a practice run—involving over 100 fighter planes and multiple-midair refuelings—for bombing Iran.
This is a very chilling threat. Israel is a country with 150 nuclear warheads, according to former President Carter, and its leaders and U.S. leaders have repeatedly stated that “all options”—i.e., nuclear weapons—are on the table.
And Israel is a country that has bombed other countries across the region—including Iran’s neighbor Iraq in 1981 and Syria last fall. Yet when Israel conducted its exercises—specifically practicing for bombing Iran—there was no international outcry, no denunciation of aggressive, warlike, and dangerous actions.
Iran has no nuclear weapons, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly acknowledged that its inspections have found no evidence Iran has been or is pursuing a nuclear weapons program, even as it demands Iran provide further information about its uranium enrichment program. And a number of imperialist military experts have downplayed the military significance of Iran’s missile launches, saying they did not signify any new development of Iran’s military capabilities, much less preparations for a “first strike” against Israel or U.S. forces in the region, but rather represented a warning that Iran would respond to any attack.
Yet Iran’s tests stirred U.S. and Israeli outcry. A White House spokesman declared Iran’s missile tests violated UN Security Council resolutions and demanded Tehran “stop the development of ballistic missiles, which could be used as a delivery vehicle for a potential nuclear weapon, immediately.” (Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2008) He failed to mention—as did the U.S. media—that Iran does not have any nuclear weapons, while the U.S. has thousands of nuclear-armed missiles and bombs, able to strike anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice.
In addition to using the Iranian missile test to ratchet up pressure on Iran, the U.S. used the Iran missile “crisis” to push forward its own aggressive military buildup, specifically for building a “missile defense” system in Europe. Such a system is widely understood by military experts to be part of a “first-strike” military capability—not a “defensive shield”—and mainly directed at Russia.
“U.S. Interests” Are Unjust, Imperialist Interests
Why is the Bush regime—and the whole U.S. ruling class, including the Democrats—making such a to-do about Iran and a few missiles?What are the “U.S. interests” that they claim to be “defending” in the region?
Control of the Middle East—and Iran is a key state in the whole region—has been crucial to U.S. imperialism’s ability to be a world superpower for decades. The region is a key geopolitical cross-roads and militarily strategic region. It’s home to 60% of the world’s oil reserves and controlling the energy spigot is a crucial means of shaping the world economy and exerting leverage on all who depend on oil. It’s also a source of enormous superprofits for imperialist capital as a whole. So U.S. domination of the Middle East is in service of enforcing its global domination.
For over 60 years, the U.S. imperialists have intervened overly and covertly in the region—militarily, politically, and economically -- to maintain this setup. They’ve installed and supported tyrants, threatened and waged war, and built Israel into a regional military garrison and strike force.
Iranians know this first hand. In 1980, the U.S. encouraged Saddam Hussein to attack Iran, sparking the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, one of the bloodiest ground wars since World War 2. In 1953, the U.S. CIA organized a coup that overthrew the Mossadeq government and put the ruthless butcher and torturer—Shah Reza Pahlavi—on the throne. Today, 55 years later, the U.S. is once again threatening Iran with “liberation.” And if Iran refuses “liberation,” there’s always “obliteration” as Hillary Clinton warned.
America’s so-called “war on terror” was launched after September 11, 2001 to further protect those interests—and specifically to recast the political and social terrain of the region in order to defeat challenges coming from both Islamic fundamentalist political trends and the U.S.’s imperialist rivals to those interests. Iran has been a target—and a prize—from the beginning. This is not because its reactionary theocratic rulers oppress the Iranian people; the U.S. has targeted Iran because the Islamic Republic is an obstacle to U.S.-enforced regional transformation in service of unchallenged global empire.
The difficulties the U.S. has run into in achieving these goals—including how the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have helped strengthen Iran and fuel Islamic fundamentalism—have only created greater necessities for the U.S. establishment to take down the Islamic Republic. This is why regime change has never been taken off the table and why the U.S. negotiating stance has been shaped to isolate and weaken Iran’s rulers and set them up for possible war—not simply resolve the nuclear enrichment issue.
Intensifying Trajectory of Confrontation and Possible War
Complex maneuvering—military threats and moves, political posturing and signaling, diplomatic negotiations—is rapidly taking place around Iran. Different scenarios are possible.Yet the deeper necessities and dynamics mentioned above are what is most fundamentally driving events.
This is the context for Iran’s missile tests—and the belligerent U.S.-Israeli response, which comes two weeks after Seymour Hersh’s revelation that the Bush regime authorized $400 million for covert operations to destabilize Iran, including by assassinating Iranians. All these are further signs of the intensification of the current trajectory of confrontation and preparations for possible war, and of the real and growing danger of a U.S.-Israeli military attack.
Only the People Can Stop War—Not Obama and the Democrats
It is being made clear—once again—that Obama and the Democrats will not do anything to stop such a war—in fact they are adding their voices to the war chorus—whatever tactical differences they may have with the Bush regime. Right now, the Democratic-controlled Congress is considering a bill (H.R. 362) that calls for stringent sanctions against Iran and enforcement measures that could lead to imposing a naval blockade, which would be tantamount to a declaration of war. And there are reports the Democrats are pushing this even more aggressively than the Republicans.
After Iran’s missile tests, Barack Obama released the following statement:
“These missile tests demonstrate once again that we need to change our policy to deal aggressively with the threat posed by the Iranian regime. Through its nuclear program, missile capability, meddling in Iraq, support for terrorism, and threats against Israel, Iran now poses the greatest strategic challenge to the United States in the region in a generation. Now is the time to work with our friends and allies, and to pursue direct and aggressive diplomacy with the Iranian regime backed by tougher unilateral and multilateral sanctions. It’s time to offer the Iranians a clear choice between increased costs for continuing their troubling behavior, and concrete incentives that would come if they change course.” (barackobama.com, July 9, 2008)
First, Obama is proceeding from a fully imperialist viewpoint: he repeats the same charges against Iran made by the Bush regime (which are a mixture of lies, half-truths, distortions, and “imperialist-speak”) and agrees with the overall ruling consensus that Iran is the main obstacle to continued U.S. dominance in the Middle East and so must be dealt with aggressively.
One of Obama’s criticisms is that current U.S. policy hasn’t been effective enough in weakening and isolating Iran and forcing it to agree to U.S. terms, so he’s proposing further “unilateral and multilateral sanctions” and “aggressive diplomacy” to do so. But these moves are first, acts of imperialist aggression. It was these kinds of imperialist sanctions and diplomacy that led to the death of well over 500,000 Iraqis during the 1990s. Second, they’re part of a package which includes military threats and preparations (and Obama also insists that “all options” remain on the table). In fact, Obama has stated that diplomacy, sanctions, and economic pressure are crucial to putting the U.S. in the best position if war becomes necessary.
Obama and his team do seem to have some differences with the Bush regime over how to deal with Iran, as well as broader issues of imperialist strategy. But these differences are over how to best manage a global empire, including waging and winning the overall “war on terror.” And everything Obama has done—and what he conspicuously has not done, like clearly oppose any U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran—shows that he will not put any serious roadblocks in Bush’s way if he decides to wage war.
So for any serious mass resistance to emerge against U.S.-Israeli aggression, interference, and possible war on Iran, people need to reject the terms of debate and discussion being insisted upon Obama, McCain, Bush, and the whole U.S. ruling class. That framework would have us judge everything—and act—from the viewpoint of supporting U.S. imperialist interests—U.S. dominance, U.S. interference, the U.S. military and its troops—and U.S. wars. But all this is thoroughly immoral, reactionary, and unjust. None of it—in any form -- is in the interests of the peoples of the planet, of the Middle East, or the vast majority living in this country.
The situation is very grave, very dangerous, and moving very rapidly. The time to resist any U.S. or Israeli aggression or attack is now—right now.
• • • • • • • • • •
See worldcantwait.org for information on
resisting war against Iran.
Revolution #136, July 20, 2008
Slowly, a nightmare picture is emerging of how U.S. imperialist armed forces and their South Korean allies massacred hundreds of thousands of civilians during the Korean War from 1950-53.
The roots of the Korean War lie in the division of the Korean peninsula into north and south by the U.S. and the Soviet Union at the end of World War 2, in 1945. The U.S. imperialists saw the southern half of Korea and the puppet regime they installed there as a major element in their plans to contain and perhaps wage war against the Soviet Union, and also as a step toward surrounding and threatening the People’s Republic of China, founded in 1949 after nearly 30 years of revolutionary warfare.
In 1950, when war between the north and south of Korea appeared imminent, the U.S.-installed president of South Korea, Syngman Rhee, imprisoned 30,000 people, accusing them of leftist sympathies. The puppet government also forced 300,000 peasants whose loyalties were questioned to join a state-sponsored “National Guidance League.”
After a year of provocations and incursions by South Korea, North Korean troops began advancing quickly into the south. Then, in the summer of 1950, as described in an article by Associated Press reporters Charles J. Hanley* and Jae-Soon Chang in May of this year, “the southern army and police emptied South Korean prisons, lined up detainees and shot them in the head, dumping the bodies into hastily dug trenches. Others were thrown into abandoned mines or into the sea. Women and children were among those killed. Many victims never faced charges or trial.” The South Korean armed forces, in full retreat at that time, committed wholesale executions of prisoners jailed for leftist sympathies that they feared would join the rapidly advancing North Korean troops.
These mass executions and others, said Hanley, “were carried out over mere weeks and were largely hidden from history for a half-century.” Alan Winnington, a communist journalist, covered the advance of the (North) Korean People’s Army for the London Daily Worker. In July 1950 he reported inspecting mass graves of approximately 7,000 prisoners in Daejeon, who, according to villagers he interviewed, had been summarily executed by the South Korean troops and buried by locally press-ganged peasants. Winnington was widely vilified for reporting this story, and the English Parliament considered charging him with sedition. His story has now been substantiated by recently released photos from the U.S. National Archives.
Historian Kim Dong-choon, a member of the two-year-old Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed in South Korea to investigate the massacres, said the massacres represent “the most tragic and brutal chapter of the Korean War.” The Commission estimates that at least 100,000 and probably closer to 200,000 people were executed, including many of those who had been forced to join the “National Guidance League” to be “re-educated” as a result of supposed leftist sympathies.
The key role of the U.S. in these mass killings is now coming more fully to light. Recently declassified U.S. documents and photographs reveal that U.S. Army officers were aware of these horrific slaughters and in some instances orchestrated them. According to a declassified U.S. State Department cable, General Douglas MacArthur, who commanded the U.S. forces in Korea, viewed the killings as “an internal matter”—meaning these were independent actions of the South Korean armed forces—but in fact he commanded not only the U.S. but also the South Korean armed forces.
Mass indiscriminate killing of civilians was the doctrine of the war and not an aberration. U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay boasted that U.S. planes had “burned down every town in North Korea” and killed 20 percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war or from starvation and exposure. U.S. armed forces used more bombs and artillery shells in Korea than in all of World War 2, and used napalm against military and civilian targets. An estimated 5 million people were killed in the war, 3 million of them civilians, a huge human cost out of a total population of 30 million in North and South Korea at that time.
The Commission is investigating 215 cases in which the U.S. military is accused of killing South Korean civilians indiscriminately, along with 1,200 cases of mass executions charged against the South Korean armed forces in petitions filed by 7,000 South Koreans.
One such U.S. massacre occurred on July 26, 1950, in and near the village of No Gun Ri [also spelled Nogun-ri], where hundreds of civilians, mainly women and children, were killed.
The U.S. commander, concerned that North Korean soldiers disguised as civilians might try to infiltrate U.S. lines by joining refugee columns, told his troops that all civilians seen in the area “are to be considered as enemy and action taken accordingly.” One witness said that Capt. Melbourne Chandler said to his soldiers in No Gun Ri, “the hell with all these people. Let’s get rid of all of them.”
Some soldiers reportedly refused to shoot at those one described as “civilians just trying to hide.”
Eun-yong Chung, a representative of the Nogun-ri Victims’ Organization, related what happened during the incident: “We were ordered by U.S. army, ‘Everybody, come together! We will escort you to the safe place.’ Following the order, we, local villagers, walked the road in the dark night, leading ox-carts, with children on our backs. About noon of next day, July 26, when our refugees’ march arrived at Nogun-ri area, 5-6 GIs blocked our way. They brought all the people and ox-carts onto parallel railroad tracks. After fully investigating all of us, they spoke to someone by radio. We Korean refugees didn’t know why. There we took a rest for a while.
“About that time, two U.S. airplanes flew over us. At that moment the GIs disappeared, something black fell down on us and exploded among the refugees. It was like a storm, with clouds of dust and pieces of rock bursting into the sky. The bloody pieces of bodies and oxen were all around. The rest of people alive ran into the tunnel under the railroad trestle [Editors’ note: U.S. air attack caused 100 dead before a shot was fired at the bridge].
“GIs [of H Company of the 2nd Battalion, 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment] aggressively pushed the rest of the scattered refugees into the tunnel. The refugees felt they were suffocating because of compacted mass of people within two narrow tunnels. Since one woman couldn’t endure the suffocation, she came out of the tunnel. On that spot she got shot and fell down. From the opposite side of the tunnel, firing began. GIs set up machine guns on both sides of entrance and fired on us.
“As the time passed, dead bodies were piled up in both entrances and the stream of blood abounded within the tunnel. In such way massacre continued for four days. When NKPA arrived there, they said, ‘the U.S. Army is gone! Any person alive can return to your home now!’ But, the cold corpses were silent.” [Quoted in “Rethinking The Nogun-ri Massacre on the 50th Anniversary of the Outbreak of the Korean War,” by Sung Yong Park, a minister of the Korean Methodist Church and a Representative of Philadelphia Branch of the Congress for Korean Reunification, cited at kimsoft.com/1997/nogun13.htm]
On the very day of the massacre, John J. Muccio, the U.S. Ambassador in Seoul at the time, cabled the State Department that the U.S. military command had adopted the policy in a meeting the night before of shooting approaching civilians: “If refugees do appear from north of U.S. lines, they will receive warning shots, and if they still persist in advancing they will be shot.” The cable was acknowledged by the State Department just last year.
Soldiers are expected to take “due precautions” to protect civilian lives, said Francois Bugnion, director for international law for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, in 2006. After reading Ambassador Muccio’s 1950 letter, Bugnion said the standard on war crimes is clear. “In the case of a deliberate attack directed against civilians identified as such, then this would amount to a violation of the law of armed conflict.”
Other instances of indiscriminate killing by U.S. armed forces in Korea now confirmed by declassified U.S. documents include: U.S. planes firebombing civilians trapped in a cave, killing 300; the destruction of two bridges as refugees streamed across them, killing hundreds; the Navy destroyer USS DeHaven, at the Army’s request, firing on a refugee encampment in the city of Pohang, killing 100 to 200—mostly women and children—according to survivors.
These monstrous crimes committed by U.S. imperialist military forces, and similar heinous acts carried out by the imperialists’ South Korean allies, loom as a dark shadow over the same kinds of savage U.S. military operations now going on against innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. And now these forces have the Iranian people in their murderous crosshairs.
* Hanley and co-authors Martha Mendoza and Sang-hun Choe won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for their AP article breaking the No Gun Ri story and published their book, The Bridge at No Gun Ri: A Hidden Nightmare from the Korean War, in 2001.[back]
Revolution #136, July 20, 2008
At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, two Black athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos thrust their fists in the air on the victory stand in a symbolic gesture against the oppressive treatment of Black people. Forty years later, on July 16, they will be the recipients of the Arthur Ashe Courageous Award at the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles.1 The Awards will be televised on Sunday evening, July 20. Previous recipients of this award include Billie Jean King, the tennis player who fought for equality of women in tennis, Cathy Freeman, the Australian 400 meter Olympic champion, who struggled for aboriginal rights, Muhammad Ali, and Kevin and Pat Tillman. Pat was the pro-football player who was killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire and Kevin, his brother, who opposes the crimes of the Bush regime and fought to expose the government cover-up of the incident when his brother was killed.2
This is the story of why Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists at the 1968 Olympics and the significance of this historic stand.
* * * * *
It was 1968.
One of those times where it seemed like a whole century of events gets crammed into a few months or even weeks.
Black neighborhoods across the U.S., smoldering with discontent, burst into flames of rebellion. Across the ocean, students in Paris shut down the university. Chicago police attacked protesters at the Democratic National Convention. National liberation struggles raged in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in socialist China was in full swing. Headlines reflected intense conflict, winds of change, and sky high dreams. The Vietnam War... the assassination of Martin Luther King... The Black Panthers... hundreds of thousands demonstrating against poverty, war, racism, and women’s oppression.
It was on this backdrop that Tommie Smith and John Carlos stepped onto the stage of history and made their mark.
It was as part of this whole struggle for a better world that these two men took a courageous stand that today, 40 years later, is something to remember, cherish, and learn from.
Taking a Stand in Speed City
As star sprinters, for Smith and Carlos it was all about speed. They were not only tremendous athletes, but their whole style reflected the attitude of the times—sporting shades as they sprinted around the track. Both men were world-class athletes: Smith held 11 world records simultaneously, including in the 200 and 400 meters, some individually and some as a member of a relay team. John Carlos, at one point, held the 100-meter world record.
Tommie Smith was the seventh in a family of 12 children, growing up in Clarksville, Texas. His father was a sharecropper and Tommie got strong working in the fields. He remembers, as a kid, going to the store to buy ice cream and getting harassed by white racists who told him to “go back to the jungle.”
John Carlos grew up in Harlem and got involved in civil rights and became an activist at a very young age. In high school he was already a track star and got a scholarship to East Texas State. He tells how, “About two minutes after I got there, I noticed that my name changed from John Carlos to Boy.”
The two men ended up going to school at San Jose State College (now San Jose State University) in California. They joined what became known as “Speed City’’—named for the collection of world-class sprinters trained by the innovative coach, Lloyd C. “Bud” Winter. It was here that athletes, both Black and white, helped form the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), which included athletes trying to make the 1968 Olympic team.
The OPHR’s founding statement pointed out that “the oppression of Afro-Americans is greater than it ever was” and the athletes attempted to form a boycott of the Olympics in order to advance their demands. Three key demands were: (1) “Restore Muhammad Ali’s title” that had been removed because he refused to go into the army and fight in Vietnam,” (2) “Remove Avery Brundage as head of the U.S. Olympic Committee” because he was a white supremacist and a Nazi sympathizer, and (3) “Disinvite South Africa and Rhodesia” in order to support the black freedom struggles in these apartheid states.
When the International Olympic Committee decided not to allow South Africa and Rhodesia in the Olympics, many of the Black athletes decided not to boycott the Olympics, but began to look for other ways to protest.
As Smith and Carlos, along with others, prepared for the 1968 Olympics, controversy continued to swirl about whether there would be—and whether there should be—forms of protests by Black athletes at the games. Things divided out sharply. Some Black athletes were saying that they didn’t want to make such a sacrifice, that they really wanted to get a gold medal. While others argued that the times demanded—and this was an opportunity to make—a strong statement to the world about the condition of Black people in the United States, even if this meant jeopardizing your scholarship or career.
This was the spirit of the times. These were the kinds of big questions lots of people, especially the youth, were confronting: What was your life going to be about? Were you going to just “look out for number one”? Or was your life going to count for something bigger? Were you going to just try and etch out a life for yourself in this messed up society? Or were you going to stand with the people of the world and join the struggle for liberation?
The very idea of Black athletes taking such a defiant, rebellious stand elicited angry reactionary responses and ugly threats. Athletes involved with OPHR received death threats and hate mail. And Avery Brundage, the president of the International Olympic Committee who was an open racist, publicly stated: “I don’t think any of these boys will be foolish enough to demonstrate at the Olympic games and I think if they do they’ll be promptly sent home.”
At the same time, the strong stand by OPHR put a real pole out in society. And their cause got a lot of support and attracted people in society very broadly who saw this as part of the overall struggle for a more just society. That summer, leading up to the Olympics, many people started wearing the Olympic Project for Human Rights button as a way to show mass support and say to the world that this really mattered.
Victory and Defiance in Mexico City
October 2, ten days before the Games opened, the Mexican security forces massacred hundreds of students in Mexico City who were occupying the National University. When athletes arrived in the city for the Olympics, the government wanted to give an image of order and control and the Olympic Stadium was completely surrounded by armed soldiers. (See “The Year of the 1968 Olympics: A World of Struggle and Turmoil,” online at revcom.us.)
Among the Black athletes there was a lot of tension and anticipation about what was—or wasn’t—going to happen. Larry James, who won the Silver Medal in the 400 meter race, expressed what many of the Black Olympic athletes were thinking when he recalled: “When you go to the games you take yourself with you and what you do and how you do it is going to have an impact.”
The performance of the United States men’s track team was astounding. They won 7 of 12 gold medals and smashed five records. Tommie Smith and John Carlos finished first and third, respectively, in the 200 meters with Smith setting a world record.
The moment came when they were getting ready to take the victory stand. They were still trying to figure out what to do. At the last minute, they decided to put on black gloves. Peter Norman, the second place winner from Australia, wore an OPHR button on the victory stand. Norman later recounted, “I believed in human rights, I believed in what these two guys were about to do.”
Smith and Carlos stood on the stand with no shoes, their feet only in black socks. As the national anthem began, both bowed their heads and raised their fists, covered with the black gloves, in the air. Tommie Smith had a black scarf around his neck and John Carlos wore beads.
Smith later recalled, “The black fist in the air was only in recognition of those who had gone, it was a prayer of solidarity, it was a cry for help by my fellow brothers and sisters in this country, who had been lynched, who had been shot, who had been bitten by dogs, who water hoses had been set on, a cry for freedom. You could almost hear the wind blowing around my fist.”
The entire world saw this cry for freedom.
These two men courageously put the struggle of the people ahead of their own personal interests. And the power of their simple but profound gesture tremendously inspired people—then, and ever since, for the last four decades.
Immediately afterwards, in an interview with Howard Cosell, Smith explained the symbolism in their protest: “My raised right hand stood for the power in black America. Carlos’s left hand stood for the unity of black America. Together, they formed an arch of unity and power. The black scarf around my neck stood for black pride. The black socks with no shoes stood for black poverty in racist America. The totality of our effort was the regaining of black dignity.”3
John Carlos, in a recent interview with Dave Zirin, said, “The beads were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed that no one said a prayer for, that were hung tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage. All that was in my mind.”
The International Olympic Committee board met the very next morning. They threatened to disqualify the whole track team for the remainder of the games. The decision was made to send Smith and Carlos home and ban them from the Olympic games for life.
The press was relentless with their attacks on Smith and Carlos. The Los Angeles Times accused them of a “Nazi-like salute.” Time Magazine changed the Olympic motto to “Angrier, Nastier, Uglier.” Sportscaster Brent Musburger called them, “Black-skinned storm troopers.”
Despite the fact that they were being attacked broadly for what they did, Smith and Carlos had many supporters, including the Olympic Crew Team, all white and entirely from Harvard, who issued the statement: “We, as individuals, have been concerned about the place of the black man in American society in their struggle for equal rights. As members of the U.S. Olympic team, each of us has come to feel a moral commitment to support our black teammates in their efforts to dramatize the injustices and inequities which permeate out society.”
Once back home, the two athletes received more than 100 death threats each. Both found it difficult to get a job. John Carlos said in an interview with Dave Zirin, “We were under tremendous economic stress. I took any job I could find. I wasn’t too proud. Menial jobs, security jobs, gardener, caretaker, whatever I could do to try to make ends meet.”
To the masses of oppressed people and others who hate the way things are in this country and in the world, Smith and Carlos were heroes because they took responsibility for telling the world the way things are and they never backed down from that stand.
In his autobiography, Silent Gesture, Tommie Smith answers the question why it is important for celebrities to speak out on social and political issues. He says, “…if you are one of the world’s greatest in a particular field, as I was in athletics, you have an avenue, and you have a responsibility to use it, especially if you have something to say about society and how people are treated, people who are not in the position to say it themselves or who don’t have the ability to say it.”4
In 2002 Erik Grotz, a white student at San Jose State, organized to raise funds for a statue of Smith and Carlos when he found out about them and that they attended the school. “I couldn’t understand why the campus didn’t acknowledge their efforts as student activists,” said Grotz. “It would be an inspiration to other students. It would prove to them they can make an impact now.”
The 20-foot statue of Smith and Carlos on the victory stand was unveiled in October 2005. The second place spot on the podium, where Peter Norman was standing, was left open, so people could stand there to have their pictures taken with Smith and Carlos. Norman attended the unveiling, where he continued to support what Smith and Carlos had done 37 years prior. Norman was vilified when he returned to Australia after the 1968 Olympics for wearing the OPHR button on the medal stand. He, too, was not able to find a job, and when the Olympics came to Australia in 2000, he was not allowed to be a part of any events, despite the fact that he was one of the greatest Olympic sprinters ever.
Norman died in 2006, and Smith and Carlos, who continued to stay in touch with Norman throughout the years, were pallbearers at his funeral. About Norman, John Carlos said, “At least me and Tommie had each other when we came home. When Peter went home, he had to deal with a nation by himself. He never wavered, never denied that he was up there with us for a purpose and he never said ‘I’m sorry’ for his involvement. That’s indicative of who the man was.”
1968 was a high tide of struggle against the oppression of Black people in this country, and what Tommie Smith and John Carlos did at the Olympics is one of the greatest symbols of this struggle. In today’s world acts of courage, like what Smith and Carlos did, stand out and really do make a difference. And there is a real need, now more than ever, for people to follow such footsteps—to dare to go against the tide, defy the oppressive status quo and fight to bring about revolutionary change.
To be recognized as the recipients of the Arthur Ashe Courageous Award just brings that point home, and Tommie Smith said it well at the unveiling at the statue where he expressed being proud of the past, but also acknowledging the challenges before us. “I don’t feel vindicated,” Smith said. “To be vindicated means that I did something wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong. I just carried out a responsibility. We felt a need to represent a lot of people who did more than we did but had no platform, people who suffered long before I got to the victory stand....We’re celebrated as heroes by some, but we’re still fighting for equality.”
Tommie Smith and John Carlos never got the pro contracts or the big endorsements. They didn’t “get paid” off their tremendous victory. Instead, they used their moment in the limelight to make a powerful statement about justice... and to move forward the struggle for liberation.
The powers-that-be made them pay dearly for standing up.
But they’ve never renounced it. They’ve never backed down. They’ve never apologized.
Was it worth it? Worth it to sacrifice so much to strike a blow for freedom?
Well, ask yourself this: Who does history remember? Who do the masses cherish?
The ones who go for self?
Or those who take a stand for the people, no matter what the cost?
Arthur Ashe was the first Black tennis player to win the U.S. Open Tennis championship in 1968 and the Wimbledon title in 1975. He was the first African-American player named to the U.S. Davis Cup team and later was appointed captain of the Davis Cup team.
In 1983, along with Harry Belafonte, he founded Artists and Athletes Against Apartheid, which worked toward raising awareness of apartheid policies and lobbying for sanctions and embargoes against the South African government. In 1985, he was arrested outside the South African embassy in Washington during an anti-apartheid demonstration. He was also arrested during a protest against U.S. policy toward Haitian refugees outside the White House.
He contracted AIDS after he received an HIV infected blood transfusion following bypass surgery. In his memoir, Days of Grace, he wrote, “I do not like being the personification of a problem, much less a problem involving a killer disease, but I know I must seize these opportunities to spread the word.” In the last year of his life, he founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS, which raised money for research into treating, curing and preventing AIDS, the end goal being the eradication of the disease.
On February 6, 1993 Arthur Ashe died of AIDS-related pneumonia in New York at the age of 49. His funeral was attended by nearly 6,000 people. The U.S. Tennis Association named the center stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center the Arthur Ashe Stadium. [back]
2. See Revolution #68, November 5, 2006, “Kevin Tillman and the Killing Lies of the U.S. Army.” [back]
3. Silent Gesture: The Autobiography of Tommie Smith, Tommie Smith with David Steele, Temple University Press, 2007, p. 173. [back]
4. Silent Gesture, p. 38. [back]
Revolution #136, July 20, 2008
The Year of the 1968 Olympics:
The year of the 17th Olympic Games, 1968, was a year when the dream of achieving an emancipatory society through revolutionary change ricocheted around the world. It was a year when millions across the planet leapt into mass rebellion against the old order.
National liberation struggles raged in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in socialist China was in full swing, and provided a living testament that the oppressed people could wrest power from the hands of the capitalists and fight to continue on the revolutionary road toward communism.
In Viet Nam, after months of intensive carpet bombing by the U.S., fighters of the Vietnamese National Liberation Army emerged from tunnels and showed a glimpse of the future defeat of the most powerful military machine in the world by a peasant army. And all around the world, including right inside the belly of the U.S. beast, there was an upsurge of mass protest against the war.
In the U.S., in response to the murder of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. an unprecedented uprising of Black people shook the system to its foundations and gave great heart to the people of the world. Street battles raged in 160 cities in 28 states at the same time. For the first time since the Civil War, troops were sent to guard the seats of power; machine guns were set up on the Capitol balcony and the White House lawn as the rebellion in Washington, D.C., raged 10 blocks from the White House.
May Day in Paris saw a huge uprising of youth. Students took over universities and secondary schools all over France. Demonstrators set up barricades in the streets and fought the police. And people all over the world followed the events, which went on for days. The protests spread to workers who launched a series of strikes—more than 10 million workers seized hundreds of factories, mines, shipyards, and government offices, in a month-long general strike. The capitol city of Paris was paralyzed and the whole country was in turmoil. Just six months earlier, the president of France, General Charles de Gaulle, had declared that it was “impossible to see how France today could be paralyzed by crisis….”
Mexico had been chosen by the International Olympic Committee, headed up by the U.S., to be the first Third World country ever to host the Olympic Games. But at the end of July, just two months before the Olympics were set to start, a student rebellion erupted with a speed that shocked the government and ignited the broader masses (for more detail see “Upsurge and Massacre in Mexico 1968”, Revolutionary Worker #975-977). A new sports arena had been built for the Olympic Games in the middle of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) but suddenly the students were in revolt and had taken over the university, shouting “We don’t want Olympic Games, we want revolution!” 13,000 army troops were sent to occupy the campus. Student brigades invigorated the masses across the city with creative street theatre, engineering students designed balloons that burst at a certain height and rained leaflets on everyone below. “Each day brought news of clashes between granaderos (anti-riot police) and students in different parts of the city; or of lightning meetings in the doorways of factories, of street gatherings, of manifestos published in El Día…In those days, everyone opened newspapers with real eagerness; the student movement managed to infect even the most indifferent…” (Elena Poniatowska, “The Student Movement of 1968”) Unity was forged with peasant communities, railroad workers and the strategic oil industry workers, and even government bureaucrats mobilized to oppose the students rebelled against the PRI instead. The revolt threatened to spread deeper among the workers and oppressed masses at a strategic moment for U.S. imperialism which needed these Games to showcase the “economic miracle” of U.S. imperialist investment in Mexico, in contrast to the national liberation struggles shaking their rule in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Mexico’s PRI regime was a U.S.-controlled “model of stability.” Mexico City housed the largest CIA headquarters in the hemisphere and the U.S. CIA was actively involved in organizing the Olympics and worked closely with the Mexican government to provide crucial intelligence on the movement. Luis Echeverria who was head of the Interior Ministry and would be the next president of Mexico was a CIA informant and the direct organizer of the massacre. Two days before the fateful night of October 2, top officials of the CIA flew into Mexico City from the U.S. to meet with the CIA station chief and it was very likely then, just 10 days before the Olympics were scheduled to open on October 12, that the final bloodthirsty decision was made to unleash death and terror against the protest movement and the 70,000 inhabitants of the huge apartment complex of Tlatelolco.
On the evening of October 2, the students held a rally of 10,000 people in the Plaza de Tres Culturas in the center of the enormous apartment complex. The plaza was surrounded by 5,000 army troops, police and tanks. At 6:10 p.m. the rally was about to disperse when suddenly a lightning-like signal flare lit up the sky and police helicopters opened fire on the people below. Elite undercover Olympic security police called the “Olympia Battalion” had infiltrated the students and the buildings surrounding the plaza. Each member of the battalion wore one white glove as identification to other security forces. Machine guns shot into the crowd for 20 minutes or longer from both sides of the plaza. There was no escape. Many banged on the church doors but were denied entrance. Tanks opened fire on the apartment complex. News reports listed 325 killed in the massacre with 1500 taken prisoner. Other reports state that at least a thousand were killed and hurled into the sea, and students imprisoned in Military Camp #1 reported that the smell of bodies being incinerated wafted into their cells.
Ten days later while students in Military Camp #1 were beaten and tortured, the Olympic ceremonies opened in a flutter of white doves freed from their cages as a nauseating symbol of peace. Family members of the disappeared doggedly searched the prisons and morgues for missing loved ones. Tanks rumbled past billboards in a dozen languages proclaimed “Everything is possible with peace.”
All this, a world of struggle and turmoil—and millions of people throughout the globe with new dreams of a better world—set the stage for the dramatic stand that Tommie Smith and John Carlos took at the victory stand in the 1968 Olympics. (See “Striking a Blow for Freedom—The Courageous Story of Tommie Smith and John Carlos,” Revolution #136, July 20, 2008)
Revolution #136, July 20, 2008
Revolution #136, July 20, 2008
New Wiretapping Law:
On July 10, George Bush signed into law a bill passed by Congress that gives the government official power to spy on telephone calls, emails, and other communications by people in the U.S. without warrants. The law, known as the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, basically legalizes the warrantless wiretapping program, conducted by the super-secret National Security Agency (NSA), that the Bush regime began doing on a massive scale shortly after 9/11, in violation of the existing laws. And it gives immunity to telecommunication companies from lawsuits charging them with abetting that illegal operation—a move that prevents people from suing these companies, but beyond that is designed to cover up the extent of government illegal spying.
FISA is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was passed in 1978 by Congress after the exposure and protest against the government’s rampant wiretapping, break-ins, and other political police actions against a wide range of people in the mid-1970s. In part, objections to these operations were raised by forces within the ruling class who were themselves being spied on and the target of secret government operations. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, in speaking out against the renewal of FISA with the provision forbidding lawsuits against communications companies, said that “Through the COINTEL Program, Hoover spied on Americans who objected and spoke out against the war in Vietnam—which pretty well involved 100 percent of the Vermont delegation in Congress.” FISA provided some controls over that kind of thing, while giving free rein to American intelligence agencies to spy on foreign governments and foreign “agents”—and requiring warrants for wiretapping of “U.S. persons,” meaning citizens and legal residents. The secret court set up under FISA almost always gave the green light to surveillance warrants. In 2004, for example, the government’s own figures show that none of the 1,758 wiretap warrants was denied by the FISA court.
But the Bush regime decided, in secret, that even FISA and its court, which operates behind closed doors and had basically acted as a rubber stamp for government spying requests, put too much restriction on how freely and widely the government could snoop on people in the U.S. (and allowed for too much risk of secret government spying coming to light through “paper trails”). Right after 9/11, the White House launched the covert NSA wiretapping program that totally bypassed FISA, allowing surveillance to be carried out without even formal warrants.
Massive and Unprecedented Spying
It is important to understand the unprecedented nature and scope of the big brotherization of U.S. society through secret surveillance of people’s communications that has been taking place for years. Developments in technology have created the basis for this government to carry out very widespread surveillance and collection of phone calls, emails, and other electronic communication on a scale not seen before in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world. Some of this was brought out by former AT&T technician Mark Klein, who has spoken out publicly about the existence of a secret room at the telecommunication company’s San Francisco office, which was reserved for the National Security Agency (NSA).
When the NSA warrantless wiretapping program became public in 2005, the Bush administration defended the illegal spying by saying that it was a part of the “war on terror” and claimed it was directed at Al Qaida. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales declared, “As the President has said, if you’re talking to Al Qaida, we want to know it.” But the AT&T whistleblower revealed that the target was much broader. Klein, as described in the Washington Post, “alleged that the NSA set up a system that vacuumed up Internet and phone-call data from ordinary Americans with the cooperation of AT&T. Contrary to the government’s depiction of its surveillance as aimed at overseas terrorists, Klein said, much of the data sent through AT&T to the NSA was purely domestic. Klein said he believes that the NSA was analyzing the records for usage patterns as well as for content.” According to Klein, the largest of the links set up by the NSA in the AT&T secret room carried 2.5 gigabits of data—the equivalent of one-quarter of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s text—every second. Klein told National Public Radio that all internet and phone communication going through the AT&T facility was being funneled to the NSA, and that millions and millions of domestic phone calls are being monitored by the NSA. (“All Things Considered,” November 11, 2007)
This secret NSA room at AT&T was only one part of the whole NSA operation—other companies, like Verizon and BellSouth, were involved. (One company, Qwest, refused to cooperate.) Today, international electronic communications to and from the U.S.—as well as a lot of communications between locations outside the U.S.—are routed through giant “switches” located in the U.S. and operated by those companies. The NSA eavesdropped by “latching on” to those switches that handle huge amounts of calls, emails, and Internet traffic each day. The intercepted communications were sent to Fort Meade in Maryland, where the NSA runs the largest accumulation of computer power on the planet.
And the warrantless wiretapping program that came out into the open may be only one aspect of the extensive secret surveillance being carried out by the NSA and other agencies. The Electronic Frontier Foundation points out that “numerous news reports have described a far wider program, which surveils the communications of ordinary Americans.”
The NSA’s warrantless wiretapping went on in secret for four years. When it was exposed, the Bush regime began a drive to legitimize this massive warrantless surveillance through a law (just as torture was legalized and legitimized through the 2006 Military Commissions Act).
Outrage Short-Circuited by Democrats
The exposure of the illegal NSA wiretapping sparked widespread outrage throughout society. The massive surveillance of the communication of millions and millions of people in this country rightly evoked visions of draconian, hated, and repressive regimes who feel compelled to broadly spy on their subjects. At the same time, this exposure—in the form of a New York Times article which said that someone high up in government had leaked the information—pointed to real struggle at the top, among the ruling class imperialists. Bush and others hurled thinly veiled accusations of “treason” against the Democrats and the Times itself, while top Democrat Al Gore declared that Bush “has been breaking the law—repeatedly and insistently.” (In the course of the controversy, the Bush crew pointed out that the Clinton/Gore administration had set a precedent for what they were doing by also conducting illegal, warrantless wiretapping, on a smaller scale.)
But this struggle at the top was within very narrow bounds. The rulers and their political representatives all agree on the need for agencies like the NSA, which exist to spy on their imperialist rivals and other foes around the world, as well as on the political movements of the people. And they all agree on the need to expand and “modernize” this surveillance activity, as part of the overall “war on terror”—which in reality is a war by the U.S. rulers as a whole to create an unchallenged and unchallengeable global empire, starting with dominating the Middle East. What Bush’s critics objected to about the warrantless wiretapping was that by bypassing FISA, Bush didn’t follow the existing rules on how to do such spying. They said that had Bush followed those rules, the FISA court would have granted the huge majority, perhaps all, of Bush’s requests. What concerned them was that he simply claimed for himself the right to violate the legal rules AND that he could turn—and probably already had turned—the massive technological spying apparatus of the NSA not just against the people, but against his ruling class counterparts and rivals.
Unfortunately, in large part the mass outrage at the NSA wiretapping got short-circuited into supporting the Democrats in the 2006 election because people were drawn in by promises made by top Democrats that if they got control of Congress, something would be done about this. Nancy Pelosi, for example, in a January 18, 2007 Op-ed in the Washington Post said that the uproar over the warrantless spying program was “a wake-up call for intensive congressional oversight of intelligence activities.” But this Democratic opposition to Bush was strictly within the terms of the ruling class debate over the legal guidelines for the activities of U.S. spy agencies—and these reactionary terms were what people supporting the Democrats got sucked into.
And now, with the new FISA Amendments Act, we see the results of all this. The Democrat-controlled Congress has passed a law that lays down new rules within the ruling class for how to do spying—rules which legalize the massive and unprecedented government surveillance of communications of people in the U.S. that was previously illegal.
In March of this year, the House passed an earlier version of the FISA Amendments Act—but Bush threatened to veto that bill because it did not include, as he demanded, immunity for telecommunication companies that are facing nearly 40 lawsuits because of their participation in the illegal NSA spying program. (The Senate had earlier approved a version that included immunity.) The situation had been at an impasse since then—until now. Nancy Pelosi took the lead in pushing the bill containing the immunity provision through the House. In the Senate, some Democrats, including the majority leader Harry Reid, voted against the bill—but did not take any extraordinary measures to stop it. Others (including Barack Obama, who had earlier pledged to oppose any bill giving immunity to the companies) joined in the 69 to 28 vote for the bill. (See accompanying article.)
The media coverage of the new law has focused on the question of immunity for the telecommunication companies. Under this law, the companies would have immunity if they can simply show in a federal district court that they received a government request “indicating that the activity was authorized by the President.” Since it is public knowledge that Bush officials did issue those requests, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the lawsuits against those companies would be dismissed.
The immunity provision is totally outrageous, but this is about much more than the Bush regime helping big corporations shield themselves from costly lawsuits. Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights pointed out, “So that means we’re never going to really know about the 5 or 6 years in which this illegal program was run. We’re not going to get the underlying memos, and the government is still going to be allowed to use all the information. So that immunity provision is actually huge.” (therealnews.com, June 26, 2008) In other words, the immunity provision is aimed at a cover-up of the actual details of the NSA program—who authorized and knew about it, how much and what information was collected, etc.
Repressive Reality Behind the “Compromise”
The Democratic backers of the new law justify their support (and reversal on the immunity issue) by saying it is a “compromise” that includes certain provisions that supposedly increase the “oversight” of the NSA surveillance and somewhat stricter rules on surveillance of U.S. citizens. But, in fact, the reality behind this talk of “compromise” is a major expansion of the repressive powers of the government.
For one thing, as Michael Ratner points out, the law “allows 7-day emergency wiretapping without any kind of warrant. And the emergency wiretapping continues when the U.S. government goes into the secret court, continues while appeals are pending…. So literally you could be wiretapping American citizens for months or longer without any kind of warrant.”
Under the new law, the FISA court will not review individual surveillance warrants with specific information in most cases but only general “procedures” to see whether they are “reasonably designed” to ensure that the target of the spying is located outside the U.S. The law allows the NSA to pick up communications of people in the U.S., as long as the target of the surveillance is overseas. Even if the FISA court rejects the general “procedures” for a particular spying operation, the government can continue the surveillance through the whole appeals process—and keep and use whatever information was gathered during that period.
In an interview with Revolution, Center for Constitutional Rights lawyer Shayana Kadidal spoke about the significance of this change (he was speaking about the version of the FISA Amendments Act earlier this year, but his point applies to the new law). Kadidal pointed to how things worked previously with individualized warrants: “Namely, when the government decides to surveil a single target, a single person, and they produce some level of evidence to the FISA court that the person is working for a foreign power or foreign terrorist organization, defined very broadly by the FISA statute. Then the court can issue an individual order saying you can surveil that one person.” This is now changed with the new law: “It’s a tremendous departure, in terms of the history of wiretapping regulations—in the FISA Amendments Act, the government is now allowed to go to the court and ask for approval of an entire program of surveillance. So they’ll come to the court saying: We want to surveil every person who calls from Afghanistan to the United States in the middle of the night, when the person they call calls five other people within 15 minutes. Some sort of criteria like that, very generalized, that could apply to hundreds and hundreds of cases every day, where the government may not even have any idea of who the person is who is being surveilled.”
With the new law, the government can spy on international phone calls and emails of anyone in the U.S. in order to “acquire foreign intelligence information,” as long as the “target” of that surveillance is a person or a group “reasonably believed to be located outside the United States.” There is no requirement that the government show “probable cause”—some evidence that a crime has been committed. Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, said, “Americans should know that if this legislation is enacted and upheld, what they say on international phone calls or emails is no longer private. The government can listen in without having a specific reason to do so.”
Revolution #136, July 20, 2008
Last year, in the midst of widespread outrage over the Bush regime’s efforts to grant immunity from lawsuits to telecommunications companies that cooperated with illegal government spying on millions and millions of people in the U.S., the website Talking Points Memo released what they said was an email from Barack Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton saying: “To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.”
But when the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 came up in the Senate last week, legalizing warrantless wiretapping of millions and millions of communications by people in the U.S. and granting immunity to telecom companies from lawsuits in order to cover up the extent of illegal government spying, not only did Obama not filibuster the law, or support a filibuster (which could have prevented it from being adopted), he voted for the bill!
And in the face of very credible evidence that millions and millions of communications from people in this country were intercepted by these illegal warrantless government wiretaps (see accompanying article), Obama justified his vote by essentially echoing the arguments of the Bush regime, saying, “In a dangerous world, government must have the authority to collect the intelligence we need to protect the American people.”
As our accompanying article on the passage of the FISA bill notes, much of the public outrage at revelations of massive, warrantless, government spying got channeled into supporting Democrats in the 2006 election—including on the basis of promises that they would oppose Bush’s illegal wiretapping. And many people who are supporting Obama see directing their energy into his campaign as a way to oppose the shredding of supposed constitutional protections against things like unwarranted searches. But look at what actually happened: In 2006, when the Republicans controlled Congress, in the face of widespread opposition and tension within the ruling class, Bush wasn’t able to pass a bill like this. Now, with the Democrats in control of Congress, and many seeing the Obama campaign as re-legitimizing the system, Bush got the whole package–including immunity for the communication companies.
It’s important to understand what is really going on here. This vote was not a move by Obama to curry favor with “the voters,” or to pick up “mainstream, middle of the road” votes. He took an unpopular position that angered many of his supporters, and is not going to get a lot of “independent voters” to support him. In fact, the Democratic Party leadership in the Senate set things up so that some (but with votes counted carefully to make sure not enough) of them voted against the bill—in order to maintain credibility as opponents of Bush.
So why did Obama support this unpopular law? Because right now, the ruling class in this country perceives the need, and potential, to rely on complex and advanced technology to spy on people secretly, and very widely, and to have this legitimated in law and political discourse. (For one analysis of why the U.S. ruling class sees a need to spy on the public very broadly, see the Revolution interview with attorney Shayana Kadidal of Center for Constitutional Rights, “Wiretapping Bill and the Unprecedented Expansion of Presidential Powers,” 3/23/08, available at revcom.us.) And Obama, as one of the two candidates running for president, is approaching the issue of widespread, warrantless spying on people’s communication from the perspective of someone campaigning to be, and preparing to be, the chief executive of the US ruling class.
In an open letter to angry supporters who are complaining about his FISA vote, Obama wrote: “[S]ome of you may decide that my FISA position is a deal breaker. That’s ok. But I think it is worth pointing out that our agreement on the vast majority of issues that matter outweighs the differences we may have.… Make no mistake: if John McCain is elected, the fundamental direction of this country that we love will not change.”
In other words, Obama is saying: What-are-ya-gonna-do? Vote for McCain?
Such is the logic of the system’s election setup. Brilliant for them. Deadly for the people. The “choose the lesser evil” logic takes you deeper and deeper into supporting a whole package that has nothing to do with, and is actually opposed to, your interests and what you believe in.
Revolution #136, July 20, 2008
April 25, 2008—NY judge acquitted the cops who fired 50 shots at Sean Bell, killing him just hours beforehis scheduled wedding and severely wounding two of his friends. When asked about this verdict, Barack Obama replied: “I said at the time, without benefit of all the facts before me, that it looked like a case of excessive force. The judge has made his ruling, and we are a nation of laws, so we respect the verdict that came down.” Going further he said “resorting to violence to express displeasure over a verdict is something that is completely unacceptable and counterproductive.”
June 25, 2008—In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that imposing the death penalty on people convicted of raping children violated the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. On this occasion Obama didn’t counsel acceptance or respect for the verdict. Instead he said, “I disagree with the decision. I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances for most egregious of crimes. I think that the rape of a small child, six or eight years old is a heinous crime, and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances, the death penalty is at least potentially applicable. That does not violate our constitution.” He continued, “Had the Supreme Court said, ‘We want to constrain ability of states to do this to make sure that it’s done in a careful and appropriate way,’ that would’ve been one thing, but it basically had a blanket prohibition and I disagree with that decision.”
What accounts for Obama’s differing responses to these court verdicts? Did the U.S. stop being “a nation of laws” between April and June? Isn’t 50 shots fired at unarmed men who were doing nothing wrong “a heinous crime”? This isn’t a matter of hypocrisy. There is a logic that brings his responses to these two court verdicts together, a logic that helps illuminate what he is all about and what his candidacy represents.
The Sean Bell Decision
The judge’s ruling in the Sean Bell case continues the way the law, and the courts, in this country have upheld and enforced the subjugation of Black people from when the first Africans were dragged to these shores in slavery’s chains. The U.S. Constitution considered Black people to be nothing more than property. In 1857, the Supreme Court ruled that Black people had no rights that white people had to respect. In 1872, after the official ending of slavery, the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for the federal government to punish a white mob that had murdered over 100 Black people. For more than a century the courts and the U.S. Congress refused to do anything to stop the lynching of Black people. Today the courts virtually never punish cops who brutalize and even murder Black people.
This official and unofficial violence has played and continues to play the role of enforcing the subjugation of Black people. The patrols that kept the slaves from fleeing the plantations or rising up in revolt were the first forms of law enforcement in this country. After the Civil War led to the abolition of slavery, the KKK and lynch mobs enforced Black people being kept on the same plantations, share cropping, in conditions that were near slavery. Today Black people are segregated in urban ghettos, limited largely to substandard health care and education. They face astronomical unemployment rates, with many youth caught between choices of thug life or flipping burgers in some fast food joint. And these conditions are enforced by the guns and billy clubs of brutal, murdering cops.
The Stolen Lives Project of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality has documented that cops and other law enforcement agents killed more than 2,000 people in the U.S. in the 1990s. Most of these people were unarmed and doing nothing wrong when they were killed. Yet the system almost never punishes these killer cops. In effect, police murder comes down to another form of state sponsored execution, only without the victims being charged with a crime or convicted and sentenced in court. This is something that people are right to be outraged about. Yet Obama tells Black people they must respect a court verdict that comes down to putting a target on the backs of the youth!
The Death Penalty Decision
But what about the death penalty decision?
The death penalty also has a long history of being used to enforce the subjugation of Black people as well as being used against opponents of the system. The slave codes developed to spell out the punishment of slaves before the U.S. won its independence from Great Britain included use of the death penalty. This was reserved for those slaves who committed “crimes” the slave owners feared the most. Striking or killing their masters or encouraging other slaves to escape to freedom or to rise up against slavery were all punishable by death. Often all the slaves on a plantation were forced to watch these executions.
Today the death penalty continues to be used disproportionately against Black people. Information compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) this year shows that while Black people comprise 13.4% of the U.S. population, 34% of prisoners executed since 1976 have been Black, and 41% of those currently on death row are Black. The DPIC also found that in 79% of the cases where a prisoner was executed, the victim in the case was white.
For most of the 27 years he has been unjustly imprisoned, African-American political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal has had a death sentence hanging over his head. In March of this year, a Federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling setting aside Mumia’s death sentence, but there is still a danger of that ruling being appealed and the death sentence reinstated.
The June decision to restrict the application of the death penalty by a divided Supreme Court reflects differences in the U.S. ruling class over whether and how to continue using the death penalty. There is intense opposition to state sponsored executions around the world. A number of countries have abolished the death penalty altogether. Some countries have refused to extradite people accused of crimes in the U.S. because they might face the death penalty. There have been more than 200 cases where people who had been on death row facing execution were found to be innocent. These have sparked greater opposition to the death penalty in the U.S.. Obama has to know about this since 18 of these cases were from his home state of Illinois. Yet he weighed in around this Supreme Court decision to oppose restrictions in its use.
In both of these cases, Obama came down on the side of endorsing the ability of the system to enforce the continued oppression of Black people in this country. Obama’s response to both of these court verdicts is part of his audition for the role of leader of the U.S. global empire. He is showing he has the right stuff to carry out this role. Showing he can combine generating a sense of hope among sections of people disaffected from the system with ruthless enforcement of the crimes needed to maintain and extend the empire. This is the change you’re allowed to believe in—just a new face on the same old system, one that some sections of the ruling class hope can more effectively advance its interests at a time when they face great challenges globally and when there is much potential for things to get out of their control in this country. This all points to why the U.S. rulers are considering putting him in the White House. But why should anyone concerned about the way this system has brutally oppressed and exploited Black people and so many others think this represents change they should want or believe in?
“The politics of the ‘possible’ is the politics of monstrosity. To adhere to, or acquiesce in, the politics of the ‘possible’ is to support, and actually to facilitate, monstrosity.”
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP,USA
Revolution #136, July 20, 2008
Bustling Grand Central Station in New York City was the scene on Thursday, July 10, of a dramatic, effective protest against U.S. moves toward a possible attack on Iran.
At the height of the busy evening rush hour, with thousands pouring off their trains after work and heading home, they were met in the station’s ornate, cavernous main terminal by about 150 people wearing signs or large stickers saying “No Attack on Iran!” At first the protestors just milled about, but at exactly 5:40 p.m. all of them suddenly froze in place, like statues. Some froze with an arm extended, holding a flyer by World Can’t Wait, the initiator of the action. Others did so as they were sipping a drink or cup of coffee, taking a picture with their cell phone cameras, or reading a newspaper or book. Some froze while in pairs, holding each other’s hand, or in small groups of three or four, gazing at one another, their faces impassive or their lips creased in faint smiles.
The “freeze action” had a galvanizing effect. While many commuters continued to move by, significant numbers were at first startled by the frozen protestors, then stopped to take in what was going on. Animated discussions broke out among some of them as they stood watching the protestors, some agreeing, others not. Several in support became involved themselves, freezing where they stood.
One person, a middle-age businesswoman, told Revolution: “I can’t tell you how happy I am to see this. I’m very concerned about what they’re up to around Iran—just like the time leading up to Iraq—and we can’t let them get away with it again.” Others standing around clearly were in agreement with her, as they nodded approvingly at the protestors.
There were some who felt differently. Two young men said they thought the protest was “ridiculous” because Iran is “too big” and the U.S. already has its hands full in Iraq and elsewhere. Another young man was angry, saying, “If we attack Iran that’s fine with me, because the cretins running that scene deserve whatever they get.”
Another person who apparently had learned about the protest in the days leading up to it came wearing a red, white, and blue bandana covering his mouth and nose, his shoulders and back draped with a large cloth decorated with scores of swastikas and reading “Free Iran From Theocracy.” The front of his T-shirt said, “Supporting Our Troops Means Letting Them Win.” As he stood there, in the moments before the freeze action began, a number of protestors surrounded him and tried to engage him, but he would not respond. Several commuters, though, did notice the scene and stopped to get into brief discussions about the situation in Iran, why the U.S. is moving toward a possible attack on that country, and why that must be opposed even while not upholding Iran’s theocratic regime.
At 5:45 p.m., exactly five minutes after the freeze had begun, it just as suddenly ended. Protestors and some commuters broke into loud, echoing chants of “No Attack on Iran! No Attack on Iran!” for several minutes, as others applauded. At one point, four young Iranian women who had participated in the freeze led the spirited chant, as other protestors gathered around them. Then, moments later, the protestors quietly dispersed, melting into the still-remaining rush-hour crowds.
For most of those who came, this was their first participation in a creative, “theatrical” political protest. They expressed excitement over how effective it was, of how relatively small numbers can have a big impact if imaginative but determined forms of action are taken, and how, on that basis, the numbers of protestors can grow to the many, many thousands that are required. The next “freeze” is scheduled for Monday, July 21, at Pennsylvania Station, another busy New York transportation hub.
In addition to World Can’t Wait, other sponsors of the protest were Artists Against the War, Code Pink, Peace Action, and United for Peace and Justice. The Granny Peace Brigade, StopWarOnIran.org, and Theater Against War were also in the house.
Revolution #136, July 20, 2008
Between June 11 and July 5, 12 people were shot by the Chicago Police. Six were killed, six others wounded. These 12 human beings, whose lives, whose families and kids, or the fact that in many cases they were themselves just kids—with their whole lives in front of them—meant nothing to the enforcers of the system. The Chicago police have been shooting people down at a rate that shocks the conscience. Here are the stories of nine of them.
Seventeen-year-old Jonathan Pinkerton was planning on touring colleges this summer, between his junior and senior years at Corliss High School. On June 11 graduation and the prom were over and he was passing a warm summer evening with his friends at Altgeld Gardens housing project. Though his mother had moved out of the “the Gardens,” his grandmother still lived there. And Jonathan often returned there to spend time with the friends he grew up with. On the evening of June 11, police chased Jonathan, shot him in the back—then, while he was laying on the ground wounded, one cop knelt on his back while, according to witnesses, another cop kicked him in the head. Jonathan, paralyzed from the waist down by the police bullet, turned 17 in the hospital.
On June 14, Chicago police shot and killed Devon Young. Devon dreamed of being a rap artist and practiced his raps in his friend’s apartment, 40 paces from where he was killed by police. Neighbors say that Devon—D-Mack to people on the block—was killed, shot in the back execution style, while kneeling with his hands in the air shouting out to the police “don’t shoot, don’t shoot—I ain’t got nothing.” Devon’s family says he was trying to get back into school and looking for work. His main goal was to be a good father to his four-year-old son. A neighbor was quoted in the Chicago Tribune saying that Young was not carrying a gun on the night he was shot and killed. On the block where D-Mack was killed, youth wear grim faces as they talk about how police “hop out on you for nothing.” The police “slapped palms” after D-Mack was killed and told each other “Good job,” according to a number of people on the block who spoke with reporters. “They don’t treat dogs this bad,” said one of D-Mack’s friends. Killed by police at the age of 25.
On that same night, June 14, a block away from where Devon Young was shot, another young man was shot in the back after he stopped and put his hands up when the police shouted “freeze.” He is now on the hospital tier of Cook County jail—also charged with possessing a weapon that his friends told us he did not have. Steven had recently attended his son’s kindergarten graduation.
On June 15 Reginald Knight was shot eight times in the back and killed by police on the South Side of Chicago. The mother of his three children was arrested when she came to the scene of the shooting around 10 or 11 at night. She was released six hours later without being charged—it was then that she learned Reginald was dead. Queen Sister of the “It Takes a Village Organization” told us that Reginald, dead at 24, will never again play the sax she said he loved so much for his church or to the children he provided for. Police claim that Knight pointed a gun at them as they chased him, but a man who says he witnessed the shooting from his porch told a Chicago TV reporter, “I didn’t see no gun. He had to use both hands to get over the fence. I didn’t see no gun.”
On June 16, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune, yet another young man was shot by police on Chicago’s West Side. The article entitled “2 killed, 3 injured in police shootings over the past week” said this man was shot and wounded by police—the fifth in a five-day span. People in the neighborhood say the victim of this police shooting, who the Tribune did not even see fit to identify, was named Melvin Barlow. Someone who lives where the shooting happened told us that the police had stopped a car, the three guys in the car broke out running, and the police shot one young Black man in the back.
According to family friends, Luis Colon was really into music—he especially liked to rap. He’d even made a homemade CD, covering other rappers. He also enjoyed kickboxing. When he was ten, he had wanted to be a fireman. A family friend remembers him running around in his fireman’s hat. People remember him as polite and respectful to family and friends. He loved his grandmother’s home cooked Puerto Rican food. People described him as very loyal. There are four MySpace pages devoted to him: “RIP Luis Colon 6-24-08.”
Luis was shot and killed by police on a sunny day across the street from a park crowded with children. He had just turned 18 on May 20.
Callie Cooks, Darius Nicholson’s wife told Chicago Channel 2 news reporters that she called police to the home she shared with Nicholson after he suddenly became violent with her. She said that something was completely out of character for the normally loving father and grandfather. “They came on a domestic. We ended up with a death,” Ms. Cooks told Channel 2. “If I only knew what went on in that room that precipitated them to fire that many shots into a room with one man,” said Ms. Cooks. “The situation just wasn’t handled the way it could’ve been, and we could’ve had a different outcome.”
Darius Nicholson, 49, shot and killed by police in the bedroom of his home June 22, 2008.
Forty-four-year-old Robin Johnson reportedly lived on the streets off and on for years, and her daughters told the Chicago Sun-Times that she’s suffered from mental problems since an early age, as well as epilepsy. According to the police story, Ms. Johnson was allegedly in a fight with another passenger on a bus on the city’s North Side when the bus driver flagged down a police officer for help. According to police, Johnson took the officer’s gun in a scuffle and then shot him multiple times, resulting in his death. She was then shot multiple times by other members of the CPD as they arrived on the scene. The Sun-Times reported that her daughters challenged this story, asking how she could have overpowered the officer and noting that “she hardly knew how to use a cell phone.” Her daughters also said that she was very sweet, enjoyed playing cards, and made sure they knew how much it meant to her that they live better lives and were able to achieve more than she had in life. Johnson could now face the death penalty resulting from the charges from this incident.
Shapell Terrell was raising seven children and going to work every night at 2:00 am, driving a sanitation truck. On the night of June 22, according to witnesses, he turned his back on detectives and opened the door to the four-flat where his mother and other members of his family stayed. The police detectives opened fire on him, shooting him 14 times in the back. Bullet holes in the walls of the hallway six inches from the floor show how they continued to shoot him after he was lying face down in the entry hall.
Shapell was known as Pell or Pelly Pell to his family and friends. His children ranged in age from 20 years to 4 years, and his love of children showed in his special devotion to his two youngest daughters—four and five years old. His cousin described how Pell would wake up a room when he walked in with his shouts of “Whoop-de-Woop,” a shout that people repeated in his honor at his funeral. Shapell Terrell, shot dead by Chicago police less than a month before his 40th birthday.
Revolution #136, July 20, 2008
Hook Up With the Revolution:
July 15, Tuesday, 7 pm
Our regular Tuesday discussion on Revolution & Communism:
A wide-ranging discussion provoked by a piece by Bob Avakian: “Materialism and Romanticism: Can We Do Without Myth?” Food for thought. To read the article go to: http://revcom.us/a/1211/baonmyth.htm.
July 17, Thursday, 7 pm
Salon discussion: “OBAMA: The Best Hope OR A Deadly Trap?” This is a pivotal year in American politics. The mainstream media casts the McCain vs. Obama race as a duel of opposing political programs. But what does it mean that they are both running for commander-in-chief of the American empire?
July 20, Sunday, 7 pm
Screening and Discussion in Spanish:
Excerpts from the DVD “REVOLUCIÓN: ¿Por qué es necesario? ¿Por qué es posible? ¿Qué es?” (una charla de Bob Avakian).
July 23, Wednesday, 7:30 pm
Special one-night only benefit performance of the play:
Brian Dykstra – “THE JESUS FACTOR”
“...exploring the nasty mesh of politics and religion in the U.S. today... fast and sharp ...the almost endless litany of crimes, lies, and subterfuge is sobering. I laughed a lot, but my grin was frozen stiff most of the show.” —Ithaca Times
July 16, Wednesday, 7 pm
“Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism: WHAT IS BOB AVAKIAN’S NEW SYNTHESIS?” Part III: The New Synthesis: Political Implications—The International Dimension.
July 25, Friday, 7 pm
Film showing, The Great Debaters (see “Check It Out: The Great Debaters,” Revolution #121, February 24, 2008).
312 West 8th Street 213-488-1303
July 19, Saturday, 2 pm
“Religion, Atheism and Black People” —a talk and discussion with Clyde Young, of the Revolutionary Communist Party, featuring the new book by Bob Avakian, Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, at the Lucy Florence Coffeehouse & Cultural Center, 3351 W. 43rd St., Los Angeles, CA 90008 (in Leimert Park area near Crenshaw & Vernon), sponsored by Libros Revolución.
July 20, Sunday, 12 noon
Join us for a special “Secular Sunday” mass mobilization to take out Bob Avakian’s new book Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World into the neighborhoods and parks of Los Angeles. Check our blog, or contact us for details
2425 Channing Way near Telegraph Ave
July 15, Tuesday, 7 pm
Discussion of Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian, Part Two: “Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—Rooted in the Past, Standing in the Way of the Future.”
July 22, Tuesday, 7:00 pm
Shifts and Faultlines in the World Economy
And Great Power Rivalry
What is Happening and What It Might Mean.
A Talk by Raymond Lotta
Join Raymond Lotta for a discussion of trends in the world economy and some of their larger geopolitical implications. How do we understand the rise of China? What about the financial meltdown in the U.S.? Why is there a world hunger crisis?
Anyone curious about the larger forces influencing world events should find this to be a highly informative and stimulating talk.
July 29, Tuesday, 7 pm
Discussion of Away with All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian. Part Two (cont.): “Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—Rooted in the Past, Standing in the Way of the Future” (pg. 96-119).
Revolution Club meets Mondays, call for more info.
2626 South King Street
Mondays, 6:15 pm
Revolution Newspaper discussion group every Monday evening at 6:15 pm.
July 20, Sunday, 3 pm
Discussion of Part 3 of Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian.
July 23, Wednesday, 7 pm
Talk by Dennis Loo, author of “Impeach the President: The Case Against Bush and Cheney,” member of the World Can’t Wait Steering Committee, and initiator of the Declare It Now campaign.
August 3, Sunday, 3 pm
Discussion of Part 4 of Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World by Bob Avakian.
2804 Mayfield Rd (at Coventry)
Cleveland Heights 216-932-2543
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 3-8 pm
1833 Nagle Place
July 20, Sunday, 4:30-7 pm
Continuing the Conversation on Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis. (See anouncement at revcom.us for July 19 presentation: “Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism: WHAT IS BOB AVAKIAN’S NEW SYNTHESIS?”) Time and location will be announced at the July 19 event.
Revolution Books at Hidmo
We moved out of our current location and will be moving into our new, expanded location in the fall. This summer, come browse our book table and engage in discussions of revolutionary theory and Revolution newspaper at Hidmo (Eritrean restaurant and community space), 2000 South Jackson St. Revolution Books will be there on Sunday, July 27 (4-6 pm) and every Saturday in August (3-6 pm). Other events at other locations to be announced.
406 W.Willis (btwn Cass &2nd, south of Forest)
Look for our booth at the Ann Arbor Art Fair, non-profit section, Liberty between Division and Fifth. Volunteer, help us distribute Revolution newspaper at festival.
July 20, Sunday, 10 am
Brunch with Set the Record Straight at Revolution Books Outlet. Informal discussion over coffee and bagels. We’ll watch video of a panel last summer at U.S. Social Forum, “Mao Then and Now—Revolutionary Ideas and Changing the World.”
July 22, Tuesday, 6:30 pm
Talk on Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis, Part 2: A Philosophy To Understand and Change the World. Discussion series.
1158 Mass Ave, 2nd Floor, Cambridge
July 15, Tuesday, 6:30 pm
Setting the Record Straight—Socialism Is Much Better than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be a Far Better World.
July 22, Tuesday, 6:30 pm
Topic to be announced.
4 Corners Market of the Earth
1087 Euclid Avenue in Little 5 Points
404-577-4656 & 770-861-3339
Open Wednesdays & Fridays 4 pm - 7 pm,
Saturdays 2 pm - 7 pm
Sundays, 4-6 pm
Discussing “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” by Bob Avakian. Meet at bookstore at 3:30 pm.
Tuesdays in July, 7-9 pm
AWAY WITH ALL GODS! Book Club @ Bound to be Read Books. Flat Shoals Road in East Atlanta Village. Join us to discuss Bob Avakian’s Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World. July 15: Second half of Part Two: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—Rooted in the Past, Standing in the Way of the Future, pages 96 through 117.
August 2, Saturday, Grand Opening.
REVOLUTION BOOKS IS MOVING
Into larger, quieter quarters next door. More space, more books, our own reading and meeting room! If you want to donate labor or money, give us a call or email.