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Revolution #140, August 17, 2008
RCP Publications announces the publication of the new Constitution of the RCP, USA—one that lays out the mission and vision of a new stage of communist revolution, informed by Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communist theory. The constitution puts forward this vision in a very accessible way, as well as laying out the principles of organization and the theoretical foundation of the Party. This includes an important appendix on communist theory as a scientific and revolutionary theory.
This constitution serves as a bold declaration that there is indeed a party, in the belly of the imperialist U.S., with the determination and strategic analysis to make a revolution. . . and the vision, method and understanding of society and history to ensure that it is a revolution worth making.
Revolution #140, August 17, 2008
In the 1960s and 1970s Mao Tsetung was one of the most famous people in the world. He had led the Chinese people, against all odds, to make a revolution. For the many millions who passionately fought for justice and liberation in those days, the Chinese Revolution stood out like a beacon. And Mao himself was most famous for restlessly refusing to stop the revolution halfway—for never settling in, never ceasing to fight for a world without any division into classes, into nations, into oppressor and oppressed. A lot of people—teachers, workers, doctors, scientists, students, and revolutionaries—from many different countries, went to China to witness the socialist society being built under Mao’s leadership. And many returned home, inspired and hopeful about the possibility of a truly liberating society.
In China itself, the masses revered Mao—as leader of the revolutionary vanguard in China, the Communist Party of China, he had led the victory in a 22-year war of liberation against both foreign invaders and domestic reactionaries. Following that epic struggle, he led the people to construct a new society and new lives in socialist China, and to go further in defending the revolution and transforming society during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. But there were those who opposed Mao, right in the leadership of the Communist Party of China. Like Mao, they had come into the revolution, and the Communist Party, burning with anger over China’s treatment by imperialism. Like Mao, they fought in the revolution for liberation. But unlike Mao their sights did not go all the way to communism; in fact, their aims really went no further than building China into a powerful nation. And in the name of building a strong and modern China they adopted programs and policies that essentially reinforced capitalist relations and thinking. After Mao died in 1976, these “capitalist roaders” in the Chinese Communist Party seized power and overthrew socialism and restored capitalism, arresting hundreds of thousands and killing thousands in the process. And even though the Chinese government has continued to call itself socialist and communist, China has been a capitalist country ever since. Mao’s principles—what he stood for—have been gutted, while China’s new rulers have turned Mao into a nationalist icon.
Today two whole generations of people have grown up in the U.S. where in large part what they know about Mao and China is the official storyline of the U.S. ruling class and mainstream media. And what they know, in large part, is ALL WRONG. People are told that Mao was a heartless, “power-hungry dictator,” who committed great crimes against people. But the TRUTH is that Mao Tsetung was a great revolutionary communist who led a quarter of the planet’s people to liberate China out from under the thumb of imperialist oppressors—and then move on to build a socialist, liberating society for over 25 years. Understanding the truth about Mao is important for everyone—the revolution he led was a major milestone in human history and everyone should know the truth about such a revolution and such a figure. For those who truly want to change the world, there is even more at stake—for Mao’s revolutionary thinking and practice form a critical part of the foundation and the point of departure for rebuilding a revolutionary movement today.
This is the TRUE story of Mao Tsetung and the world historic revolution he led in China.
Mao was born December 26, 1893 and grew up in a China that had been invaded, and divided up by Britain, France, the U.S., Russia, Germany and Japan. These colonial powers controlled the economics and politics of China. They treated the Chinese people like dogs and rounded them up to be used as “coolie labor” on plantations and in mines all over the world. Foreign troops were in every main city. British and American gunboats patrolled the waters and foreign countries controlled the ports, postal system, shipping, railroads and telegraph. A sign posted in a park in the big city of Shanghai read: “No Dogs or Chinese Allowed.” China was so oppressed that it was known as “the sick man of Asia.”
In the China where Mao grew up, most people were poor peasants suffering under the system of feudalism. Big landlords owned most of the land and landless peasants were forced to work for them, getting barely enough to survive. The peasants lived in constant debt, subjected to the tyranny of the landlords and conditions of poverty, hunger and disease. Families sold their children because they couldn’t feed them. Hundreds of thousands starved to death. And life for common people in the cities wasn’t much better. In Shanghai as many as 25,000 dead bodies were picked up off the streets each year. The British flooded China with opium, turning over 60 million Chinese people into addicts—while British and American capitalists got rich off this drug trade. Take a minute and think about the people behind those numbers—the degree of human misery and suffering this represented, year in and year out.
Mao also grew up in a time of peasant uprisings. From 1901 to 1910 there were nearly 1,000 such spontaneous struggles, involving tens of millions of people. As a student, Mao studied the Taiping Rebellion, where peasants took up arms and set up a revolutionary government (from 1850 to 1864). Mao learned how some 20 million people died when the Chinese government, along with the U.S, Britain and France, sent in troops to put the rebellion down. Again, think about the people behind that number.
In 1906, when Mao was 12 years old, all of China was hit by war, famine and flood. When the “Hunan Insurrection” happened, Mao said this influenced his whole life. Thousands of miners and peasants marched through the provincial capital and raided the grain stores of the landlords. Soldiers put the rebellion down and the heads of slaughtered rebels were stuck on the city gates as a warning to the people. Mao said: “This incident was discussed in my school for many days. It made a deep impression on me. Most of the other students sympathized with the ‘insurrectionists’ but only from an observer’s point of view. They did not understand that it had any relation to their own lives. They were merely interested in it as an exciting incident. I never forgot it. I felt that the rebels were ordinary people like my own family and I deeply resented the injustice of the treatment given to them.”
But despite their heroism and sacrifice, these rebellions had proven incapable of truly solving the problem and changing the society in a fundamental way. Mao, like many in his generation, was determined to find the way forward. In 1909, at the age of 16, Mao left home to go to school to become a teacher. He said, “For the first time I saw and studied with great interest a map of the world.” Mao studied the history of other nations and philosophers from many countries. He scanned newspapers from all over China. And for the first time, he read Marx’s “Communist Manifesto.” In 1917, Mao founded the “New People’s Study Society.” This group of young activists opposed opium smoking, gambling, drinking, prostitution and corruption and opposed the oppression of women. Mao argued that women should be “independent persons”—that men could not be free unless women were also liberated. The group started evening classes for workers where Mao taught history, discussed “current affairs,” and read newspapers to the workers. A poster announcing his classes read: “Come and listen to some plain speech¼ you can wear any clothes you want.”
In 1917 the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia and established a new socialist state. This revolution led by Lenin sent shockwaves around the world. It spread communism to other countries and connected with anti-colonial, anti-imperialist struggles that were going on. For so many generations the masses of Chinese people had fought back, but had no theory, no leadership and no plan for how to achieve liberation. But now, as Mao put it, “the salvos of the October Revolution brought Marxism-Leninism to China.”
After World War 1, the imperialist powers that won the war transferred Germany’s colonial rights and privileges in China to Japan. On May 4, 1919, 3,000 students in the capital city of Beijing demonstrated against this decision. Martial law was declared and the police and army started arresting people. The students called for a general strike in the schools. Soon after this a strike centered in Shanghai, involving 90,000 workers, shut down more than 100 companies and factories. When Mao and other members of the New People’s Study Society heard about this “May 4th Movement,” they called for a strike and formed a students’ union in Hunan. And throughout 1919 this anti-imperialist movement gained widespread support all over China and politicized millions.
From early on Mao spoke out against the way women were oppressed by feudal tradition. On November 14, 1919, a woman cut her throat as she was being carried in a bridal sedan-chair to an arranged marriage. When Mao heard about this he published a series of 10 articles blaming the existing social conditions for this tragedy. He said women were “a tremendous potential revolutionary force” because “women have more oppression on their backs than men, for whereas men have three mountains of exploitation, women have four, for man also exploits her.” This fundamental stance of Mao’s—his burning desire to get rid of every chain upon humanity—would stay with him his whole life.
Ode to the Plum Blossom
Wind and rain escorted Spring’s departure,
Sweet and fair, she craves not Spring for herself alone,
Written by Mao Tsetung in December 1961, to commemorate his first wife, Yang Kaihui, who was killed by the reactionary Kuomingtang in 1927 after she refused to renounce her revolutionary politics and her marriage to Mao.
In 1921, Mao joined with a small group of Chinese Marxists and together they formed the Chinese Communist Party. By taking up the ideology of Marxism-Leninism they could now begin to effectively tackle the theoretical and practical problems of making revolution in a country like China.
In 1921, Mao married Yang Kaihui, who had joined the communist party. She remained a revolutionary until 1927 when she was captured by the KMT and killed after refusing to renounce her marriage to Mao and her revolutionary politics. Later, in 1961, Mao wrote a poem to commemorate Yang Kaihui—which is among his most famous poems, titled “Ode to the Plum Blossom.”
During this period, peasants were spontaneously rising up. They were confiscating land and attacking landlords and corrupt officials. In 1925 Mao walked from village to village in Hunan Province. He stayed with peasants and worked with them for his meals and lodging. He sat and listened to them, investigating firsthand what their lives were like. He helped set up peasant unions and recruited many peasants into the party.
Some leaders in the Chinese communist party wanted to write off the peasants as “too backward and conservative.” But Mao struggled against this view and argued that, “Without the poor peasants there would be no revolution.” And speaking of the peasant uprisings, he said: “Every revolutionary party and every revolutionary comrade will be put to the test, to be accepted or rejected as they decide. There are three alternatives. To march at their head and lead them? To trail behind them, gesticulating and criticizing? Or to stand in their way and oppose them?”
The Kuomintang (KMT) was a party in China that had originally been nationalist—organized to fight for an independent China and against foreign domination. But in the 1920s it had been taken over by Chiang Kai-shek and turned into a vehicle for the imperialists and the big bourgeoisie and landlords in China. It especially had the backing of the U.S. and Britain, which wanted to maintain the semi-colonial status of China. In 1927, the KMT launched many campaigns aimed at decimating the Communist Party and the revolutionary movement. In the cities the KMT restricted political meetings, the press, workers’ organizations and the right to strike. Thousands of workers were killed, and communists and communist sympathizers were rounded up and publicly executed. At this point there was not a stable, unitary national government in China. In some parts of the country warlords (militarist-landlord cliques) were running things and in other places the KMT had control (and the KMT itself had different factions). Off of all this bloodshed, Chiang Kai-shek set up a KMT government in the city of Nanking and was immediately recognized by the Western imperialist powers as the sole and legal government of China.
Meanwhile in the countryside warlords were carrying out the slaughter of peasants. Rebellious women were singled out—cut into pieces and burned alive. In one area, in just five months, 4,700 peasants, including 500 women, were murdered—they were beheaded, buried alive, strangled, burned and cut into pieces. Land that had been seized by the peasants was returned to landlords. Peasant and worker leaders were rounded up and shot. In Hunan province alone, in one year, over 100,000 peasants and workers were killed. The party lost at least 15,000 members.
By 1928 four-fifths of the Communist Party had been exterminated and the party was forced to go underground in the cities. This big defeat required a further analysis and breakthrough in revolutionary theory.
The strategy for proletarian revolution in the Soviet Union had been insurrection in the cities, followed by civil war. Some argued that the revolution in China should follow this model. But with the defeats they had suffered in the cities in trying insurrections, Mao saw this would not work in an oppressed country like China. He recognized that the counter-revolution was too strong in the cities and no matter how heroic, attempts by the workers to seize and hold cities were bound to fail.
Mao argued the revolution had to start in the countryside and build and expand base areas where the revolution could establish political power. The military struggle against the enemy had to be linked with and bound up with the process of carrying out agrarian revolution and creating the seeds of a new liberated society. This meant that the communists had to politically mobilize and lead the masses to carry out land reform, establish new local forms of people’s power, wage struggle against the oppression of national minorities and women and establish a new revolutionary culture among the people. In this way, the base areas could serve as a magnet and growing centers of support among the people. And the revolution could eventually encircle and seize the cities and establish nationwide power. With this strategy and goal, Mao said: “Without a people’s army the people have nothing.” And a new Red Army was formed.
Mao developed principles to build a politically conscious, disciplined army. When the Red Army marched into a town, Mao would immediately call for a meeting with the residents. But this was not always so easy. In one town, the people fled to the mountains and hid in the bushes. This was routine. Everyone fled when armies came by because they had suffered from the ways in which ordinary soldiers in the armies of the warlords and imperialists had been trained to loot and rape. But Mao ordered his soldiers to never enter a house or take anything and he struggled very hard against any thinking in the Red Army that echoed the rape-and-plunder mentality of the bourgeois and feudal armies, or the bandit gangs. So the courteous behavior of the Red Army soldiers was very unusual! By the third day the local people, watching from their hide-outs on the slopes, came back. Mao talked to them, urging them to return. He distributed money and cloth that had been taken from the landlords. He told the people that this army with its red flag was their own army, devoted to their own interests and dedicated to their liberation. The peasants fed and housed the Red Army soldiers and some of them joined the revolutionary army. This scene was repeated over and over as the Red Army under Mao’s leadership marched through the countryside.
All this time, Mao was also studying military theory in its own right, and the history of revolutionary war in the Soviet Union, as well as that of other wars—including in China. By the end of the decade of the 1930s, Mao would become the first to develop a comprehensive Marxist military line and system of thought on military affairs. This doctrine was rooted in the understanding that a revolutionary war depends on the masses and can only succeed on the basis that it enjoys their support and actively enlists them in the struggle.
Mao’s military thinking was extremely scientific. He argued that since the Red Army started out much weaker than the government troops, a quick victory was impossible. And engaging in all-out military battles would only lead to getting crushed. But by avoiding decisive tests of strength and waging guerrilla warfare, the revolutionary forces in China could defeat and weaken the enemy in smaller battles and, through a protracted process, gain popular support, increase in strength and numbers and extend their control. Mao said it was necessary to pursue a strategic policy of protracted warfare in the countryside to gradually bring about a change in the unfavorable balance of strength. And to carry this out Mao developed many different principles of guerrilla warfare like: “When the enemy advances, we retreat; when the enemy halts, we harass; when the enemy tires, we attack; when the enemy retreats, we pursue.”
In 1932 Japan invaded China. The Japanese launched a “kill all, burn all” campaign in which, over the years, 30 million Chinese people were killed. In December of 1937, Japanese troops entered Nanking and 50,000 Japanese troops were let loose in an orgy of rape, murder and looting. In four weeks 300,000 people were killed. Japanese soldiers beheaded babies and raped thousands of females, including young girls and old women. Thousands of men were lined up and machine-gunned. Groups of Chinese were used for bayonet practice. Others were doused with kerosene and burned alive. This was a mad, brutal war aimed at totally subjugating the Chinese people and breaking their will to resist.
The communists led the people to fight the Japanese, while Chiang Kai-shek refused to mobilize his troops—except to attack the communists. Chiang’s imperialist-backed KMT troops launched massive attacks against the Red Army. In 1933 a million KMT troops, tanks and airplanes were mobilized against the Red Army. On October 16, 1934, Mao and the Red Army were forced to make a strategic retreat from Kiangsi and embark on the amazing LONG MARCH.
The Red Army, with Mao leading, marched over 6,000 miles through some of the most hazardous terrain on earth. They went through 12 provinces in which 200 million people lived. They crossed 18 mountain ranges and 24 rivers and occupied 62 cities and towns. They fought and beat one million KMT soldiers, averaged nearly one skirmish a day and made 235 day marches and 18 night marches. Mao called the Long March a manifesto, a propaganda force and a seeding machine. He said, “It has sown many seeds which will sprout, leaf, blossom and bear fruit, and will yield a harvest in the future.”
Three months into the Long March, in January 1935, the Red Army reached Tsunyi, in Kweichow Province. Here, the leaders of the Communist Party held a very important conference that turned out to be a crucial turning point. For the first time, the Party united around Mao’s line on political and military strategy, and his overall leadership. When the Red Army left Tsunyi, almost 4,000 peasants from the area joined the march.
On October 20, 1935, a year after leaving Kiangsi, the Long March ended in the North Shensi area. Some 100,000 started the Long March and only about 20,000 finished. While the Long March was a strategic retreat, it was not a defeat. The Red Army reached its new base area with its leadership intact and its political will as strong as ever.
The communists proved to be the best fighters against the Japanese invaders. In 1936, Mao had argued that the KMT and the Communists should form a united front against the Japanese invaders. But while Chiang Kai-shek, head of the KMT, was saving his weapons and soldiers to fight the communists, the Red Army fought 75 percent of the battles with the Japanese between 1937 and 1945. Red armies fought 92,000 battles, killed a million enemy troops, and captured 150,000 prisoners.
But none of this could have happened spontaneously. Mao developed theory to solve the problems of the revolution, and guide its course. Through all this, he made important and necessary new contributions to the science of communism. During this period Mao tackled the problems of the strategy to make revolution in a nation oppressed by imperialism, military affairs, and philosophy. Such works as “On Contradiction,” “On Practice,” “On New Democracy,” and many others made important contributions to the understanding of revolutionaries all over the world—and continue to be relevant today. Moreover, Mao’s method and approach in tackling these problems is itself an important thing to learn from. In all these arenas Mao both thoroughly rooted himself in Marxist theory but also found it necessary to break with convention in certain important respects.
At the end of 1939, Mao wrote the path-breaking essay, “On New Democracy.” Dealing with the specific question of China, he showed that because it had been dominated by imperialist powers for decades, China had never been able to develop as an independent nation and its economy was distorted and dependent. Imperialist development had led to the transformation of some of China’s more backward production relations. But feudal and semi-feudal economic relations—like landlords owning land and oppressing peasants—existed alongside of, and were incorporated into, capitalist relations; the backward political institutions and ideas that went along with this continued in force, while the Chinese nation overall was dominated by the imperialist powers.
Mao conceived of the revolution in China and other oppressed nations as a two-stage process. The first stage is the new-democratic revolution. This revolution unites all who can be united to kick out imperialism and overthrow feudalism and semi-feudalism, and the bureaucrat-capitalist class and the state system dependent on and serving imperialism. There are important democratic tasks that have to be carried out in this first stage—most especially agrarian land reform based on “land to the tiller,” as well as other democratic demands like an end to the oppression of national minorities and women. While these demands typically arise in the context of the bourgeois-democratic revolution,* and have the potential to open the door to capitalist development, Mao argued that if this struggle were waged as part of the world communist revolution—and specifically if the new state brought into being by the revolution was a form of revolutionary political power led by the proletariat while uniting with the peasantry, with a perspective and program of moving relatively quickly to socialism—then such a revolution could also open up the door to the socialist transition to communism. And Mao analyzed that such a revolution can and must unite in its first stage with sections of capitalists as well as enlightened strata that oppose imperialist domination.
In opposition to some in the Chinese Communist Party, Mao firmly maintained that the whole revolutionary process had to be led by the proletariat and carried out from the very beginning with a clear strategic perspective of socialism and communism. So while the revolution passes through distinct stages, it must be seen and led as a unified process with a red thread running throughout, guided by the outlook, ideology and politics of the proletariat and its goal of a communist world.
After the Long March, Mao and his troops set up a base area in Yenan where they rebuilt the Red Army and the Party with the aim of not only driving out Japan, but defeating the KMT and seizing nationwide power.
Thousands of peasants, workers and intellectuals came to Yenan where the seeds of a new socialist society were being planted and revolutionary groups were formed around all aspects of life. There were associations of women, youth, peasants, workers, school children, and old people. There was even an association of “loafers” who met to talk about how they could become productive members of a new society.
The masses were mobilized to uproot the brutality and poverty of feudalism. Arranged marriages, opium smoking, infanticide, child slavery, and prostitution were eliminated. And religion and superstition started to be replaced with scientific and revolutionary knowledge. Brutal landowners were no longer allowed to savagely exploit the people (and, with the defeat of the Japanese in 1945 and the onset once again of civil war, land was broadly redistributed to the peasants who worked it).
Among the artists and intellectuals from the big cities who came to Yenan was Chiang Ching, who joined the Party in 1933 and came to Yenan in 1937. Chiang Ching taught dramatic art at the Art Academy that had been formed in Yenan and joined the propaganda teams that were sent out to the countryside to put on plays for the peasants. Mao had an intense interest in writers, poets and artists and appreciated the role culture plays in molding public opinion in society. He attended plays, concerts and dances at the academy. He met Chiang Ching, the two fell in love and were married in 1939.
Western journalists like Edgar Snow and Anna Louise Strong who visited Yenan were struck by Mao’s connection with the people, his energy and his philosophical loftiness. One historian wrote: “There are many photographs of Mao, in patched trousers, worn and baggy jackets, pockets always deformed by books and papers. There are also many reminiscences of interviews with him of their length—sometimes lasting all night, of Mao’s untiring passion for explanation down to the last detail. He would join in the fun of parties, laugh at theatricals, in photographs he has a habit of not trying to occupy the center of the picture. Anna Louise Strong has left us a charming word picture of Mao dancing to a timing of his own—he is not a good dancer—of children running in and out of his cave while he worked. There is a kind of childish, impish gaiety about Mao, but it can change into deadly seriousness in a second.... In speaking, he has a way of presenting a most complicated subject so that even the uneducated man can understand it. He never talks above the heads of his audience but he never talks down to them either. There is a real flow of intimacy between him and the people. He always seems to be in contact.” (Han Suyin in Morning Deluge)
Yenan became the center of a movement to fan out and expand the liberated areas throughout China. And by 1945, there were 19 Red bases in nine provinces, and the population under communist administration was around 100 million people.
In 1945 the Japanese invaders were finally defeated. At that point, the U.S.—which had not attacked the communists while the communists fought Japan—immediately changed its tactics. It did everything it could to help the KMT defeat the communists. 90,000 U.S. Marines were sent in to occupy key cities, protect ports, airports, communications centers, coal mines and railways for the KMT. American advisers trained KMT officers and the U.S. gave Chiang modern weapons and vehicles. In the next two years Chiang would get 1.5 billion dollars in equipment and loans from the United States (which in today’s dollars would be roughly 13 billion dollars). But the People’s Liberation Army prevailed and in the first half of 1949, nearly half a million KMT troops were defeated. Chiang Kai-shek’s government fell in April and the People’s Liberation Army captured major cities in the following months.
On October 1, 1949, Mao stood in Tiananmen Square in the capital city of Beijing to announce the formation of the People’s Republic of China. He spoke to a crowd of millions and declared: “The Chinese people have stood up!”
Mao had led the Chinese people in 20 years of armed struggle to overthrow their oppressors and drive out foreign imperialism. Now the people had the power to build socialism—as a transitional society with the goal of a communist world free of classes, and all the oppressive relations and ideas that go along with class society.
On this historic day, Mao shared in the people’s joy and celebration, but he also understood, as he had pointed out, that: “The Chinese revolution is great, but the road after revolution will be longer, the work greater and more arduous...”
Next—Part 2: The tremendous achievements of the Chinese revolution once in power—and why and how it was defeated, and capitalism restored.
Recommended reading about Mao Tsetung in this period of China’s history:
Red Star Over China by Edgar Snow
These books are available at amazon.com, Revolution Books and many major bookstores.
Revolution #140, August 17, 2008
“One World, One Dream” and Beijing Olympics:
Li Ning, the Chinese Olympian, flies around the rim of the Bird’s Nest stadium with giant steps. He touches his torch to the wall. The fire races up a spiral and bursts into the great flame of the Olympic Torch standing at the head of the stadium. “One World, One Dream.” The 29th Olympiad is open.
One World, One Dream. Billions of people around the world dream of a world without wars, without hunger and poverty, without cruel and oppressive divisions among people. But the harsh and painful reality is that the world that now exists is an imperialist world, where a handful of dominant imperialist powers and their capitalist cohorts in the oppressed nations rule over the vast majority in the oppressed regions of the globe. Where a small handful control and appropriate the wealth created by the masses of people slaving in the factories and on the farms worldwide. Where wars rage for control of key regions and resources. People are divided by race, by religion, by gender, and in an almost infinite number of other ways. Ideologies like white supremacy, patriarchy, religious fundamentalism to justify and support this exploitation and oppression, to keep whole sections of the human race under the domination of others. There is no peace, no better world—just the relentless demand that people accept and acquiesce to what for most in the world is a relentlessly profit-driven, unending brutal nightmare.
The Olympics traditionally start with national teams marching into the stadium, each under their own flag. The days that follow are filled with intense, even fierce, competition. But through the course of this, respect and even friendships begin to form among many of the competing athletes. By the closing ceremonies, when the athletes are encouraged to re-enter the stadium not with their own teammates, but with athletes from other nations, their arms-around-each-others-shoulders camaraderie comes from a genuine respect and love for other athletes and cultures.
The distance traveled between the opening and closing ceremonies promotes the illusion that the Olympics are meant to break down the walls dividing us nation by nation and unite humanity as one. But the reality is far different. What goes on between the opening and closing is the conscious manipulation of the aspirations of many people, redirected into the promotion of national pride and narrowness. And especially in the hands of the imperialist powers, it becomes national chauvinism—like the ugly “my-country-first-and-above-all” Americanism we are all too familiar with. There’s the endless speculation over whether the U.S. or China will win the medals race—packed full of implicit and explicit criticism of how China trains its athletes. There’s the whining to come when “our” team loses, and the gloating when it wins.
And for the U.S. ruling class, “One World, One Dream” is the dream that the whole world, entrapped as it is in the imperialist web, will forever remain under the domination of this one superpower.
* * * * *
Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Olympics has given China the chance to step out onto the world stage, no longer kept in the background. A chance to dazzle and astonish people around the globe and put on its best performance, to show the world what it has become. It is China’s “coming out party” as a new world power, and the Chinese rulers have pulled out all the stops.
But China has emerged as an economic and political power in a complex world.
To start with, there is the nature of China itself. There is a great deal of confusion—deliberately spread by the media, by world leaders, and by China’s government itself—over the claim that China is “socialist.” China is actually a capitalist country, not a socialist one. Socialism was overthrown in 1976 by opponents of Mao right within the top ranks of the Chinese Communist Party who joined the revolution to liberate China from the humiliating domination of the imperialist powers but whose sights were not on the communist goal, but instead on making China a rich and powerful country. As the socialist transformation of society towards communism advanced, they developed a deep hatred for the revolutionary direction China was traveling, and when they seized power they quickly turned China into a capitalist country—one that is now profoundly enmeshed in, and in some ways pivotal to, global capitalism.
For their part, the U.S. imperialists have welcomed China’s entry onto the world stage—but with the understanding that by walking onto that stage, China is agreeing to act as a “responsible member” of the imperialist world community, to abide by international agreements and function as part of U.S.-dominated institutions like the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. It’s like the Godfather inviting a rival, and less powerful, mobster to sit at the table and share in some of the mob’s illicit proceeds—the Godfather still sits at the head of the table and has overall control of the division of mob spoils, and the invitation comes with the understanding the junior mobster will find his place within the Don’s framework.
One expression of this complex relationship is when—and how—the U.S. raises criticisms of China. On August 7, the day before arriving in Beijing, Bush gave a major speech in Thailand about U.S. relations in Asia. He criticized China’s detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and certain religious activists. At the same time he stressed that China and the U.S. share important economic, political and military-security concerns. Bush’s criticisms attempted to take some of the sheen off the Olympic rings—to say China might be making huge strides toward joining the powerful nations of the world, but it still hasn’t gotten there, it still doesn’t really qualify as “modern” and “enlightened.” But, at the same time, the remarks were carefully measured. CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor noted that they were made to “appease critics of China, but...the speech won’t have a huge long-term impact.” Bush then went on to attend the opening ceremonies. In other words, the U.S. isn’t willing to admit China as an equal plunderer in the world, but it does recognize that China needs to be one of the teams out on the field of play.
It is important to understand that China’s rise as a major capitalist power has come in a period where the global capitalist-imperialist system is in flux. The U.S. still occupies the primary position in the imperialist world economy, but it is encountering difficulties in pursuing its global agenda. At the same time, China is a highly dynamic element in the equation: It is dependent on foreign capital and foreign markets, but it has also emerged as an economic power—a center of world manufacturing; a country that has accumulated vast foreign exchange reserves and gained considerable financial leverage, including increasingly over the dollar; and a country aggressively seeking markets in the Third World and exporting capital beyond its borders. And China is increasingly playing a political role in the world.1 The Olympics are taking place in the midst of this flux.
China’s rulers see the Games as an opportunity to firm up their control within China, to help solidify China’s place as a member of the world’s economic and political powers, and within all this to “stretch their muscles” and try to gain further strength. This involves a number of interpenetrating initiatives and objectives:
They are using the Games to forge a sense of national pride among the Chinese people and a feeling of “confidence and hope for the future,” as basketball superstar Yao Ming said at the end of the opening ceremonies. Tens of thousands of Chinese citizens filled the stands at the Bird’s Nest national stadium for the opening events, and perhaps a billion more watched the events on TV. This is an opportunity to “bring the nation together,” an opportunity to cover over and blunt what are sharp—indeed, potentially explosive—social divisions within Chinese society.
Bringing home the gold—medals, that is—is an important element in this. As soon as the Olympic bid was clinched in 2001, China’s government launched a national effort to develop and fund special centralized programs to train world-class athletes dubbed “Project 119,” named for the number of gold medals China believes it can win. The authorities understand that not only will this be a powerful boost to national pride, but that the number of medals won reflects on a nation’s stature in the world. Many commentators expect China will win the largest number of gold medals.
The Chinese government has poured an estimated $43 billion into reinventing Beijing to project an image to the people of China and to the world that China is now a modern, advanced society, able to handle the complexities of global power and influence. They tore down almost all of the ancient hutongs, or narrow alleyways and courtyards, constructing in their place dramatic Olympic venues, dozens of new hotels and shopping complexes. More than one commentator has likened China to a phoenix, rising from the ashes of its past as a subjugated country, and now able to stand up as a world power.
There is an economic element to this, using the Olympics to project an image of stability and solidity, and through this to attract new and bigger investors from among the imperialist powers, as well as to penetrate new markets in the imperialist countries and elsewhere to sell Chinese manufactured goods. But China’s rulers have international political and ideological objectives as well. For example, they are making some particular efforts (going well beyond the framework of the Olympics) to appeal to other countries in the Third World who chaff under imperialist domination by promoting China’s path as a model of “socialist” economic development, and thereby hopefully convince other Third World nations to enter into economic and political arrangements with China so that they, too, can benefit from this path. Such arrangements, no matter what their “socialist” cover, will offer the rulers of these countries aid, technology and expertise to develop their economies. And such a relationship is not aimed at freeing these countries from outside domination, but with the aim of locking them into a relationship which is subordinate to and benefiting Chinese capital and its position in the world.
The Olympic Opening Ceremony was a dramatic and spectacular combination of high-tech artistry, collective human skill and precision, and backward-looking feudal philosophy. It was China’s powers-that-be unabashedly promoting the wonders of material wealth and high-tech know-how acquired from capitalism, all put in the service of the explicit promotion of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s Confucian ideal of a Harmonious Society.
Confucius was a reactionary philosopher who lived in China 2,000 years ago. He championed the view that the division of society between oppressed and oppressor flowed from the “Mandate of Heaven” and therefore could not—and should not—be changed. Harkening back to the time of Confucius, the current Chinese government is promoting this idea at a time when Chinese society contains significant discord, with potential for major disruptions. The Harmonious Society that the revisionist—phony communist—Chinese “Communist” Party offers the people is the same kind of promise made by the emperors centuries ago: that those in charge will take care of the people in exchange for the population obediently following the dictates of the rulers.
This promise has significant appeal to certain sections of people. While the Party is “communist” in name, it has jettisoned any genuine revolutionary and communist aims as part of the overthrow of socialist society after Mao died. China’s rulers have kept the “communist” pretense—the Party name and structures, the ability to mouth “revolutionary”-sounding rhetoric when it is useful in misdirecting people’s aspirations for a better world. They have tried to use Mao, the revolutionary, as a nationalist icon to legitimize their rule—leaving the giant portrait of Mao hanging over Tiananmen Square, and using other symbols from the revolutionary past when it serves their ability to maintain social control in Chinese society. The overthrow of the actual socialist relations, and the ugly rebirth of grinding exploitation and poverty—and the sharp and severe class polarization in society which has resulted—has given rise to broad discontent (including sharp instances of resistance and struggle) and a widespread “nostalgia” for Mao.
Many people who lived through the period when Mao was alive remember how society was much more egalitarian; how working people were treated with honor and respect, rather than simply as sources of profit. Millions of them were students during the Cultural Revolution and have very positive memories of going to the factories or the countryside to live side by side with workers and peasants, “learning from the masses” and “serving the people” as the revolutionaries put it while also bringing their knowledge, skills and revolutionary enthusiasm to help further transform and revolutionize society. Even those who were not born until after the 1976 coup that restored capitalism have some sense that Mao stood for the people, while large sections of the current leadership stand only for themselves and their power and fortunes.
In the face of all these sharp contradictions, these capitalist rulers have been striving to forge legitimacy on a new, nationalist basis, which involves China becoming a great power and the great mass of Chinese people “investing” their hopes for a better future in that—a hope that is as illusory as it is cruel.
These nationalist feelings didn’t spring up out of thin air. China has a long and bloody history of national oppression and humiliation at the hands of foreign imperialist powers: British gunboats sailed up the Yangtze River in the 1850s to crush the rebellion of Chinese who rose up against Britain’s importation of opium from India into China to keep the masses of Chinese “coolie” labor addicted and unable to resist foreign exploitation. Tens of thousands of Chinese who emigrated to the U.S. to help build the railroads were the victims of degrading national oppression and periodic murderous pogroms. Japan invaded China in 1937 as part of the growing imperialist rivalry leading up to World War II, seizing control of some of the richest industrial areas in the northeast and subjecting the Chinese people to years of horrendous oppression, like the assault on the city of Nanjing where 75,000 civilians were murdered and women were subjected to mass rape by the invading Japanese imperialist troops. And today the U.S. is the imperialist power dominating and dictating to China. All of this and more has led to a deep, justified hatred among the people of China for the national humiliation and subjugation they have endured.
But let’s be clear: There was a time when China had broken the vice grip of foreign domination, when China was developing independent of imperialist control. It was the period of Maoist revolution and socialism from 1949 to 1976. The Chinese Revolution broke the stranglehold of the foreign imperialist powers and the bureaucrat-capitalist rule that served the imperialists. It uprooted the foundations of feudalism in the countryside. For over 25 years under Mao, the Chinese people built a balanced economy that truly served the people, not the imperialists. And that period ended only after the bourgeois forces currently ruling China overthrew socialism and delivered China back over to imperialist domination.
China’s leaders are attempting to leverage their increasingly important role in the imperialist system to carve out a place in the world economy and world politics. But they are doing this from within the imperialist system, not in opposition to or outside of it. This is bound to increase social and class divisions in society as a minority of Chinese improve their situation, while the majority remain locked in desperate poverty and suffering. Both the Confucian idea of a “Harmonious Society” and the promotion of national pride work in different ways to provide the ideological glue to hold the Chinese people together under the domination of the revisionist “Communist” Party.
While enormous amounts of the profits generated by China’s capitalist economic boom have flowed to the imperialist countries, the boom has also had significant impact on income levels for sections of the Chinese population. A relatively small number of the biggest industrialists, financiers and other corporate leaders have amassed huge incomes. Higher-ranking government officials and mid-level factory owners and developers are buying townhouses in brand new gated communities, shopping in luxury stores and taking vacations in other parts of the world. Estimates put the number of people in this category in China at about 175 million, which is a large number in absolute terms, but only about 15% of the population. In China, car ownership is growing, but only about 6% of Chinese people currently own a car—from the perspective of the auto industry, China is a major market, but from the perspective of Chinese society, only a very small percentage of Chinese households owns a car.
In short, there are significant newly better-off sections of Chinese society that are very supportive of government policies and China’s current political and economic path.
But China has a population of 1.3 billion people. Hundreds of millions of workers in the cities live in horrific poverty. And 700 to 800 million people live in China’s vast impoverished countryside (most surviving on less than $2 a day). The rural healthcare system has collapsed—as a group of elderly villagers told Discovery Channel’s Ted Koppel when he asked them what they do when they get sick, “We wait to die.” Many peasant children cannot afford to attend school beyond the first few grades. Parents who want to keep their kids in school are often required to pay as much as half or more of their annual income in tuition.
Political and economic policies of China’s capitalist ruling class—like the decision 25 years ago to dismantle the rural communes (large-scale collective farms) and instead institute a system where individual families were given small plots of land and basically told to fend for themselves—have led to extreme economic and social polarization. The income gap between China’s urban and rural areas is, by some statistics, greater than in any other country in the world, and this is profoundly destabilizing.
In the last 20 years, 200 million peasants unable to provide for themselves and their families in the countryside have been lured to the cities in search of jobs. They are denied residency permits in the cities and therefore cannot obtain housing, medical care or many other services while living there. They are illegal immigrants in their own country. When these migrants can find work, the hours are long, the pay may be no more than $2-$3 a day, and they are forced to sleep in campsites or in crowded dormitories.
Peasant lands are being seized and used for housing developments and new businesses through a collusion between village party officials and developers. Peasants are removed from the land, often without enough compensation to find another place to live, and village officials get big pay-offs. For those who are still on the land, the pollution of streams and lakes by newly built factories and housing developments often make it impossible for farmers to grow their crops. And people are left without drinking water.
Workers in the giant factories and assembly plants filling the needs of companies like Walmart and American garment retailers often work 16-hour days and are locked inside the factories at night. Most of China’s energy comes from coal, much of it from tiny, dangerous mines that pockmark whole sections of the countryside. Safety conditions are often so poor that in recent years, an average of 17 miners a day have died in mine accidents.
These horrifying conditions led to 87,000 officially acknowledged incidents of mass protest in the last year alone. In June, for example, anger boiled over in the southwestern Chinese town of Weng’an after a teen-age girl was found dead and family members disputed the official story that she had committed suicide, claiming that she had been raped and murdered by a high-ranking official’s son. When relatives paraded through the town of 65,000 carrying her picture and demanding justice, they were quickly joined by 30,000 people who rioted for almost 7 hours, ransacking the police station and two government offices.
The massive earthquake that struck rural Sichuan Province in May 2008 brought many of the social contradictions to the surface. The quake caused massive destruction and left as many as 70,000 people dead. While the earthquake was a natural disaster caused by forces of nature, much of the death toll and much of the economic devastation stemmed from human causes. For example, an estimated 7,000 schoolrooms collapsed because of shoddy construction. Large numbers of these “tofu buildings” were put up with grossly deficient amounts of steel and concrete reinforcement. While corruption is rampant in China, the main factor in the shoddy materials was that the class divide in China provides an opportunity to make extra profit by using inferior materials in schools for working class students. When the quake hit, the schools pancaked, crushing to death the students and teachers inside, while buildings right next door remained standing.
People throughout China and around the world were brought to tears by TV coverage of parents who set up makeshift memorials, propping photos of their dead children on school desks pulled out of the rubble and demanding an accounting from the government for why this happened. For the first few weeks after the temblor, Chinese TV was filled with images of grieving parents, juxtaposed with coverage of Chinese premier Wen Jiabao—dubbed “Grandpa Wen” by the media—personally touring the damaged towns and shedding tears at the people’s losses. But once the TV cameras were gone, Chinese government officials moved in, forcibly cleared the memorials and made it clear no further protests would be allowed.
It’s unclear how much of the internal dissatisfaction in China will remain simmering below the surface, and how much of it might actually boil over into organized protest. But China’s leaders are taking no chances. The government has mobilized 110,000 commandos, paramilitary and soldiers to guard the Olympic venues, along with 900,000 police, security guards and citizen volunteers trained to report “suspicious persons.” Special “protest zones” have been set up far from the Olympic venues and would-be demonstrators are required to submit detailed permit requests days in advance—not that different from what U.S. government officials have done in relation to the Democratic and Republican Conventions.
Moreover, the U.S. imperialists themselves have a direct interest in how internal dissatisfaction is handled by Chinese officials. Any serious outbreak of social unrest could destabilize China and spread to other sections of society—with the potential that this could shake foreign investor confidence, weaken the flow of foreign capital into China, and possibly lead to dramatic disruptions of world financial arrangements. That is at least in part why U.S. and other imperialist spokespeople have been fairly muted in their criticism of China for heavy-handed government efforts to suppress protest during the Olympics and have not pushed the Chinese leadership very hard on this. There is the sense that China’s authoritarian government is at this point the best guarantor of the kind of stability that both Chinese and foreign investors demand.
* * * * *
The Olympics remind us of the incredible athletic feats of speed, grace, and creativity that human beings are capable of. It is infuriating to watch the unique skills and artistry of these amazing athletes cynically twisted to promote an obsolete and obscene way of looking at and organizing the world. It is taken as human nature that humanity be divided up into gold, silver, bronze. . .and all the rest who can’t even compete. It is supposed to be perfectly natural that the great diversity that is our planet is dominated by a small handful who control the wealth and resources, while billions barely survive on one or two dollars a day.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can celebrate the wondrous performances of individual athletes without the winner having to stand on the broken bones and dreams of his or her opponent. The history of socialism and the profound lessons we have learned from that history show that it is possible and how it is possible to get beyond this horrifying division of the world to something far different, and far better—with a goal of a communist world.
1 For a much deeper analysis of the complexities of current world geopolitics and geo-economics, see Raymond Lotta’s essay, “Shifts and Faultlines in the World Economy and Great Power Rivalry: What Is Happening and What It Might Mean” that has been running in Revolution in recent weeks, especially “Part 2: China’s Capitalist Development and China’s Rise in the World Imperialist System: Its Nature and Implications,” Revolution #137, July 27, 2008.[back]
Revolution #140, August 17, 2008
Call from World Can’t Wait
Be there to make your sentiments loud and visible:
If you think no government should be allowed to do what the Bush regime has done the past 7 years, come to Denver and join others building a movement to that end.
If you are sickened by your government waging an endless, illegitimate, immoral war and occupation in Iraq, with ominous and immediate threats on Iran, and you demand U.S. aggression in the Middle East stop now, come to Denver and say it loudly!
If you are outraged that the war crime of torture is being committed by your government in your name with the Democratic leadership’s involvement, come to Denver to say “We Won’t Live in a Torture State!”
If you don’t buy the justification of your government spying on private calls and mail, no matter which party makes it, come to Denver to repudiate the new FISA law.
If you’re tired of politics as usual selling “change” while Obama refines the Bush program from “faith-based” initiatives to 80,000 troops “stabilizing” Iraq, and refuse to settle for less and less, come to Denver make a moral and political declaration.
If you know that only you—not your government—can bring this whole fascist direction to a halt, join with all of us in Denver to fight for a different future.
World Can’t Wait, other organizations, and thousands of Denver activists will march against the war & torture, attacks on immigrants & women’s rights; gather in parks with permits, drop banners, and meet the world press with the our demand to bring the Bush program to a halt, no matter who is president!
Sign up at 866-973-4463 or at worldcantwait.org
Revolution #140, August 17, 2008
16 July 2008
In six weeks, the Democrats meet in Denver.
As recent news makes clear, an attack on Iran could happen before the election, driving the Bush Agenda into the next administration, whoever the president is.
Who will stop an attack on Iran?
Not the Democrats who secretly authorized military operations George Bush already has underway inside Iran. Not the Democratic leaders—including Senator Obama—who insist, again and again, that “all options” remain on the table for military action against Iran, including the use of nuclear weapons!
Not the Democrats who, in their majority, including Obama, not only sanctioned retroactive immunity for the large telecom companies who went along with Bush and spied on people, but have given them prospective immunity in expanded government spying.
This war now belongs to the Democrats no less than the Republicans. If it is left to McCain and Obama, the occupation will continue for years. It was wrong to go into Iraq, it’s wrong to stay in Iraq, it’s wrong not to get out now!
If there is not a strong showing from the anti-war movement against this whole direction outside the convention, it will signal those who make war and the victims of these wars around the world that the people of this country will go along with continued occupation, with McCain or Obama sending many more troops to Afghanistan, and with threats to Iran. The Bush regime promised a war to last generations. Are we against this, or not?
The anti-war movement must set a standard of resistance, not accommodate what is intolerable. Only the people—not the politicians—can force open debate over why the U.S. occupation must end now. Only we can act on our convictions, letting others know that an end to the illegal, unjust and immoral wars and occupations will not happen without massive mobilization of the people, and that putting all your hopes and energies into the elections will not bring the change millions desire.
Some people say protest does not work. They are WRONG! What does not work is passivity in the face of a government being more widely exposed as committing war crimes and a public increasingly sickened by what is being done in their name. If the anti-war movement was so ineffectual why did the New York Times have to call it the “other superpower”?
Whether one plans on voting for Obama or not, we all must be in the streets making our clear opposition to torture, bloody occupations and any new war against Iran vividly clear. People are traveling the country to campaign for Obama. With a strong call from the anti-war movement, some will be willing to bring an anti-war message to Denver.
Local Denver activists have gone to court for permits for political protest outside the convention, and have permits for nearby parks. Recreate68 plans a march against the war on Sunday August 24, the day before the convention starts. The Alliance for Real Democracy, another coalition, is currently not planning to join this march.
Whatever differences exist, they pale in comparison to the responsibility those of us who are not at peace with being at war have to stop the U.S. occupation of the Middle East. The world needs to see us in the streets in Denver, marching together on the eve of the convention opening.
If you’re concerned this protest will be too small, you’re not alone. The people in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan & Pakistan whose lives may be lost to further US aggression share that concern. It is the responsibility of those of us who know the devastation and misery the continued occupation of Iraq and an attack on Iran would bring to the world, to struggle to bring many more forward to participate in this.
This is a call to MARCH together with the demand Stop the War in Iraq/Afghanistan, and Stop an Attack on Iran! You could have separate rallies and speakers at different sites in the park, but call out the many thousands of people to march together.
We will join with others in mobilizing everyone who has ever been against this war, and all those who know in their hearts this is wrong, to be in the streets of Denver, standing with the people of the world and refusing to be party to these wars.
We the undersigned will do all we can to get people to Denver to participate.
Fr. Bob Bossie, SCJ
C. Clark Kissinger
Revolution #140, August 17, 2008
Two (Not So) Different Sports Systems:
The race for the gold is on. China and the U.S. are going head to head, favorites to win the most total medals and gold medals. In the buildup to the games, and in various ways throughout the media coverage in the U.S., a picture is being portrayed of an inherently superior U.S. sports system, as an expression of what are supposed to be fundamentally better values in U.S. society. When Team USA wins, it proves the superiority of the American system. When China wins an event, the undertone is that this is the result of the unfair advantages of a sports system that financially subsidizes sports, and mistreats and even abuses athletes.
But what you find if you really look at the sports systems in both countries is that the United States takes second place to nobody when it comes to providing massive funding for high level athletics, and imposing a win-at-all-costs ethic that chews up athletes.
Compared to China, the U.S. has a more decentralized system for bringing forward elite athletes. The U.S. system relies more on corporations and on organized high school and college athletics programs, although by the time U.S. athletes get to the Olympic level, the system becomes more centralized because it falls under the purview of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
But focusing on the form through which sports get funded doesn’t get to the essence of what is actually going on with athletes. Underlying this is the fact that, despite the “socialist” forms maintained in China, both the U.S. and China are capitalist countries.
While elite athletes in China do come up in a state athletic system, their role in society is still framed by the same kind of capitalist relations that set the terms for sports in the United States. In China there’s Liu Xiang, winner of the 110-meter hurdle at the Athens Olympics, who has endorsements with Nike, Coca Cola, Kia, Visa, Yili Dairy, Shanshan Xifu (a state-owned suit company) and many other companies. Yao Ming, who carried the Chinese flag in the opening ceremonies this week, has become one of the highest paid sports stars in the world. He and LeBron James co-star in a Coke ad run constantly during the Olympics. And we don’t even have to talk about American athletes. Their drive to become richer than the next athlete is well documented every day in the sports pages.
The fact is that there are way too many similarities between the capitalist U.S. sports system and the capitalist Chinese sports system. And these are bad similarities of a capitalist system that engenders capitalist relations in every sphere in society. In sports these relations include victories over the broken backs of those who never make it, sports serving capitalist profits, and sports promoting national chauvinism—“my country over your country.”
Is it the case that athletes in the U.S. are at an unfair disadvantage, in comparison to China, because the U.S. Olympic Committee spends less on Olympians than the Chinese government spends? Not really, because U.S. athletes receive massive funding in other ways. Many U.S. Olympians have received college scholarships, free room and board, use of excellent training facilities, and coaches, all provided to them by the colleges. Even at the high school level, these athletes have received free training and use the facilities provided to them through the schools—many of them private schools, where the top athletes get scholarships. At the very elite level, many U.S. athletes who will participate in the Olympics have had private coaching paid for by shoe and clothing companies, such as Nike, Adidas and Puma, and many receive additional funds from these companies for wearing their shoes and clothing. So, despite the fact that there is a difference in where the funds come from for U.S. and Chinese Olympic athletes, it is really impossible to say whether one or the other receives more free funds for training and coaching.
One message you will pick up on, if you listen closely to how athletes are profiled during the games, or if you read more in-depth sports analysis, is that the U.S. sports system supposedly is better than the Chinese system because it values athletes as people, while the Chinese system just uses young people who show athletic talent—that unlike Chinese athletes who are abused, over-trained and forced to compete while injured, who are not allowed to spend any time on academics, the U.S. sports system values athletes as people.
It is true in China, for many peasants and poor people, sending their children to the government sports schools means giving them access to much better education, health care, and nutrition than they would otherwise receive in the countryside. Success as an athlete would also give the child a chance to make enough money to help support the parents.
But this is very much the case in the ghettos and barrios of the United States. The movie Hoop Dreams, for example, documents how the hopes of whole families rest on the chance that someone can get a basketball scholarship to a decent high school, and maybe a college—with millions dreaming of a pro career that only a handful actually get. Even for people in less desperate circumstances, a child’s athletic career is seen as a possible source of financial security. In Why Johnny Hates Sports—Why Organized Sports Are Failing Our Children and What We Can Do About It, Fred Engh writes about parents “hoping a child’s basketball accomplishments can be the parent’s 401(k) ticket.”
And what do those athletes do when they get to college? If we are going to hear about how Chinese are athletes first and scholars second, let’s look at the system here. Anyone who has participated in big-time college sports knows that there is a contradiction in that term “student-athlete.” Even at small Division III colleges, where there are no athletic scholarships, athletes are pushed to spend more time on the field or track, at the gym or the weight room, than in the classroom and library studying.
And at the earliest levels, sports in the United States are highly commercialized. Even at high schools with high-level sports programs, let alone college athletic teams, sports programs rely on corporate funding from companies like Nike and Adidas.
One of the charges you hear about the Chinese sports system is that athletes are separated as children from their families. This is true, but again, let’s look a little closer to home. The time commitment made by these youth in America is huge, and it is just as true in women’s basketball as it is in men’s. In the article, “They Got Game,” Rebecca R. Kahlenberg states, “[Women] players compete year-round, with one to three practices weekly and typically more than 100 games during the year.” She quotes the director of operations for D.C.-based One on One Basketball, who says, “In the past 10 years all major youth sports have become year-round commitments.”
A senior in high school told the Washington Post, “I’ve played in over 90 games a year since the seventh grade and that doesn’t include school games. When I was 13, I played in Martinsville, Richmond, and Alexandria on the same day. The coach just put us all in his van and drove [the 300 miles round-trip].”(“Our Own March Madness, All Year-Round,”, by Patrick Walsh, The Washington Post, March 24, 2002). Cully Payne, a sophomore high school basketball player, who verbally committed to DePaul before starting high school, “has been so busy playing recently that his dad said he saw his son ‘three days in July.’” (“Prep Coaches Cringe, But Players Flock to AAU Ball,” by John Lemon, Chicago Daily Herald, August 12, 2006.)
There have been a number of exposés in the U.S. media pointing out how Chinese athletes are subjected to abuses from coaches. An article in the San Jose Mercury News reported that, “[Chinese] coaches at times push their students hard, even hitting them when they don’t meet standards”(August 13, 2007.) USA Today, quoting a former IOC member, reported that “[Chinese] gymnasts were being physically abused.”(June 14, 2007)
But this happens in the United States as well. Women’s gymnastics (excluding rhythmic and trampoline) will be a hot event in the Olympics, pitting the U.S. against China for many of the competitive matches. Abuse of young athletes is particularly extreme in the world of women’s gymnastics.
After interviewing former U.S. Olympian Dominique Moceanu, who at age 14 was part of the 1996 gold-medal team, the Los Angeles Times wrote that Moceanu recounted how “Martha Karolyi once grabbed her by the neck and slammed her face into a phone and that former coach Bela Karolyi twice berated her about her weight in front of national teammates. She also related that when she hurt her neck in practice Martha Karolyi told her to call her parents. She recounted how she was forced to do 16 uneven bars routines in a row by Martha Karolyi.” (“Dominique Moceanu Accuses Martha and Bela Karolyi of Abuse,” by Diane Pucin, July 23, 2008)
Jennifer Sey was, at one time, the No. 1 gymnast in America. An article in The Observer newspaper revealed some of the allegations in Sey’s book, Chalked Up, which exposed “widespread eating dis-orders, coaches suspected of being sexually attracted to their young charges, and a brutal physical regime that leaves gymnasts crippled in later life and bearing psychological scars.”
The Observer article writes that Sey’s “life as a competitive gymnast was one of seemingly unending competitive pressure that went far beyond the vault or the parallel bars. Most damaging was the constant pressure to lose weight put on the girls, many of whom were barely in their teens and often younger. Sey describes eating disorders being common and coaches humiliating their athletes by calling them fat. In one memorable scene a coach picks up a loudhailer and berates a young gymnast in public for putting on 2lb. ‘At this rate you’ll look like your mother in no time,’ the coach screams, as the mother watches in the crowd and does nothing to intervene. In another incident, Sey’s coach chastises her for eating a whole bagel for dinner.”
And, according to the Observer, “perhaps the most controversial part of the book are allegations that top coaches had unhealthy attractions towards the pre-pubescent girls who populate the sport. Those parts of the book have caused ructions in the gymnastic world, with Sey being both condemned and applauded for bringing the sport’s ‘dirty little secret’ into the open. ‘It is the exception not the rule, but it does exist,’ Sey said. But she added that the really shocking thing was the attitude of silence within the sport. ‘There are suspected improprieties, but no one is bothered to ask. No one wants to upset the apple cart,’ she said. (“Secret World of a Gymnast: Starvation, Sex and Fear: The Shocking New Memoirs of a Top U.S. Athlete Reveal the Dark Side of the Struggle to Win Gold,” by Paul Harris, April 27, 2008).
Sey’s allegations have provided a glimpse into the treatment of young women gymnasts in the U.S. sports system, but the kinds of abuses she alleges are documented in other testimony and studies. One study carried out by the University of Utah found that 59 percent of elite U.S. Olympic hopefuls in gymnastics admitted to having at least one type of eating disorder. Another study found that 62 percent of college gymnasts (generally considered too old for world-class competition) practiced at least one form of anorexia (vomiting or the use of laxatives, diuretics or diet pills).
The U.S. media has run exposes on how Chinese athletes are forced to perform even when injured. An article in the New York Times leading up to the Olympics wrote: “For many (Chinese) athletes playing through injuries is standard practice.” (“China Presses Injured Athletes in Quest for Gold,” by Howard W. French, June 20, 2008)
And there have been exposures in the U.S. media about Chinese former athletes who end up with nothing after their bodies have been used up by the sports system.
But again, this is endemic in U.S. sports. Kerri Strug, a U.S. gymnast, competed in the 1996 Olympics on one ankle after being injured, and then had to be carried by coach Bella Karolyi to the medal podium. Don’t tell us that only Chinese athletes play while injured.
What about the NFL? Brent Boyd, who is temporarily blind in one eye from his six years as an NFL lineman told the Los Angeles Times, “I couldn’t tell you how many [concussions] I had…. We didn’t count them. They were a nuisance, like hitting your funny bone.” Boyd, who cannot work, gets a $1,500 monthly NFL disability check.
A still-mainly-suppressed scandal is the scope of severe brain damage to NFL players. An article in Men’s Journal listed the following examples: “Post-mortem exams of Andre Waters (suicide at 44), Terry Long (suicide at 45), Justin Strzelczyk (car crash at 36), Mike Webster (heart attack at 50)—showed staggering brain damage in men so young.” (“Casualties of the NFL”) Other buried scandals include the widespread abuse of painkillers to enable players to continue in games, often resulting in body-wrecking injuries.
While playing for the Oakland Raiders Pro-Bowler lineman Dave Pear was injured in a game against Seattle in 1979. He told Men’s Journal, “I came over to the sideline and the team doctor—his nickname was Needles—sends me back in the game. He says I had a broken neck, and I was in agony the rest of the season; but he said I was a hypochondriac and there was nothing wrong with me, and shot me up with whatever he said I needed.” Pear has been in constant, grinding pain since, although he took handfuls of Percodan supplied by the Raiders staff in order to play through the Super Bowl in 1980. Pear gets a $600 /month pension from the NFL.
The U.S. can point a finger at how Chinese athletes are trained and treated, but the reality is that both countries are putting a tremendous amount of resources into developing elite athletes to compete in the Olympics. And for both countries, athletes are essentially commodities—something to exploit for glory and profit.
As the medals are being handed out in Beijing these next couple of weeks, just think about what has been stated above about what athletes in these two countries go through in their attempts to become Olympic champions—physical and mental abuse, playing while injured, placing athletics ahead of academics, promoting a culture of greed, spending a ridiculous amount of time in training at the expense of being a well-rounded person, and ending up broke at the end of their athletic careers. This is not something for Americans and Chinese to be proud of, and this is not the best that humanity can do in sports and athletics.
Revolution #140, August 17, 2008
Sunday night, July 20, ESPN aired the 2008 ESPY awards program. The ESPYs are a popular, star-studded event celebrating some of the year’s outstanding performances in sports—mainly professional sports, but including a number of performances by college and some high school athletes. It brings top athletes in many different sports together with a number of celebrities for an entertaining, glitzy evening with a lot of humor thrown in. As we wrote in Revolution #136 (July 20, 2008), there was something special happening at this year’s ESPYs—Olympic Medal-winning sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their black-gloved fists in the air on the victory stand at the 1968 Olympics as a symbolic statement against the oppression of Black people, were being presented with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, given to athletes whose actions transcend sports.
The 15-minute segment of the ESPYs where Carlos and Smith were honored and the award was presented was the highlight of the evening, and many in attendance were deeply moved by it. It clearly touched a nerve—not just among those who remember and uphold the protests and rebellions against injustice and for liberation of that period, but many people there. And it gave a glimpse of the way in which people cherish those who take a stand for the people, no matter what the cost. The actor Samuel L. Jackson, one of the presenters of the award, said in his introduction, “1968 may be 40 years ago, but for many of us like me, a 19-year-old college student at the time, the events are so vivid, so personal, they could have occurred yesterday.” The other presenter, Steve Nash—point guard for the Phoenix Suns and twice named the NBA’s MVP (Most Valuable Player of the year)—said afterwards, “To be a part of this tonight is something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.”
The centerpiece of the celebration was a nearly 8-minute video narrated by actor Tom Cruise. In a powerful and wrenching way, it showed a slice of the tumult of those times, and in particular the events of 1968 in the U.S. that were the backdrop and impetus for the Mexico City protests. New York Times reporter Robert Lipsyte says early in the film, “It’s hard to remember just how violent the ’60s were.” His comments were followed by one scene after another of vicious, racist brutality by the Ku Klux Klan, other reactionary whites, and the police using dogs and fire hoses against Black people demanding an end to discrimination and oppression. And there was more—a glimpse of Bobby Hutton Memorial Park in Oakland, named after a Black Panther Party youth murdered by the Oakland police. And there was the scene outside the 1968 Democratic Convention with protesters demanding an end to the Vietnam War, chanting “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”
Tom Brokaw, a prominent national news anchor who expresses the outlook of those who rule this country, was interviewed in the video saying “1968 was a volcanic eruption at every level,” a time when “the whole American culture kind of came unhinged.” Through the video you get a sense of the way the movements and rebellions of that period were giving strength to the athletes heading to Mexico City who were trying to decide whether, and how, to use their moment in the limelight to make a statement that would contribute to changing the world. And that is what Tommie Smith and John Carlos did.
After showing Tommie and John making their powerful black-gloved salute on the victory stand, the video goes on to show the way they were instantly attacked and vilified by the national media. They were forced out of the Olympic Village and off the U.S. Olympic team; and a mountain of public opinion was unleashed against them, while the millions who celebrated their actions were ignored.
Lee Evans, another Gold Medal-winning sprinter from 1968, describes in the video how at one point Tommie Smith came to his house with his suitcase in his hand, without a place to stay and unable to find a job. And Kimme Carlos, John Carlos’ daughter, described how her parents “were being harassed mercilessly, mercilessly.”
The video also gave other major Black sports figures an opportunity to express their thoughts. Tyrone Willingham, the current U. of Washington head football coach, said, “It’s amazing how a country can quickly turn. You win a gold medal for your country, and as soon as you take that stand and identify yourself as being proud of who you are, then you’re condemned.” Six-time Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee said, “They were willing to sacrifice themselves for something far greater than a gold medal, or a bronze medal.” And Doug Williams, MVP of Super Bowl XXII and the only Black quarterback to win the Super Bowl, said “I think most Blacks would probably tell you, that day was a great day for them because it probably gave them some hope that we’re going to be able to overcome.”
The public intellectual and Princeton professor Cornel West echoed Williams’ sentiments: “The fundamental lesson of what they did was courage; courage to think for themselves. And it’s the courage to hope. Because what they did was a sign of hope. And that’s a beautiful thing.” In the end even Brokaw admits, “It took a lot of courage for them to do what they did—a lot of courage.”
When Smith and Carlos were finally brought on stage, the entire audience came to their feet and gave them a long, enthusiastic applause. The two expressed their appreciation for the warm reception by the audience, and made clear that they both continue to thoroughly uphold their actions.
In a very real way, 40 years after their protest at the Mexico City Olympics, the actions taken by Tommie Smith and John Carlos were once again—and in many cases still—touching a deep chord in people, inspiring and bringing out the best sentiments among these athletes and other prominent figures of today, who had to be thinking about what these sprinters had been willing to put on the line in the interests of the masses of people, and whether it was worth it. An article in the Palm Springs paper Mydesert.com, where John Carlos lives, quoted the white Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow from the University of Florida who said, “They had boldness and they had character and they stood up for what they believed in. That’s great… I think it’s a great example for other people. If you believe in something, don’t be ashamed of it. Stand up for it.” It also reported that “[WNBA] Los Angeles Sparks rookie Candace Parker, born 18 years after their protest, went up to Carlos to tell him that she has a poster of him and Smith on the victory stand.”
Samuel Jackson said in an informal moment afterwards, “Watching them was so moving and so touching to me, it meant so much to me because I was a child of that revolution.”
For the very reason that this moment of celebration and reflection inspired and brought out the best in these internationally regarded athletes and actors and those watching it on TV, it drew out the worst from one of the reactionary mouthpieces and ideologues for those in power.
The L.A. Times ran an Op Ed piece a week later by reactionary columnist Jonah Goldberg entitled, “’68 Olympics salute deserves no honor.” This screed comes out of the gate attacking ESPN for honoring Smith and Carlos, calling it the “triumph of celebrity culture,” an expression of “radical chic” upholding “self-indulgent protest.” It ridicules Black ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott for wanting his daughters to understand why this was so important, the “grief and hatred” they had to face when they returned to the U.S., and the meaning of courage.
Then it goes to the heart of its attack—that “the black power salute was, for those who brandished it most seriously, a symbol of violence—rhetorical, political and literal—against the United States.” “It was the high-sign for a racist militia, the Black Panthers, which orchestrated the murder of innocents and allied itself with America’s enemies.”
Goldberg turns reality completely on its head. It was the revolutionary Black Panther Party that stood up to police brutality and murder, who became the targets of orchestrated murder organized by police forces across the country while the FBI through its COINTELPRO (counter-intelligence program) systematically worked to destroy them, leading to the murder and imprisonment of scores of young Black Panthers. He then essentially argues ‘what were they complaining about?’—saying that by the end of the 1960s, the U.S. had seen “two decades of steady—if slow—racial progress,” pointing to the desegregation of the military and the passage of the Civil Rights Acts.
And Goldberg’s not done yet. He ends his slander with an implication that Smith and Carlos are somehow responsible for the deaths of the Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics: “In 1972, Palestinian terrorists—grateful for 1968’s lesson in the propaganda value of the Olympics media attention—slaughtered Israeli athletes.”
What happened next is a window into the controversy and continued resistance among broad sections of people to the efforts to “get over” or “get beyond” the searing reality that the brutal, ongoing oppression and discrimination faced by Black people in America is still one of its most fundamental, defining features.
Within hours of its appearance, the L.A. Times was pelted with strongly-worded e-mails either supporting or condemning Goldberg’s piece. By the time the Times closed the blog two days after the article appeared, they had gotten 146 responses. Some joined in with Goldberg to condemn Smith and Carlos, and ESPN. One reader wrote that Goldberg’s column was a “great perspective, unfettered by political correctness or historical revisionism.” Another responded, “I remember very well what Smith and Carlos did at the Olympics and there wasn’t a single beat of ‘courage’ in their action. It defamed their country at a time when they should have honored it. I despised them for representing the U.S. at that international event following their symbolic negative gesture, and I despise them now as well. This is all political correctness—shamelessly so!”
But the great majority of comments (more than 70%) condemned Goldberg’s attempt to rewrite the history of that time, and its lessons. Many people posting comments were re-visiting that whole period of upsurge and rebellion with contemporary eyes, mainly arguing for the importance of upholding it, and in a number of cases putting it in the context of what this country is doing today. Here’s just a glimpse:
“I cannot believe you wrote this article. It is ludicrous to denigrate these courageous heroes of American history. Shame on you. America has a very, very awful history in its treatment of African Americans. This kind of writing is outrageous. I have a picture of the medal ceremony in my basement. I’m 49 years old, white and Canadian. Absolutely horrible what you wrote. I really think you should not write any more columns. Horrible.”
People challenged Goldberg’s core assumptions: “There had been two decades of ‘steady’ progress... following 400 years of slavery and subjugation. This comment alone demonstrates your incredible ignorance on matters of race.”
“Self-indulgent protest? 1968 was a year of demonstrations and assassinations, violent and racist attacks—rhetorical, political and literal—against black America. These men could have stood aside and done nothing, but instead they chose to demonstrate their pain and dreams for a better future to the world using a symbol of struggle, progress, and yes defiance.….”
Writers white and Black remembered vividly the impact the raised fists had on them: “I was twelve years old in ’68, a white boy, attending a school in the SF Valley. Black kids were being bused in from the inner city. Some became friends of mine. The Carlos/Smith medal ceremony provoked questions about my friends and their struggles. These young track athletes gave up a lot in life. They did it with a peaceful protest. How dare Mr. Goldberg try to somehow tie the great acts and sacrifices of Smith and Carlos to the hideous atrocities that happened in Munich!”
“As a white American who was a teenager at the time, I fully remember the year 1968, and all it meant to America. The raised fist salute was and remains a peaceful and meaningful protest against years of oppression. I don’t remember Mssrs. Smith and Carlos ever waging war on innocents, supporting torture, or engaging in the kind of general belligerence that has stained America’s recent history under Neoconservative influence.”
A number of Black Vietnam vets also recalled it vividly. “I was in my 2nd tour of duty as an infantryman in Vietnam, when I first saw John Carlos and Tommie Smith, fists raised and heads down, on the Olympic podium. The picture was met with a ‘right on!’ by nearly every black soldier. We lived institutionalized racism in our communities and in the military. This wasn’t about the Black Panthers—it was about Black Pride… Said it then, say it now, John and Tommie: ‘Right on, brothers!’”
“After returning from Viet Nam in 1968 and learning of the riots, the death of Dr. King and Sen. Kennedy, I took the raised fist as a display of pride, proud to be black and in America. African Americans being proud of their accomplishments should not be seen as an affront to White Americans. 1968 was the same year that James Brown sung ‘I am Black and I am Proud’.”
* * *
ESPN and sportscasters like Stuart Scott need to be supported for honoring and celebrating Tommie Smith and John Carlos; and for enabling the many who watched it to learn more about what they did and share that celebration. It is a powerful lesson about the impact that people can have when they courageously put the struggle of the people ahead of their own personal interests; and about the potential for those inspired by it to come to their side, especially when they are attacked and threatened by the defenders of the old order.
Revolution #140, August 17, 2008
Check It Out
We received the following "Check It Out" from the Set the Record Straight Project.
We urge Revolution readers to check out the new book The Battle for China’s Past: Mao & the Cultural Revolution, by Mobo Gao (London: Pluto Press, 2008). In recent years, many memoirs and histories have been churned out that paint the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China (1966-1976) as a disaster, and depict Mao Tsetung as a monster. The expectation is that anything written by someone who lived through this period will just have “horror stories” to tell. But Gao, who grew up in rural China and came of age in the 1960s, lived through the Cultural Revolution, upholds it, and carefully documents its achievements. How refreshing!
As the title of the book suggests, there is a real battle for historical truth about Mao and the Cultural Revolution. The current leadership in China has a vested interest in slandering the Cultural Revolution as a “decade of calamity.” After all, they are carrying out a capitalist program. And everything Mao stood and fought for was about uprooting exploitation and oppression and unleashing the masses to create a truly liberating society and world. And is it any wonder that the books about Mao that overwhelmingly get published in the West are negative portrayals?
Contrary to the standard claim that the Cultural Revolution was an exercise in “despotic terror,” Gao explains: “The Cultural Revolution involved many millions of people who willingly participated in what they saw as a movement to better Chinese society and humanity in general.”
Contrary to the endlessly repeated charge that China was a basket case under Mao, Gao cites numerous studies demonstrating that the economy, in agriculture and in industry, showed consistent growth during the Cultural Revolution decade, outpacing many developing countries. He shows that there was an explosion of cultural creativity among ordinary peasants and workers. He describes the historic breakthroughs in healthcare in socialist China. Gao also gets into other controversial issues, like the real positive changes that took place in Tibet in the 1949-76 period.
What makes The Battle for China’s Past especially valuable is that it takes on two books that have received wide promotion in the West and that have spread incredible misinformation, vicious distortion, and ludicrous speculation about Mao Tsetung.
The first is Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao: The Unknown Story. Gao shows how the book is dishonestly crafted, that the authors play fast and loose with facts, to argue that Mao is like Hitler. Gao shows how quotations are ripped out of context. He examines historical episodes like the Long March and the Great Leap Forward—and contrasts reality with Chang and Halliday’s scholarship of deception and invention. Gao goes on to detail the actual reality of the Cultural Revolution that has been suppressed and sums up: “The fact that the book [Mao: The Unknown Story] has been taken as serious scholarship by the popular media is an intellectual scandal.”
The other major book Gao critically exposes is Li Zhisui’s The Private Life of Chairman Mao. This is a sensationalistic account of Mao’s personal life that has the seeming “authority” of having been written by an insider: Mao’s personal physician. Gao discusses the contested character of memoirs—who does the remembering and how are memories reconstructed and manufactured? He challenges Li’s ability to have witnessed and known all of what he recounts (and Gao reveals politically-motivated discrepancies between the Chinese and English-language editions of this book). Gao makes the important point that for Li, everything is an elite power or personal struggle—the real issues of class struggle and the struggle over economic and social policies are barely mentioned in this doctor’s book.
The Battle for China’s Past is not intended as a comprehensive history or analysis of Mao’s theory of continuing the revolution under socialism. But this book fills a great need. It contests the anti-Mao memoir literature that has such influence in the West and punctures big lies about Mao and the Cultural Revolution.
Also, check out these other books that challenge the standard distortion that the Cultural Revolution was a terrible thing:
Mobo Gao, Gao Village (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999). Political struggles and social-economic-cultural changes in the author’s home village during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution.
Xueping Zhong, Wang Zheng, and Bai Di, eds. Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era (Rutgers University Press, 2001). A collection of memoirs. What was happening in families and neighborhoods; breaking with traditional gender roles; and going to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.
Dongping Han, China’s Unknown Revolution (paperback edition available in December from Monthly Review Press). How the Cultural Revolution opened educational opportunity and politically empowered peasants in the rural villages—based on extensive research and interviews.
Revolution #140, August 17, 2008
We received the following correspondence from a reader:
I’m watching Ted Koppel’s “The People’s Republic of Capitalism” on the Discovery Channel. Three high schoolers are window shopping and joking around as they walk through the mall. It could be anywhere in the U.S., but this is in Chongqing, China. Cut to a Karaoke Club where thin, short-skirted young women strut on stage, identified by numbers pinned at their hips so well-to-do businessmen can indicate which one they want to “rent” for the evening. Koppel moves in to interview the women and it’s the three high school students. Cut to Koppel driving through Chongqing’s red light district where storefront after storefront hawk prostitutes to poor migrant workers, who crowd into the city by the millions looking for work. This, says Koppel, in his no-nonsense, matter of fact way, is allowed by the Chinese leadership to release social pressures.
I know China is no longer the socialist country I visited in the early 1970s. But this?! It is estimated that there are now 20 million prostitutes in China, most of whom come to the cities from the impoverished rural areas. This is one of many complete reversals of the tremendous advances that had been made under socialism.
With the victory of the revolution in 1949, prostitution, which is nothing more than paid rape, was virtually eliminated. Not only were laws immediately passed to guarantee women’s rights, but society was being remade economically, politically, and ideologically. Prostitutes were given new jobs and new meaning to their lives as women and emancipators of humanity, no longer abused and demeaned as mere objects for men. “Women Hold Up Half the Sky” was the guideline for the role of women. It sharply challenged the centuries-old Confucian ideal that a virtuous woman obeyed her father when young, her husband when married, and her son in old age. Now young people were growing up in the most gender-neutral society that the world has ever seen. They saw themselves as “socialist constructors,” capable of contributing equally to building a new society. You could see this in the confident, non-self-conscious faces of the people.
I was there during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the revolution within the revolution, and visited schools, communes, and factories. We saw collective kitchens and day care centers at both urban and rural work sites, which were paving the way for women breaking out of the confines of the home. In the evenings we were treated to cultural events where we were introduced to the previously-reviled national minority cultures and to model revolutionary works of art where very often the main character was an inspiring woman leader.
One of the “socialist new things” that was brought into being was Iron Girl Brigades. These were teams of young women who smashed old stereotypes by taking on work that had previously been reserved for men. One Iron Girl Brigade in a coastal area dared to go deep-sea fishing. Traditional anti-woman thinking had it that if a woman rode on a boat in the deep seas, the boat would sink. But these young women insisted on learning the necessary skills and in the process produced amazing results in harvesting fish. They also brought to life the saying “Times Have Changed; Men and Women Are the Same.”
It wasn’t a utopia; in fact, there was a tremendous amount of struggle and debate. Tradition’s chains weren’t broken overnight. In pre-revolutionary China, women like my grandmother were forced into arranged marriages, and had been raised with the proverb that “a wife married is like a pony bought; I’ll ride her and whip her as I like” (divorce was not an option!). And when I visited, you could still see elderly women with bound feet,* who had been brutally crippled physically, but also spiritually.
But there were unprecedented transformations in socialist China that greatly inspired us, and millions around the world. We could see that it’s not human nature for women to be oppressed. In an interview with Wang Zheng, professor of women’s studies at the University of Michigan and editor of Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era, she said, “For my generation, there was a goal. We knew that we wanted to be different human beings, new kind of human beings, to create a different society so there’s some vision, some purpose there and these different human beings were not just craving material possessions, houses, cars, consumer goods. We wanted to make contribution to the common good, we were concerned about human beings as a whole, society as a whole, not only just China, the whole world, how the whole world can be peaceful, happy without exploitation and oppression.” (See Revolution #59, September 3, 2006.)
In capitalist China today, this outlook is gone. And what is life like for women in China now? One statistic reveals a lot: one of the highest rates of suicide in the world today is among women in rural China, many of whom swallow pesticide as the only solution they see to a life trapped in misery and poverty. Also, female infanticide (the murder of girl babies) is back on the map in China, the unthinkable crime that had been wiped out under socialism when girls were no longer viewed as less valuable than boys.
Our trip to China had been an all-too-rare glimpse of the great and beautiful change a revolution can bring. We had spent a month in a society where we had been treated as human beings, not objects. And the minute we arrived back in Hong Kong we were slapped in the face by the billboards and ads using women’s bodies to sell everything from automobiles to perfume.
* * * * *
Cut back to Koppel. He’s slandering the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, when dreams of prosperity and creativity were supposedly smothered. I want to ask him a question, but I know he won’t get it. “Those dreams of prosperity have now been set free in capitalist China. If your uncritical reportage of prostitution in China today are the cost of these dreams, can we call that progress?”
* In pre-revolutionary China, female children’s feet were bound into supposedly attractive 3” stumps by breaking the arches and tightly binding the toes under the soles. Every step taken with bound feet was excruciatingly painful, and the women, of course, became totally dependent upon others, even to walk. [back]
Revolution #140, August 17, 2008
Chicago Bud Billiken Parade
On August 9, a contingent marched against the recent murderous rampage by the Chicago police in this year’s Bud Billiken parade, the largest African American parade in the U.S. The response from the crowd was tremendous—fists in the air, cheers and people chanting along. Despite bouts of pouring rain, 15,000 Revolution newspaper broadsheets were gotten out with the headline “Chicago Cops Shoot 12, Kill 6 in 4 Weeks: Trigger Happy Police…and a Criminal System.” The back page tells the stories of 9 of the police shooting victims, including 17-year-old Jonathan Pinkerton, who had been planning on looking for college this summer but instead now lies paralyzed by a police bullet to the back.
At the start of the parade, the parade organizer along with the police attempted to silence this contingent by not allowing them to carry their banner which read “Get in the streets to stop police terror! Indict, convict, jail the killer cops!” A police sergeant said he didn’t want the signs against police shootings “to rile up the crowd.” The contingent did join the march and brought out signs that memorialized the victims of the criminal police shootings. They seemed to be the only contingent that had four police escorts the entire way.
This contingent at the Bud Billiken parade and the Revolution broadsheet were very important at a time when too few people are aware of the police shooting spree—and when there is an urgent need to set a different tone where the outrages and abuses by the police, especially in the oppressed communities, are not tolerated or accepted. Many people took stacks of the broadsheet to take back to their apartment buildings, churches, and workplaces to pass out to friends and family. One participant in the contingent said, “People were appreciative we were out there and now they have to take that righteous outrage we tapped into and spread it.”
Revolution #140, August 17, 2008
From A World to Win News Service
August 4, 2008. A World to Win News Service. On the anniversary of the U.S. nuclear bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945), we are reprinting the following article from our August 6, 2007 news service. Unfortunately, it is still timely and relevant, and needs no updating.
For more information about the world’s only nuclear attacks, see AWTWNS August 6, 2007, “Towns of the dead—a Hiroshima survivor speaks.” [See revcom.us/a/098/hiroshima-survivor-en.html.]
“The eyes of young girls watching the parachute melted. Their faces became giant charred blisters. The skin of people seeking help dangled from their fingernails. Their hair stood on end. Their clothes were ripped to shreds. People trapped in houses toppled by the blast were burned alive. Others died when their eyes and internal organs burst from their bodies. Hiroshima was a hell where those who somehow survived envied the dead.” (From the August 6, 2007 memorial statement by Hiroshima mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, in a plea to rid the world of all nuclear weapons.)
On August 6, 1945 the U.S. unleashed the atomic bomb on humanity. The world’s first use of nuclear weapons, against the Japanese city of Hiroshima, was followed on August 9 by the bombing of Nagasaki.
As the U.S. threatens war—including the use of nuclear weapons—against Iran, supposedly because the Islamic regime seeks nuclear weapons capability, it is more important than ever to emphasize what country has been the first and only to ever actually use such weapons.
The two atomic bombs dropped at the end of World War 2 were deliberately set to explode high in the air. The point was to maximize the killing, not the destruction of buildings. More than 110,000 people died immediately in the two bombings and the radiation eventually killed hundreds of thousands more. Many years of painful death by cancer and later birth defects lay ahead for the survivors and their descendents.
If terrorism is defined as the killing of innocent civilians for a political purpose, then the world has seldom seen such terrorism. Think of 40 times September 11, 2001 in New York and you will only imagine the first few seconds.
Shortly after, Japan surrendered. But its economy and capital city had been destroyed before the atomic bombs reduced two non-military and relatively unimportant cities to towns of the dead. Many historians believe that country was on the verge of surrender before those terrible days in August 1945. The main reason the U.S. wanted to use atomic weapons was as a demonstration of strength to threaten the USSR. The Soviet Union was then a socialist country. It had been allied with the U.S. against Germany and Japan during the war, but even before that war was over, the U.S. was baring its teeth to the USSR and setting out to dominate the world.
Before World War 2, bombing civilians was considered a barbaric and illegal act. The U.S. was not the only nation to commit that crime in WW2, but along with the British, it did so on an enormous scale. Since then the U.S. has threatened to use nuclear weapons on dozens of occasions, not only against the USSR when that country later became an imperialist rival to the U.S., but also Vietnam and China. That the U.S. would make first use of nuclear weapons whenever it felt its interests sufficiently threatened has been official U.S. doctrine and the cornerstone of American military policy from the 1950s through today.
Currently, despite the fact that the U.S.’s rival in Cold War nuclear terrorism, the USSR, has collapsed, the Bush government has launched a plan to redesign and rebuild every weapon in its nuclear arsenal, which still contains, like Russia’s, roughly 5,800 active atomic warheads. This includes both giant city-crushing long-range-missile-borne bombs and smaller “tactical” nuclear weapons to vaporize smaller targets. The Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab in California, which is carrying out this project, was the target of a planned series of demonstrations to commemorate the bombings of the two Japanese cities and oppose an American attack on Iran. The use of “tactical” nuclear weapons against Iran is a popular topic of discussion in Washington.
It is also criminally ironic that just the week before the Hiroshima anniversary, the U.S. and Indian governments reached agreement on American technical assistance to India’s nuclear program at the same time the U.S. is threatening Iran for undertaking its own program. Unlike Iran, India has refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation pact, and unlike Iran, India has developed and tested nuclear bombs. Obviously, for the U.S. the question is not preventing nuclear proliferation but supporting or toppling regimes according to its perceived interests.
As the UN International Atomic Energy Agency has said, there is no evidence that Iran’s nuclear program includes weapons at this time. It is true that nukes are nukes and much of the same technology and skills used for nuclear power plants can be used to make nuclear bombs. It also may be that the Iranian Islamic regime seeks nuclear weapons. It would be wrong to deny these facts and prettify an anti-people regime.
But the world has only known one nuclear war criminal, and that criminal must be stopped from doing it again.
Revolution #140, August 17, 2008
Hook up with the revolution
Check the stores' websites for details and more events.
August 12, Tuesday, 7 pm
Discussion on “Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy” by Bob Avakian.
August 20, Wednesday, 7 pm
Screening: The Atheism Tapes. Playwright/filmmaker Jonathan Miller interviews philosophers Daniel Dennett and Colin McGinn, and Nobel prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg.
August 21, Thursday, 7 pm
Discussion of the new Constitution of the RCP, USA, part 1. The mission and vision of a new stage of the communist revolution, what the Party exists for, its principles of organization and theoretical foundation.
August 26, Tuesday, 7 pm
Discussion on the new Constitution of the RCP, USA, part 2. Communist theory as a scientific and revolutionary theory.
August 27, Wednesday, 7 pm
Screening: The Atheism Tapes. Jonathan Miller interviews playwright Arthur Miller, biologist Richard Dawkins, and theologian Denys Turner.
Every Monday, 6:30-9:00
Come pick up a bundle of Revolution newspapers hot off the press and/or join a discussion of the lead articles while mailing subscriptions to prisoners.
August 13, Wednesday, 7 pm
Ongoing discussion of “Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism: What IS Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis?”
August 14, Thursday, 7 pm
Discussion with Revolution correspondent Hank Brown: Who’s to blame for the violence among the people and what’s actually needed to get up out of this whole situation?
August 17, Sunday, 2 pm
RESIST THE OUTRAGES! A major political battle has to be mounted to stop the murderous rampage of the Chicago police. Come to this meeting to make immediate plans. If you hate what the police are doing, and want to join with others in putting a stop to this, be there. Hosted by the newly forming Chicago Revolution Club.
312 West 8th Street 213-488-1303
August 12, Tuesday, 5pm
Come listen to KPFK’s “Beneath the Surface with Michael Slate” (90.7FM). The radio show’s special guest will be Raymond Lotta, Maoist political economist, who will discuss the “Setting the Record Straight” project and the truth about Mao and the Cultural Revolution.
August 13, Wednesday, 7:30 pm
Mahmud Ahmad of Al-Awda, the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition (www.al-awda.org) speaking on the right of return, and why it is so important to the Palestinian struggle.
Thursday, August 14, 7:30 pm
What are the Olympics promoting and why should we not root for the “home team”? What is the truth about Mao and the Cultural Revolution? View the documentary Mao Tsetung, the Greatest Revolutionary of Our Time and join in the discussion and debate.
August 24, Sunday, 2 pm
Discussion of the new Constitution of the RCP, USA.
2425 Channing Way near Telegraph Ave
August 12, Wednesday, 7:30 pm
Discussion of article in Revolution on China and Mao Tsetung
August 14, Thursday, 7 pm
“Obama: Best Hope or Deadly Trap?” Discussion with Sunsara Taylor
August 19, Tuesday, 7 pm
Discussion on Revolution article on the Democratic National Convention
August 21, Thursday, 7 pm
Celebration and discussion on the release of the RCP’s new Constitution
2626 South King Street
Mondays, 6:15 pm
Revolution Newspaper discussion group every Monday evening at 6:15 pm.
2804 Mayfield Rd (at Coventry)
Cleveland Heights 216-932-2543
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 3-8 pm
August 13, Wednesday, 7 pm
As the Olympics get into full swing and the anti-communist propaganda starts flying, come to a lively discussion on the true story of Mao and the Cultural Revolution. China today is a capitalist country, but it was a liberating socialist society when Mao led it from 1949-1976.
August 17, Sunday, 6 pm
Film showing: Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan--Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations features testimony from U.S. veterans who served in those occupations, giving an accurate account of what is really happening day in and day out, on the ground.
August 24, Sunday, 6 pm
Continuing book discussion of Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World. Part 3: The Bible Belt is the Lynching Belt.
September 4, Thursday, 7 pm
Discussion of the new Constitution of the RCP, USA.
1833 Nagle Place
Thursdays, 7 pm, Starbucks at 1600 E Olive Way
Revolution newspaper discussion
Saturdays, 3-6 pm, Hidmo at 2000 S. Jackson
Discussion series on “Re-envisioning Revolution & Communism: What IS Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis?”
August 13, Wednesday, 7 pm, Hidmo
Film showing: IRAN (is not the problem)—a documentary response to the failure of the American mass media to provide the public with relevant and accurate information about the standoff between the U.S. and Iran.
Revolution Books is mobile!
Revolution Books is moving into our new, expanded location in January in downtown Seattle! This summer, come browse our book table and join discussions and events at Hidmo in central Seattle (2000 South Jackson St.) every Saturday in August (3 pm-6 pm).
406 W.Willis (btwn Cass &2nd, south of Forest)
August 13, Wednesday, 6:30 pm
Discussion of “Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism: What IS Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis?”
1158 Mass Ave, 2nd Floor, Cambridge
August 18, Monday, 6:30 pm
Discussion of “Shifts and Faultlines in the World Economy and Great Power Rivalry: What Is Happening and What It Might Mean. Part 3 The European Union, A Potential Rival to U.S. Domination” by Raymond Lotta.
August 25, Monday, 6:30 pm
Screening of the film IRAN (is not the problem) at the Democracy Center, 65 Mt Auburn Street, Cambridge, hosted by Revolution Books.
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