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Revolution #141, August 24, 2008
Barack Obama has made “overcoming differences” a cornerstone of his campaign. But this raises some questions.
How can, and how would, you “overcome differences” between, on the one hand, people who recognize the need to uphold reproductive freedom (the right to abortion and birth control, etc.) for women, as a crucial part of the fight against the oppression of women, and on the other hand, people—and moreover organized forces, with connections to the top levels of power in the U.S.—who are, and very clearly indicate that they will remain, relentless in their opposition to, and in their determination to completely eliminate, not only abortion but also birth control? How can you overcome differences between these opposing groups of people, other than through the capitulation of the one to the other, and in reality the capitulation of those who want to uphold and fight for the right to abortion and for birth control to those who are determined to abolish them, and criminalize them? And in fact this capitulation—of those whose stand is politically and morally correct and progressive to those who are politically and morally wrong and reactionary—is exactly what the position that Obama is advocating objectively represents and will lead to.
How can, and how would, you overcome the differences between those who are opposed to, and want to see a basic departure from, not only the war in Iraq but the whole juggernaut of war, repression, and torture being driven forward by the Bush regime on the one hand, and on the other hand, those who are determined to support and carry forward this juggernaut? How will the Obama position lead to anything other than the capitulation of the former to the latter? Obama says that he will “listen to the generals,” and the very first speech he gave after he became the presumptive nominee was a sabre-rattling, blood-thirsty speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Well, whose voice will have more sway: the generals, or those forces in the anti-war movement who desperately tell themselves and, still worse, others, that Obama “will have to” listen to them? Those who back Israel to the hilt—and who, like Obama himself, threaten nuclear war against Iran; or those who want to see justice for the Palestinians and who oppose an attack on Iran? We don’t even have to guess—and we can see already the effect of this, as these same “anti-war” leaders tell people NOT to go out in the streets against the war, lest it “hurt Obama’s chances.”
Or how are you going to “overcome differences” between those who, on the one hand, uphold the separation of church and state, who believe in basic principles flowing from the Enlightenment and want to see education, including in science, based on rational thought and scientific methods, and on the other hand, those who are determined to obliterate the separation of church and state, and to suppress scientific facts and methods, and rational thinking, which contradict religious scripture, who repeatedly and unrelentingly attempt to undermine, and to eventually eliminate, such fundamental scientific facts and understanding as are embodied, for example, in the theory of evolution? How will those “differences” be overcome—when Obama has made a big point of “reaching out” to creationists and Biblical literalists like Rick “Purpose-Driven Life” Warren, and calling for refining but actually expanding Bush’s government aid to religious institutions?
How can, and how would, you overcome the differences between those who understand in their minds and their guts the racism of this system and are determined to root it out, and those who say that the grinding exploitation, the brutal conditions of life, and the discrimination in every sphere of society are the fault of Black people themselves? Obama has already given a speech putting the onus for these problems on Black parents, and he instructed people to “respect the verdict” and not protest when the murderers of Sean Bell were let off scot-free—given that, and given everything that’s involved in “auditioning” to become president, how do you really think these differences will be overcome?
This is where “change you are allowed to believe in” takes you.
In this issue, we are carrying articles by Carl Dix and T. RedTree that begin to get into all this, in depth. And we have on our website (revcom.us) the very powerful piece by Sunsara Taylor, “The Dangerous Logic of Blocking Protests in the Name of Electing Obama.” We will be covering this question in depth from many different angles. And we say to you:
If you see what Obama is basically about—if you see that he is, for all the posturing as “something different,” just another puppet…then you have to get this paper out, week in week out, and take this on, opening people’s minds up to the real change that needs to be made, and the real way to make it.
If you just can’t resist voting for Obama, then you still cannot buy this line that “we shouldn’t spoil it for Obama by demonstrating and resisting”—because if you do that you are selling people out. No, you must put even more effort, at this crucial time, into building resistance to the whole agenda that’s been put into motion by Bush—and which Obama is NOT fundamentally going against but instead intends to implement, with some modifications—and not pouring your efforts into this Obama campaign.
Obama, and his message of “overcoming differences” will, whatever the intentions of those caught up in it, lead only to capitulation. This system and the crimes it carries out in service of its interests are not going away. The urgent need for revolution—and the crucially important task of revolutionaries to carry forward active political preparation to hasten the opening for such a revolution—are not going to go away. And you know what? Neither are we.
Revolution #141, August 24, 2008
Come to Denver August 23-28 when the Democrats Meet
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
Maria T. Pizzaro
Go online to worldcantwait.org for breaking news and info on protests in Denver during the Democratic National Convention.
Revolution #141, August 24, 2008
Editors’ Note: The following is an excerpt from a talk given by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, to a group of Party members and supporters in 2005. It has been edited for publication here.
Now, when you come up against the great gulf that often, and even generally, exists between the conditions and the suffering of the masses of people, on the one hand, and what you are able to do about that at any given point—when you run up against that repeatedly, everyone feels a definite pull which expresses itself in moral terms: how can you stand by and not do something about what’s happening to the masses of people? As I have said a number of times, I have enormous respect for people who do things like volunteer for Doctors Without Borders. But the fact is that while they’re doing what they’re doing, and even with the good they do, this is being engulfed and overwhelmed by a tsunami of suffering (metaphorically speaking and sometimes literally) that’s brought forth by larger objective forces.
When I was younger, I considered being a doctor or a lawyer, not to make money and get on the golf course, but because I knew there were many people who needed good medical care and people who were victimized by the so-called legal system who could use an advocate who really would be an advocate and a fighter for them. But at a certain point I came to understand that, while I would be helping a few people, and even if I threw myself into it, much greater numbers of people would find themselves in the position of needing these services—far beyond what I, and others, could do to help them—and it would just be perpetuated forever, and the conditions would get worse. And once you understand this, you can’t look yourself in the mirror and do anything less than what you understand, if you’re going to be consistent and follow through on your own principles.
So, yes, there’s a moral dimension here. How can you sit by and watch people die of diseases that are preventable, not just in the Third World, but right down the street from you? How can you “sit by”? How can you not immediately try to do something about that? But moralities are a reflection of class outlooks, ultimately. They are a reflection of your understanding of reality, which takes a class expression in class society, in an ultimate and fundamental sense. And there is a morality that corresponds not to reformism and seeking merely to mitigate the conditions and the suffering of masses of people—not merely to addressing some, and only some, of the symptoms of that suffering—but to uprooting and abolishing the causes of that suffering. This morality corresponds to a revolutionary understanding, that we cannot eliminate the suffering of the masses, and in fact it’s only going to get worse, as long as this capitalist-imperialist system remains.
This doesn’t mean that it is unimportant to address particular abuses, or that mass resistance to particular forms of oppression is not important. Far from it. The basic point that Marx emphasized is profoundly true: If the masses don’t fight back and resist their oppression, even short of revolution, they will be crushed and reduced to a broken mass and will be incapable of rising up for any higher thing. But, as a fundamental point of orientation, we have to grasp firmly the truth that, despite the best and most heroic and self-sacrificing efforts, it is not possible, within the framework of this system, even to really alleviate, let alone eliminate, the suffering and the causes of the suffering of the masses of people. And our morality has to flow from that.
Let me give you an analogy. Let’s say you went back several centuries, somewhat like Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Let’s say in this case you went back to the time of the plagues in Europe that wiped out huge swaths of the population. And the most people knew to do then was to try to quarantine and stay away from people infected with the plague. Then, looking at all these people dying of the plague, if you were a good-hearted person perhaps you would take wet towels and put them on the foreheads of the people who were dying, or take some other steps to try to minimize their suffering to some degree. And maybe you would do what you could to keep the disease from spreading. But let’s say that, as a person from the present time, you know that the plague could actually be cured, fairly easily, with antibiotics, if they were administered in time. And, further extending and elaborating the analogy, let’s imagine that somehow there were antibiotics back in that time—of course, in reality antibiotics did not exist and the scientific understanding had not been developed to produce antibiotics until more recent times, but let’s say that somehow these antibiotics also existed back then: let’s put into our scenario some other people who had also gone back in time from the present age and had taken with them a big stash of antibiotics, which could prevent the millions of deaths that were caused by the plague several centuries ago. But these other time-travelers were monopolizing the ownership of these antibiotics and had organized and paid an armed force of thugs to guard this stash of antibiotics, and were refusing to distribute any of these antibiotics unless they could profit from it, by charging a price that most of the people could not afford.
Now, knowing this, which way would people be better served: by continuing to put towels on the foreheads of the fevered people, or by organizing people to storm the compound where the antibiotics were being hoarded, seize the antibiotics and distribute them among the people?
This is, by analogy, the essential difference between reform and revolution. And our morality flows from our understanding of this. Yes, it’s very hard to see masses of people suffer and not be able to put a stop to this suffering, right at the time; and, yes, we should organize the masses to fight back against their oppression and the ways in which this system causes them to suffer; but if we really understand where “the antibiotics” are and who’s hoarding and monopolizing them and turning them into machinery for profit, into capital, and what it is that’s preventing the masses of people from getting to those antibiotics, then our responsibility is to lead the masses to rise up and seize those things and distribute them among themselves.
Now, let me emphasize again: I can and do admire the morality of people who want to alleviate suffering (and who may not see beyond that). We should in no way denigrate or put down these people—people who do things like put water in the desert for immigrants crossing from Mexico—we should admire them and we should unite with them. But that cannot provide the fundamental solution to that particular problem, of the suffering of these immigrants and what drives them to leave their homelands in the first place, nor can it eliminate all the other ways in which masses of people, throughout the world, are oppressed and caused to suffer. Or, again, while I admire the people who volunteer with things like Doctors Without Borders, if they were to say, “this is the most anybody can do, there’s nothing more you can do,” we would have to engage in principled but very sharp struggle with them, even while uniting with them and admiring their spirit, because it is objectively not true that this is all that can, or should, be done—and it is harmful to the masses of people to say that this is all that can be done.
In fundamental and strategic terms, it is necessary to choose where the weight and the essence of your efforts is going to go: into fighting the effects and the symptoms, or getting to the cause and uprooting and getting rid of that cause? And that’s why you become a revolutionary—when you realize that you have to seek the full solution to this, or else the suffering is going to continue, and get worse. That’s one of the main things that impels people toward revolution, even before they understand, scientifically, all the complexity of what revolution means and what it requires. And, as you become a communist and you increasingly look at the whole world, and not just the part of the world that you are immediately situated in, you see that the whole world has to change, that all oppression and exploitation has to be uprooted, everywhere, so that it can no longer exist anywhere.
So we have to be on a mission to liberate those antibiotics, and not get diverted into thinking that the most and the highest good we can do is trying to lessen the misery, to mitigate the symptoms, rather than getting to the cause and bringing about a real and lasting cure. The question of reform vs. revolution is not some petty notion of “our thing” vs. somebody else’s “thing”—it is a matter of what is really required to eliminate the horrendous suffering to which the great majority of humanity is subjected, day after day, and what kind of world is possible.
Nor are we revolutionaries because it’s a “fashionable” thing to do—right now, in fact, it’s not very fashionable at all. Back in the ‘60s, among certain sections of the people, Black people and others, being a revolutionary was a “legitimate avocation”: What do you do? I’m a doctor. What do you do? I’m a basketball player. What do you do? I’m a revolutionary. Legitimate avocation. I was talking to another veteran comrade about this, and they pointed out that, in a certain sense, it was easier in those days to be a revolutionary because you had a lot of “social approbation”— there was a lot of approval coming from significant sections of society for being a revolutionary. Right now you don’t get that much “social approbation” for being a revolutionary, and in particular a revolutionary communist. [laughter] “What the fuck, you crazy?!” [laughter] That’s a lot of what you get, as you know. Or you get more theoretically developed arguments about why it’s hopeless or a bad idea, or a disaster, or a nightmare. Well, we aren’t doing this because we’re seeking social approbation. It’s good in one sense if you have that—in the sense that it reflects favorable elements in society, in terms of how people are viewing the question of radical change—but we’re not doing what we’re doing in order to get “social approbation,” and we’re not relying on such “social approbation” for what we’re doing. If there isn’t “social approbation,” we have to create it—not so people will “approve” of what we’re doing, in some more narrow or personal sense, but because we need to transform people’s understanding of reality and therefore the way they act in terms of transforming reality.
So this is a fundamental question of orientation, but that orientation is not just: revolution, it’s more righteous. “Reform, that sounds kind of paltry; revolutionary, that’s more righteous.” [laughter] No, that’s not the heart of the matter. It’s very righteous to be in Doctors Without Borders. But the essential thing is that revolution corresponds to reality, it corresponds to what’s needed to resolve the contradictions that have been spoken to repeatedly in this talk—the fundamental contradiction of capitalism and other contradictions bound up with that, and all the effects of this in the world—to resolve these contradictions in the interests of the masses of people. That’s why we’re revolutionaries—and a certain kind of revolutionaries—communist revolutionaries. Because that’s the only kind of revolution that can do what needs to be done, what cries out to be done. So what we do has to proceed from that, in terms of our fundamental orientation.
Revolution #141, August 24, 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.
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...”
The masses of Chinese people, especially in the countryside, had been subjected to so many horrible things—unending poverty and hunger, tyrannical landlords, women degraded and oppressed in every corner of life, drug addiction, illiteracy, and lack of health care. There had been no way for the masses of people to change any of this. They had been at the mercy of an oppressive economic and social system—and a ruling class that enforced all this.
The new socialist China inherited all the scars from this old society. But now, state power was in the hands of the masses. Now, the people’s efforts to get rid of all the remnants of the old oppressive society would be backed by the state apparatus and the party. And now the people could approach problems in a completely different way.
The new government took immediate measures to confiscate and take over businesses that had been owned by foreign imperialists and big Chinese capitalists and the property of big landowners was seized and divided up among peasants.
New laws were passed outlawing arranged marriages and giving women, as well as men, the right to divorce. Selling children, which had been a common practice because of poverty, was banned, along with child labor. The workday was reduced from 12-16 hours to 8 hours.
Many things were done that immediately and dramatically improved people’s lives—and at the same time, drew them into the whole process of solving societal problems. For example, drugs, gambling and prostitution had been a huge problem. Big-time gangsters, pimps and opium peddlers, many of them connected with the secret police of the old reactionary government, were arrested. Meanwhile opium addicts, former prostitutes and petty criminals were given education, housing, health care and jobs—and the opportunity to become part of the whole process of remaking society.
People’s social and political life was transformed and millions joined peasant associations, workers’ unions, women’s organizations, youth groups, and cultural, scientific, educational and other professional intellectual associations. Such mass organizations gave people a way to make and carry out important decisions in order to transform different spheres of society. In the cities, for example, “urban resident committees” representing hundreds of households helped settle family and neighborhood disputes, dealt with criminal activities and took care of public sanitation, fire prevention, relief for needy families and neighborhood cultural and recreational programs. Mass literacy campaigns were organized in villages, factories and poor neighborhoods.
Peasant associations based on poor and landless peasants were given the responsibility to carry out land reform. This was a radical economic as well as social change—for example women, for the first time, got land. By 1952, almost half of China’s farmable land had been redistributed and 300 million poor and landless peasants had gotten land.
When the revolution came to power, it immediately faced the question of how to transform society. Some party leaders—people who had marched right alongside Mao in the revolution against feudal landlords, capitalists tied to imperialist interests and foreign domination—now insisted that capitalism should be promoted without restriction. They said agriculture could not move forward until heavy industry was developed. They argued for relying on foreign technology and foreign loans, and maintaining private farming in the countryside. They went along with the dominant view of socialist economic development in the international communist movement, especially with regard to formerly dependent and backward countries, which was that you had to first build up modern productive forces—large factories, heavy machinery, new technology, etc.—and only then could you transform the relationships between people.
But Mao argued they should focus on revolutionizing forms of ownership and distribution and all the ways in which people work with each other to produce things—and on that basis spur the development of more advanced productive forces. In this way, carrying forward revolutionary changes and transformations among the people—starting with redistribution of land, but also efforts to promote collective ways of working together, as well as breaking down backward ideas from centuries of feudalism—could stimulate things like scientific farming techniques, opening up new farm lands, and improving water conservation.
This is an example of Mao’s developing understanding that revolutionizing how people think is critical to the whole process of changing society.
Putting the development of modern industry before the transformation of economic and social relations between people would lead to greater inequality because it would mean concentrating on developing the factories that were already the most advanced—in other words, the ones in the biggest cities. And this would only widen differences and inequalities between the countryside and cities and between poor and better-off areas, instead of restricting them. Instead, Mao argued for a much more dynamic back and forth between leaps in consciousness and leaps in production—what he later concentrated in his famous slogan, “Grasp Revolution, Promote Production.” And, crucially, Mao was able to win the struggle in the party at that time over what line, what approach to take to these fundamental issues.
The whole way Mao tackled and solved this problem gives a picture of what he was like and how he led. This path-breaking approach to building a new socialist economy came from a thorough studying and recasting of the positive and negative experience in building socialism in the Soviet Union, up until that time; investigation, and deep discussion with the masses of people; applying communist principles and method to the concrete situation in China; and on that basis coming up with a new understanding for how to go forward.
In 1951 Mao toured the countryside, talking with peasants and getting a first-hand look at what was going on. The revolution had confiscated land owned by the biggest landowners and distributed it to the poorest farmers with little or no land. But only by developing collective forms of working the land could the peasants not only increase production, but radically transform the ways in which people related to each other.
Mutual aid teams were formed where peasants shared their animals and tools and helped each other work individual plots of land. By 1952, over 40% of the peasants were in such teams. But these were still not large enough to deal with droughts or floods, they couldn’t carry out major technical improvements, and many were dominated by wealthier peasants.
Peasants were experimenting and coming up with creative ways to revolutionize production. And this involved a revolution in ideas and real transformations among the people—like taking on backward Confucian ideas about the subservient role of women, and replacing “me-first thinking” with a “serve the people” attitude.
On their own, some peasants started to form larger cooperatives and Mao keenly followed this, and encouraged it and led the party to mobilize the People’s Liberation Army soldiers to help lead this. By mid-1956, over 90% of peasant households were in such cooperatives.
This was Mao—leading and waging the class struggle in the context of developing a new socialist economy. This was the dynamic between the creative energy of the people under socialism and the role of communist leadership.
Mao’s vision of socialism went beyond just giving people food, clothing and basic rights. He aimed for a revolution that would get rid of the old oppressive economic and social relations. A revolution that would challenge backward ideas and values that rested on and kept oppressive relations going. A revolution in how people think and act.
In 1958, Mao launched a bold new plan for socialist economic development with these goals in mind: The Great Leap Forward. A key element was the unleashing of a nationwide movement to form peasant communes—large collectives of people in the countryside that combined economic, social, cultural, militia and administrative activities.
Today, the Great Leap Forward is vilified as an irrational utopian experiment. But the truth is this was a real advance from the standpoint of developing more liberating economic and social relations.
The communes, which involved 15,000 to 25,000 people, made it possible to carry out big flood control and reforestation projects, build countywide roads or small-scale power plants, set up high schools, etc. Research centers were set up to develop new breeds of wheat, rice and other crops with greater yields. Hillsides were terraced to open up new farming land.
The communes provided people with a new and liberating political, social and cultural life. Finding collective solutions to social needs—instead of leaving each household to fend for itself—made it possible for women to more fully participate in the common cause of creating a new society. Communes organized cooperative home repair, community dining rooms, nurseries, and amateur theater groups.
In the course of these big economic and social transformations, old habits and values, superstition, prejudice and feudal customs were challenged. And the gaps between the city and countryside, and between workers and peasants, were narrowed.
Today people hear that the Great Leap Forward was a disaster—that people starved because of Mao’s policies, that the communes were really a form of slave labor. But this too is a lie.
There was famine during this time and many people died. But the difficulties of these years were a complex phenomenon: In 1959 China suffered extremely adverse climatic conditions of drought and flooding, some of the worst of the century in China. This greatly impacted food production. And the Soviet Union, which had restored capitalism in the mid-1950s, withdrew technical advisors and aid from China.
In addition, the leadership made mistakes. For example, too much time was spent in the rural areas on non-agricultural projects, which hurt food production. Local officials exaggerated reports on output, making it hard to know how much grain there really was and to plan accurately. But Mao, along with the revolutionary leadership of the party, did try to address these problems with new policies. For example, the amount of grain delivered to the state was lowered, some nonagricultural projects were scaled back in order to produce more food, grain was rationed and emergency grain was sent to regions in distress.
The fact is, and it is historically the case that, truly radical, transformative changes in society may cause initial dislocations and difficulties, but in the long run prove to be real breakthroughs. Such change involves breaking with old ways and experimenting with new ones and challenging custom and convention. This was the case with the Great Leap Forward. And the real truth is that by 1970, for the first time in its history, China was able to provide its population of 600 million people with a minimal diet and food security—which had everything to do with the economic, social and political accomplishments during the Great Leap Forward.
When socialism was overturned in the Soviet Union in the mid-1950s, this was a heartbreaking loss for everyone who dreamed of a better world. This had been the first place to establish a new socialist society and many great things had been accomplished in this first substantial and pathbreaking experience of socialism. (See the website of Set the Record Straight at thisiscommunism.org for documentation of these accomplishments.) So what did it mean that the revolution could be reversed—that capitalism could be restored?
Mao undertook a very deep study of the experience of Soviet society, learning from the positive achievements but also identifying and sharply criticizing mistakes in conception and practice that had maintained or even reinforced inequalities in society and led away from the goal of a classless, communist world. And Mao also took a critical look at the experience of socialist China up to that point.
Clearly, building socialism involved working to get rid of all the “scars” left over from the old oppressive society—a process that couldn’t happen overnight. Building socialism meant continually digging away at and transforming the old economic and social ways of doing things, as well as the old and oppressive ways of thinking that went along with all this.
But Mao was wrestling with and coming to understand something even beyond this. He was struggling to get a new and deeper analysis of the very nature of the socialist transition to communism. And what he was increasingly coming to understand—which up to this point, had not been really understood in the international communist movement—is that the victory of the revolution and the beginning development of socialism does not mean the end of classes and class struggle. As Mao would later put it:
“Socialist society covers a considerably long historical period. In the historical period of socialism, there are still classes, class contradictions and class struggle, there is the struggle between the socialist road and the capitalist road, and there is the danger of capitalist restoration. We must recognize the protracted and complex nature of this struggle.”
Mao looked at the fact that the people who organized and led the overthrow of socialism in the Soviet Union came from right within the top ranks of the communist party. And he looked around him and saw echoes of the same problem. He saw leaders within the top ranks of the Chinese Communist Party who wanted to restore capitalism, just as had been done in the Soviet Union.
Mao restlessly searched for a way to deal with this problem. From looking at the Soviet Union, he saw that just purging such party leaders would not solve the problem. Even if certain individuals didn’t make a comeback, others would come forward representing similar lines, so long as the underlying problems were not correctly identified and struggled against. Mao searched for ways to mobilize the broad masses of people to much more deeply and consciously take up the struggle over the whole direction of society, drawing the distinction between the capitalist road and the socialist road, to criticize party leaders who were taking the capitalist road and try to bring them back to the revolutionary road. He tried many things to unleash the people’s questioning and rebellious spirit, but as he later summed up, up to this point, he and the revolutionary leadership had not yet found the way to mobilize the masses “to criticize our dark side, in an all-around way and from below.”
Conservative forces in the party wanted profit measures to decide investment priorities. They promoted an educational system that turned out privileged professional and party elites. They pushed cultural works still dominated by old feudal themes and characters. Their approach towards the workers and peasants was basically “keep your nose to the grindstone, forget about engaging the big questions of how to run and transform all of society and contribute to revolution throughout the world.”
In the context of all this, Mao made what is his greatest contribution: the theory and practice of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat.
In socialist society you need the dictatorship of the proletariat to wage struggle against and defeat bourgeois class forces. Even as socialist society is constantly being revolutionized, remaining inequalities and differences in society will continue to provide the basis for bourgeois, capitalist relations and thinking—and the basis for the capitalist system to make a comeback. And what Mao came to understand is that the bigger danger here was not exploiters and oppressors from the old society—but a new bourgeois class, generated from the very contradictions of socialist society itself and concentrated right in the top levels of the party.
Party leaders, because of their positions of power, controlled resources and made decisions and developed policies that determined the direction of society. So how they exercised power—and with what aims—made all the difference in terms of whether or not society as a whole was going to move forward toward communism or back to capitalism. For example, were party leaders supporting policies that would break down inequalities or strengthen them? Were they working to unleash the conscious initiative of the people in the fight to transform society? This concentrated the class struggle under socialism. And the superstructure of socialist society—laws, art, culture, sports, science, and political institutions—not only reflected these class contradictions, but could and would greatly influence them in one way or the other.
Mao needed to find a way to shake up all of society; a way to revolutionize the party and all the institutions in society; a way to transform people’s thinking and understanding—and fully draw the broad masses of people into the class struggle to keep China on the socialist road.
In the summer of 1965, Mao made a journey to the Chingkang Mountains, where in 1927 he had led 800 Red Army soldiers to form the first red base area and initiate the people’s war. This was a dangerous time. The enemies of the revolution who wanted to restore capitalism were gathering their strength and preparing for an all-out fight to seize power. In a poem, “Reascending Chingkangshan,” Mao wrote:
I have long aspired to reach for the clouds
And I again ascend Chingkangshan,
Coming from afar to view our old haunt,
I find new scenes replacing the old...
We can clasp the moon in the Ninth Heaven
And seize turtles deep down in the Five Seas:
We’ll return amid triumphant song and laughter.
Nothing is hard in this world
If you dare to scale the heights.
In May of 1966, Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, calling on people to “bombard the headquarters.” He called on the people in their hundreds of millions to rise up and overthrow top party and government officials who were trying to bring capitalism back. This was a revolution within the revolution.
Mao was unleashing hundreds of millions of people to wrangle and debate over the direction of society, and to take responsibility for the fate of society. Mao and the revolutionary leadership in the party fought to help broad ranks of people to identify, criticize, and where necessary overthrow the top capitalist roaders—and seize back portions of state power where capitalist roaders were implementing lines and policies leading away from the goal of communism. This was a process of further revolutionizing society and empowering the masses of people.
The Cultural Revolution and Mao’s leadership of it are probably the most widely distorted and misunderstood period of Chinese history. For decades now, the defenders of capitalism have promoted a whole narrative of lies that vilify Mao and paint the Cultural Revolution as a nightmare. (For a discussion and refutation of common lies about the Cultural Revolution, see: “The Truth About the Cultural Revolution” at revcom.us)
As Mao later explained, the target of the Cultural Revolution was “those persons in authority taking the capitalist road.” But the strategic aim of the struggle was to help the masses transform their world outlook, and through that, to transform the society around them in the further direction of a communist world.
Look at health care. In 1949, China only had 12,000 Western-trained doctors for a country of 500 million. By 1965, there were 200,000. But most of the medical care was still concentrated in the cities. New doctors were encouraged to work at elite urban hospitals, and to focus on making a career for themselves. Meanwhile, most peasants—the vast majority of China’s population—had little or no access to modern medical care. Such an approach to health care could only help to widen inequalities in society and strengthen the influence of capitalist tendencies.
Mao and those who rallied to his line sharply criticized the direction being taken by the Health Ministry, calling for radical transformations. Under his leadership, the focus of health care shifted to the countryside, even as overall health care improved in the cities. One of the most exciting developments of the Cultural Revolution was the “barefoot doctor” movement. Young peasants and urban youth were sent to the countryside and trained in basic health care and medicine geared to meet local needs and treat the most common illnesses. And doctors went to rural areas—at any given time, a third of the urban doctors were in the countryside. Life expectancy during the period of Mao’s leadership doubled from 32 years in 1949 to 65 years in 1976.
In education, leading capitalist roaders were arguing that China needed to focus primary attention on the “best” schools and the “brightest” students in order to build China into a modern country. They argued for ending the practices from the Great Leap Forward period when students spent part of their time growing crops at school for the cafeteria or working in small factories attached to the schools. The revolutionaries sharply criticized this, pointing out that it was impossible to keep moving forward toward communism unless they increasingly broke down the differences between intellectual and physical labor, between experts and the masses of common people.
One result of Mao’s call to transform education was that millions of students waged struggle against elitism in higher education. Before the Cultural Revolution, the universities were the province of the sons and daughters of party members and other privileged forces. Children competed in exams to enter a hierarchy of increasingly selective college-prep schools. For centuries, China’s feudal-Confucian educational system had created a small privileged elite, divorced from the common people and productive labor in society. The Cultural Revolution abolished this system of elite tracking and competitive exams. After completing high school, students went to live and work in rural areas or take up work in factories. After two or three years, students of any background could then apply to go college. And part of the college admission process involved evaluations from co-workers and communities of the applicants.
Similar “socialist new things” were brought into being in every section of society as people answered Mao’s call to revolutionize society and revolutionize themselves in the process.
As a crucial part of this, the Party itself began to be revolutionized. A whole section of the party took up this revolutionary line, deepening their understanding of the communist goal and the socialist transition period, and leading transformations in every sphere. New revolutionary leaders came forward from among the masses during this upheaval and ferment, and many joined the Party. And the relations among party cadre and the masses went through waves of revitalization and transformation, raising the consciousness and unleashing the initiative of the masses and fostering a spirit of openness to criticism and self-interrogation among the cadre.
Despite these transformations, Mao warned that final victory was far from settled. He pointed out that “it would be quite easy to rig up a capitalist system”—due to the pressures of imperialism, the still remaining “birthmarks” of capitalism (for example, inequalities between city and countryside, the still-remaining differences between mental and manual labor, etc.), and the fact that some powerful forces still in the leadership of the party had not been fully won to the line embodied in the Cultural Revolution and indeed in many cases harbored deep opposition to it.
When Mao died in 1976, the capitalist roaders in the Chinese Communist Party, led by Deng Xiaoping, seized the moment to stage a coup. Hundreds of thousands were arrested, including Mao’s closest comrades, the so-called “gang of four,” which included his wife, Jiang Qing. Thousands more were murdered. Where Mao had said “serve the people,” Deng crowed that “to get rich is glorious.” The coup and the destruction of socialism made China the hell it is today for the vast majority—once again dominated by imperialism, capitalist exploitation and backward feudal oppression, with the attendant extreme economic and social polarization.
The reasons why the capitalist roaders succeeded are complex—involving big international factors and developments—and how these interpenetrated with the class struggle in China. And within this, there were certain mistakes made by Mao and the revolutionaries grouped around him that weakened their ability to fend off the assaults from the capitalist roaders—especially after Mao died.
But the lesson to draw from this is not that socialism is impossible. The revolution did not fail, it was defeated. The fact that capitalist roaders had seized power was not so obvious at the time—not the least because they draped themselves in the words of socialism and Maoism. At this momentous juncture in the international communist movement, Bob Avakian deeply summed up the contributions Mao Tsetung had made to the science and practice of communist revolution. And he analyzed the class character of the new leadership in China and showed in great detail that a counter-revolution against Mao and socialism had taken place. At the same time he pointed to the tasks and challenges before genuine communists throughout the world to correctly sum up the world-historic and unprecedented experience of the Chinese revolution, and the theory Mao developed through the course of leading it, to learn as much as could be learned from that, and to advance further in the world revolutionary process.
Today there are no socialist countries in the world. The loss of socialist China in 1976 marked the end of a stage, of the first wave of proletarian revolution in the world.
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 liberating, socialist society for over 25 years. Mao led the Chinese people to “spring society into the air,” to radically change the conditions of their lives and change themselves in the process. He searched relentlessly for a way to prevent a new capitalist class from seizing power, and led the people in this fight down to his last breath. Under his leadership, this was the most advanced revolutionary experience in transforming society and transforming the people—the farthest humanity has gone in bringing into being a world free of exploitation and oppression.
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. And 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 a point of departure for rebuilding a revolutionary movement today.
Revolution #141, August 24, 2008
Nightmare for the People:
In early August, a long-simmering conflict in the Caucasus region of Southwest Asia erupted into open warfare, bringing great suffering to the peoples of Georgia and South Ossetia (a small break-away province from Georgia). Thousands of Russian troops quickly poured in, escalating U.S./Russian tensions to a level not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
While a fragile ceasefire was signed on August 15, the situation in Georgia remains tense and unpredictable, and international tensions are continuing to escalate and spread from Central Asia to Europe, with the U.S. strengthening anti-Russian military alliances and making ominous threats that there must be “consequences” for Russia’s actions. Meanwhile, influential neo-con William Kristol calls for “offer[ing] emergency military aid to Georgia.”
All this has revealed much about the shifting tectonic plates in world relations...and the potential for pressures to build up suddenly at unexpected points and then ripple through the entire world.
Georgia is a small but strategically important country. While it has less than 5 million people, it is located on Russia’s southern flank and occupies a key transit point for oil and natural gas moving from the rich fields of Central Asia to the imperialist heartland of Europe. Securing Georgia firmly in its camp, and building oil and gas pipelines through Georgia that bypass Russia, have been major pillars of U.S. strategy for decades.
Georgia was in the forefront of nations once oppressed by Russia who were then drawn into the U.S. orbit when the Soviet Union collapsed. Its current government, headed by U.S.-educated President Mikheil Saakashvilli, is slavishly pro-American. The airport road in the capital of Tbilisi is named for George Bush, and Saakashvilli loudly echoes the Bush regime’s talk about spreading “democracy” and “free markets” as the solution to the world’s problems.
This has a crucial military component: Saakashvilli sent 2,000 Georgian troops to support the bloody U.S. occupation of Iraq, actually doubling its troop commitment this past year, even as other members of the U.S. coalition pulled out or cut back. In turn, the U.S. has stationed hundreds of military advisors in Georgia. About 12,000 Georgian soldiers—more than a fourth of their total military—have received advanced U.S. training. And Georgia—with U.S. backing—has been working vigorously to be admitted to NATO, which would mean that all NATO members would be committed to defend Georgia militarily in the event of future conflicts with Russia.
All this fits in with the U.S.’s global effort to ensure its domination of the whole planet for generations to come. Monopolizing energy control and transport, and hemming in and constraining potential rivals like Russia, are central to this goal, and Georgia plays a major role in both of these. Russia in turn, as an imperialist power, is trying to break out of this encirclement, reestablish its dominance of “its” part of the world, and forge economic and military alliances in other regions.
As Raymond Lotta points out in “Shifts and Faultlines of the World Economy and Great Power Rivalry,” “No potential challengers to U.S. imperialism are seeking to go toe-to-toe with the U.S. militarily, or to confront it in a major way, in this current conjuncture. But the existence of these challenges (and challengers) means that U.S. imperialism has to look more and more over its shoulder.” This is exactly what is playing out now.
Most Americans would be shocked to know that the war broke out on August 7, one day before CNN proclaimed “Russian Troops Invade Georgia.” U.S. coverage has been pitched to present this as a “tiny democratic country being overrun by Russia—the neighborhood bully.” But the bloody handprints of the U.S. are all over this war. Condoleezza Rice had visited Georgia in July for high-level discussions with Georgian leaders, and that same month there were joint military exercises involving Georgian and 1,000 U.S. troops. All this was in the context of increasingly aggressive efforts by the U.S. to establish a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, which is clearly aimed at Russia and which Russia considers a major provocation.
While the exact facts of things are hidden in the fog of propaganda statements coming from all sides, even the U.S. now concedes that it was Georgia that made a major move, in line with Saakashvilli’s stated goal of dragging the two effectively autonomous regions (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) back under Georgian rule. (See New York Times, August 13, 2008: “After Mixed US Messages, a War Erupted in Georgia.”) On Friday, August 8, after a week of skirmishing on the Ossetian border, the Times reported that “Georgian officials said their troops had made a significant incursion into the breakaway region, South Ossetia...and had taken up positions outside the capital of the enclave, Tskhinvali.”
The New York Times reports that at the start of the “incursion,” “members of the Georgian army unit assigned to a training program under American advisers did not show up for the day’s exercises. In retrospect, American officials said, it is obvious that they had been ordered to mobilize for the mission in South Ossetia by their commanders.” It’s difficult to believe that whole units of troops being trained by the U.S. would simply “cut class” one day to go attack an ally of Russia…without U.S. approval…, or that Georgian leaders who fawn on the Bush regime would launch a war in defiance of the U.S.
After the Georgian “incursion,” Russia, under the pretext of protecting Ossetians from “atrocities,” poured thousands of troops and tanks into not only South Ossetia, but also Abkhazia (another, larger, separatist region in Georgia) and into central Georgia itself. The Georgian forces were overwhelmed and by August 12 Russia had captured the large town of Gori, 40 miles from the Georgian capital. (They have since pulled back to some extent, but even the terms of the just-signed peace treaty seem to allow for an ongoing Russian military presence in Georgia proper.)
All of this has been a nightmare for the masses of people. Thousands of Ossetians fled across the Russian border and thousands more hid in basements as Tskhinvali was shelled and under siege by Georgian forces. The Times quoted an Ossetian woman who finally came out of her basement and said that the city around her “looked like the end of the world.” Asked how she felt, she said, “I haven’t eaten in three days. I’m hungry, that’s how I feel.” And many hundreds of civilians, if not thousands, were killed in the week of fighting.
And all this was only multiplied by the Russian intervention which spread the war to Georgia, including attacks on major cities.
The major reactionary leaders involved in all this have truly done their best to break world records for hypocrisy, posing as defenders of the innocent victims of wars, of freedom, and of the right of nations to self-determination.
Bush, fresh from invasions and “regime change” in Iraq and Afghanistan, and feverishly working for the same goal in Iran, now insists that “the territorial integrity of Georgia must be respected,” and condemned Russia’s “bullying and intimidation.” Russia’s Putin, leader of a country that has not just once but twice invaded Chechnya (in the same region as Georgia) to crush its independence movement, now announces that Russia just couldn’t help itself when it saw a tiny country being invaded by a larger power! Then there is Georgian President Saakashvilli, touted in the U.S. press as a great defender of “democracy” and “freedom.” Besides being a shameless tool of America’s crimes in Iraq, Saakashvilli used riot police and military forces armed with machine guns to violently disperse protestors in Tbilisi in 2007, ransacking opposition TV stations and jailing dissident leaders.
Saakashvilli’s “democratic” credentials are perhaps best expressed in a 2004 comment cited by Human Rights Watch: “[T]hen President-elect Mikheil Saakash-villi stated: ‘I…have advised my colleague, Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili—I want criminals both inside and outside prisons to listen to this very carefully—to use force when dealing with any attempt to stage prison riots, and to open fire, shoot to kill and destroy any criminal who attempts to cause turmoil. We will not spare bullets against these people.’ ”
On all sides the major players in this war are pursuing reactionary and imperialist interests, and this underscores again the crying need to forge another path for humanity, away from this dark past of oppressive regimes and cynical wars.
Things are still very much in motion. While the war went badly for U.S. forces in Georgia itself, and Russian power in Southwest Asia has likely grown greater as a result, the U.S. has moved to seize advantage in Eastern Europe. The key part of this has been signing a deal between the U.S. and Poland to place an American missile defense base on Polish territory; along with this there is a commitment that American soldiers will at least temporarily staff air defense sites in Poland “oriented towards Russia” (New York Times). Reactionary Polish leaders, with a clear eye to Georgia, told the Times that “Poland and the Poles do not want to be in alliances in which assistance comes at some point later—it is no good when assistance comes to dead people. Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very first hours of—knock on wood—any possible conflict.”
Talks around this deal had dragged on for three years and then were suddenly concluded in the wake of the Georgian fighting. The New York Times described this as “the strongest reaction so far to Russia’s military operations in Georgia.”
The aggressive moves by the U.S., the counter-maneuvers by rival imperialists, the “wild cards” of various smaller states pursuing their interest within the general framework of U.S. domination but pushing and maneuvering both for immediate position and also looking for opportunities to “get on top” somewhere down the road…all these things are making the world a very volatile place. And a place that cries out for a powerful, liberatory revolutionary communist movement that offers the masses a chance to be something other than victims choosing to attach themselves to the schemes and machinations of one oppressor or another.
Revolution #141, August 24, 2008
It’s really OBSCENE what passes as legitimate political discourse in the current presidential campaign. For example, take the debate between Obama and right-wing conservatives on abortion.
The Christian Defense Coalition and Operation Rescue, two extreme anti-woman, anti-abortion groups, are planning eight days of anti-abortion demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. This promises to be really OBSCENE: Kneeling in prayer (for Obama to “stand for human rights” and “end this tragic war against America’s children”) and laying “1,400 roses for the number of African American children” that supposedly “die from abortion” every day.
These are the foot soldiers of the Christian Right. These are the Christian fascists who barricaded and bombed abortion clinics and murdered abortion doctors in the 1990s—and who have expanded their crusade to campaigns against homosexuality and birth control. This hard-core movement wants a theocracy in the United States. And it has connections to and gets leadership from the highest levels of the Bush administration. Its leaders, like James Dobson and Richard Land, hold weekly phone conferences with the White House.
Meanwhile, an anti-abortion group billing itself as “Colorado for Equal Rights” has gotten an amendment to the Colorado State Constitution on the Nov. ’08 ballot that will “define a person as a human being from the moment life begins at conception.” This defines an embryo, even as it transforms from a one-celled to a two-celled organism, as a person. And this sets a legal standard by which, in theory, any interference with the post-conception reproductive process by a woman or her doctor could be defined as murder. This bill, if passed, would extend state constitutional protections to every fertilized egg, lay the foundation for making abortion and several forms of birth control illegal in the state, and challenge the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the U.S.
So what is Obama’s response to such right-wing OBSCENE attacks on women?
Listen to Obama in a Fox News interview where he says he strongly believes the state “can properly restrict late-term abortions.” But he says he hasn’t supported bills to restrict late-term abortions because they don’t have a provision to protect the health of the woman. He says:
“Now part of the reason they didn’t have it [such a provision] was purposeful, because those who are opposed to abortion—and I don’t begrudge that at all, they have a moral calling to try to oppose what they think is immoral. Oftentimes what they were trying to do was to polarize the debate and make it more difficult for people so that they could try to bring an end to abortions overall.”
Obama then says:
“My goal is to bring people together, to listen to them. And I don’t think there is any Republican out there who I’ve worked with who would say that I don’t listen to them, I don’t respect their ideas, I don’t understand their perspective. And I do not consider Democrats to have a monopoly on wisdom. And my goal is to get us out of this polarizing debate where we are always trying to score cheap political points and actually get things done.”
In real life, this message of ending the polarizing debate on abortion means nothing less than conceding ground by seeking common ground; giving in to the right-wing Christian fascist attacks against abortion by listening, understanding and uniting with “their perspective”—and inevitably, in different ways, giving in to, this thoroughly reactionary movement.
Let’s go back to Obama’s targeting of late-term abortions—which provides a preview of where he might stand on this if elected president. In an interview this summer with the Christian rock magazine Relevant, Obama says what he means by a “well-defined exception for the health of the mother.” He said, “Now, I don’t think that ‘mental distress’ qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.”
Removing “mental distress” as an allowable exception justifying a post-22-week abortion could be used against the Supreme Court decision Doe v. Bolton—handed down the same day as Roe v. Wade. Doe holds that the health exception permitting abortion after viability should be based on a “medical judgment...exercised in the light of all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age—relevant to the well-being of the patient.” Obama has since said it is not his intention to argue against Doe, but this position objectively concedes to the arguments to outlaw not just late-term abortions, but all abortions.
What about the argument: “OK, but Obama’s position on abortion is still better than John McCain’s”?
John McCain’s anti-abortion position is very OBSCENE. During his 20 years in the Senate (plus four in the House), McCain has never failed to cast his vote in favor of whatever abortion restrictions are arguably permitted under Roe v. Wade. He has taken positions alternately supporting and opposing a constitutional amendment to repeal Roe, but has generally opposed abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and at any time when the life of the woman is endangered by the pregnancy. Now, in 2008 he is bringing his position fully in line with the Republican Party platform that calls for a nationwide constitutional ban on abortion with NO exceptions.
Obama is appealing to people who want to stop the right-wing wholesale attacks on abortion rights by pointing to McCain’s extreme reactionary position on abortion. But those who think getting behind Obama is going to effectively push back these attacks on abortion need to really examine where Obama’s position and message will actually end up—which is capitulation to the anti-abortion attacks you wanted to get behind Obama to beat back in the first place.
One question people need to seriously ask is: To what extent is Obama actually paving the way, and making it easier, for people to swallow and go along with, even more attacks on abortion rights?
Obama’s message of “ending the polarizing debate on abortion” is a call to reconcile two irreconcilable positions—which can only mean giving in to and conceding more ground to the Christian fascist attacks on abortion. There is no way to reconcile a woman’s fundamental right to abortion with attacks that in fact mean taking away this right—especially when these attacks are headed toward eliminating this right altogether.
You cannot overcome differences between these opposing groups, other than through the capitulation of the one to the other. And what has been happening now for decades and what has been signaled in the Obama campaign is the capitulation to the side that is determined to abolish and criminalize abortion and impose the forceful subordination of women to men.
The religious right’s strategy has been to chip away at abortion rights piece by piece, with the aim of outlawing it completely. And for decades now, mainstream pro-choice groups have put their hopes on and relied on Democratic politicians, just like Obama, who are consistently defensive about the right to abortion (it should be “legal but rare”) and have conceded more and more ground in the face of attacks on the right to abortion. This is the dynamic over the last several decades that has gotten us to the situation where, as of 2005, abortion was unavailable in 87% of the counties in the United States; at least two generations of young women have grown up believing the lie that a fetus is a person; and the U.S. Supreme Court has a hard core that would like to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Abortion was legalized in the U.S. in 1972 in response to objective changes in the economic and social position of women in society and tremendous struggle in the 1960s that challenged long-held traditions on the social role of women. The revolutionary upsurge of the ’60s, of which the women’s liberation movement was a part, did not tie itself into, rely on or confine itself to the electoral arena and bourgeois politics. But in the decades after the ’60s, the mainstream leaders and institutions associated with women’s rights have pretty much subordinated themselves to and become part of the Democratic Party. And as a result there has been a defensive and losing dynamic of increasingly going along with the erosion of reproductive rights.
Bit by bit the moral and legal ground has been traded away and the culture shifted by this compromise and capitulation. And now, no one associated with the supposedly hopeful movement around Obama is going to the DNC in Denver to call for a real determined fight against those who would not only take away a woman’s right to abortion, but would consign half of humanity to dark ages morality and tradition.
Remember back to 10 years ago? Were you one of those people who thought, “they’ll never be able to get rid of Roe v. Wade”? If so you should ask yourself what you’ve learned to accommodate and accept since then. Stop for a minute and assess what has happened and then think about the fact that the same logic four years from now will have you changing your opinions and principles on birth control—because this is where the politics of the change you are allowed to believe in are leading. This is the direction that is being shaped and prepared by the logic and language of “bringing the country together” and ending the polarizing debate over abortion.
The capitulation of those whose stand is politically and morally correct and progressive to those who are politically and morally wrong and reactionary—this is what Obama is advocating and objectively represents and the direction he is taking people who support him.
That is a road that all those who hold the liberation of women close to their hearts do not want to go down. It’s the so-called realistic road of realpolitik that requires political and moral compromise with Christian fascists and it will not result in keeping the country and the culture from moving ever more to the right. What is needed is a thorough break with the dynamic of working within the confines of bourgeois politics. What is needed is independent historical resistance and struggle that refuses to compromise and capitulate and can actually repolarize society in a way more favorable to the people.
There is no objective reason other than the way society is currently organized for women to be denied reproductive freedom. Women must be able to determine when and if they will have children as part of making more overall choices and determinations about what they will do with their lives; to be free to make such choices based not on the narrow horizons of what is best for them or their individual families but based on unleashing the full potential of women to participate in changing the world around her in the direction of the full emancipation of all of humanity.
A world where half of humanity is still having to live under ancient codes of morality that demand the subordination and submission of women is, in 2008, an obscenity. But for all those who dare to throw off tradition’s chains—there is a whole world to win.
Revolution #141, August 24, 2008
a letter from a reader
I’m writing to express some disturbing observations from my high school “Health” class in regard to sexuality and the views of contraception. The book my school uses is the Glencoe Health textbook (Glencoe/ McGraw-Hill publishers, 2005). These are the same publishers that caved in under pressure in 2004 by the Texas State Board of Education to omit reference to contraceptive information and referred to marriage as a union between a man and a woman. In my edition, the point on marriage isn’t mentioned in that way exactly, although it definitely implies it by referring to it as a “life long commitment” in which you make “adjustments to marriage and your spouse” (e.g. women “adjust” yourselves to submission) and that pregnancy is something that comes out of marriage. It also has a whole thing on violence and drug abuse, and how a drug user is harmful to the community and has “cost the nation’s economy.” I’m telling you, at distorting truth this book gets an A+!
But I wanted to specifically tell the readers of Revolution about my book’s reference (more like non-reference) to contraception and its demonizing of sex. For starters, since I have finished the class (I’m going into my junior year) I’ve gotten through the entirety of the book (agonizing to sift through four tons of bullshit to find an ounce or two of truth). But since I’ve gone through the whole book, the word contraceptive, condom, diaphragm, spermicide or anything that involves HEALTHFUL PROTECTION AGAINST STDs IS NOT EVEN MENTIONED! When abortion is mentioned, it’s when they talk about pregnant women drinking alcohol and that causing harm to the fetus!!! This is a very dangerous thing; high school students not knowing about protection is scary.
In regard to how sex is looked at, I’ll quote from an online interactive study guide from the Glencoe website:
Many teens avoid the risks to sexual activity by choosing abstinence—the deliberate decision to avoid high risk behavior. Only abstinence will provide 100 percent protection against unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. Practicing abstinence requires planning and self-control, the ability to use responsibility to override emotions. There are many reasons to practice abstinence. Sexual activity has many short- and long-term consequences. In addition to legal consequences [sic], it can seriously harm an individual’s physical, mental/ emotional, and social health. The use of avoidance techniques and refusal skills can help you practice abstinence and reduce the risk of being pressured into sexual activity.”
And in one place in the book they clump drugs, alcohol, drunk driving and sex as “high risk behaviors” (as a close comrade said, the only thing missing is rock ’n’ roll)! This is the logic they play up: Sex is bad; unless you’re married and reproduce. They make you think there’s no way to avoid it. This is straight up the logic of the Christian Fascists. And it’s crazy to think of what kind of physical harm they speak of when they’re not telling us about protection against STDs! The mental and social harm they speak of is true, because of their oppressive logic being promoted, not some universal “looking down on” those “sinners”; it comes from somewhere (i.e., their Bibles and Oval Office).
But it’s long past the need for human sexuality (a wonderful and beautiful thing in and of itself) to be distorted by exploitative and reactionary relations. Communist morality is opposed to any form of sexual plunder and subordination, and to the flourishing of a safe and equal human sexuality. The message that we were carrying at the gay marriage celebration in San Francisco was “Celebrate Gay Marriage! Christian Fascists Go Back to Your Patriarchal Cave!” But we also gotta unchain human sexuality from oppressive conditions, as part of the struggle to emancipate half of humanity—women—and the rest of humanity altogether. We need to explore—on a scientific and non-religious basis—prevention methods against STDs and specifically the fight against HIV/AIDS. But right now it’s distorted by capitalist fetters. We need revolution! =)
Bay Area Revolution Club
Revolution #141, August 24, 2008
This presidential election season something different is happening. Three years ago, tens of thousands of Black people were left to die as Katrina’s flood waters surged in New Orleans. Last year, lynching nooses were being hung all across the country, from Jena, Louisiana, to New York City. But now, one of the two major parties is about to nominate an African-American, Barack Obama, to be the president of the U.S. This is major.
This country has pushed the lie that Black people were inferior from the day the first Africans were dragged to these shores in slave chains. This was part of the justification for enslaving Black people and for imposing a century of lynching and Jim Crow segregation on them after slavery was ended. Even down to today Black people are told that they’re not good enough, and that their supposed lack of qualifications—and not apple-pie American racism—is why they face vicious discrimination and degrading conditions in the U.S.
If you would have asked people four years ago, or even one year ago, was it possible that the U.S. would elect a Black president, most would’ve told you no, or at least not any time soon. But in a few months, a Black person might be in the White House. It’s no wonder that so many Black people get their hopes up when they think about the prospect of a President Obama. Or that so many people of all nationalities are thinking this could mean the U.S., while still not perfect, is maybe turning the corner on its legacy of racism.
I have arguments all the time with people about this. I point out to them that the essence of Obama’s campaign is that he’s the best man to be commander-in-chief of the U.S.’s global empire and steer it thru the challenges it faces around the world and at home. And that at the heart of the whole thing is that Obama is auditioning to be the head of a capitalist system that has had white supremacy as a key pillar—a pillar which it will not, and cannot, get rid of soon. Some people agree with some or even much of what I say but still get swept up in the Obama mania.
What a lot of them come back with is this: If Obama’s mantra, “Yes we can,” will change the way even one Black child thinks, give them a sense that they can overcome the obstacles and make something of themselves, then we have to bust ass to get him into the White House.
Let’s look at this one Black child, at the many Black youth, whose mindsets will be impacted if Obama gets elected. Many of them will go out there thinking, “Maybe America is becoming a different place. Obama could, and maybe I can too.”
But they will go out to an America where Black youth are given unequal, substandard education. In his 2005 book Shame of the Nation, Jonathan Kozol said: “The average differential [in annual spending per child between school districts with the highest percentages of minority students and those with the lowest percentages] is $1,100. In some states—New York, Texas, Illinois and Kansas, for example—the differential is considerably larger.” He also shows how lawsuits aimed at achieving equal funding for minority school districts were denied by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1970s. On top of that, in 2007 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that effectively overturned the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling. The 2007 ruling made it unconstitutional to use race in the assignment of students to schools, even if the intent in doing that was to desegregate the schools!
They will confront an America where Black youth face sky-high unemployment rates. The factories that were moved decades ago to far out suburbs or to other parts of the world by capitalists in search of higher profit margins aren’t going to come back to the inner cities. Studies have documented that employers are more likely to hire white applicants with criminal records than Blacks with clean records. And job applicants with African-American sounding first names like Jamal are 50% less likely to get called in for an interview than those named George or Joseph. This discrimination isn’t going to stop.
In the first three months of this year, police in NYC stopped and frisked more than 150,000 people. Over 85% of them were Black or Latino, and more than 90% of them weren’t doing anything wrong! This racial profiling isn’t going to stop. 1 in 9 Black men in their 20’s is in jail. During three weeks this summer in Chicago, cops shot 12 Black and Latino people, killing 6 of them. Do you think Obama will do anything about this? The Obama who told everyone to respect the verdict when the cops who murdered Sean Bell got off?
The deal is that all the inspiration Obama’s election could give to Black youth will crash into the continuing reality of America. America may be ready to put a Black man in the White House, but it isn’t about to stop gunning down Black men in the streets of cities across the U.S. or warehousing Black people in prisons across the country. And it won’t stop discriminating against Black people in education and employment. They might be thinking, “Yes we can,” but the system will keep telling them: “No you can’t.” And it will keep throwing up roadblocks to keep them mired in conditions of poverty and degradation.
Some will successfully make it through the obstacle course capitalism lays out before them. But a few more Black people making it, or even a substantial number of Black people making it, won’t solve the actual problem Black people face in this country, which is that they are oppressed as a people. Look at some history on this. Between 1960 and 1984, the number of Black elected officials in the U.S. leaped from almost none to more than 6000. In that same period, the Black middle class grew at a rapid rate. But having many more successful Black people didn’t do anything to break Black people out of the overall oppression they faced.
This oppression is why even successful Black people can face the sting of racial discrimination—being followed around in department stores or not being able to hail a cab in New York City—and the life-threatening situation of Driving While Black. Life-threatening because cops harass, brutalize and even murder Black people for any reason or for no reason at all. Having a good job or driving a nice car is no guarantee this won’t happen to you.
The story of 17-year-old Jonathan Pinkerton is a case in point. Jonathan was planning to tour colleges this summer, between his junior and senior years in high school. He had no police record and had done everything people were supposed to do to put themselves in position to make it. On June 11, while Jonathan was relaxing with friends in a housing project in Chicago, police chased him and shot him in the back. Witnesses say police kneeled on his back and kicked him in the head while he lay wounded and handcuffed on the ground. Now Jonathan is in a hospital bed, paralyzed.
At the same time, the system will use those Black people who do make it to confuse people about the real reason Black people are in the conditions they’re in. They’ll pump out their lies that: “These people made it. So if you don’t make it, don’t blame us or the system. It’s your own damn fault.”
Constantly hammering away at people that the problems Black people are mired in are their own fault is very harmful. It’s harmful because the rulers’ line that Black people who don’t make it now have no more excuses and only themselves to blame for their miserable conditions blinds them and others to the real source of their problems and what needs to be done to deal with them. People who buy into this line can end up blaming the people and blaming themselves for the things the system is doing to them. And this line gives the authorities a freer hand to continue to intensify the repression they bring down on Black people. Once you buy their blame-the-people logic it’s easy to sell you on the need to unleash repression on people the system has criminalized; to buy into the lie that youth gunned down by the cops or being swept into the prisons in ever escalating numbers are bringing this on themselves because of the shit they’re involved in.
The logic of promoting Obama’s candidacy because it’ll inspire more Black youth to succeed carries with it an underlying and wrong view of what is the problem and what is the solution. Black people who buy into this are on the way to giving up on fighting the system that’s responsible for their oppression. Whites and people of other nationalities who buy into this can end up seeing no need to join the struggle against this oppression. And it hands the U.S. ruling class further justification for the vicious repression it is unleashing on the masses.
The real way to deal with the oppression of Black people is first to lay the blame for it squarely at the feet of the capitalist system—and to rally people to build resistance to that oppression. We need to: Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution. This points people in the direction of ending the oppression of Black people, and everything else foul this system brings down on people all over the world. Promoting Obama’s campaign can only lead people back into the killing embrace of this rotten system.
Revolution #141, August 24, 2008
Part 4. THE RESURGENCE OF RUSSIAN IMPERIALISM
This is the fourth in a series of articles about major changes taking place in the imperialist world economy—and some of their larger geopolitical implications.
The analysis began with a survey of recent trends and key developments in the world economy. This was followed by an examination of the ascent of China in the world system and its growing capacity to project power internationally. The analysis then turned to the European Union and its emergence as a highly integrated, coordinated, and increasingly assertive imperialist bloc.
The United States remains the dominant imperialist power, economically and militarily, in the world. The U.S. is the guardian of a global capitalist order that benefits, at least for now, all the big powers. But the U.S.’s global position is weakening. At the same time, the potential is growing for various powers, or alliances of powers, to mount more formidable international challenges to U.S. imperialism—economically and strategically.
The rise of China is perhaps the most significant tectonic shift in the global economic landscape. But the rebound of Russian imperialism is perhaps the most dramatic and unexpected.
A decade ago, the Russian economy was practically flat on its back. Today, the Russian ruling class wields growing economic power in the world and is pursuing a strategic agenda that is coming into sharper conflict with U.S. imperialism.
For some thirty-five years, the Soviet Union was a genuine socialist society. The Soviet revolution of 1917 created an economy no longer based on exploitation. It took radical and inspiring measures to uproot the oppression of women and to achieve equality between nationalities. But the Soviet Union ceased being a socialist country in the mid-1950s.
A new bourgeois class came to power and transformed Soviet society into a particular form of capitalism-imperialism. This was a capitalism in which a state bourgeoisie exploited wage labor. This was a capitalism in which competition among blocs of capital took place within a framework of state ownership. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, this state capitalism also collapsed.
The Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union ended with the demise and disintegration of the Soviet Union. This was a decisive change in the whole international situation. It opened new economic and strategic opportunity for U.S. imperialism: for investment, for resolving conflicts in different parts of the world (like the struggle in South Africa) to its advantage, for extending its main military alliance, NATO, into Eastern Europe.
In Russia, a new regime, led by Boris Yeltsin and backed by the U.S., sought to restructure the Russian economy along lines similar to the institutions and practices of the Western capitalist countries. It threw the doors wide to Western investors. A new Russia was emerging within a framework of U.S. global dominance.
A). Economic Reform in the 1990s
The Yeltsin regime, with prodding and assistance from Western advisers and the U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund, carried out a series of reforms to remake the economy and stimulate growth. It deregulated prices, eliminating special subsidies and government controls on prices. It promoted the formation of financial and stock markets. It presided over a massive program of privatization, selling off former state-owned enterprises to private investors and investment groups. It curbed social spending.
The IMF provided credits and loans on condition that the Russian government enforce and carry through with this “shock therapy.”
Privatization had the most sweeping effects of the various reforms. In the former Soviet Union, industrial, commercial, and financial activity was overwhelmingly carried out through state-owned enterprises. By 1997, the private sector accounted for more than 70 percent of Russia’s economic output.
Many new private businesses had been created. But control had fallen into the hands of a small but powerful new stratum of wealthy investors and entrepreneurs. This stratum reaped enormous profits and accumulated vast wealth from buying, selling, and consolidating rights to ownership of former state assets.
The rapid restructuring of the Russian economy did not lead to economic recovery and growth. Foreign loans and foreign direct investment did not materialize on the scale anticipated by Russia’s rulers. Corruption and short-term profit grabbing mushroomed. Infighting within the Russian capitalist class escalated. Industrial investment dropped off sharply. Russia entered into crisis.
The statistics are staggering: between 1991 and 1997, Russia’s economic output plummeted by more than 40 percent (a decline greater than that in the U.S. during the Great Depression of the 1930s). Unemployment averaged 13 to 15 percent.
For the general population, the results of “shock therapy” were grim. Income inequalities increased significantly. The breakdown of basic public services and massive dislocation led to a sharp rise in crime, mental illness, and suicide rates. Life expectancy fell from 70 to 65 years—unprecedented in modern industrial societies in peacetime.
B). International Factors and the 1998 Crisis
This was the dynamic in play: Russia’s inefficient and chaotic economy could not competitively and profitably “plug in” to the international economy; at the same time, instability in the world capitalist economy was reacting back on Russia.
In the summer of 1997, East Asia was rocked by a major financial crisis. Investors had pulled out of real estate, stock, and currency markets. Now pressure was mounting on Russia. Loans from foreign banks and governments were coming due, but there were few signs of economic growth.
Russia could not meet its loan payments. Investor confidence eroded quickly. And on August 13, 1998, the Russian stock, bond, and currency markets collapsed. Russia’s currency, the ruble, lost 60 percent of its value just over several months. Five of the ten largest banks went under. Real wages plummeted by two-thirds. Yeltsin had lost just about all credibility. 1
It is helpful to step back to gain some historical perspective.
The collapse of the Soviet-led imperialist bloc in 1990-91 led to a new wave of globalization under U.S. dominance. Markets and regions of the world, including in the former Soviet bloc, were further opened up to imperialist capital. An integrated, global, cheap-labor manufacturing economy was being forged—with China being transformed into the “workshop/sweatshop” for international capitalism.
Russian monopoly capitalism integrated into this more globalized world economy but suffered two disadvantages. First, it was integrating from a position of internal weakness. The Russian economy was plagued by industrial inefficiencies that carried over from the 1970s and 1980s. And the privatization and price deregulation reforms of the Yeltsin era had initially destabilizing effects.
Second, the external international context was unfavorable for Russian capital. Turmoil in international financial markets made it difficult to stabilize the ruble and to attract foreign investment. World prices for commodities like oil, natural gas, and other raw materials that are plentiful in Russia were low. This put a crimp on Russia’s ability to boost export earnings.
The period of the 1990s was also one in which U.S. imperialism under then-President Clinton was aggressively seeking to restrict Russian imperialism’s maneuvering room. In particular, Clinton was pushing NATO, the U.S.-led military alliance in Western Europe, to expand into and incorporate former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltic.
The financial crisis of 1998 was a kind of turning point. The Russian economy hit bottom. Struggle within the Russian ruling class was intensifying—over issues of economic control and management and international policy and posture. In this setting, “a new type of contender posture, capitalist but with restored primacy for strategic direction by the state, and under a broadly `Eurasian’ [less Western-oriented] ideology, began to take shape.” 2
A). A Re-Restructuring
Vladimir Putin articulated and fought for this new orientation.
Politically and economically:
Ideologically, Putin would fan a nationalist-chauvinist political atmosphere and movement to create a social base for a resurgent Russian imperialism.
B). International Setting
A combination of favorable international factors made it possible for Putin to move on this agenda. These factors included: the rising price of energy resources; China’s rapid economic growth; and the enlargement of the EU, the consolidation of the euro, the currency of the European Union, and its expanding role in international transactions, including oil (See Part 3 of this series, “The European Union as a Potential Rival to U.S. Dominance” in Revolution No. 138, August 3, 2008, available online at revcom.us).
At the same time, another international factor confronted the Russian ruling class with new necessity.
The Bush regime had seized on the 9-11 attacks to launch a war for greater American empire—doing so under the cover of a “war on terror.” The goal of this “war without end” has been to secure U.S. global dominance for decades to come. The first act was the overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
In the run-up to the Afghanistan war, the U.S. began to establish military bases in several Central Asian countries. U.S. imperialism was now right on Russia’s doorstep, with growing military capacity to assert a presence far beyond Afghanistan. And U.S. imperialism was ratcheting up the contest for control over oil and natural gas production and transport in central Asia.
Between 1999 and 2007, Russia’s economy grew 7 percent a year—a growth rate higher than that of any of the other G-8 major industrialized countries. Russia’s stock market is one of the world’s fastest growing. 3 Russia now holds the world’s third-largest international currency reserves, after China and Japan. Foreign exchange reserves are earnings in dollars, euros, and other major world currencies from exports and various capital flows—and Russia’s decisions to hold or sell dollars can significantly influence the dollar’s international strength. 4
Russia’s economic turnaround is the product of two interrelated factors.
First, world market prices for oil, natural gas, and other natural resources rose in the 2000s—and Russia’s export earnings soared as a result.
Second, export growth has stimulated the Russian economy more broadly beyond the raw materials sectors, reactivating some of the idle industrial capacity from the pre-1991 era. Export earnings have also made it possible to import advanced equipment and technology to retool some of Russia’s aged industrial capacity.
A progressive Russia scholar seems correct in characterizing a core element of Russia’s imperial project as the “use [of] the country’s resources to leverage a greater role in global affairs, and to carve out further opportunities for the internationalization of Russian capital.” 5
A). Energy as Strategic Sector
As Russia’s economy rebounded, Putin oversaw the consolidation of the natural gas and oil sectors. He asserted state control over the most promising new energy sources in Russia’s Far East. He set strict terms of operation for foreign energy firms.
Gazprom, the Russian natural gas company, is the centerpiece of Russia’s strategic energy sector. Gazprom accounts for 8 percent of Russia’s GDP. Its major shareholder is the Russian government. Dmitry Medvedev, who succeeded Putin as president in early 2008, had been the chairman of Gazprom.
Gazprom is the world’s largest gas-producing company. It is the third largest company in the world, after Exxon-Mobil and GE. Gazprom holds somewhere between a quarter and one-third of the world’s estimated natural gas reserves and possesses the largest pipeline network in the world. 6
Through Gazprom, Russia controls gas supply routes and exports from the Caspian and Central Asian regions to Europe. This has involved a series of agreements with Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Gazprom has also been stepping up its direct presence in the European market. This has involved purchase of West European companies or shares in companies, infrastructure construction, and what are called swaps: West European capital acquires holdings in Russian oil and gas fields while Russia acquires holdings in West European transport and distribution facilities.
Western Europe relies on Russia for close to 25 percent of the natural gas it consumes. In 2010, the North European gas pipeline, traveling under the Baltic Sea, will further link Russia and Germany. Russia in turn needs the European market, which absorbs 75 percent of Russia’s crude oil exports. 7
Russia under Putin is seeking to spread its influence in Europe, locking countries into long-term energy deals and aiming to weaken the EU-NATO alliance. There is increasing industrial-technological cooperation between Russia and EADS, the West European aerospace company, and Russia is seeking to increase shareholdings in the company.
At the same time, there is concern within the EU that growing dependency on Russia for energy will limit its freedom of maneuver—and the EU has been seeking to diversify its energy sources, even as economic ties with Russia have deepened.
Russia has used energy as a political weapon. In January 2006, it temporarily shut off natural gas deliveries to Ukraine. A former republic in the old Soviet Union, Ukraine is an independent state that has been seeking NATO membership.
B). Military Dimensions
Flush with export earnings, the Putin regime boosted military spending. Russia now has the world’s third highest military expenditure (as measured in terms of comparative purchasing power). 8
Between 2003 and 2007, Russia has been the world’s second largest weapons merchant, closely trailing the U.S. 9 Russia relies heavily on weapons exports to maintain its industrial and technological base. Weapons production is a sector in which Russia has developed and deployed cutting-edge technology.
Weapons sales and transfers are also a vehicle for Russia to spread its geopolitical influence in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America (Venezuela is a major customer). Russia’s delivery of advanced weapons systems to Iran has allowed Russia to expand its presence in the Middle East and influence U.S. freedom of action towards Iran, without directly confronting U.S. imperialism.
C). Reality Check
The revival of the Russian economy has hardly led to a more just society.
In some industrial sectors, workers are compelled to put in long overtime hours. Pensions have been cut or scrapped. With economic recovery, incomes and wages have risen, but social inequality remains wide. In 2005, the average income of Russia’s richest 10 percent was 15 times higher than the poorest 10 percent. In 2008, Forbes reported 87 billionaires in Russia, with a total wealth of roughly half a trillion dollars—making Russia second only to the United States in the billionaire ranking. 10
One of the dirty little secrets of Russia’s recovery is that immigrant workers are playing an increasingly important role in the functioning of the economy. Some estimates put the number of legal and undocumented foreign workers at 14 million—or about 10 percent of the entire Russian population. 11 Racist and anti-foreigner incidents and attacks have been on the rise.
Health care remains a major social problem. Indeed, as late as 2005, one in five hospitals in Russia was without hot water and sewage facilities. 12
A large underground or unregulated economy, overlapping with organized crime, thrives. Russia is a major transit point for the international sex industry.
Russia is unique among the major imperialist powers in not being dependent on imports to meet energy needs. But like all imperialist powers, Russia is driven to expand globally. And Russian imperialism faces a particular necessity: control over energy production and energy pipelines in Central Asia is essential to Russia’s economic expansion and accumulating strategic strength.
Meanwhile, U.S. imperialism has its own plans and agenda to expand influence and control in the Central Asia and Caspian Sea region—and to roll back Russian influence.
A). Energy Rivalry
The Caspian Sea region is divided among eight new states formed when the Soviet Union collapsed, including Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Kazakhstan, plus Russia and Iran. This region has the potential to become a major oil and natural gas producer over the next decade. It has been a crucial arena of investment by international oil companies.
Right now, Russian imperialism enjoys privileged access to Central Asia’s energy resources and a near monopoly on the transport of natural gas out of Central Asia. But the struggle to control the flow of oil and natural gas from the Caspian Sea basin to markets in Europe and Asia is heating up.
U.S., West European, and Japanese companies have collaborated on the so-called BTC pipeline. This pipeline transports oil from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey, bypassing Russia totally. The U.S. has given strong financial and political backing to this pipeline as a means to weaken Russian influence. 13
Russia and the U.S. are engaged in intense competition in this region. This involves diplomatic maneuvering, the establishment of military bases and arms agreements, military exercises, and security alliances. Recently, this imperialist competition has broken out into open military conflict between Georgia, a close ally of the United States, and Russia.
The U.S. has been leading the way in transforming Georgia into a bridgehead of U.S. and Western imperialism in the region. Russia, for its part, has been aiding breakaway regions. Russia views the Caucasus and Caspian Sea region as a “zone of special influence”—the more so as NATO has pressed eastward.
B). Emergent Russia-China Alliance
As the world economy has undergone great shifts, and as great power rivalries have heated up, Russian imperialism has moved to more closely ally itself with China and its larger and more dynamic capitalist economy.
China is Russia’s second largest trade partner, after Germany. China’s vast financial clout has made possible a growing number of joint exploration ventures between Russian and Chinese state oil firms in Russia’s Far East. China has also been Russia’s number one weapons customer for the last 15 years.
Both Russia and China are maneuvering for position in Central Asia. Both have condemned the U.S. for its meddling and attempts to forge a network of forward military supply outposts in the region. Both have mutual interests in combating Islamic fundamentalist movements that come into opposition to the ruling regimes and threaten separatism. 14
In 2001, Russia and China joined together to form the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The SCO is a military and security alliance in Central Asia. Its other core members include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Iran and India have an observer status in the SCO.
The SCO has changed the dynamic in Central Asia. In 2005, Russia and China backed the embattled president of Uzbekistan and his suppression of protest. This was followed by Uzbekistan’s eviction of U.S. forces. In 2005, the SCO conducted its first joint military exercises in China; and in 2007, the SCO held its first military exercises in Central Asia. 15
The SCO is a major development in international relations.
With the resurgence of Russian imperialism, several issues and questions pose themselves:
The world economy and world politics are in great flux. The ground on which great power rivalry is taking place, and on which class and social and revolutionary struggles are taking place, is shifting dramatically.
NEXT, Part 5: Japan and India
1. For an account of the Yeltsin period and the 1998 crisis, see Gregory L. Freeze, ed., Russia: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), chapters 14 and 15. [back]
2. Kees van der Pijl, Global Rivalries: From the Cold War to Iraq (London: Pluto, 2006), p. 356. [back]
3. On Russia’s post-1999 economic performance, see Vladimir Popov, “Resurgent Russian Economy?” International Journal, Spring 2008; and Lucio Vinhas de Souza, A Different Country: Russia’s Economic Resurgence (Brussels: Centre for European Policy Studies, 2008), www.ceps.eu. [back]
4. For a detailed analysis of the strengthening of the ruble and how this might affect the international dollar regime, see Juliet Johnson, “Forbidden Fruit: Russia’s Uneasy Relationship with the U.S. Dollar,” Review of International Political Economy, 15:3 (August 2008). [back]
5. Tony Wood, “The Putin Era,” New Left Review, March-April 2007 (44), p. 68. [back]
6. Gazprom’s ranking as the world’s third-largest corporation is based on market capitalization. On Gazprom, see de Souza, Russia’s Economic Resurgence, pp. 73-82. [back]
7. International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2004 (Paris: IEA, 2004), p. 284; Michael Richardson, “Russia Puts Energy Importers Over a Barrel,” YaleGlobal On Line, July 10, 2007, www.yaleglobal.yale.edu. [back]
8. SIPRI Yearbook 2008: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), Appendix 5A. [back]
9. The Economist, “The World’s Biggest Arms Exporters,” July 29, 2008, www.economist.com. [back]
10. Dmitri Trenin, “Getting Russia Right,” The Globalist, May 8, 2008, www.theglobalist.com; Luisa Kroll, “World’s Billionaires,” Forbes.com, March 5, 2008. [back]
11. Russian Federal Migration Office data, cited in Vinhas de Souza, Russia’s Economic Resurgence, p. 92. [back]
12. Economist Intelligence Unit, Russia Country Profile 2006, p. 24. [back]
13. On U.S.-Russian rivalry in the Caspian Sea region, see Michael T. Klare, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008), chapter 5. [back]
14. On Russia-China relations and moves towards alliance, see Andrew Kuchins, “Russia and China: The Ambivalent Embrace,” Current History, October 2007; and Alexei D. Voskressenski, “The Rise of China and Russo-Chinese Relations in the New Global Politics of Eastern Asia,” (2007), available online. [back]
15. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization military exercises of 2005 and 2007 are discussed in Roger N. McDermott, The Rising Dragon: The SCO Peace Mission 2007, Occasional Paper, www.jamestown.org. [back]
Revolution #141, August 24, 2008
“Bob Costas here, with Cris Collinsworth. And Cris, I want to turn now to one of the most important Olympic events, at least from the Team USA standpoint—and that’s the all-arounds for bootlicking. We’ve had tremendous competition here and I think you can say we’ve had a whole scrapbook full of really inspiring moments. Clearly Bela Karolyi and his wife Marta were very impressive in the early going in the all-important women’s gymnastics.”
“That’s right, Bob—a lot of experts said the Karolyis had piled up so many points that they’d be unbeatable.”
“The sheer sense of injured entitlement, the relentless whining . . . it made you realize why we love the Olympics so much.”
“And don’t forget Bob—it’s easy to whine for one or two days. But it puts a tremendous strain on both the acting ability and the all-important lying skills to go on day after day claiming that the Americans are being cheated, casting aspersions against the other teams and the judge, and getting just the right combination of high outrage and long-suffering shrugs.”
“I mean just the sheer strain on the vocal chords must be pretty incredible.”
“That’s right Bob. And the facial muscles too—don’t forget those facial muscles. Viewers at home may not appreciate the difficulty in doing that kind of sustained whining and keeping a straight face when you’re doing that.”
“Don’t forget though Cris—the Karolyis had a lot of help from our own NBC announcing team.”
“That’s true, Bob, and I’m glad you mentioned it. You know a lot of the critics were saying that the announcers were too over-the-top and that this would hurt the Karolyis in the final judging—that they had too much help.”
“I’ve heard ’em say that.”
“Yes, but you see Bob, they’re forgetting that the Karolyis didn’t come up in the American system and they didn’t have the benefit of the training that our great athletes get from day one. They had to learn all these moves by themselves, and after they were full-grown adults. They didn’t grow up with that sense of spoiled-brat entitlement that is so much a part of what Team USA tries to instill in its athletes and coaches.”
“Not to mention fans. So the Karolyis were way out front on this, really, all of week one. Then something big happened on Friday night. Set the stage for us, okay, Cris.”
“Sure, Bob. Now everyone knows that one of the big story lines at this Olympics from the very beginning has been the ‘Redeem Team.’ On one level, it’s a simple story: would the American basketball team come back from its defeat at the last Olympics and win the gold this time?”
“You got to admit, they looked pretty bad last time.”
“That they did. And there was a lot at stake here—including for the NBA. The NBA needed a performance that would help them both with their white suburban fan base here at home—”
“And a lot of that fan base has been pret-ty alienated these last few years.”
“—but they also needed something that wouldn’t cost them internationally. I mean China is a huge market for the NBA.”
“So you’re saying that with that international dimension they couldn’t do quite the same level of arrogance of the original Dream Team.”
“Exactly. Those moves were not going to work, and might even cost them in the final judging.”
“Wow, talk about a balancing act. That’s quite a challenge.”
“So what were they going to do? That’s what all of us here in the Olympic Village were wondering. Sure, they could win the basketball competition—in fact, they had to—but just winning wasn’t going to be enough this time around.”
“Not to interrupt Cris, but surely you know that there’s a lot more at stake here than just the NBA marketing strategy.”
“Oh certainly. I mean, the basketball players are our marquee athletes right now. Six months from now very few people will remember Nastia Liukin. But these guys are followed by fans the world over, year in and year out. So there’s a big question: are they going to represent for America itself? I mean, let’s face it—America’s in a couple of very brutal and unpopular wars, it’s carrying out torture . . . well, the outrages are endless and people all over the world hate us. And these guys have to be the ambassadors for all that.”
“Don’t forget either the whole memory of Tommie Smith and John Carlos 40 years ago, raising their fists—that puts an extra challenge on the Black athletes of Team USA, and that includes the Redeem Team.”
“Right. There can’t even be a hint of that sort of thing. And here’s where my interview with Kobe on Friday night comes in. You see, Kobe could have just murmured a few words about being proud, he could have said a word about his popularity in China, he could have gushed over Michael Phelps—and some people might have thought that would have been enough.”
“Enough? Please. It wouldn’t have even been mentioned in the same breath as the stunning Karolyi performance.”
“Absolutely, Bob. In fact, that’s the kind of same-old same-old routine that has the judges soured on the American basketballers, and it wouldn’t have medaled at all in this competition.”
“Wouldn’t have come close.”
“That’s so right, Bob. Anyway, Kobe knew that the Karolyis were way out in front and that he had to do a lot. He knew that there would only be one real chance and he couldn’t afford to turn in anything less than a really stellar performance.”
“World-class shit-eating, in other words.”
“I have to say, from the minute that Kobe said that he got choked up when he looked at his Team USA uniform—that he just laid that jersey on his bed and stared at it for a few minutes, overcome with emotion—I could almost hear the points piling up on the judges’ scorecards.”
“That’s right, Bob. And one thing the judges had to be impressed with was the degree of difficulty involved and the way Kobe pulled it off.”
“He didn’t do the histrionics of the Karolyis.”
“No, he went the other way. He decided to go humble and modest—to not only do the shit-eating but to combine that with the very difficult but all-important belly-crawling moves that the judges pay so much attention to.”
“It could’ve cost him if it didn’t come off.”
“Oh, no doubt—it was a high-risk move, and even the slightest stumble would have resulted in very severe deductions. You know, a lot of viewers at home probably don’t appreciate that there’s a thin line in these interviews between coming off humble and just seeming bored and rehearsed.”
“Tell me about it. So talk for a minute about the alley-oop that you fed Kobe at the end. Because I think most people agree that really clinched it.”
“Sure. After Kobe talked about feeling choked up, after he talked about how representing in the Olympics was the highest honor and the most important thing ever in his life—I think he even used the often reliable but nevertheless risky ‘this is what it’s all about’ move—I wanted to see if he could take that to the next level. So I fed him—I said that to a lot of people these days that kind of patriotism isn’t ‘cool.’”
“Sounds like a slam-dunk.”
“Well, don’t forget—slam-dunks can be missed, and when they are, the player looks really bad. And in this competition, even with our modern editing techniques, you have to be able to pull it off.”
To see how he did, let’s go to the videotape.
COLLINSWORTH: Where does the patriotism come from inside of you? Historically, what is it?
BRYANT: Well, you know it’s just our country, we believe [the U.S.A.] is the greatest country in the world. It has given us so many great opportunities, and it’s just a sense of pride that you have; that you say “You know what? Our country is the best.”
COLLINSWORTH: Is that a ‘cool’ thing to say, in this day and age? That you love your country, and that you’re fighting for the red, white and blue? It seems sort of like a day gone by.
BRYANT: No, it’s a cool thing for me to say. I feel great about it, and I’m not ashamed to say it. I mean, this is a tremendous honor.
“I liked the way you used the word ‘cool,’ Cris, and then Kobe used it right back at you.”
“Thanks, Bob. I try to keep up. Anyway, when he put that through the hoop—well, I think that put the whole thing away.”
“You know, I was talking with the experts afterward, and we were thinking you have to go all the way back to George Foreman parading around in Mexico City with that American flag to come up with something on the level of the Bryant interview.”
“I think Bryant goes way beyond that. Nothing against Foreman—remember, the coaching and techniques were much more primitive in those days—but that parade around the boxing ring came off a little robotic and frankly, idiotic.”
“I don’t know, a lot of people liked it.”
“Sure, but Foreman’s move—while it was enough to win the gold in bootlicking back then—took place in a very different environment. To be honest, the bar was lower. Not only that, Foreman’s straight-up ‘tomming’ only got over with a very narrow sector of the Olympic audience. So, not to take anything away from Foreman’s tremendous achievement in ’68, I think we have to say that Bryant has set the new standard in shameless bootlicking.”
“Of course, when they mark it in the stats, you should definitely get an assist.”
“Hey, that’s my job.”
“Thanks, Cris. [turns to audience] We’ll be back in a minute with the next event, the women’s individual competition in ostentatious prayers and uncalled-for nonsensical thanking of God.”
Revolution #141, August 24, 2008
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August 19, Tuesday, 7pm
Discussion of Hot Topics from Revolution Newspaper: “The Olympics in China: The real story of China today” and “The True Story about Mao Tsetung and the Chinese Revolution”
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
Major Program on the new Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, part 1. Presentation on the mission and vision of a new stage of the communist revolution, digging into what the Party exists for, its principles of organization and theoretical foundation.
August 26, Tuesday, 7 pm
Major Program on the new Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, part 2. More on the Constitution focusing on why communism is both 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.
August 28, Thursday, 7 pm
Discussion: "OBAMA: Wishful Thinking and Deadly Self-Deception" An article by Sunsara Taylor in Revolution on The Nation's Open Letter to Obama
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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.
Wednesday, August 20, 7 pm
Program on the new Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, part 1 -- On the mission and vision of a new stage of the communist revolution, digging into what the Party exists for, its principles of organization and theoretical foundation.
Friday, August 22, 7pm
Film Showing - Fists of Freedom: The Story Of The '68 Summer Games: The dramatic black-gloved, fist-held-high, black-power salute by American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the victory stand at the 1968 Olympic summer games in Mexico City. 1 hour
Wednesday, August 27, 7 pm
A program on the new Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, part 2 -- More on the Constitution focusing on why communism is both a scientific and revolutionary theory.
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August 24, Sunday, 2 pm
Discussion of the new Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, 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 28, Thursday, 7:30 pm
Come and dig into articles in the latest Revolution newspaper, including events inside and outside the Democratic National Convention.
August 31, Sunday, 2 pm
Discussion of the new Constitution of the RCP, USA, part 2 -- the Appendix: Communism as a Science.
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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
August 26, Tuesday, 7pm
Away With All Gods discussion "God does not exist -- we need liberation without gods."
August 28, Thursday, 7pm
Discussion on the speech by Obama at the DNC
September 4, Thursday, 7pm
Author Raj Patel discusses his book Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System
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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: Slavery, White Supremacy and Religion in America; Christian Fascism and Genocide; Religion, Fundamentalism, and the Slave Mentality.
September 4, Thursday, 7 pm
Discussion of the new Constitution of the RCP, USA.
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 31, Sunday, 3 pm
Picnic and Discussion of the new Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA at , Cal Anderson Park, 1635 11th Ave. Bring a dish to share and your impressions and insights about the new Constitution, as well as your experiences and ideas on how to get the Constitution into the hands of all people who dream of fundamental and radical social change.
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).
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August 19, Tuesday, 6:30 pm
Continuing discussion on "Shifts and Faultlines in the World Economy and Great Power Rivalry--Part 3: The European Union as a Potential Rival to U.S. Dominance" by Raymond Lotta
August 23, Saturday, 7 pm
Celebration and discussion on the release of the RCP's new Constitution
August 26, Tuesday, 6:30 pm
Continuing discussion on "Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism: What IS Bob Avakian's New Synthesis? Part III: The New Synthesis: Political Implications--the International Dimension
1158 Mass Ave, 2nd Floor, Cambridge
August 25, Monday, 6:30 pm
Screening of the film IRAN (is not the problem) at the Democracy Center, 45 Mt Auburn Street, Cambridge, hosted by Revolution Books.
August 27, Wednesday, 6:30pm
Discussion of the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
Thursday, Sept 11, 6:30pm
Daniel Kanstroom, speaking about his book Deportation Nation at The Democracy Center, 45 Mt. Auburn St, Cambridge
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We're still in move-in mode, but we're lookin' good. Come and check out our new store. Watch our blog for upcoming discussions and events
Saturday & Sunday,
August 30 & 31, 10:00AM-7:00PM
Visit Revolution Books at Booth #519 at the Decatur Book Festival.
http://www.decaturbookfestival.com/2008/About-DBF/exhibitors.php for info & map
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