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Revolution #143, September 21, 2008
Despite what is constantly preached at us, this capitalist system we live under, this way of life that constantly drains away—or in an instant blows away—life for the great majority of humanity, does not represent the best possible world—nor the only possible world. The ways in which the daily train of life has, for centuries and millennia, caused the great majority of humanity to be weighed down, broken in body and spirit, by oppression, agony, degradation, violence and destruction, and the dark veil of ignorance and superstition, is not the fault of this suffering humanity—nor is this the “will” of some non-existent god or gods, or the result of some unchanging and unchangeable “human nature.” All this is the expression, and the result, of the way human society has developed up to this point under the domination of exploiters and oppressors...but that very development has brought humanity to the point where what has been, for thousands of years, no longer has to be—where a whole different way of life is possible in which human beings, individually and above all in their mutual interaction with each other, in all parts of the world, can throw off the heavy chains of tradition and rise to their full height and thrive in ways never before experienced, or even fully imagined.
Revolution #143, September 21, 2008
Revolution #143, September 21, 2008
RCP Publications announces the publication of the new Constitution of the RCP, USA—one that lays out the mission and vision of a new stage of communist revolution, informed by Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communist theory. The constitution puts forward this vision in a very accessible way, as well as laying out the principles of organization and the theoretical foundation of the Party. This includes an important appendix on communist theory as a scientific and revolutionary theory.
This constitution serves as a bold declaration that there is indeed a party, in the belly of the imperialist U.S., with the determination and strategic analysis to make a revolution. . . and the vision, method and understanding of society and history to ensure that it is a revolution worth making.
Revolution Online, September 21, 2008
The events of the last week on Wall Street represent a new and more destabilizing phase of the turmoil gripping financial institutions and markets in the U.S. A financial crisis has been unfolding for more than a year. It is now the most serious financial crisis of U.S. capitalism since the Great Depression of the 1930s. And it is by no means contained or under control.
The financial edifice of U.S. imperialism is in danger of crumbling. And the U.S. ruling class is cobbling together desperate measures to prevent wholesale collapse.
Two of the four largest independent investment banks in the U.S. ceased to exist last week. In a matter of hours, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, while Merrill Lynch was forced into liquidation and then absorbed by Bank of America. This follows the government-promoted buyout in April of Bear Stearns, another giant investment banking firm that was on the ropes, by JPMorgan Chase.
It was only several weeks ago that the U.S. government had taken over the two major and failing mortgage-finance giants—Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. At the time, this takeover was presented as providing an effective firewall against future financial eruptions. But it proved to be no more than the patching up of a pothole during an earthquake. This past week the government had to take over the American International Group (AIG), the giant insurance-financial firm.
At the start of last week, AIG had over a trillion dollars in assets. It had earned enormous profits from insuring mortgage-backed investments circulating in the financial system that were held by other banks. But this has turned into a disaster. Here is some of what happened:
Through deceit and aggressive marketing, banks pushed mortgages on people. The Federal Reserve Bank had pumped low-cost funds into the banking system to prop up mortgage loans. These loans were then combined into larger groups of loans by investment banks (like Lehman Brothers) and turned into financial products that were sold on financial markets. All kinds of lending took place with these original loans as collateral. But when housing prices fell, and mortgages could not be paid, much of this collateral became worthless.
AIG was insuring much of this lending against the risk of loss. But as the losses mounted astronomically, AIG could neither cover the costs of backing this debt nor borrow funds on the financial markets to keep itself afloat.
The financial markets had basically lost confidence, and AIG’s assets tumbled in value. AIG was in danger of collapse. But if AIG went under, the probability was great that it would have taken down other financial institutions with it. This forced the government’s hand.
As the week progressed, the U.S. ruling class was faced with a two-fold danger: additional and cascading losses and bankruptcies in the financial sector; and the possible choking up of lending channels, which could send the economy as a whole into a rapid downward spiral.
By the end of the week, the U.S. government announced what will likely turn out to be the largest bailout operation in U.S. history. The initial cost of that bailout plan is $700 billion. This comes on top of $85 billion to rescue AIG and the plan to spend $200 billion to shore up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
This is a rolling financial and credit crisis. It is amplifying internationally with bursts of instability. In the midst of last week’s U.S. market gyrations, the Russian stock market sank and shut down for two days. In other parts of the world, concern spread about whether dollar-based loans in global markets would continue on the scale necessary to sustain daily business operations. In response, the central banks of Germany, Japan, England, Canada, and Switzerland pumped some $185 billion into the financial markets.
And investor worry is mounting in East Asia. China, Japan, and South Korea, for instance, count on the U.S. as a major export market.
One of the most significant features of world growth and expansion over the past decade has been the deepening integration of the world capitalist economy. This is happening both on the level of production and trade—like the parts that go into an automobile being manufactured in different factories around the world. And it is happening at the level of finance—where banks are more globally and tightly interlinked with one another through chains of borrowing and lending and even, as in the case of AIG, insuring the risks of borrowing and lending.
The rescue operation announced by the U.S. government at the end of the week was motivated, on the one hand, by the need to stanch the bleeding of the U.S. financial system; and, on the other, by the need to restore international confidence in the U.S. economy.
A particular matter of concern for U.S. rulers is the international strength of the dollar. When we think about the dollar, we mostly think about it in terms of buying and selling with dollars changing hands. But the dollar is also an investible commodity—major currencies are bought and sold and traded on international currency markets. The dollar rises and falls in value in relation to other currencies and in response to international political and economic developments.
The dollar is the world’s leading currency for settling transactions, clearing debts, and holding foreign exchange reserves (trade and investment earnings that become part of the reserves of foreign central banks).
The dollar has been a linchpin of U.S. global supremacy. And it is a linchpin of the whole current global economic order.
If foreign central banks and investors were to flee from dollar holdings, this could set off a global monetary crisis and/or strengthen the position of rivals to U.S. imperialism and rival currencies (like the euro in Western Europe).
The dollar has for the most part held firm over the past month. But this is perhaps the calm before the storm.
These are uncharted waters for imperialist policymakers. They are uncharted in terms of the scale and complexity of the crisis. They are uncharted in terms of the magnitude of the rescue operations required to prevent financial breakdown. And U.S. imperialism does not have unlimited maneuvering room.
The U.S. is already the largest debtor nation in the world. It is waging costly wars for greater empire in Iraq and Afghanistan. And neither McCain nor Obama has any serious intention of ending America’s global “war on terror”—the umbrella under which the U.S. is waging these “wars for empire.”
And here an important dialectic comes into play. “U.S. military dominance,” to quote Kenneth Rogoff, the former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, “has been one of the linchpins of the dollar.”(Kenneth Rogoff, “America Will Need a $1,000bn Bail-Out,” Financial Times, September 17, 2008). But this military dominance and the wars the U.S. is waging have increasingly come to depend on the steady inflow of foreign capital into the U.S. economy, especially investments by foreign central banks in U.S. government debt (the U.S. Treasury sells bonds to cover the deficits). For this to continue requires that the U.S. economy and dollar remain stable. This is a major contradiction for U.S. imperialism.
When three of the five largest independent investment banks in the United States have gone bankrupt or been absorbed, when the U.S. government intervenes in the financial sector on the scale that it has—this has profound geopolitical implications.
At the same time, the world economy is not standing still. There are major shifts in global economic power. U.S. global economic dominance is declining. And U.S. imperialism is also facing new competitive challenges and the emergence of potential rival constellations of imperial and big powers (see the ongoing Revolution series “Shifts and Faultlines in the World Economy and Great Power Rivalry”).
As the crisis unfolded this past week, some of the realities of bourgeois rule came into sharper focus.
To begin with, while the jobs, homes, and futures of literally millions in this society are in jeopardy, what is the paramount concern of the ruling class? It is the protection of a financial system that sits atop a global system of exploitation. It is the bailout of the owners and investor beneficiaries of that financial system.
There was no public debate over bailouts and loans for financial institutions. And the constant refrain from on-high was, “This is no time to assign blame.” Certainly, there is never a time, from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie, to talk about capitalism and its exploitative and anarchic functioning.
Politically, the system operates in such a way that the masses of people are either conditioned to be passive bystanders, or mobilized under the wing of this or that bourgeois political party or bourgeois-led movement—or subject to repression when people engage in serious resistance.
And through the media, the politicians, and the official “experts,” people are trained to look at things through a certain ideological filter. When a crisis like this one hits, the problem is never presented as the system but rather as particular flaws and malpractices that can be corrected: “excessive greed,” “Wall Street irresponsibility,” “too much regulation” or “too little regulation.”
The truth is that this crisis has deep structural causes in the very nature and workings of this global system of exploitation (and these deeper causes are addressed in the accompanying article “Financial Meltdown and the Madness of Imperialism”).
Lenin once described bourgeois parliaments (like the U.S. Congress) as “talk shops.” This time, Congress did not even get a chance to “talk” first. It has been basically presented with an accomplished fact: a bailout program. Now the bailout will be debated around the edges, with vying bourgeois economic and political interests also being fought out.
There are key institutional mechanisms of bourgeois rule and of the imperialist state. They include the Federal Reserve Bank—which plays a decisive regulating and lubricating role in the U.S. economy and which also plays a special role in the world capitalist economy—and the Department of Treasury. Several mainstream news stories described how the head of the Federal Reserve and of the Treasury, and major Wall Street figures, met to sort out the AIG situation, to come up with a plan to deal with this phase of the crisis, and then to act on it.
As for John McCain and Barack Obama, one of whom will be the next “commander in chief of empire,” their response to the crisis has been an amalgam of the absurd, the hypocritical, and sworn allegiance to the system.
McCain early last week described the U.S. economy as having “sound fundamentals.” Then he moved to launch a rhetorical attack on “casino economies” and “greed” on Wall Street. Then he returned to his boilerplate calls for tax cuts, which will largely benefit the rich.
For his part, Obama has generally endorsed bailouts while deriding the policies of laxity and deregulation of the Bush presidency. The amnesia is striking. There was an orgy of deregulation during the Clinton years, including the repeal of regulatory legislation that laid the ground for the kind of mortgage-backed securities that became the rage on Wall Street. But then again, one of Obama’s chief economic advisers is none other than Robert Rubin, former chairman of Goldman Sachs (one of the last-standing independent investment banks) and head of the U.S. Treasury Department under Clinton.
Meanwhile, in Nevada last week, Obama declared, “Our free market is the engine of America’s great progress. It’s a market that has created a prosperity that is the envy of the world.” Tell that to the hundreds of millions around the world who are experiencing the ravages of a global food crisis. This food crisis is inextricably bound up with the operations of free markets that turn grain and rice into international commodities bought, sold, and speculated on by global investors. It is inextricably bound up with the “freedom” of U.S. agribusiness to dominate world food production and distribution. And it is inextricably bound up with so-called free-market “reforms” imposed on poor countries by the International Monetary Fund (which the U.S. also dominates).
This crisis is far from over. There may be new rounds of financial upheaval. The economy is already in recession. And it could very well enter into a major slump.
And true to the workings of monopoly capitalism, investors and speculators are feverishly positioning themselves to take advantage of the market turmoil. They are unloading and grabbing up assets, angling to get a bite of the government bailouts, and shifting funds into different markets.
Whoever wins the election in November will be inheriting a battered financial system and a huge overlay of debt and bailout. This is not going to be an era of expanded social spending by government. But it will be an era of more direct government intervention in financial markets. And however U.S. capitalism tries to reconfigure itself, it will rest on more intense international exploitation, austerity, and more misery for people throughout the world and in the U.S.
For millions in U.S. society, this crisis is beginning to throw up many deep and troubling questions about the economy and this whole system. And it has the potential to throw up even deeper ones.
This is a highly fraught and rapidly unfolding situation.
Revolution Online, September 21, 2008
The following are slightly edited excerpts from an article by Raymond Lotta written in April 2008. This analysis is highly relevant toward understanding the unfolding financial crisis and its deeper causes. The article develops and explores several important analytical points:
1) There is an essential relationship between the buildup of the financial sector in the U.S., and the general phenomenon of what the article describes as financialization, and the deepening globalization of world capitalist production. And central to the dynamic of growth and expansion of the last 15 years has been the relationship between U.S. imperialism and China.
2) This particular crisis has broken out because of the severe imbalances built up between the financial system—and its expectations of future profits—and the accumulation of capital, that is, the structures and actual production of profit based on exploitation of wage-labor.
3) A “dirty little secret” of this crisis is the enormous weight of militarization of the U.S. economy.
4) This crisis is a concentrated expression of the anarchy of capitalist production—the fact that production is not carried out according to any rational, society-wide plan.
The buildup and collapse of this latest speculative bubble, and intensifying financial fragility that could lead to massive breakdown, are in fact outward expressions of deeper processes and transformations at work in the world capitalist economy.
We need to take a step back.
For the last 15 years, world capitalist expansion has pivoted on a particular international dynamic and structure. This has involved heightened financialization and parasitism in the advanced capitalist countries—with the United States at the epicenter of this process; and the fuller integration of low-cost, export-producing countries of the Third World into the world capitalist market—with China at the epicenter of this process.
The turning point in this process was the collapse of the social-imperialist Soviet Union in 1990-91. With the implosion of the Soviet bloc, the main geopolitical obstacle to U.S. imperialist freedom of action was removed. At the same time, and very much in connection with this, imperialist globalization accelerated. (This is analyzed in considerable depth in Notes on Political Economy: Our Analysis of the 1980s, Issues of Methodology, and the Current World Situation, 2000, RCP Publications.)
Over the last 15 years, a globally integrated cheap-labor manufacturing economy, with huge labor reserves from China, India, and other parts of the Third World, along with labor from the former Soviet bloc, has been forged. The globalization of production has had enormous effects on world accumulation: raising profitability for imperialist capital, acting to compress wages, and lowering inflationary pressures. The integration of cheap-labor manufacturing into world production is now so deep that in the U.S., fully half of imports (mostly consumer goods) come from the Third World.
A revealing statistic: a University of California study looked into who gains when an iPod manufactured by national firms in China is sold in America for $299. Only $4 stays in China with the firms that assemble the devices, while $160 goes to American companies that design, transport, and retail iPods.1
When we speak of capitalist accumulation, we are referring to the competitive production of surplus value (the source of profit) based on the exploitation of wage labor; and the investment and reinvestment of profit on an expanding, cost-cheapening, and technologically more productive basis.
When we speak of “financialization,” we are referring to two particular features of the larger structure of capitalist accumulation in this period of imperialist globalization: a) the vast expansion of financial activities and of financial services, like organizing and financing corporate takeovers, insuring investments against risk, creating new financial instruments, etc.—activities in which profit-making involves the siphoning, centralization, and reinvestment of surplus value through financial channels; and b) the increasing separation of finance from production.
This process of financialization has gone the furthest in the United States, and it is a major factor in U.S. imperialism’s ability to preserve and extend its dominance in international financial markets.2
Financialization is also a means through which wealth, and effective control over productive forces, is centralized by the imperialist countries—even as production has grown more geographically dispersed and increasingly carried out within subcontractural networks in the Third World.
Financialization involves efforts to squeeze out more “value” from already created value. One measure of this is that in 2006, the daily volume of trading in foreign exchange markets and in derivatives (financial instruments) added up to $11.4 trillion—which almost equals the annual value of global merchandise exports that year. In terms of the shifts in the structure of the U.S. economy, the financial sector’s share of total corporate profits has risen from 8 percent in 1950 to 31 percent last year.3
As far removed as finance may be from processes of production, and as elaborate and multi-layered as its operations have become, finance cannot break free of the sphere of production. Even as it objectively seeks to do so—and even as the disjuncture between the two spheres (production and finance) grows—it is the underlying conditions and profitability of production that set the overall conditions for the accumulation of capital.
Imperialism is a worldwide system of production and exchange. It is the structure of social production—it is the global production of surplus value based on exploitation of people—that is at the foundation of this whole system. And in relation to the production of surplus value, “financialization” is both parasitic and functional. It is parasitic in the sense that financialization drains value from production.
But financialization is functional to the workings of global capitalism in the sense that it facilitates the gathering of money capital into ever-larger agglomerations of capital and finds new profit-yielding channels in which to rapidly invest it…and just as quickly to withdraw it! Global capital faces all kinds of financial uncertainties and risks on its competitive global playing field as it moves through different channels, or circuits, of production. And the “risk-management” techniques provided by the global financial system are actually vital to the accumulation of capital, to the success of “risk-taking,” in the turbo-charged globalized economy.4 That’s why, for example, money jumps into Thai real estate markets one day, and pulls out and goes into ethanol production in Brazil the next… and then back to mortgage securities.
And there is something else: the inflows and outflows of short-term and speculative capital also act as a perverse means of imposing discipline on and restructuring capitals—a major manufacturing firm can be starved of credit or threatened with a leveraged buyout. And this kind of “financial discipline” has been imposed on whole countries in the Third World—aided, abetted, and orchestrated by the U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund.
All this is part of the reason that financial instability is a constant feature of capitalism in its more globalized and financialized forms of existence.
Financialization and the globalization of production have been tightly bound up with each other. It can be put this way: there is a relationship between sweatshop labor in Guangdong province in China, the recycling of China’s export earnings into the U.S. Treasury and U.S. financial markets, and the credit-financed expansion in the U.S. of the last decade. Or, to put it more graphically, there is a link between the agony of superexploited labor in the bowels of the new industrial zones of the Third World, the feverish search for high and quick returns at the top of the financial pyramids, and the chaos of the housing markets with people losing their homes in the U.S.
This is an extreme concentration of the nature of world capitalism. This world is highly bound together by production, trade, and finance. The requirements of life (consumer goods) and the requirements of production (machines and raw materials, etc.) are socially produced, that is, they involve the collective and interconnected efforts of wage-laborers in factories, warehouses, and so forth. But this wealth, the technology and means of producing it, and knowledge itself—all this is privately controlled and deployed by a small capitalist class.
What we are witnessing now is that a particular dynamic of growth, marked by intensified financialization, is generating new contradictions and new barriers to sustained accumulation.
The level of debt to economic output in the U.S. is at an all-time high. The financing of the trade and government deficits of U.S. imperialism (that is, providing credit for purchases of imports and having investors buy Treasury debt) depends on a steady and growing inflow of capital from abroad. But the weakening of the dollar and the emergence of competitor currencies, like the euro, increasingly threatens these mechanisms. And very crucial to this has been the process where dollars earned by countries like China through trade with the U.S., are then recycled back into the U.S. economy through purchase of Treasury bonds and other investments.
In the U.S., the financial sector is seriously strained and is a flashpoint of heightened global financial instability, if not breakdown, leading to a major economic slump.
Here we come to a basic point of this analysis: A financial crisis has broken out because of the severe imbalances built up between the financial system—and its expectations of future profits—and the accumulation of capital, that is, the structures and actual production of profit based on exploitation of wage-labor.
The imperialist state is intervening to head off further damage and to discipline and restructure the financial system. But the very complexity of the “financial packages” created during the speculative boom—with their bundled-up loans and long strings of finance—are producing new challenges for policy-makers. As one Yale economist put it, perhaps unintentionally echoing a phrase from Marx: “like the sorcerer’s apprentice, we have created things we do not understand and cannot easily control.”5
This explosive uncertainty is developing against a larger international canvas. Major shifts are taking place in the world capitalist economy. The European market recently eclipsed the U.S. market in size. China’s growing demand for raw materials to fuel its export economy is making it a new player in the scramble for resources and control over them. And China’s increasing importance as a supplier of capital to the U.S. is giving it new leverage. Russia is reemerging as a world imperialist player, owing in part to its vast energy reserves and rising oil and gas prices.
At the same time, and at this very moment of financial crisis, U.S. imperialism’s freedom of maneuver is severely hobbled—and this includes its ability to stimulate the economy through fiscal and monetary policy. The United States has never run such large current account deficits and no single country’s deficit has ever bulked as large relative to the global economy.
Which brings us to one of the “dirty little secrets” of the financial crisis: the military needs and the military costs of empire…and “greater empire.”
There is a brute fact of imperialist accumulation. The whole imperialist system rests on the domination of vast swaths of the globe through savage force, with the U.S. military colossus playing a special role. The U.S. military helps “create the conditions” for U.S. domination, pro-U.S. client regimes in the Third World, and conditions for investment by U.S. corporations.
In the Bush era, U.S. imperialism has been attempting to parlay its military might into a new world order. This involves a restructuring of global political and production relations that will enable it to resolve or mitigate some of the problems and tensions it faces—and to lock in its global supremacy over rivals and potential rivals for decades to come.
The U.S. share of world production has declined to about 20 percent, down from 30 percent forty years ago. But U.S. imperialism is compensating for this by pressing its military advantage as sole imperialist “superpower” (since the collapse of the Soviet Union).
In a recent study, Chalmers Johnson has calculated that defense-related spending for fiscal 2008 will exceed $1 trillion for the first time in history. Leaving out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense spending has doubled since the mid-1990s.6
Militarization is also embedded in the U.S. economy. It is a key structural component of growth, scientific research, and technological prowess of U.S. imperialism. And because of its sheer size, it also plays a role in the attempts of the U.S. imperialist state to “manage” and stimulate the economy.
But the recent wave of militarization has put enormous financial strains on U.S. imperialism. It has produced huge deficits that cannot be sustained without the inflow of capital into the U.S. And the wars for “greater empire” are incurring astronomically greater costs than military and government planners had anticipated. Not least because of the setbacks and difficulties U.S. imperialism has encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is a sharp contradiction for U.S. imperialism—because in many ways it is staking the future of empire on these wars; but these wars have become more costly to wage. And it is the height of hypocrisy for Democrats to now blame the Iraq war for financial crisis—as they consistently voted for war-spending authorizations, to the tune of $500 billion.
The free market is extolled by bourgeois ideologues for its “transparency.” This is the idea that markets, prices, and interest rates convey all necessary information: about supply, efficiency, choice, and reward.
But one of the distinguishing features of this crisis is the incredible and pervasive lack of knowledge among lenders, borrowers, traders, and insurers about the quality and backing of what they borrow from others…and even of what they lend to others! Things are obscured, covered up, and very opaque.
As we descend from the skyscrapers of finance to ground level, the human toll comes into clearer view. At the start of 2008, nearly 1.3 million homes in the U.S were in some phase of foreclosure. That works out to more than one in every 100 U.S. households. According to Moody’s Economy.com: “not since the Depression has a larger share of Americans owed more on their homes than they are worth.”7
Think about it. Something as basic and essential as shelter is commodified. A house becomes an investment; its purchase underwritten by tradable financial instruments; and the lure of homeownership then engulfed by the devastating trade winds of the market. And what happens? People’s savings are wiped out. Their creditworthiness is damaged if not destroyed. And many face the prospect of homelessness.
The problem is not that people don’t need houses. Nor is it that society doesn’t have the resources or knowledge to build houses. The problem is that capital stands as a barrier to meeting human need.
1 Cited in Charlemagne, “Winners and losers,” The Economist, March 1, 2008, p. 56. [back]
2. Among informative studies of financialization, neoliberalism, and dollar hegemony are David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (London: Oxford, 2005); Andrew Glyn, Capitalism Unleashed (London: Oxford, 2006); Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy (New York: Viking, 2006); Ramaa Vasudevan, “Finance, Imperialism, and the Hegemony of the Dollar,” Monthly Review, April 2008; and C.P. Chandrasekhar, “Continuity or Change? Finance Capital in Developing Countries a Decade after the Asian Crisis,” Economic and Political Weekly, December 15, 2007. [back]
3. See Chandrasekhar, “Continuity or Change,” pp. 37-38; The New York Times, December 11, 2007. [back]
4. On financialization as a means to contain financial disorder and to impose neoliberal discipline, see Christopher Rude, “The Role of Financial Discipline in Imperial Strategy,” in Leo Panitch and Colin Leys, eds., Socialist Register 2005: The Empire Reloaded (London: Merlin Press, 2004). [back]
Revolution Online, September 21, 2008
Take the 68th Street subway exit on the upper east side of Manhattan and walk over to Park Avenue. Two blocks north, on the street divider in the middle of four lanes of heavy traffic, a 10-foot-high steel sculpture of a Mao jacket greets you. Then on the building to the right is a big banner with a drawing of Mao Tsetung surrounded by images of workers, soldiers and youth marching with red flags, Red Books and rifles. This is the outside introduction to a new exhibit at the Asia Society Museum titled: “Art and China’s Revolution.”
In the next couple of months, tens of thousands of drivers will zoom past the huge Mao jacket, prompting many to do a double take. It will jog some people’s memories back to the ’60s when millions of people around the world, including here in the United States, looked to socialist China as a truly liberating society. For some it might bring to mind Andy Warhol’s pop-art image of Mao, which you occasionally still see on t-shirts and greeting cards. After being bombarded by decades of being told that “communism is dead,” most people who drive or walk by will probably consider these artistic references as icons of “the failure of socialism.” But for those who actually go through the revolving glass doors of the museum and see the exhibit, this can be an opportunity to examine and think more about what Mao and the Cultural Revolution and socialism are really all about—and to look at, and reconsider the “accepted wisdom” on the effect this historic struggle had on art and artists; and in turn, the role art and artists played in this historic struggle.
“Art and China’s Revolution,” which will run through January 11, 2009, focuses on the art produced during the ten years of the Cultural Revolution, from 1966-1976. It includes large-scale oil paintings, ink paintings, sculptures, drawings, artist sketchbooks, woodblock prints, posters and objects from everyday life. Co-curated by Melissa Chu and Zheng Shengtian, it is organized around the themes of: The Cult of Mao; To Rebel Is Justified; Never Forget Class Struggle; Up to the Mountains, Down to the Villages; and Art, History, and Politics. There is also a separate display about a Beijing-based art collective that in 2002 initiated the “Long March Project—A Walking Visual Display.”
This major cultural event will impact broad public opinion and critical and intellectual discourse on the subject of revolutionary art, and more generally the Chinese Cultural Revolution. A review of the show was featured on the front page of the New York Times art section the day it opened, where Holland Cotter wrote that “the important exhibition ‘Art and China’s Revolution’ at Asia Society poses its own different but perfectly timed post-Olympics question: What came before?” And to this I would add, when we go to the future, what should be learned from what came before?
This show comes at a time when, for the most part, the whole experience of socialism on this planet has been written off as a failure, as undesirable. And as part of this, the wonderful art displayed in this exhibit has been vilified and dismissed. But this art is a powerful chapter in the history of the Cultural Revolution. It sheds real light on the overwhelmingly positive achievements of socialist China. And it is terrible that people throughout the world have largely been denied the chance to see and appreciate this revolutionary art. So now, it is really good that these works are on display at a major, prestigious museum in New York City. And people should make sure they take advantage of this rare opportunity and go see this display.
The aim of my commentary here is not a critique of “Art and the Chinese Revolution” (although that is needed and is forthcoming). What I offer now is some thinking on the larger context in which the art in this show was originally produced. I hope this will help people understand the significance of this art and this show, encourage people to go see this display, and serve as an “unofficial” guide to the exhibit.
A show about Mao, art and the Chinese Revolution is bound to be controversial and contentious. The exhibit itself expresses a certain political perspective. The people who visit this exhibit will come with their own viewpoints. And this show is not happening in a vacuum. It is happening 30 years after the death of Mao; after three decades of anti-communist propaganda that declares the Chinese Cultural Revolution a human disaster and tragedy. And there is a great deal of confusion about the nature of the China that existed under Mao and the China that exists now.
Most people think China is still a socialist country. But China today—its government and the whole character of its society—is thoroughly capitalist, even though it continues to call itself “socialist” and its leaders continue to call themselves “communists.” After Mao died in 1976, his opponents in the top ranks of the Chinese Communist Party, headed by Deng Xiaoping, seized power, overthrew socialism and restored capitalism—arresting hundreds of thousands and killing thousands in the process.
When you go through this exhibit there is a timeline that chronicles some of the major turning points in the Cultural Revolution—but the actual content and character of these events (and the struggle overall) is either missing or distorted. So viewers get no real context in which to understand the art they are seeing. So in this light, here is an unofficial guide to help you get the most out of seeing this exhibit:
Walking through the exhibit you are struck immediately by the exuberance of the work. The brilliant palette, reds and yellows, jump out. This is work reflecting times of great vitality. It has the feel of the ’60s throughout the world. The figures depicted, from Mao Tsetung to the peasants, the youth and artists, have a presence. This should, at the very least, be cause to look deeper into this work and the stories behind it.
I have been to the show two times now and noticed from hearing nearby comments that, unfortunately, some people tend to overlook the art itself and focus more on the show’s narrative—which gets melded onto their own preconceived prejudices. I heard one woman declare, looking at a wall of art, “this was all destroyed by Mao.” On one level, this is just ridiculous—the show itself is testimony to how this art was created and promoted as an important part of the Cultural Revolution, and the important role of artists during this whole struggle. Yet this woman was “seeing what she wanted to see”—letting official anti-communist verdicts completely blind her to the story the art itself was telling and the artistic quality of this work as art, as well as its actual historical and political significance.
So the first thing I want to say to people who plan to see this exhibit is: Really look at and experience the art and the times it represents.
Part of the anti-communist grand-narrative of the Cultural Revolution is that artists were stifled and persecuted and that cultural work was lifeless, didactic and highly controlled. This is a completely false rendering of what was being attempted and what actually happened with regard to art during the Cultural Revolution. At the same time, there were real problems in how the revolutionaries approached issues of art and culture. For example, there wasn’t enough air for artists to breathe and experiment, to strike out in different directions, including creating art that represents dissent. And there was also a related problem of practices and policies reflecting a wrong view that the way to deal with reactionary art is to just “outlaw” it.
But these problems, while real, were secondary to the real advances and breakthroughs made in building a revolutionary culture—where professional artists and the masses of people, formerly locked out of this realm, were unleashed to create tremendous revolutionary works of art. And all this was taking place in a larger society that was breaking out of the vice-grip of class exploitation.
A major theme in the show is how artists were sent to the countryside to work alongside and learn from the peasants. This is mistakenly seen by many people as a way artists were stifled and punished. But in fact, this was an important part of tackling the lopsidedness of resources between the cities and countryside, and breaking down barriers between intellectuals and peasants and workers. While there were problems with some of the policies with which this was carried out—for example there weren’t sufficient avenues for professional artists to work in more concentrated and focused ways—this experience contributed to the creation of important works of art and the development of artistic techniques. The exhibit includes some beautiful paintings and drawings by artists who “went to the countryside.” One of these is by Xu Bing, who is now the vice president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in China. The catalog explains: “The experience was mostly a positive one as he was free to pursue art and spent much time drawing from nature after his day of work in the field was over. His exposure to local cultures, propaganda art, and calligraphy during the Cultural Revolution had a strong influence on his artistic philosophy and methodology.”
This complexity of creating revolutionary art can be discerned by someone who approaches the show with an open mind. And something very real comes through in the art in this exhibit, which reflects the truth that socialist China under Mao represented a real advance in human history in terms of the theory and practice of building a society in which the masses of people are involved in revolutionizing all aspects of society with the aim of getting rid of classes and all the inequalities and oppressive ideas that go along with class society.
It is a very powerful and moving experience to actually see these works of art. And much of what is in this show is of a very high artistic quality.
Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I was one of those youth in the United States who, inspired by the Chinese Cultural Revolution, carried a Red Book in my back pocket and put posters of Red Guards on my bedroom wall, alongside glossy reproductions of Peasant Paintings from Huhsien County. In 1970, I bought the book Rent Collection Courtyard, and poured over the photos of the “Sculptures of Oppression and Revolt.” But seeing the actual paintings, woodblock prints and sculptures was a whole other, sensory, cultural experience. It reminded me of how, after seeing the calendar reprint of Starry Night by Van Gogh a hundred times, I went to a museum to see the real thing and was simply blown away by the tremendous artistic forte and tactile depth of the actual oil painting.
Many of the art pieces in this exhibit give you an important sense and visual understanding of Chinese history—what it was actually like for the masses of people in China before the revolution and what society was like after liberation. The form and content of the art gives you a real sense of the tenor of the times and the stakes of the struggle. You see slices of what the revolutionaries were trying to do, for example the Great Leap Forward, which was an attempt to revolutionize not only production but also all the economic and social relations between people, and the very thinking of people.
When I walked into the room with Chen Yanning’s huge painting, Chairman Mao Inspects the Guangdong Countryside, I literally had to catch my breath. This was one of the pieces of art I was familiar with—but seeing the texture of the oil on canvas and the actual palette of colors was a whole different experience. The form and content of the painting really struck me—the size of the canvas emphasizing the historical weight of the countryside (and the peasantry) in Chinese history; the position of Mao in the center of the tableau underscoring his leadership and the way he did deep investigation among the peasants.
One of my favorite pieces in the show is four panels of charcoal drawings, depicting Red Guard activities during the Cultural Revolution. The vitality of the drawings pulls you into the excitement of the scenes and the exuberance of the characters jumps out at you. These beautiful images of young people, including women—taking up theory, going out among the masses, setting out to build a new society and change the world—are alive with the times.
Another piece I really liked was a woodblock print of a man teaching a young girl to write... simply titled, Revolution. The historic weight of what this represents is conveyed so eloquently: What did it mean for cross generations of formerly poor, illiterate peasants to be reading as part of becoming conscious makers of history?
The works of art in this exhibit, in many ways, speak for themselves. They should make even cynics wonder about what the revolution in China was all about and why it unleashed so many people to produce works of art like this.
The descriptions and commentary on the walls of the exhibit are mainly informative and, for the most part, don’t attempt to insert an anti-communist “slant” into the descriptions of the artwork. At the same time, there is a thread of a subtext here that will connect with what most people mistakenly believe—that the main thing about the Cultural Revolution is that people suffered, artists in particular were persecuted, and Mao didn’t care about the people. For example, the show’s introduction says that during the Cultural Revolution, “sometimes referred to as the decade of catastrophe,” artists were “subjected to public humiliation and sometimes torture, and their homes and artworks were seized and destroyed.”
In the “To Rebel Is Justified” section of the exhibit there is a room with several life-size recreations from the Rent Collection Courtyard. The explanation on the wall says: “The obvious exploitation of the peasants is designed to remind viewers of the unfairness of feudal China, thereby providing justification for revolution.” This commentary shows no understanding of the immensity of history these sculptures represent. And when I read this, I couldn’t help but think about how a lot of people have absolutely no idea what this meant for literally hundreds of thousands of people—of how “not being able to pay the rent” was the thin line between living and starving to death; it meant having to sell your daughter or having to become a bonded slave. And sadly, such a view prevents one from really appreciating the sheer artistry of these sculptures. Go and look at the detail in the faces, what this art captures about the human emotions of the suffering, anguish and rebellion; how the silent body language of these figures brings to life a whole period of Chinese history—and why such a revolution was necessary to begin with.
The original Rent Collection Courtyard included over 100 life-size clay figures, originally displayed in 1965, in the actual former rent collection courtyard of Liu Wen-tsai—a tyrannical landlord of Tayi County, Szechuan Province in southwestern China. Before liberation only three or four percent of the local population of Tayi were landlords, but they owned almost four-fifths of the arable land—and the peasants were mercilessly exploited and treated like beasts of burden. This was typical in China at the time, where poor peasants made up the overwhelming majority of the population. The group of 18 amateur and professional sculptors who created the Rent Collection Courtyard during the Cultural Revolution, went to live and work in the actual courtyard and talked with the people who had suffered in the old society.
When people go to this show, they should keep in mind how this art was created in the complex and intense cauldron of ten years of an immense and unprecedented effort by hundreds of millions of people to build a new and liberating society in a very poor country, still subjected to the deep scars of feudal inequalities. This was a country not that far from a time in which the vast majority of people were starving and illiterate; a country dominated by foreign powers, with gaping inequalities—between mental and manual labor, town and countryside, and men and women. Yet here they were, not just feeding and clothing people, but mobilizing hundreds of millions of people to consciously take up all the huge economic, social and philosophical and practical questions of how to get rid of class society.
This is the context people should think about when they go see this art show—not the “grand narrative” and summation of the Cultural Revolution that has been issued by the defenders of capitalism in the West and the enemies of Mao who overthrew socialism, brought back capitalism, and now preside over a China today that offers up the masses of people to the sweatshops of global capitalism.
Think about if you went to a museum exhibit about the history of the U.S. Civil War—and found yourself treated to a whole “reinterpretation” of the war through the eyes of a former slave owner—who is whining and crying about how he lost his plantation, how his private property, most importantly, the human beings he owned, were taken away from him, and how his whole family has suffered because of this.
This is like going through an exhibit and seeing a photo of the back of a slave, completely covered with layers of deep, thick scars from being whipped; hearing stories of how slaves were hunted down like dogs and killed when they tried to escape, how whole families were separated—and then being told, “this has been used to justify the struggle against slavery.” You would get a totally skewed view of this period of history—and might end up sympathizing with the former slave owner about his “personal loss” and because of this and from this narrow view, conclude that the U.S. Civil War that ended slavery was one of the most “catastrophic” periods in U.S. history.
Think about this analogy. And then think about what Mao and the revolutionaries he led were trying to achieve in this relatively brief period of 30 years, after the revolutionary seizure of power in 1949 and before capitalism was restored in 1976. Human beings on the planet didn’t have a lot of experience in trying to build this kind of society—a transitional society aimed at bringing into being a communist world free of classes. Mao learned from the experience of the Soviet Union and made tremendous theoretical breakthroughs in understanding the nature of socialist society. In particular he pointed out that classes and class struggle continue under socialism and that sharp struggle continues over the whole direction of society, whether it will stay on the “socialist road” or end up bringing back capitalism. And this is why Mao launched the Cultural Revolution. Mao was not inventing enemies. Powerful forces in the communist party were organizing to take power and bring back capitalism. And if you go through this exhibit and think Mao was paranoid—take a look at how today China has become a sweatshop paradise for international capitalism.
I suggest that before people see this exhibit, that they clear their mind. Go through the exhibit, take in the art and let it wash over you. Walk through slowly and see what you think about the art as art. And at the same time, think about the big questions this exhibit—and the chapter in human history it is a slice of—raises.
Reflect on the important role art and artists have played throughout the history of human society. And think about this: What would it mean to create a revolutionary culture as part of building a truly liberating society? Put yourself in the shoes of revolutionaries who were trying to accomplish something that in the history of humanity had never been done before. Consider the ways in which this question takes on new meaning in a revolutionary, socialist society that is aimed at enabling the masses of people to consciously, as Marx talking about, understand the world in order to change it.
Think more particularly about the kind of oppressive society that Mao was leading people away from and the reality that before the Cultural Revolution, the masses of ordinary people were not on the stage or the gallery walls. Instead there were, as Mao put it, “emperors, generals, beauties and foreign mummies.” What effect did that have on the ethos and social consciousness throughout society? By analogy, what did it mean in this country when the minstrel show and Amos and Andy were the representations of Black people in the arts?
When you look at the political posters, don’t just have a knee-jerk reaction to them as “political propaganda.” Think about what role such art played in a society where hundreds of millions of people were discussing and debating economics, politics and philosophy—that really mattered in terms of what direction society was going to go; and judge it partly on that basis. And think about how crucial things like “Big Character” posters were in a society where most people didn’t have a TV, where many were still semi-illiterate, and there certainly wasn’t anything like the Internet!
When you look at all the Mao buttons and posters, think about why hundreds of millions of poor peasants, workers, youth and yes, intellectuals revered Mao for the leadership he gave that was crucial in the war of liberation and the building of a new society.
The creation of revolutionary art in China posed huge questions. For instance, how do you develop and promote conscious, collective efforts in creating works of art broadly among the masses while, at the same time, appreciating, supporting and learning from the work of individuals more highly trained artists—including those who are creating works of art that represent disagreement and dissent. If you are leading a broad movement to create revolutionary art, how do you balance the need to create “model works” that need more finely calibrated leadership—while at the same time, letting things go far and wide, in all directions—including giving full scope to works of art that go in a dissenting direction or that may not have any direct relationship (either objectively or consciously) to politics. And there are huge issues about struggle in the artistic realm, the ways artistic political struggle and criticism is carried out and the policies and practices with particular regard to artists and the development of revolutionary art. (For example, the exhibit talks about “black painting” exhibitions of art that was “held up for denigration” which should be investigated, understood and evaluated.)
Before or after you go to this exhibit, read some of Bob Avakian’s work, like Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy, which examine how these kinds of questions were handled under the socialism in the Soviet Union and China—learning from this previous revolutionary experience, but also synthesizing the lessons, both positive and negative, from this, and pointing to the ways in which future socialist societies have to do better.
This exhibit pulses with positive and negative tension. There is dissonance within the exhibit itself, contradictions within the exhibit itself.
Play with the very contradictoriness of the show itself—and the complexity of all the different, big historical questions that are raised by the art and the larger historical context in which this art was created. Again, put aside pre-conceived notions and prejudices and suspend for the moment what you already “know”—and this equally applies to those who have a positive view of Mao and the Cultural Revolution. Examine and wrangle with all the contradictions, get some discussion going about this with other people, and together dare to look at things with “fresh eyes” and discover or re-discover some new things.
This art show, left to spontaneity, will in many cases end up reinforcing much of the official, anti-communist conclusion that this period in Chinese (and human) history is proof that “communism is dead.” But the real truth, which this art show actually depicts is that socialist China achieved great things. It came up against real problems, some of which were dealt with and solved in a good way, and others which were not. And how could it have been otherwise? The socialist experience in China really did take humanity a certain distance along the road to achieving an emancipating world—a path that people on this planet must continue to travel. And there is the potential for this show to open up new rounds of discussion, examination and appreciation for what socialist China achieved, including in the particular realm of art—and the necessity, possibility and pathways for how humanity can do even better in future socialist societies.
I think one of the highlights of the show is the video of a 2007 interview with Liu Chunhua, the artist who did the famous painting, Chairman Mao Goes to Anyuan (included in the exhibit). During the Cultural Revolution over 900 million copies of this painting were printed. At the very end of the transcribed interview in the book, Art and China’s Revolution (published to go with the exhibit), the interviewer declares that the “so-called Cultural Revolution can be counted as a dark age in the history of twentieth-century China” and then asks, “So, how should we treat the works of that period that serve to extol and eulogize [it]? Where does their value lie?” And Liu answers:
“This is an extremely sensitive question. In reality, the Great Cultural Revolution was a political struggle. The history of political struggles is always a case of ‘either you or me.’ Today, the Cultural Revolution is considered to have been a catastrophe. Many people suffered great injustice, many families were destroyed; it was truly a tragedy. When I was on a research trip in North America, I met a third-year secondary student in Canada whose grandmother lived in Taiwan. During the Cultural Revolution, his family’s home had been ransacked countless times. One can only imagine the hardship and suffering his family went through. After the period of reform and opening [to the West], his grandmother paid for him to study in North America. During my meeting with him, I very spontaneously expressed my deep sense of regret. I said to him, ‘Mao Zedong allowed these crimes to be committed against you.’ But he didn’t think of it in that way. He said to me, ‘It wasn’t Mao Zedong who made us suffer, it was the people whom Mao Zedong was against who made us suffer.’ So we can see that any historical phenomenon is extremely complicated. Looking at the history of the proletarian revolution from a sociological perspective, whether it [the Cultural Revolution] has furthered the interests of the proletariat is a question I believe will need to be evaluated through future discussion of the history of the Cultural Revolution.”
Go see this show. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience this art. Think about, discuss and debate with others, the important questions raised by this exhibit—and the whole period of human history that produced this art.
Revolution Online, September 23, 2008
Restructuring Inner-City Schools for the Global Marketplace:
Locke High School in Watts made national news last May when a fight broke out on campus between hundreds of Black and Latino students. The melee was reported in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and in Time Magazine. The Los Angeles Times treated it as though an alarm had been sounded—a radical solution to the problems at Locke and similar inner-city schools was urgently needed.
In many ways Locke High School concentrates the utterly failed education system that “serves” the oppressed people in the urban cores of this country. In 2005 only 332 Locke students graduated from a class that, as ninth-graders, had 1,318. Only 143 students qualified for admission to the University of California and Cal State University systems. In March, 2005 a 15-year-old girl died after being shot in front of the school.
Even before the fight at Locke became national news, the L.A. school district had signed a contract agreeing to turn complete control of Locke over to a private charter school organization known as Green Dot Public Schools. (A charter school is a public school run by a private business or organization.) This isn’t the first charter school in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). And it’s not the first of Green Dot’s charter schools in L.A.; they already operate twelve small charter schools. But this is the first time that any charter operation has been given sole responsibility for providing the public education that high school students receive in a section of a major urban ghetto.
This high-profile experiment in privatization is being looked to by the powers-that-be as a potential model for a radical transformation of the public education system in the most oppressed communities of the proletariat, especially Blacks and Latinos, not only throughout L.A., but nationwide. The Los Angeles Times wrote in a recent editorial, “[I]f it succeeds, Green Dot will have created a blueprint for public schools.”1
And a lot of people at Locke—parents, the teachers and administrators who stayed on, many students, and people all over—are hoping that Green Dot will actually be the model for “closing the achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers” that the sales pitch of the charter school movement promises.
Green Dot aims to produce a small number of students from inner city schools who will help fill the need for “knowledge workers” in this society—people who work with information, such as engineers, analysts, marketers, etc. And for those who do make it into the “knowledge worker” strata, to serve as a political and ideological force to shore up this system of exploitation and inequality—including by providing a basis to claim that “anyone” can make it in this system; a cruel lie when in fact, for millions and millions of youth in the inner cities, their so-called “opportunities” are the streets and a likely early death, prison, or the military.
The conditions of the inner city schools today perfectly reflect the conditions of the inner cities.
Beginning after World War 2, and in intensifying levels by the early 1980s, the inner cities of the U.S. lost more stable and better paying factory jobs as the imperialists dramatically restructured the U.S. economy to take advantage of investment opportunities internationally. Those in power consciously chose to respond to these changes with policies that dramatically increased the polarization between the suburbs and these devastated urban cores. As a result the inner cities became more and more characterized by high concentrations of non-whites, rising unemployment, shit-jobs for those who could find work, and massive imprisonment.
The collapse and breakup of the Soviet empire in the early ’90s did not produce the “peace dividend” for social services and education that some hoped for—indeed it removed more barriers to globalization. In the ’90s, capitalism moved jobs out of the inner cities even more dramatically, leaving vast urban wastelands devoid of jobs, social services, or decent schools.
There has been conscious policy, as well as the workings of the system, behind the systematic decay of the inner-city public schools, just as there has been with the devastation of the inner cities overall. Jonathan Kozol has argued passionately and eloquently in a series of books against the conscious under-funding of inner city schools compared to those of the middle class, suburban secondary schools, and the savage consequences for the quality of education and the lives of the young people. Severe overcrowding; dilapidated school buildings; a shortage of books and supplies to aid learning; and teacher salaries too low for schools to either attract good teachers or do without substitute teachers in the schools of the urban districts—in sharp contrast to the well-funded and predominately white suburban schools.
In his 2005 book, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, Kozol reports finding on his recent visit to schools across the country that the proportion of Black students attending majority white schools was lower than any year since 1968. And the largest public school systems in the country have been all but abandoned by whites. This at the very time that the Supreme Court has accelerated this polarization by repeatedly stamping out attempts to use any form of affirmative action to even incrementally reverse this trajectory.
The following are the percentages of Black and Latino students in the public schools of major U.S. cities: Chicago—87%; Washington DC—94%; St. Louis—82%; Philadelphia—78%; Los Angeles—84%; Detroit—95%; New York City—73%. And within these districts, segregation is often even more extreme, with white students mainly concentrated in a small number of wealthier neighborhood or magnet schools. And almost three-fourths of Black and Latino students attend schools that are predominantly minority. Greg Anrig wrote in Washington Monthly, “America’s urban school systems remain almost universally dysfunctional, primarily because the country as a whole is about as segregated by race and income as at any time since the civil rights revolution.”2
This is the ugly reality of the urban cores of this country, and the schools that serve them. It is producing a massive section of youth, seething with anger, who have been written off by this system, told “there’s nothing here for you,” and then shoved into the prisons at world record rates. It is an international embarrassment for this imperialist power claiming to be the model for the world, and it’s an outrage to sections of the middle class who are coming to know about it. And under certain conditions it can become extremely explosive, as was revealed by the ’92 L.A. rebellion. This is a critical concern of those driving the transformation and privatization of the school system.
The ruling class has approached this crisis in urban education not from the perspective of how to provide a good education for every child, but through a collection of changes that have made the situation worse. Two significant changes have been the widespread promotion of school vouchers, which undercut public schools and in many cases promote religious schools; and the No Child Left Behind Act that imposed rigid test-based standards for schools.
In 2001 Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was passed with support of the Democrats. Behind the empty rhetoric about achieving “high standards,” “world class education,” and “closing the achievement gap,” NCLB is just standardized testing—with severe punishments instead of help if test scores don’t improve. Schools not showing progress over time are first required to pay for private outside consultants. Continued lack of progress leads to being forced to totally contract out education to private enterprises. Schools in the middle class are not targeted because this only applies to schools with very low test scores.
The impact of NCLB is to essentially force teachers to get students’ grades up at all costs, because the school’s very existence is on the line. It has led to a shift towards teaching via a script designed with the goal of preparing students to take standardized tests—widely known as “teaching to the test.” Large numbers of weaker 9th graders are held back in some schools just to improve results on the all-important 10th grade tests. It has resulted in the elimination of art, music, foreign language study, even sports in many schools, and it has reduced the time spent teaching subjects that are not included in the tests. Thousands of schools, mainly in low-income areas, are targeted for closure due to failure to meet stringent federal standards. This is fueling the growth of charter school organizations and education management organizations (EMOs) that are training “education entrepreneurs” to be the managers of the privatized public schools that are coming.
NCLB was passed in a context of a decades-long process of undermining the legitimacy of public schools, the development and funding of alternative schools, and the creation of models for a new kind of privatized public school. Reagan’s education program was “bring God back into the classroom” and government-funded school voucher programs. School vouchers give government funds to parents who want to put their children in private, and in particular religious, schools—popular among the growing Christian fundamentalist forces at the time.
Vouchers have been controversial because they challenge the principle of the separation of church and state. After a favorable state supreme court ruling in 1998, Milwaukee’s voucher experiment was expanded from about 1,500 students attending less than two dozen secular schools, to more than 5,000 students spread among nearly 100 mostly parochial (religious) schools. Today roughly 20,000 Milwaukee students attend 122 voucher schools. In 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court settled the church/state question when it okayed Cleveland’s voucher program by defining public funding of religious schools as an expression of “choice.” There are also voucher programs in Florida, Colorado, and the District of Columbia. Vouchers are championed by McCain in his education program: “Public education should be defined as one in which our public support for a child’s education follows that child into the school the parent chooses.”
Since the early 1990s one major trend in “reforming” education has been the growth of for-profit and non-profit charter organizations around the country. In 2004 there were 3,000 charter schools serving three quarters of a million students in 37 states and D.C. New York City just raised the number of charter schools by 18 to a total of 78, serving 24,000 students. One in every 18 public schools in NYC is now a charter school.
There are for-profit public charters like the well-known “Edison Schools” founded by John Chubb, a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institute. There is also a growing number of public military charter schools, which target poor, minority students, especially Black youth. They appeal to parents and students with the promise of a disciplined school environment along with training and preparation for careers in the military. And they are viewed by the Department of Defense, which helps fund them, as a pipeline for new recruits to the all-volunteer army.3
It is the non-profit public charter school operations that are now garnering the most widespread support from the public, and the ruling class, including forces grouped around Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama. A central selling point of charter operations is that they replace the education “bureaucracy” with a more streamlined, efficient management model based on business principles. Individual accountability is emphasized, with clear goals and results measured on a regular basis. That means school managers can be fired for poor performance by their students. And teachers can be as well, since charters do away with tenure. At a time when the government has been steadily taking funds away from education, their emphasis on accountability and cutting through red tape has the added appeal of promising that major transformations can be brought about without huge infusions of public funds.
The executive director of Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) Bay Area Schools said recently: “Our focus on results is appealing to business leaders. So is our decentralized model that emphasizes autonomy, flexibility and innovation...” In return, the business community has been the biggest backers of charter schools: “The business community, both business leaders through their personal philanthropy and also corporate giving programs, have undoubtedly been a critical component of our fundraising success.”4
Green Dot Public Schools is among the many non-profit charters being championed and guided by some of the most influential and “far-sighted” of the business world, civic leaders and leaders of the education establishment, and people in the world of politics. Green Dot is headed by Steve Barr, an influential Democratic Party fundraiser and co-founder of Rock the Vote, which brought millions of young people into electoral politics and registered them to vote. The board of directors includes the Dean of the Loyola Marymount Graduate School of Education, and Susan Estrich, now a USC law professor and once head of Dukakis’s 1988 presidential campaign. Green Dot’s focus is on what they call “School Transformation” projects like the one at Locke. Their aim is to create a model, and with it broad public opinion, that will pressure school districts to adopt this model as their own.
Contributing an important element to this rush to privatization is Teach for America (TFA), a private, non-profit venture which for a number of years has been successfully recruiting graduates of Ivy League and other elite universities around the country for a two-year stint teaching in inner-city public and charter schools. A number of these students become inspired to pursue careers in teaching—but this is not TFA’s goal. Rather, TFA hopes after two years these young people will join the broadening base of experienced education managers, with the rest entering the professional world as informed supporters of these efforts. The KIPP Schools, based in San Francisco, were started by a pair of TFA graduates. And 250 TFA recruits are now in New Orleans, where—in the wake of the Katrina catastrophe—a massive experiment in charter school privatization is taking place.5
As a charter school that is completely replacing a public school, Green Dot is required to accept all the eligible students in the area that had been served by Locke. But that doesn’t mean they will have to keep them. There are many factors at work that are already driving students toward the door, with the repressive atmosphere being the main one.
School policies that push students out of school and into the criminal justice system have been called the “school to prison pipeline.” The ACLU opposes not only zero-tolerance policies that involve the police in minor school incidents, but also other school policies that do the same thing, “by excluding students from school through suspension, expulsion, discouragement and high stakes testing requirements.”6 Green Dot’s “School Transformation” project is already making it harder for struggling/borderline students at Locke to be able to stay there, while raising the stakes and consequences for those who can’t.
Green Dot requires all students to wear uniforms (as do most charters), a condition that has already sent some students to enroll at Jordan High, another high school in Watts. Those whose shirts are not properly tucked in are being sent to detention. Talking to a student, even your cousin, in a different on-site academy is forbidden. The much stricter tardy and attendance policy is also part of the weeding process. In fact, Green Dot is setting up an on-site continuation school for students cut from their academies. Students report that there are more security guards inside the school now packing weapons. They say the street outside the school is lined with cops the moment school ends, so no one is allowed to hang out with friends even after school. The school days are longer, and the school year as well. And all students will have not just the opportunity, but will be required to take a college track curriculum, which—given the education they have (not) received to that point—many may find impossible to do.
This is a “model” for a “no-nonsense” school system that has no qualms about tossing far greater numbers of students down the school to prison pipeline.
The principal financial backers of Green Dot and many other charter operations are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation, started by Eli Broad, a real estate tycoon who is #42 in Forbes’ 2007 list of richest people in America. These two foundations have pumped more than $2 billion into charter school organizations around the country. And last year the Gates and Broad foundations created a $60 million fund to get their education program onto the agenda of the 2008 elections. The extent of the active involvement of figures like Gates and Broad in revamping public education is an expression of the overall concerns within the ruling class about the urgency of making these changes.
In Barack Obama’s speech on education he spoke to the dangers as he and others see them: “America faces few more urgent challenges than preparing our children to compete in a global economy…. In this economy, companies can plant their jobs wherever there’s an Internet connection and someone willing to do the work, meaning that children here in Dayton are growing up competing with children not only in Detroit or Chicago or Los Angeles, but in Beijing and Delhi as well.” At stake, he said, is “whether we as a nation will remain in the 21st century the kind of global economic leader we were in the 20th century… It’s not just that a world-class education is essential for workers to compete and win, it’s that an educated workforce is essential for America to compete and win.” (emphasis added)
“The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce,” a panel made up of former Cabinet secretaries and governors in addition to federal and state education officials and business and civic leaders, issued a report in December 2006 titled “Tough Choices or Tough Times.” The report “warned that unless improvements are made in the nation’s public schools and colleges by 2021, a large number of jobs would be lost to countries including India and China, where workers are better educated and paid much less than their U.S. counterparts.”7 Within the last decade 1.5 billion people have joined the global labor force from India, China, and the former Soviet bloc. And there are now twice as many young professionals in low-wage countries as in high-wage countries, who will be a lot cheaper to employ than American workers for decades to come. Projections are that as many as 40 million jobs could be at some risk of being “offshored,” including jobs requiring some college, in the next 15 years.
The impact on the economy and employment won’t be the same for all workers. A report by the National Center on Education and the Economy entitled “America in the Global Economy” predicts a “shortage” of workers with an associate degree or higher, and a “surplus” of workers with the least schooling. It concludes that families headed by college and graduate degree holders are much more likely to be moving up the income distribution, while families headed by high school graduates or dropouts are more likely to be moving down the ladder. And the report says: “The American class structure is very dynamic… Nevertheless, we can say that the middle class is dispersing into two equal and opposing streams of upwardly mobile college-haves and downwardly mobile college-have-nots.”
The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce recommendations for changing public education were described by its chairman as “calling for a complete shake-up from top to bottom.” They include authorizing school districts to pay companies to run all their schools, organized along the lines of charter schools. They would be “highly entrepreneurial”—rewarding successfully run schools and firing those whose students don’t perform. The panel also called for all students to be required to take state board qualifying exams in the 10th grade that will be used to divide students into two groups. Those who do “well enough” could go directly to community colleges for a technical degree or a program leading to a four-year state college. Those who score even better would stay in secondary school two more years to prepare for four-year degree programs.
There is no mention of what would happen to those who don’t make it into one of these two groups. This is a formula for creating an apartheid system where the great majority of basic masses, particularly among the oppressed nationalities in the inner cities, would now be officially relegated to striving for vocational or community colleges at best, or discarded altogether. And it is perfectly consistent with the vision and direction of the public charter school movement, including Green Dot.
This is still a system with no future for the masses of poor and oppressed people in the urban cores of this country’s largest cities. Green Dot and this whole drive to radically transform the system of public education does not change that.
Determination decides who makes it out of the ghetto—now there is a tired old cliché, at its worst, on every level. This is like looking at millions of people being put through a meatgrinder and instead of focusing on the fact that the great majority are chewed to pieces, concentrating instead on the few who slip through in one piece and then on top of it all, using this to say that “the meatgrinder works”!
Bob Avakian, “The City Game—And the City, No Game,” Bullets—From the Writings, Speeches, and Interviews of Bob Avakian, p. 165.
The rulers of this country believe they face a powerful compulsion, coming from the fundamental needs of this system, to raise the education level of the U.S. labor force as a whole. Not to enable everyone to become a “knowledge worker,” which they know is impossible, but in order to maintain this country’s competitiveness in the world economy as much as possible.
At the same time they confront the challenge of heading off potential upheaval in the face of a widening polarization between the masses at the bottom of this society and the rest of the population, which these changes cannot overcome. Eli Broad, a major capitalist funding Green Dot and many other charters, wrote that if they don’t make these changes, they “run the risk of creating an even larger gap between the middle class and the poor. This gap threatens our democracy, our society and the economic future of America.”8
The changes in public education that are on the way, we’re, told will “level the playing field,” with the implication that now if you fail, well, it’s your own fault. “We gave you a chance, but you didn’t take advantage of it.” But the hype that everyone will have the opportunity for a college-level career covers up the reality that in today’s capitalist-imperialist economy, 50% of the new jobs being created are in the minimum wage service sector. So what these changes are really going to contribute to is fostering a climate of public opinion that shifts the blame even more fully away from the workings of the capitalist-imperialist system onto the masses for their own “failure.”
And the small section of students who DO make it through the education gauntlet and into a college career will play a crucial role as models, ideological buffers that are proof the system works: “They made it, why couldn’t you?” This is going to create even sharper polarization within these oppressed communities, enabling politicians and police to marshal public opinion to justify writing off a whole section of youth. Green Dot is a “blueprint” for turning inner-city schools into fortified islands in the midst of an apartheid sea.
1. “Day 1 For the New Locke”—L.A. Times editorial, 9/8/08 [back]
2. “An Idea Whose Time Has Gone,” Washington Monthly, 2008/0804. [back]
3. One of the first such public military charter schools is the Oakland Military Institute, proposed by Oakland, California Mayor Jerry Brown in 1999. 90% of its 1200 students are Black or Latino. [back]
4. According to Don Fisher, who started the Gap stores and has given tens of millions of dollars to support KIPP Schools and other charter schools: “I’m a businessman, and I think education is a business, and I think each school is a separate entity—it’s not much different from a Gap store.” [back]
5. A recently-published book by former Newsweek correspondent Donna Foote, Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches with Teach for America, popularizes this trend by following four young teachers who spent a year teaching at Locke High. [back]
6. “Testimony of Donna Leiberman on behalf of the NYCLU Regarding the Impact of School Suspensions, On Students’ Education Rights.” [back]
7. Washington Post, 12/15/06 [back]
8. Eli Broad, on the Broad Foundation website. [back]
Revolution Online, September 23, 2008
From A World to Win News Service
September 15, 2008. A World to Win News Service. Planet of Slums by urban theorist Mike Davis has much to recommend it. (Verso, London and New York, 2006 hardbound, 2007 paperback.)
Davis writes very poetically, both in terms of language and his juxtaposed images, and at the same time his aim is a scientific understanding of just exactly what life is like—and what the future holds—for the more than one billion people who live in Brazilian favelas, Peruvian pueblos jovenes, Manila’s garbage city, the cemetery shantytown that’s home to a million people in Cairo, the millions who live without running water and toilets in Lagos, Mumbai (Bombay) and Jakarta, and the desakota of Colombo (Sri Lanka). His main point is that while today, for the first time, more than half of the planet’s people live in cities, this is due not to the success of capitalism, in human terms, but its failure to provide a real place in this world for those its growth has driven out of the countryside.
His book illuminates very clearly why we need world revolution and why “profit in command” strategies can never solve the problems of poverty, slums, access to clean affordable drinking water and proper sanitation facilities. Particularly recommended is Chapter 6, entitled “Slum Ecology,” a hard-hitting and deeply disturbing exposé of how hundreds of millions of people in the world are forced to live in complete squalor without access to the very basics, such as clean drinking water or a toilet. In Western Europe and the U.S., the vast majority of people do not give a second thought to having taps in the home producing clean drinking water and a private toilet for family and friends to use. Planet of Slums describes people living in appalling living conditions, such as: land poisoned with toxic waste or with chronic ground collapse; frequent slum fires (including arson as a method of slum clearance); breathing air equivalent to smoking two-and-a-half packs of cigarettes a day, as in Mumbai; being forced to defecate in the open, a condition faced by 700 million people in India; and not having access to drinking water. Davis points out, “[D]igestive-tract diseases arising from poor sanitation and the pollution of drinking water…are the leading cause of death in the world.” On the same page, Davis quotes Eileen Stillwaggon saying that, “Every day, around the world, illnesses related to water supply, waste disposal, and garbage kill 30,000 people and constitute 75 percent of the illnesses that afflict humanity.” Obviously with a different world order where the priority of governments was the health of the world population rather than profit, all these deaths would be completely preventable. It is one of imperialism’s greatest crimes that in the twenty-first century an average of 30,000 people die every day because they don’t have access to safe drinking water and waste disposal.
In another chapter, Planet of Slums outlines how in some countries of the world the slum population accounts for more than 90 percent of the total urban population—for example, in Afghanistan 98.5 percent of the urban population live in slums. Davis also reports that in Iraq, another country “liberated” by the U.S. and UK, hepatitis and typhoid epidemics rage out of control, and two years after the invasion “the naked human eye can discern filaments of human excrement in the tap water.”
People in Europe tend to take for granted access to universal health care, and it can be easy to forget that for most people of the world this is nothing more than a dream. A shocking fact from Planet of Slums is that “an estimated 60 percent of Cambodian small peasants who sell their land and move to the city are forced to do so by medical debts.” The illustrations of the variations in infant mortality rate are also disturbing. For example, in Quito (capital of Ecuador) infant mortality is 30 times higher in the slums than in the wealthier neighborhoods.
Planet of Slums also provides vivid exposure of the outcomes of interventions by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), whose activities benefit the imperialists and the already better off, whilst generally leaving the poor untouched or worse off. One example is housing projects that only benefit the urban middle-classes and elites rather than the slum dwellers. It is often under instruction from the World Bank and IMF that healthcare budgets are cut: for example, in Mexico after the adoption of a second IMF program in 1986, “the percentage of births attended by medical personnel fell from 94 percent in 1983 to 45 percent in 1988, while the maternal mortality rate soared from 82 per 100,000 to 150 in 1988.” Davis quotes the recommendations of the World Bank’s Investing in Health program: “Limited public expenditure on a narrowly defined package of services; user fees for public services; and privatized health care and financing.” He goes on to describe what happened when this approach was adopted in Zimbabwe, where, when user fees were introduced in the early 1990s, infant mortality “doubled.”
The book provides a wide-ranging and scathing picture of life for more and more of the planet’s population, not least of all the women and children. “A recent study of slum children in Dhaka, Bangladesh, discovered that ‘nearly half of boys and girls aged 10 to 14 were performing income-generating work,’ and ‘only 7 percent of girls and boys aged 5 to 16 years attended school.’” Dhaka alone has 750,000 child laborers. Every country today has passed laws forbidding child labor, yet tens of millions of the planet’s children are denied an education and compelled to work by the much more powerful laws that govern the way the capitalist system must search to squeeze ever more profit out of people, by whatever means it can.
Davis brings some important understanding of the compelling forces of the global market to an analysis of the ways that the efforts of non-governmental organizations, whose numbers have mushroomed in recent years, are constrained. He argues, “[E]ven as NGOs and development lenders tinker with ‘good governance’ and incremental slum improvement, incomparably more powerful market forces are pushing the majority of the poor further to the margins of urban life.” These same forces also hold these NGOs “captive” to the agenda of their international donors, rather than the agenda being determined by the needs of the people.
Davis focuses on exposure and does not offer much about what is needed to deal with the countless horrors he describes. Unfortunately, he seemingly rejects the most important experience and understanding that has actually been accumulated in this regard when he launches a superficial attack on what he calls “Asian Stalinism,” by which he means revolutionary China (1949-1976), describing the Chinese policy as “ideological antiurbanism.” Having exposed repeatedly how countries have done and are doing nothing constructive about the rapidly growing slums around the world, he then complains about China’s efforts to prevent slum formation, and condemns the Chinese who prevented the influx from countryside to city with “stringent controls over internal migration.” Yet, even Davis concedes that within 11 years of the revolution in China the homeless had been re-housed and most urban shantytowns had been abolished. This was an extraordinary feat unparalleled in history! Davis can’t have it both ways! Furthermore, Davis later acknowledges that, “Since the late 1970s, the distribution of income in China’s cities has gone from the most egalitarian in Asia to one of the most egregiously unequal.” This progress in overcoming the divisions between rich and poor was a reflection of the balanced economic development that China was able to achieve when it broke free of imperialist domination under the revolutionary leadership of Mao Tsetung. Interested readers can turn to the Shanghai Textbook on Political Economy (Banner Press, Chicago, 1995) which came out of the Cultural Revolution period in China, for more on the political and economic thinking behind this extraordinary achievement.
Davis describes a world that is crying out for revolution. At the same time, as becomes clear from the range of sources he draws on, revolutionaries are not the only ones analyzing the profound changes that have taken place in the structure of the world’s population in recent years. He concludes his book by turning to how those who today rule the world are assessing the potential impact of these changes. It is clear, for instance, that in reality they actually expect little if any real progress towards all the shiny promises about eradicating poverty that are regularly trotted out by the UN and other multilateral organizations. For instance, top UN researchers conclude that at current rates of progress sub-Saharan Africa would not reach the much-touted Millennium Development Goals until well into the twenty-second century—and this was written before the recent fuel and food crises. Analysts thus expect the planet’s slums to be hotbeds and breeding grounds of rebellion and upheaval in coming years. As a consequence, the military enforcers of the global imperialist order are ratcheting up their preparations for dealing with greatly heightened challenges in the megaslums of the Third World especially.
Davis quotes a study by the U.S. Army War College that gives a sense of what they consider to be at stake. These imperial military thinkers warn, “The future of warfare lies in the streets, sewers, highrise buildings, and sprawl of houses that form the broken cities of the world... Our recent military history is punctuated with city names—Tuzla [Bosnia], Mogadishu, Los Angeles [!], Beirut, Panama City, Hué, Saigon, Santo Domingo—but these encounters have been but a prologue, with the real drama still to come.”
|A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.|
Revolution Online, September 23, 2008
From A World to Win News Service
September 15, 2008. A World to Win News Service. “Anyone who is familiar with Holocaust archival photos remembers images of Nazis forcing Jews to dance in the ghetto as they laugh derisively.”
This comment was made by Israeli blogger Richard Silverstein about an incident at the Tel Aviv international airport September 7. The Alvin Ailey dance ensemble from New York arrived for a performance they were to give at one of Israel’s main venues, the first stop in a six-country tour celebrating the famed New York African-American dance ensemble’s fiftieth anniversary.
Abdur-Rahim Jackson, a senior dancer, passed through security with the rest of the troupe. Then he was pulled aside and taken to a holding room.
The problem, security police told him, was his name. “I explained to them,” Jackson later recounted, “that my father converted to Islam and gave me that name. They repeatedly asked me what my father’s name is, what my mother’s name is and why they gave me that name.” One security officer told him he should change his name.
But they weren’t through with him. They said that his airline pre-flight passenger data, passport, prestige in the field of dance, his travelling with the troupe, his pictures in the dance company’s brochures, etc., weren’t enough. If he wanted to enter Israel, they said, he would have to dance for them, right there in the interrogation room, surrounded by mocking police. Unwillingly, and highly upset and embarrassed, he said later, he did. (Associated Press, September 9)
Then he was interrogated by a second set of officers—and again, forced to dance. After about an hour of humiliation, they released him.
The incident made news in Israel for the wrong reasons. Jackson, it turns out, is not now and never has been a Moslem, and his fiancé, although classifiable as Black by zealous profilers, is Jewish. Her Israeli family were waiting at the airport. Nevertheless, Israeli officials adamantly refused to comment, let alone apologize.
Blogger Silverstein points out, “Perhaps it doesn’t rise to the same level of humiliation [as the famous Polish ghetto photo]. But that’s only because Israeli personnel knew this was an American citizen. You can be certain that if this had been an Israeli Arab dancer the treatment would’ve been much worse.” (richardsilverstein.com)
Much worse: Mohammed Omer, a 24-year-old from Gaza, was one of two winners of the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism (along with Dahr Jamail). International governmental support, including Dutch diplomats who travelled to get him, forced Israel to let him out of Gaza so he could attend the award ceremony in London. Omer became a journalist as a teenager after an Israeli bulldozer crushed his home while his family was still inside, seriously injuring his mother. Yet, according to a former Dutch ambassador, “He is a moderating voice, urging Palestinian youth not to court hatred but seek peace with Israel.” (johnpilger.com, July 2)
But as with the dancer Jackson, Israel doesn’t care if someone really poses a threat or not. They have a system to enforce. Part of that is that no one among those they consider subhuman is allowed to consider themselves as good as the master race. Nor can any of the master race’s enforcers entertain the idea that those whose oppression their identity is based on are human beings. Their system stands or falls, ultimately, on guns, but this ideology is essential to its survival.
When Omer tried to re-enter Israel, at the Allenby Bridge from Jordan, again travelling with a Dutch diplomat for protection, eight Shin Bet (Israeli Gestapo) officers surrounded him and demanded his prize money. One put a gun to Omer’s head. They forcibly stripped him and made him stand naked. They laughed when he complained that he was a human being. After twelve hours without water, food or a toilet, he vomited and passed out. Then the Shin Bet men used their thumbs to gouge under his eyes and the nerves under his ears and stepped on his throat to cut off his breathing—torture procedures designed not to leave marks. All the while, his Dutch diplomatic escort was waiting. Maybe that’s why he ended up in a hospital instead of dead.
Before they tortured him, they made him dance.
|A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.|
Revolution Online, September 23, 2008
The storms caused by nature, in the form of Hurricane Gustav, passed over New Orleans with minimum damage, although other areas of Louisiana and Texas sustained more wreckage. But the harm caused by the human ideological storms, reversing the just verdicts of the people and blaming the oppressed for their oppression, is still very real.
The same day that the last 81 unidentified people who died as a result of Katrina three years ago were buried, New Orleans Mayor Nagin issued what Newsweek magazine called “a special message [directed] at would-be looters”: “‘You will not get a pass this time.’ And those caught won’t be shipped to a mere parish jail; they’ll be sent to the state’s notorious Angola Prison. ‘I want to make sure every potential looter understands that,’ said Nagin. ‘You will go directly to Angola Prison and God bless you when you get there.’”
This statement is so loaded with false and reactionary assumptions and outright threats, it takes some work to deconstruct it.
For starters—who are the real criminals behind the horror suffered by the people in New Orleans three years ago? Nagin didn’t say he was sending George Bush to Angola. Or the then head of FEMA, Michael Brown (remember Bush’s infamous remark, “You’re doing a great job Brownie”?). Or the members of Congress or Army Corps of Engineers who refused to fund and shore up the levees so they could withstand the long-expected Category 4 or 5 hurricane. What about the Gretna sheriffs who fired their weapons over the heads of people seeking safe ground above the filthy rising water—seems that was legitimate protection of property values against “those people.” And Nagin didn’t give himself up for a trip to Angola for failing to make any preparations to evacuate those without cars and parking the fleet of school buses in low-lying areas where they were promptly overcome by flood waters.
No, he threatened the “looters.” The people who day after day desperately scrambled to find food, water, and Pampers as the waters rose, confronted by the armed National Guard troops and Blackwater mercenaries (flown in over night from Iraq) who roamed the streets threatening and gunning people down. I remember seeing Oprah interview a young man on the streets of New Orleans whom she accused of “commandeering” a boat. He basically answered: Yeah, I commandeered a boat. And I saved 200 people. I’m not sorry at all.
Nagin was not alone in rendering the verdict that the real problem in New Orleans devastated by Katrina was the masses of people who lived on their rooftops for 3-4 days or were crammed into the Superdome like slaves on the lower decks of a slave ship. On August 13, 2008, just two weeks before Gustav moved ashore, a judge dropped the charges against the seven cops who were indicted for first-degree murder and attempted murder for gunning down two Black men and wounding four others, all unarmed people coming across the Danziger bridge to get food at a grocery store on September 4, 2005. The very fact that these cops were even charged with first degree murder and were facing the death penalty reveals how sharply right was seen to be on the people’s side, as the whole world watched in horror while the Bush regime and local government refused to rescue and protect the people and, instead, unleashed the armed might of the state against them.
This time, as I watched the TV coverage of Gustav, I saw those same Humvees zooming through the deserted streets, full of National Guard waving weapons, as MSNBC reporters commented that anyone arrested for breaking curfew would be considered a looter. I noticed no one, from Nagin to the press, making any reference to “due process”—no trials, no habeas corpus—just the litany repeated again and again, “You’re going straight to Angola.”
So what does “Straight to Angola” mean, what is the coded language here, and why did Nagin end with a sarcastic “God bless you when you get there”? That’s because Angola Penitentiary is a special corner of hell on earth, especially for Black people, and stands as a concentrated expression of what it means to be Black in Louisiana and this country in general.
I recommend everyone read the two-part interview (posted online as a single article) with David Blackmon, author of Slavery by Another Name, in issues 132 and 133 of Revolution newspaper. He presents a vivid picture of the little-known history of post-Civil War economic buildup of the South through the coerced and unpaid labor of Black men in the form of convict labor and road gangs. This served a dual purpose of creating wealth for the economic transformation of the South, and suppressing and terrorizing the newly freed slaves, as the systematic oppression of Black people, and the racist ideas to support that, forged during slavery were recast and reinforced for new conditions. Blackmon explains this process: “What began to happen in the South, particularly after federal troops were removed in 1877…the state passed laws which began to effectively criminalize Black life and to create a situation in which African American men found it impossible not to be in violation of some misdemeanor statute at almost all times. And the most broadly applied of those was that it was against the law if you were unable to prove at any given moment that you were employed. So vagrancy statutes were used to arrest thousands of Black men, even though thousands of white men could have been arrested on the same charges but they hardly ever were. Then, once arrested, the judicial system had to be re-tooled in such a way as to coerce huge numbers of men into commercial enterprises as forced workers through the judicial system.”
The three most notorious of the deep South prisons, where Black men were forced into “slavery by another name,” were Atmore in Alabama, Parchman in Mississippi, and Angola in Louisiana. And today, although some features have changed, they serve a very similar function.
Before the Civil War, prisons in the South served mainly as detention for white debtors, while enslaved Blacks were beaten, whipped, and killed at will by their owners. In Louisiana, the prison system was transformed in 1869 when a former Confederate officer, Major Samuel Lawrence James, leased Angola, consolidating several plantations covering about 8,500 acres in southwest Louisiana, and used it to run a business that provided convict labor. Slave quarters became cells, and some of the first guards were ex-Confederate soldiers. Many prisoners died within a few years from beatings or starvation. No longer creating wealth as human property, the ex-slaves generated more profits if they were simply worked to death and others compelled to take their place. The convicts farmed, picked cotton, mined, cut timber, and built and repaired levees on the Mississippi River. The 1901 Annual Report of the Louisiana State Penitentiary stated that 732 convicts died in Angola between 1894 and 1901, about 100 a year.
In 1901, shortly after the death of Major James, the prisons went from private to state ownership, but little changed. Brutal conditions with no reprieve, gun-toting “trustee” guards given privileges to terrorized their fellow prisoners, and the repeated murders of prisoners by guards all combined to give Angola the reputation of the bloodiest prison in the U.S. In 1952, to protest their conditions, 31 Angola prisoners cut their own Achilles heels, a very painful irreversible form of self-crippling that made them useless to their tormentors.
By 1969, a hundred years after it was founded, Louisiana’s Angola State Penitentiary (named after the part of Africa from which many of the slaves had come) had been expanded to 18,000 acres, but retained several key features. It was a straight-up plantation, with the power and social relations of slavery days, where 75% or more of the inmates were Black. An added feature was a gruesome system of sexual slavery, where new prisoners were bought and sold on arrival. Increasingly, the imprisoned came from growing urban centers, and they served their sentences far from the support of their families and community.
Even to this day, the prisoners at Angola work the land—growing soybeans, corn, and wheat and picking cotton. Many Angola prisoners have noted that today this labor can be better accomplished by machines, and yet they are forced into the fields every morning, often for 17 hours a day and 65 hours a week, where they bend their backs in grueling hand labor for 2-4 cents an hour. In one more cruel irony, half of these earnings are held in an account for the time when the prisoners get out. Yet Louisiana sentencing guidelines dictate that most of these men will never go home. Cathy Fontenot, Angola’s assistant warden, estimates 97% of those currently in Angola will die there.*
In the early ’70s, the Black Panther Party was formed in New Orleans and within months viciously attacked by the police, resulting in 24 major felony arrests. During that intense time, three young Black prisoners joined the Black Panther Party and led protests in Angola against conditions there. Known as the Angola 3, they have spent over 30 years in solitary confinement, a record in this country, although we have yet to see how many years and what level of torment awaits the many prisoners currently in segregation in the Supermax prisons and seg units throughout the U.S. prison system. Robert “King” Wilkerson, who joined the BPP while in the Orleans Parish Prison, was sent to solitary shortly after he reached Angola, charged with a murder that happened in Angola before he even got there. He was released in 2001. The other two of the Angola 3 had spent 36 years in solitary for murdering a prison guard when they were released to maximum security this year. In November 2006, the State Judicial Commission issued a rare 27-page recommendation that Herman Wallace’s conviction be overturned on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct. In July of this year, Albert Woodfox’s conviction was overturned on the same grounds, but Louisiana prosecutors are determined that he remain in prison for life and plan to retry him for a third time.
The experience of Angola 3 and their fellow captives “down on the Farm” is well known to the basic youth of New Orleans and the other 11 urban parishes who continually replenish the 5000 prisoners there. Louisiana is the state with the largest percentage of its population in prison—in a country that has the largest prison population in the world. These prisoners are part of the 2.3 million people in the U.S., mainly Black and Latino, who make up the generations of oppressed youth who have no future but death or jail; part of the one in 32 adults either in prison, on probation, or parole (as reported in the Bureau of Prison Statistics for 2005), thus finding themselves directly under the control of the system. How reminiscent of the ex-slaves who were coerced into convict labor if they were unable to show that they were “answerable to a white man.”
Those to whom Mayor Nagin’s threat was issued know exactly what he meant when he threatened, “You will go straight to Angola.”
* "Slavery Haunts America’s Plantation Prisons," by Maya Schenwar, August 28, 2008, http://www.truthout.org/article/slavery-haunts-americas-plantation-prisons. [back]
Revolution Online, September 23, 2008
Every year, high in the Nevada desert, a city of 50,000 inhabitants is created – and then disappears – within 8 days.
This is Black Rock City, the home of Burning Man, an annual celebration of art and community that brings participants from all over the world to an inhospitable, ancient lakebed. While most of the year Black Rock desert is unpopulated and desolate – no trees, no grass, no water nor visible life – during Burning Man it blossoms with culture, flame, music, and neon lights as a mega-block party in the week before Labor Day, in the face of white-out windstorms and unbearable heat (or rain and cold). From its beginning in the ’80s on a San Francisco beach, the conception of the original founders was, "Let's build a statue and burn it." Every year since, the event crescendos toward the ritual burning of the 30-foot wooden "Burning Man."
Since 1990, Burning Man has become an experiment in creating a culture that eschews money and disdains commodification. Though tickets are sold for the event, it is mainly to cover the stiff price demanded by the U.S. government for the use of the land and the required payment for invasive, and gawking, law enforcement. But unlike other events, once inside, there is nothing for sale – except ice and coffee in the center cafe. It is a gift economy, in which people are encouraged to bring what they need and share with others, to embrace diversity and be participants, not spectators.
And art! Hundreds of art placements that break convention in collective collaboration and in sheer size, interactivity and irreverence, and prompt new ways to look at the familiar. Art that is not considered the sole province of trained artists.
Every year, Burning Man founder Larry Harvey establishes the art theme for the event – such as "The Future, Hope and Fear," “The Psyche,” "Beyond Belief," or "The Vault of Heaven" – which is the core idea around which participants can revolve, interpreting and tripping out, often in very surprising artistic and philosophical directions.
Though a non-typical slice of society, people who attend Burning Man are also affected by the larger dynamics and working of this system and the direction it is headed. In the last few years, particularly since 9/11 with the launching of the “war on terror” and the growing police state mentality, many (myself included) have noticed that while the radical edge of Burning Man has not vanished, it has been somewhat constrained within the societal “new normal” and “what is possible.” This year, developments such as the elections, the "end" of the Bush regime, and the Obama campaign with its promises of “change” were also having a big effect.
When this year's art theme, "American Dream," was announced, it was like, "What the Fuck?! Where did this come from?" I think the conception behind the theme was of a never-was-and-never-will-be "pure" democracy as the highest ideal to which we can aspire. As I understand it, they hate the outrages and excesses of this government trampling on the rights of the individual, but are caught up in so-called progressive patriotism.
Immediately opposition mounted. An online petition campaign called on the organizers to choose a new theme. But the theme remained, with the narrative modified somewhat to be less openly celebratory, patriotic, and uncritical, and more a view of America as a lumbering giant with a blotched history, not living up to its promise of democracy and world leadership. The design of "the Man" would include the flags of all nations.
While there was much sentiment against the ugliness of the Bush regime, there was also an attempt to unite around and accentuate the supposed inherent good in the U.S. and its people, without looking at how America is rooted in slavery of Black people and genocide against Native peoples, and how today the U.S. sits at the top of an international system of exploitation where over a billion people live on less than $2 a day, backed by a huge military, wars, and invasions.
Some of those who originally objected to the theme later argued that it would challenge artists to present their own views on America, and promote deeper thinking and art that represented oppositional thought. Though I was, frankly, skeptical at that notion, that turned out to be true.
On the long drive from the highway onto the desert city, there was a series of “Burma-Shave” signs with famous (and not so famous) quotes about democracy and the "American Dream" – mostly well within a bourgeois democratic framework. The first one was by far the best – a quote from recently departed comedian George Carlin: "It's called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it!"
It is humanly possible to visit only a small percentage of the approximately 200 art installations (not to mention all of the camps) spread about the huge city in a few days – even by bicycle. I obviously missed a lot in this constantly changing landscape.
I didn’t see any installations that unabashedly celebrated America, though there were a few that encouraged people to vote, write their representatives, or meditate for peace. There were others encouraging “dreaming your own dream.”
There were many truly incredible pieces, both large and small, that were beautiful and awe inspiring. Among them were: the Basura Sagrada, a massive temple built of burnable trash, recycled materials, and the tossed-off debris of American society; the “Bummer,” an oversized 4X4 parody of America’s “King of the Road” mentality; Spread Eagle, 30-foot wide kinetic wings built of steel, redwood and found objects; and Altered State, by NY artist Kate Raudenbush, an exquisite U.S. Capitol fabricated of carved white steel in the graphic styles of America’s Native peoples, in their remembrance and honor.
There were other significant pieces that directly confronted the "American Dream.” Here are some highlights:
A group from the Netherlands did a very impressive and intimidating detention prison with a flowery, paisley, almost comical façade of skull and crossbones. But once inside the Checkpoint Dreamyourtopia, captive behind high grey walls, concertina wire and guard towers, “detainees” were forced to fill out lengthy forms completely before proceeding to an interrogation room. A very sobering and visceral experience – you can see a video of this, along with a description by the creator, at http://current.com/items/89252184_checkpoint_dreamyourtopia#comments.
Another piece of art included a figure of the hooded Abu Ghraib detainee with electrical wires hanging from him, with a sign telling people to pedal a bicycle-powered generator to "zap the prisoner." This was accompanied by photos of U.S. torture and gruesome killings of Iraqis by American troops, and the message "Your tax dollars tortured innocent Iraqi citizens. Something is deeply wrong in America. Why are we not revolting? It is up to us to fix America."
There were a number of other artists who, from different angles, spoke against the wars that the U.S. is waging "to bring democracy." One was a schoolhouse, the floor littered with children's toys and dolls, riddled with bullet holes. There was another – a half buried bomb – labeled "got democracy?"
Some art addressed the attacks on immigrants. One very well done 15-foot-tall milk carton with a "child missing" panel spoke to the murders of 450 young Mexican women workers and the disappearance of 400 more along the Northern Mexico/Texas border, pointing to the role of NAFTA and the vicious sweatshops that produce products for the U.S.
Another was a bridge to Ellis Island – as you cross it, you pass signs asking questions about your medical, political, criminal and legal status.
One artist displayed a large cargo net – the kind used to capture animals, or slaves – upon which were written the famous words on the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to be free."
There were hundreds of American flags flown upside-down throughout the camps, along with many "earth" flags. I was told that there were many Iraqi vets and active-duty soldiers in attendance. There was not a strong "support our troops" presence, though one camp I saw had a large board upon which people could write messages “thanking” the troops. It was sparsely filled at the end of the week, and many of the messages were distinctly anti-war.
And throughout the week, a “guerrilla” group distributed perhaps thousands of small inverted American flags with the Burning Man logo and the words "Burn the American Dream.”
There is much to embrace about Burning Man. Since its beginning it has been a radical, counter-cultural gathering. Those promoting traditional values and fundamentalist beliefs would feel uncomfortable in these blasphemous surroundings, where sacred cows are ridiculed, and space is carved out for people to be free to think, and act, outside of proscribed politics, religion, sexuality and ideology.
At the same time it runs up against the limits imposed by the dominant productive and social relations in society, and the ideas promoted to enforce those relations. The ideology that people bring with them – and to which they will return – constrains their ability to dream in a truly liberating way.
There is a great need for people who are yearning for a different, better world to be introduced to Bob Avakian and his revolutionary vision of the most radical rupture with traditional property relations and traditional ideas, and a vibrant, exciting communist world in which people would really thrive – the unleashing of art and science, awe and wonder, ferment and imagination in mind-boggling dimensions. Trying to contribute to that, I distributed issues of Revolution newspaper and "gifted" people I met with Bob Avakian's "7 Talks," a "Burning Man special edition" pamphlet of Avakian's essay "Materialism and Romanticism, Can We Do Without Myth?" and the new RCP Constitution.
One of the most exciting things I experienced was a discussion with two professors from England, an award-winning filmmaker, a Burning Man medic doing graduate work in sociology, and a couple of anti-war activists. We got into the nature and history of democracy in the U.S., art, freedom, and philosophy. They were very intrigued with what I brought to the conversation, and very interested in learning more about the RCP and Bob Avakian's work. They found particularly refreshing Avakian’s epistemological point about how all truths are good for the proletariat, and everything that’s actually true can help us get to communism – even truth that "makes us cringe” or that are discovered by people that oppose us – as compared to the method of "political truth" that has often characterized much of the revolutionary, even communist, movement. They were also quite surprised at Avakian’s embrace of art, science and human cultural endeavors broadly, and his statement that “If you don’t have a poetic spirit – or at least a poetic side – it is very dangerous for you to lead a Marxist movement or be the leader of a socialist state.”
The medic, whom I had talked to a couple of years ago, interjected that even though he has certain opposition to Avakian (and my continuing promotion of him), he does think that Avakian has the most provocative and broadly insightful things to say compared to any other revolutionary leader, and that people should pay attention to him.
We all agreed upon the need for more of these wide-ranging conversations at Burning Man, and inviting more people into the discussion. There was some initial talk about making plans for next year to call on the many academics, artists, scientists and thinking people who come to Burning Man to gather together and engage in lively discussions of art and culture, science and philosophy, with the aim of understanding the world in all its textures in order to transform it. Next year's theme, Evolution (celebrating the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth), will be perfect for this.
Revolution Online, September 23, 2008
We received the following letter from a reader:
A relative who had just finished reading Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish1 wrote me recently saying, “Thank you, thank you again for the fascinating story of human evolution. It really gets you thinking, doesn’t it? How can people still be so stupid about so much of the science world? It is right there before us in the fossil and human embryonic development record.”
So many people are ignorant about science because the educational system offers rigorous scientific training to only a few, tracking the majority of students in this country into substandard schools. For several years now, Christian fascists have been working tirelessly to exploit and deepen scientific illiteracy and make sure that the great majority of people are deprived of even the little science they might get now. The nomination of Sarah Palin as candidate for vice president signals that fundamentalist assaults on science—especially on the science of evolution—will continue no matter who is elected in November.2 Bills mandating or allowing teaching creationism were introduced into a number of state legislatures this year.
On June 28, the Louisiana Science Education Act3 was signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal.4 In the name of promoting “critical thinking” and “academic freedom,” this new law smuggles creationism into the science curricula of Louisiana public schools. It is the fruit of the Discovery Institute’s5 most recent maneuvering to avoid the appearance of bringing religion, and especially creationism, into the public school science classroom while doing exactly that.
In 1987 the Supreme Court shot down Louisiana’s Balanced Treatment Act in the Edwards v. Aguillard decision, ruling that the purpose of the Act was to “advance a particular religious belief” since teaching “creation science” would require that teachers put forward the religious belief that a supernatural being created humanity.6 Since then, there have been numerous attempts by creationists of various stripes to employ what Bob Avakian7 has called “relativism in the service of absolutism” to maneuver around opposition from scientists and others.
When the Dover, Pennsylvania school board adopted the concept of Intelligent Design into its science curriculum in 2005, a Discovery Institute attorney visited the school district and counseled the school board to reconsider. He feared, correctly as it turned out, that the school board, by mandating the teaching of Intelligent Design, was heading toward a test case. The Thomas More Society, a “public interest” and “pro-life” law firm, defended the Dover School Board when parents and teachers sued them. In 2005 a U.S. District Court ruled that Intelligent Design is creationism by another name.
If you go to the Discovery Institute’s website now, you will find that Intelligent Design is somewhat downplayed, but elsewhere on the Internet you can find copies of a revealing 1996 Discovery Institute internal memo, “The Wedge Strategy—Center for the Renewal of Science & Culture” which explicitly states, “Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.” The Discovery Institute now says that it opposes mandating the teaching of Intelligent Design and instead urges “teaching the controversy.”
Earlier this year, anti-evolutionists unveiled what some have called “Creationism 3.0.”8 The release of the film Expelled, which argues that science academics who embrace Intelligent Design are being persecuted, is part of this initiative. They have also drafted model legislation and are lobbying state legislatures to adopt these models. A number of states entertained bills with similar wording this year, and in June, the governor of Louisiana signed the first of this new breed of anti-evolution law. The Louisiana Science Education Act says, “The state...shall allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment...that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied, including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” and the law “shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.” Such seemingly contradictory statements within the same law are a product of the creationist agenda of misrepresenting science by implying that evolutionary theory and other established scientific facts are not supported by evidence, and at the same time hiding the religious intent behind such legislation. They use language like “critical thinking” and “open and objective discussion” to open a backdoor so they can smuggle religious doctrine into the science classroom. Their claim that the theory of evolution is a contested theory, controversial among scientists, is a misrepresentation of the facts.
Each time they’ve encountered opposition and defeat, creationists have adjusted their tactics in the service of their goal to establish a Christian theocracy. They have no problem with using obfuscation, misrepresentation, and outright lying to advance their agenda. Even though they abhor moral relativism, they’ll use relativism to promote the idea that there are no scientific truths. Their goal is to have a society based on the Bible. What people need is a society that values scientific thought and aims to make scientific knowledge available and accessible to all people. If these Christian fascists are allowed to rob people of the exhilarating, exciting, and true theory of evolution this would be a crime against humanity.
1. In 2004, paleontologist Neil Shubin and his team discovered a 375-million-year-old fossil, Tiktaalik, in the Canadian arctic that is transitional between fish and land animals. Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (Pantheon Books, New York, 2008) tells the story of finding Tiktaalik and delightfully explains that “In every organ, cell, and gene in our bodies is a deep connection to the rest of life on our planet. And the story of our bodies is written in the fossils, bodies, and DNA in creatures as different as worms, fish, and sponges.” (Revolution Interview with Neil Shubin, revcom.us/a/130/Shubin_Interview-en.html) [back]
2. When she ran for governor of Alaska in 2006, Palin told a television audience that she is in favor of teaching Creationism in schools. “Teach both. You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.” “‘Creation science’ enters the race.” Anchorage Daily News, adn.com/news/politics/elections/story/8347904p-8243554c.html, October 27, 2006. [back]
4. “New legal threat to teaching evolution in the US,” New Scientist, July 9, 2008, newscientist.com/article/mg19926643.300?B [back]
5. The Discovery Institute is a Christian fundamentalist think tank based in Seattle. It is one of the main creationist organizations in the U.S. and is closely identified with Intelligent Design creationism. [back]
6. The Science of Evolution, p. 208. Ardea Skybreak’s The Science of Evolution and The Myth of Creationism (Insight Press, Chicago) is an invigorating explication of overwhelming evidence for evolution and dissects creationism, including Intelligent Design creationism. [back]
7. Bob Avakian’s talk, “Balance Is Not the Criterion” (bobavakian.net) analyzes the way right-wing ideologues use terms like “academic freedom” to attack critical thinking on college campuses. Bringing Forward Another Way (revcom.us/avakian/anotherway/anotherway.pdf)and “Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism” (revcom.us/avakian/avakian-works.html#democracyspeech) discuss how Christian fascists and other right wingers exploit relativism and post-modernism in service of absolutism, especially when attacking science. See, for example, “The role of dissent in a vibrant society,” revcom.us/a/072/ba-dissent-en.html [back]
8. “Creationism’s Latest Play—Using Academic Freedom to Keep God in the Science Classroom,” by Lauri Lebo, June 1, 2008, The Washington Spectator, washingtonspectator.com/articles/20080601creationism.cfm [back]
Revolution Online, September 23, 2008
The following is an online comment we received from a reader off of the article “Reform or Revolution: Questions of Orientation, Questions of Morality” by Bob Avakian that appeared in Revolution #141. Reprinting of reader comments does not imply that we agree, or disagree, with them.
I agree with Bob Avakian’s orientation. The issues presented here are actually similar to those debated in the animal rights movement. On the one hand, we have the “welfarists” (comparable to the reformists). They want to ameliorate the conditions of the animals by, for example, demanding larger cages. The “liberationists,” (similar to revolutionaries) on the other hand, want to totally liberate the animals and end ALL exploitation.
Liberationists would put forth that animals are sentient beings who feel pain and are not here to be exploited for food, clothing, experimentation or entertainment. Therefore, in the example above, welfarists would argue for BIGGER cages and liberationists...for EMPTY cages.
It may help to make this contrast more clear, if we focus for a moment on the concentration camps. Few of us would have argued that we should have expended our energies trying to make the conditions for the inmates more palatable before being sent to the gas chambers. We would have argued for total liberation and an end to the whole operation. The understanding of many of us in the animal rights movement is that exploitation of working people and the SUPER exploitation of Women, African Americans, Immigrants, the Poor AND...Animals, taking the external forms of Sexism, Racism (etc) AND Species-ism, these attitudes and practices are pillars that prop up and propel this whole system forward.
Encouraged by and incorporated into this system (for super profits and to divide our ranks), these practices mirror the dominant ideology that “it is right for the strong to dominate the weak, might makes right, and by demeaning and objectifying the ‘other,’ we can do anything we want to her/him/them for our pleasure and/or profit.” These are interlocking “isms” in that they augment and reinforce one another. (See “The Pornography of Meat.”)
We ourselves do not want to participate in exploitation or oppression in any way and on the contrary, work to end a class divided society. To be consistent in this vision and with these values; to live them in our daily lives; to take a stand against species-ism (and ALL inter-locking oppressions); to NOT support this system in any way; we, animal rights activists have become vegan and urge other revolutionaries, communists and progressive minded people to likewise do the same.
This will also make us all stronger, healthier and more fit (see “The China Study”) for the protracted battles ahead, battles to address the ROOT problems (private ownership/social production etc) and not just the symptoms. Thank you for bringing forth ideas to empower people and to help bring about an egalitarian, classless, vegan, communally shared world for the benefit of all!
Revolution Online, September 23, 2008
Hook Up With the Revolution:
September 16, Tuesday, 7pm
Discussion on “The Objective Situation, the Bush Regime and the Bourgeois Elections” by Bob Avakian. Tonight: Obama
September 18, Thursday, 7 pm
Screening: From Mambo to Hip Hop. The film's director, Henry Chalfant, will be joining us to discuss this award-winning film which was first aired on PBS.
September 23, Tuesday, 7 pm
Discussion on Revolution and Communism, topic TBA
September 24, Wednesday, 7 pm
Discussion on Prostitution & Human Trafficking: Diverse Feminist Perspectives. Featuring writers Angela Bonavoglia, Alexis Greene and Sonia Ossario, & a short award-winning documentary, Turning A Corner. Sponsored by the online magazine On The Issues.
September 25, Thursday, 7 pm
Raymond Lotta on "Shifts and Faultlines in the World Economy and Great Power Rivalry—What Is Happening and What It Might Mean" (a series in Revolution newspaper). Maoist political economist Raymond Lotta will discuss his new analysis of the "shifting tectonic plates" of the current world economic geography.
September 27, Saturday, 3 pm
Poetas en Nueva York: 5th Poetry Encounter. A reading featuring poets Giilodel, Elizabeth Torres, Nicolas Linares, Alfredo Villanueva, Jorge Rojas, D'Guevaras, bilingual event, opening with a costumed musical procession traveling from across the city.
September 30, Tuesday, 7 pm
Discussion on Revolution and Communism, topic TBA
October 1, Wednesday, 7 pm
Seth Tobocman on "Disaster and Resistance: Comics and Landscapes for the Twenty First Century"—A multimedia reading with music/performance.
October 6, Monday, 7 pm
Peter Carroll reading from his book Riverborne: A Mississippi Requiem.
Every Monday, 6:30-9:00 pm
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.
September 17, Wednesday, 7 pm
Discussion of the Revolution newspaper article, “The Plague of Violence Among the People—and the Real Solution.”
September 20, Saturday, 7 pm
Chicago premiere of 2 film documentaries - The Coat Hanger Project, and Abortion Democracy - Poland/South Africa, at Revolution Books, with Q&A with directors Angie Young and Sarah Diehl following the screenings.
September 24, Wednesday 7 pm
Discussion of “Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.”
Join ongoing deep discussions
of the new Constitution of the RCP,USA and Bob Avakian’s Away with All Gods. Call for time and location.
312 West 8th Street 213-488-1303
September 26, Friday, 7 pm
An evening with PZ Myers - author of the popular science blog, PHARYNGULA (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/), contributor to the "Ask a Biologist" science education website, expert in evolutionary development biology, well-known public critic of "intelligent design" and of the creationist movement in general. As his blog describes: "Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal."
October 5, Sunday, 2 pm
Join us for the 2nd bilingual discussion of “Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA” in Revolution No. 143. We'll focus on Parts IV - VII.
October 12, Sunday, 2 pm
"Revolution and the Liberation of Black People" available online and in Revolution beginning September 29. Discussion of the emancipation of humanity and the struggle for the liberation of Black people; the history and present-day reality of Black people in America; and a major statement by the RCP that deals head on with the main questions facing the struggle today, making the case for the necessity...and the possibility...of revolution.
Sunday, October 26, 2008, 1 pm
"Making Revolution in the U.S."
Golden Eagle Ballroom
California State University, Los Angeles
5151 State University Drive
www.calstatela.edu for directions (near Parking Structure C)
2425 Channing Way near Telegraph Ave
September 17, Wednesday, 7 pm
Revolution newspaper discussion of lead article
September 18, Thursday, 7 pm
Discussion of “The Objective Situation, the Bush Regime, and the Bourgeois Elections,” an article by Bob Avakian.
September 23, Tuesday, 7 pm
Discussion of “Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.”
September 24, Wednesday, 7 pm
Revolution newspaper discussion
September 28, Sunday, 6:30 pm
Film showing with producer Aaron Newman - IRAN (is not the problem)
October 1, Wednesday, 7 pm
Revolution newspaper discussion
2626 South King Street
September 22, Monday, 6:15 pm
Discussion of “Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.”
2804 Mayfield Rd (at Coventry)
Cleveland Heights 216-932-2543
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 3-8 pm
September 18, Thursday, 7 pm
Discussion: “Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA” in Revolution #143.
September 19, Friday, 7 pm
Report back from the RNC protests: A panel of Clevelanders who were at the RNC protests, including Larry Bresler, director of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign and one of the main organizers for the Poor People's rally and march that was held on September 2; a member of Cleveland SDS who was arrested September 1; a staff member of Revolution Books who participated in most of the marches and rallies at the RNC.
September 21, Sunday, 6 pm
Screening of the film IRAN (is not the problem)
September 28, Sunday, 6 pm
Book discussion: Away With All Gods, part 4
1111 East Madison St #124 Seattle, WA 98122
Thursdays, 7 pm, Starbucks at 1600 E Olive Way
Revolution newspaper discussion. Sept. 18: Overview discussion of “Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.” Sept 25: Continuing and deepening the discussion of “Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.”
October 11, Saturday, 7-10 pm
Salon on Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy, a major new work by Bob Avakian. Uptown Espresso at 2504 4th Ave in Belltown.
Revolution Books is mobile!
Revolution Books is moving into our new, expanded location in January in downtown Seattle! Check out our blog for the latest calendar of events at a variety of locations.
406 W.Willis (btwn Cass &2nd, south of Forest)
September 16, Tuesday, 6:30 pm
Continuing Discussion on "Re-envisioning Revolution and Communism: What IS Bob Avakian's New Synthesis? Pt. V: Strategic Implications—Making Revolution"
September 19, Friday, 6:30 pm
Discussion Event: “Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.”
September 23, Tuesday, 6:30 pm
2nd Discussion of the new "CONSTITUTION of the Revolutionary Communist Party—Appendix: Communism as a Science"
1158 Mass Ave, 2nd Floor, Cambridge
4 Corners Market of the Earth
1087 Euclid Avenue in Little 5 Points
404-577-4656 & 770-861-3339
Open Wednesdays & Fridays 4 pm - 7 pm,
Saturdays 2 pm - 7 pm
September 18, Thursday, 7-9 pm
Discussion of Revolution newspaper article “RNC ’08: Pit Bulls On Parade” (available in September 8 online edition)
September 21, Sunday, 5-7 pm
Part one of discussion of “Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.”
September 25, Thursday, 7-9 pm
Check our blog for discussion topic
September 28, Sunday, 5-7 pm
Part two of discussion of “Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.”