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Revolution #145, October 19, 2008
Financial Hurricane Batters World Capitalism:
The most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression shows no sign of letting up. The financial edifice of U.S. imperialism is in danger of crumbling. The U.S. ruling class is confronting what Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke describes as a crisis of “historic proportions”—and is hurriedly cobbling together desperate measures to prevent wholesale collapse. Three of the largest independent investment banks on Wall Street have ceased to exist since April. The government had to assume a major stake in the American International Group (AIG), the world’s largest insurer, to prevent it from collapsing. Now the U.S. Treasury is considering taking ownership positions in major U.S. banks.
This crisis is amplifying internationally. Western Europe is facing large bank failures and governments are engineering their own bailouts. The Russian stock market has intermittently suspended operations. Financial markets in Asia have nose-dived. Mexico’s economy is wobbling, as its exports shrink.
Two things stand out about this crisis. First, there is the ferocity of its global shocks and the speed with which it has spread. Second, unlike the debt and financial crises of the last 30 years, which were largely centered in the Third World, this crisis initially exploded in the U.S., the world’s leading capitalist economy, and is focused in the financial centers of world capitalism.
U.S.-led finance, which plays a dominant and shaping role in the global capitalist order, has taken a huge body blow. This will have enormous repercussions, not just for the stability of the world capitalist system but for power shifts and rivalries within it.
Many progressive commentators have put the blame for this crisis on fraud and greed, or on lax regulation. All of which are certainly in play. But these explanations do not get to the essence of what is happening, to the cause of the problem. This crisis is the outcome of the fundamental workings of the capitalist system.
The analysis that follows is framed by these core points:
In the early 2000s, in the aftermath of the collapse of high-tech stocks, the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank sought to stimulate lending and growth. It lowered interest rates and pumped funds into the banking system. Banks had access to cheap and plentiful credit. And through deceit and aggressive marketing, they pushed mortgages on people. The Federal Reserve continued to inject low-cost funds into the banking system—helping to prop up loans and to fuel a long-term speculative housing bubble.
Banks sold these mortgages to investment banks. The investment banks in turn bundled these loans together with other loans, created complex financial products, and sold them to large investors—in the U.S. and in other parts of the world, especially Western Europe. These mortgage-backed securities, as they are called, circulated in financial markets and became the basis for other loans. The ultimate collateral for this chain of borrowing and lending was the original mortgage loans. So when housing prices fell, and as growing numbers of mortgage holders found themselves unable to pay back housing loans, much of this original collateral became nearly worthless.
This whole process is an obscene example of how under this capitalist system something as basic as human shelter becomes a financial instrument and object of speculation. This has led to a situation today where 1 in 6 U.S. homeowners owe more on a mortgage than their home is worth; where 1 in every 65 households in California is in some phase of foreclosure; and where a disproportionate number of Black and Latino families who have been victimized by predatory lending have experienced incredible losses of what little wealth they had.1
AIG had made enormous profits internationally by selling insurance to investors who held many of these mortgage-backed securities. These investors would be repaid by AIG, in the event that the loans that were bundled into these financial packages they had purchased were defaulted on—could not be paid back. But by mid-September, AIG could neither cover massive loan damage nor borrow sufficient funds on the financial markets to keep itself afloat. AIG was so interconnected with other major financial players that if the company went under, it would likely have taken others down.
In the face of mounting financial crisis, the imperialist state intervened. It acted as the representative of capital and as the guardian of the interests of capital. The U.S. ruling class was faced with a two-fold danger: mounting losses and bankruptcies in the financial sector; and the choking up of lending channels, which could send the economy into a rapid downward spiral.
The government basically took over AIG. And on September 19, the Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announced a $700 billion bailout. The essence of the rescue package was that the government would buy the troubled mortgage-backed securities sloshing about in the financial system and through this get lending going again. But the announced bailout did not unblock credit markets or calm stock markets. Nor has it restored international confidence in the U.S. economy.
This crisis broke out in the banking system. Its more immediate trigger was the popping of a speculative real estate bubble, cascading losses in the financial sector, and the inability of stricken financial institutions to raise capital and the unwillingness of others to lend capital.
At a deeper level, this crisis is the outcome of a particular trajectory of world capitalist growth.
There has been a massive new wave of globalization. One of the most significant features of world growth and expansion of the last 15 years 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 a computer being manufactured in different parts of the world; and in the case of an iPod being totally manufactured in China. And it is happening on the level of finance—where banks operate globally and are more tightly interlinked with one another through chains of borrowing and lending and even, as in the case of AIG, insuring risks of lending.
This new wave of globalization has involved direct productive and financial investments abroad. It has involved the expansion of outsourcing and subcontracting. And central to all of this has been the fuller integration of export producing countries of the Third World into the world capitalist market—and the forging of a globally-integrated, cheap-labor manufacturing economy.2
40 percent of the imports coming into the U.S. are accounted for by U.S. transnational corporations—and this does not even include the subcontracting done by companies like Walmart. 30 percent of U.S. corporate profits are generated overseas. China, which has evolved into the high-profit workshop/sweatshop for international capitalism, has been at the epicenter of this recent surge of globalization.3
From the standpoint of the needs of profitable globalization, various elements of deregulation—for instance, the lifting of barriers to rapid shifts and transfers of capital—were functional. This is why both Republicans and Democrats have promoted deregulation. Indeed, the Clinton administration in the 1990s played a decisive deregulating role. It negotiated so-called free-trade agreements with Third World countries and helped to loosen strictures on U.S. banking and telecommunications.
The trajectory of capitalist growth of the last 15 years has also involved heightened financialization. On this platform of more globalized production and exploitation, the financial services sector in the advanced capitalist countries mushroomed.
On a turbo-charged global playing field of ever-more mobile and massive flows of investment capital—where the stakes of winning and losing are enormous—capital requires all kinds of risk management. Investment banks and other financial institutions provide such financial services to “hedge” against interest rate variations, currency fluctuations, and other sources of volatility and loss. At the same time, financial activities became a greater source of short-term and speculative profits. In an intensely competitive atmosphere for financial market share, investment banks were creating ever-more complex and exotic financial products. Global financial assets increased from $12 trillion in 1980 to nearly $200 trillion in 2007, far outstripping the growth of world output or the expansion of trade.4
Growth in the advanced capitalist countries over the last 15 years became increasingly finance-led and credit-driven. The U.S. has been at the epicenter of this process of heightened financialization. By 2005, the manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy had fallen to 12 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (the production of goods and services), while the financial services sector made up of finance, insurance, and real estate had grown to 20 percent. In 1982, the financial sector’s share of total corporate profits was just over 5 percent; in 2007, the financial share of corporate profits had skyrocketed to 40 percent!5
These interrelated processes of globalization and financialization ultimately led to unsustainable imbalances and instabilities. The dynamics that fueled growth have generated new barriers to profitable accumulation of capital. Strengths have turned into vulnerabilities.
We are seeing things turn into their opposites. Financial institutions attempted to reduce risk and to profit from risk by dispersing more varied financial instruments over a wider field of investors internationally. But this process has drawn investors, these very institutions, and now governments into a vortex of vulnerability and crisis. The heightened globalization of production and markets, the closer intertwining of economies, has created conditions for faster and even more extensive ripple effects of crisis throughout the world.
A strategic concern of the U.S. ruling class is the international strength of the dollar. 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 of the whole current global economic order.
The dollar is also an investible commodity—major currencies are bought and sold and traded on international currency markets. The value of the dollar rises and falls in relation to other currencies, and in response to international political and economic trends and developments. If foreign central banks and investors were to significantly shift away from dollar holdings, this could set off a global monetary crisis and/or strengthen the position of rival currencies (like the euro) and rival powers.
These are uncharted waters for U.S. policymakers: in the scale and complexity of the crisis…in the magnitude of the rescue operations required to prevent financial breakdown…and in the rapidity with which this crisis is unfolding. A Harvard research economist put it this way: “like the sorcerer’s apprentice, we have created things we do not understand and cannot easily control.”6
U.S. imperialism has limited maneuvering room. The U.S. is already the largest debtor country in the world. It is waging costly wars for greater empire in Iraq and Afghanistan. And both John McCain and Barack Obama are committed to America’s global “war on terror”—the umbrella under which the U.S. is waging these wars for empire.
U.S. imperialism has attempted to parlay its superior military strength into a new world order and to lock in its global supremacy for decades to come. Defense and defense-related spending totaled more than $1 trillion in fiscal 2008.7 And military-related production and research have long been deeply embedded in the U.S. economy. 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 costs of forcibly preserving and extending the U.S. empire is one of the dirty little secrets of the dynamics of this crisis that scarcely gets talked about.
Here an important dialectic comes into play. “U.S. military dominance,” writes Kenneth Rogoff, former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, “has been one of the linchpins of the dollar.”8 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. (to the tune of $3 billion a day). For this to continue requires that the U.S. economy and dollar remain stable. This is a major contradiction for U.S. imperialism.
U.S. imperialism is facing new competitive challenges and the emergence of potential rival constellations of imperial and big powers—vying for market shares, control over energy resources, and geopolitical position.
People are losing their homes. Retirement savings plans since the middle of 2007 have lost 20 percent of their value with the stock market sinking. Funding for vitally needed social programs and services at state and local levels is being pinched by the financial crisis and economic slowdown. In much of the Third World, food prices soared over the last year, this is partly related to financial speculation, and hunger has spread.9
While the futures of millions are in jeopardy, what is the paramount concern of those at the top of the pyramid of economic and political power? It is the protection of a financial system that sits atop a global system of exploitation; it is the rescue of the owners and investor beneficiaries of that system.
This is not “socialism for the rich” or a bailout for the people. It’s emergency capitalism for the capitalist class: injections of funds and guarantees, government takeovers, cost-cutting, selective liquidations, restructuring of regulations; and it’s more brutal capitalism for everyone else: austerity, more intense international exploitation, and more misery for people throughout the world.
The official story line is that this crisis issues from particular flaws and malpractices that can be corrected: “excessive greed,” “Wall Street irresponsibility,” “outdated” or “ unenforced regulations.”
The truth is that this crisis has deep structural causes in the very nature of the system—in the quest for profit, not the satisfaction of human need, and in the anarchic workings of world capitalism.
We are seeing how the means through which capitalism expands and “innovates” have led to new barriers and to gales of “creative destruction”—with trillions of dollars of asset values destroyed in the market turmoil. Through these convulsions, the imperialists seek to wrench new freedom, promoting further consolidation and monopolization. Bank of America absorbs the giant investment bank Merrill Lynch. Lehman Brothers is forced into liquidation.
Whoever wins the presidential election will be inheriting a battered financial system and huge government deficits. This will not be an era of expanded social spending, but one of more direct government intervention in financial markets and cutbacks in social spending.
This rolling and intensifying financial crisis serves as a profile and status report on capitalism in the 21st century:
A once-thriving subprime mortgage market…had been linked to the ability of U.S. financial institutions to market securities to European banks and of the U.S. Treasury to draw in export earnings from China…earnings generated in sweatshops…tied into subcontracting networks of Western corporations….
Real estate markets tank…. The “smart money” looks for “safe places” to shift its capital…. Some of it heads for commodity futures like rice…. So food prices spiral upward in response to the investment stratagems of people who know and care nothing about food needs and food production…. In countries like Haiti, women who can no longer afford basic staples are feeding their children mud-cakes….
A French bank, with its assets plunging in value, and the chain of global capitalist finance snapping all over, now finds itself with “non-performing loans”…. It must “improve its balance sheet” and faces pressures to reduce or eliminate trade credits to a country in Africa that depends on imports for food, and where people already spend 50 percent of their incomes for food.
Despite staggering advances in technology and human knowledge, despite the fact that the development of human society has brought humanity to a historic threshold where it is now possible not only to overcome scarcity and exploitation but also to forge social arrangements where human beings can truly flourish—despite all of this potential, social and economic life are under painful duress and the ecosystems of the planet gravely threatened. It is not for lack of resources or knowledge.
All of what has been described in this article is the result of the relations and domination of capital, the result of the workings of a system driven by vicious competition and the blind accumulation of profit based on exploitation—and backed by massive military force.
In the heartland of capitalism, there is financial meltdown. In the Third World, millions are already suffering the ravages of a global food crisis. This system is a horror and a failure. Is it necessary for humanity to live this way?
The October 10 edition of The Washington Post carried an article with the title and question “The End to American Capitalism?” In forums and in the media, leading bourgeois policymakers and analysts have discussed whether this crisis, careening beyond control and threatening greater economic calamity, suggests that there is something fundamentally amiss about capitalism. And the emphatic answer given is the same: “the system may not be working optimally, but there is no alternative, only gradations and variations of capitalism.”
But there is another way. It is possible to take hold of the productive resources of society and to develop and deploy them in a rational, planned, and society-wide way to meet human need and to safeguard the planet. It is possible to establish a radically different kind of state power and to create a society and institutions that unleash people’s creativity and that promote initiative and diversity in an atmosphere that brings out human community.
The question of socialism, of communism, of revolution could not be more relevant…and more urgent.
To be clear, revolution is not a catchword for lots of new things or lots of change. Revolution has very specific meaning: the people getting rid of the system; depriving the old ruling class of their political-economic-military power; and creating a new power with new aims and objectives and the means to enforce those aims and objectives.
As serious as this crisis is, with all the havoc it is wreaking, the system will not automatically collapse of its own weight and disorder. Absent revolution, capitalism will put itself back together—in its own image and at unimaginable social cost.
And for all the agony that crisis inflicts, this will not automatically and spontaneously translate into progressive, radical, and revolutionary sentiment and consciousness. Other forces are in the field doing ideological and political work: reactionary populists like Lou Dobbs (“blame the foreigners and illegal immigrants”) and Sarah Palin whipping up a social base for religio-fascism. The Obama candidacy is channeling disenchantment and the thirst for change right back into the political system’s suffocating embrace (“change we can believe in” is nothing other than change acceptable to the powers that be).
This is a highly fraught situation. Things can change very quickly. The system is revealing much about its basic nature. Bigger jolts may come and outrage may suddenly grow and give rise to resistance from all kinds of quarters. We have to grasp the potential of the situation. We have to be out there bringing forward understanding and bringing forward a vision of a liberatory world. We have to rise to new political and ideological challenges in the belly of the beast.
1. Data from James R. Hagerty and Ruth Simon, “Housing Pain Gauge: Nearly 1 in 6 Owners ‘Under Water,’” Wall Street Journal, October 8, 2008; RealtyTrac, “Foreclosure Activity Up 14 Percent in Second Quarter,” Realtytrac.com, July 25, 2008. A study published earlier this year estimates the total loss of wealth suffered by Black, Latino, and other minority households on account of bank subprime-lending of the last eight years to be the greatest loss of wealth for people of color in modern U.S. history (United for a Fair Economy, Foreclosed: State of the Dream 2008). [back]
2. Among informative studies of the origins and development of a globally integrated cheap labor manufacturing economy, see Michel Chossudovsky, The Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order (Quebec: Center for Research on Globalization, 2003); and on globalized manufacturing in relation to financialization, see William Millberg, “Shifting Sources and Uses of Profits: Sustaining US Financialization with Global Value Chains,” Economy and Society, Vol. 37, No. 3 (August 2008), pp. 420-451. [back]
3. Data from Milberg, “Shifting Value Chains…” [back]
4. Jeffrey Garten, “We Need a New Global Monetary Authority,” Financial Times, September 25, 2008. On financialization as a means also to contain financial disorder and to impose profit maximizing discipline on capital, 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]
5. Kevin Phillips, Bad Money (New York: Viking, 2008), p. 5; Robert Wade, “The First-World Debt Crisis of 2007-2010 in Global Perspective,” Challenge: The Magazine of Economic Affairs, July-August 2008, p. 33. [back]
7. Leaving out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense spending has doubled since the mid-1990s. See Chalmers Johnson, “Why the US has really gone broke,” mondediplo.com (English edition), February 5, 2008. [back]
Revolution #145, October 19, 2008
The U.S. in Afghanistan:
For the people of Azizabad, a small village in western Afghanistan, the dark early morning hours of August 22, 2008 suddenly turned into a nightmare of devastation and death. As villagers slept, U.S. forces attacked—first with guns, then air strikes. By the next morning, according to UN investigators, over 90 people had been massacred, including 60 children and 15 women.
The U.S. military initially claimed they had hit a “legitimate” Taliban target, that only 5 to 7 civilians were killed—so-called “collateral damage”—and the other 30 to 35 dead were Taliban militants. These were lies.
Journalists who traveled to the village reported: “At the battle scene, shell craters dotted the courtyards and shrapnel had gouged holes in the walls. Rooms had collapsed and mud bricks and torn clothing lay in uneven mounds where people had been digging. In two places blood was splattered on a ceiling and a wall....The smell of bodies lingered in one compound, causing villagers to start digging with spades. They found the body of a baby, caked in dust, in the corner of a bombed-out room.” Survivors “described repeated strikes on houses where dozens of children were sleeping, grandparents and uncles and aunts huddled inside with them.” (New York Times, September 8, 2008)
“Does this look like it fits a Taliban fighter?” one resident told NPR (August 27, 2008), holding up a tiny shoe and a woman’s torn veil.
This was the third major massacre of Afghan civilians by U.S.-NATO forces this summer alone. Since 2005, between 2,700 and 3,200 civilians are estimated to have been killed by U.S and NATO forces, whose attacks and bombing raids are escalating. And all this is just the latest example of the enormous suffering the U.S.-NATO war on Afghanistan has inflicted since it was launched seven years ago on October 7, 2001.
The U.S. military has since been forced to back off of its initial claims about Azizabad, and is supposedly conducting an “investigation.” But one thing the U.S. rulers—and Bush, McCain and Obama—have not backed off of is the biggest lie of all: That the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan is a legitimate war of self-defense launched in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001 and that the central goal is preventing future attacks on the U.S. And now there are calls, including from Barack Obama, to send thousands of more troops to Afghanistan.
The war in Afghanistan is not—as many would say—a “good war” gone bad. It was an unjust, imperialist war of conquest and empire from the start. And it continues to be an unjust, imperialist war of empire today.
The war in Afghanistan was never simply a response to 9/11. It was conceived of by the Bush administration as the opening salvo in an unbounded war for greater empire under the rubric of a “war on terror.” This war’s goal was to defeat Islamic fundamentalism, overthrow states not fully under U.S. control, restructure the Middle East and Central Asian regions, and seize deeper control of key sources and shipment routes of strategic energy supplies. All this grew out of over a decade of imperialist planning, strategizing and intervention. And from the beginning all of it was part of an overall plan to expand and fortify U.S. power—to create an unchallenged and unchallengeable global imperialist empire.
All this is shown by what the U.S. rulers were doing—and planning—in these regions and globally during the decade of the 1990s, including in Afghanistan itself. It can be shown by the plans the U.S. had for destabilizing, perhaps overthrowing, the Taliban government of Afghanistan even before 9/11. It can be demonstrated by the actual discussions and decisions taken by the Bush regime in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and by the U.S.’s war objectives in Afghanistan and the Middle East as a whole, which it is still pursuing. And it can be shown by the U.S.’s conduct of the war and the impact it has had on the people of Afghanistan.
The “war on terror” and the invasion of Afghanistan emerged from a decade of planning, strategizing, and struggle among the U.S. rulers over how to expand and strengthen their grip on the planet.
The 1991 collapse of the social-imperialist Soviet Union was a geopolitical earthquake. Suddenly the U.S. rulers found themselves no longer facing a rival nuclear-armed, imperialist empire. They called it a unique “unipolar moment,” where the U.S. faced no major rivals to its global pre-eminence. But in the wake of the Soviet collapse, they faced new and daunting challenges—the possible rise of new rivals (Russia, China, the European Union or some combination thereof), massive economic shifts brought about by the Soviet bloc’s collapse and the acceleration of capitalist globalization, destabilizing problems in the oil-rich Middle East, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and a growing number of impoverished, war-torn, or fragmented states (so-called “failed states”) whose collapse could unravel the U.S.-dominated global order.
Right after the Soviet collapse, a core of imperial strategists—the neoconservatives or neocons—began arguing that the U.S. should lock in this unipolar world and prevent any rivals from emerging to challenge the U.S.
This was articulated in the Defense Department’s 1992 “Defense Planning Guidance”—written by Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis Libby and Zalmay Khalilzad under the direction of then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney—all later top officials in the Bush II administration. This document argued that the U.S. should insure “that no rival superpower is allowed to emerge in Western Europe, Asia or the territory of the former Soviet Union” and that the United States remain the world’s predominant power for the indefinite future. The Defense Guidance envisioned accomplishing these far-reaching objectives by preemptively attacking rivals or states seeking weapons of mass destruction, strengthening U.S. control of Persian Gulf oil, and refusing to allow international coalitions or law to inhibit U.S. freedom of action.
The Clinton administration had sought to strengthen and expand U.S. economic, military and political power around the world—including through military aggression in Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and the Balkans.
But for the neocons, this wasn’t nearly enough. Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born American and one time advisor to the Unocal oil company, was a key player in the neocon offensive. Later he would become a top official in the Bush regime—including as ambassador first to Afghanistan following the U.S. occupation, and then to Iraq. During the 1990s, Khalilzad condemned the lack of a “unifying concept” in the Clinton global vision, and argued for focusing on preventing others from having “hegemony over critical regions,” including the Persian Gulf.
Over the decade of the 1990s, this core in the ruling class continued to flesh out and fight for this vision—in numerous research papers, think-tank seminars, opinion pieces, and efforts like the “Project for a New American Century” and the “Clean Break” policy paper written for Israel’s leadership. Along with this global strategizing, they led a growing chorus demanding more aggressive action against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, including overthrowing it, as well as increasing efforts to take action against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. All this, again, was years before the attacks of September 11, 2001.
During the 1990s, Afghanistan was one focal point of U.S. efforts to strengthen its grip on global energy sources and military-political supremacy. Afghanistan sits at the very heart of the Eurasian land mass. In 1997, Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor in the Carter administration, argued, “A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions.... About 75 percent of the world’s people live in Eurasia, and most of the world’s physical wealth is there as well...Eurasia accounts for about 60 percent of the world’s GNP and about three-fourths of the world’s known energy resources.” (Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives, Basic Books, New York, 1997)
Following the Soviet collapse, relations in the region were shifting rapidly. Five Central Asian Republics—Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan—formerly part of the Soviet Union were unmoored and up for grabs.
As A World to Win magazine analyzed in 2001: “As the Soviets retreated in the early 1990s, the U.S. imperialists thus embarked upon a policy to replace Soviet influence over the Central Asian countries with their own, to connect them into the world market and to break up the Russian monopoly over the pipelines to that market. They also set out to build an alternative to the Persian Gulf region as a key energy supply in order to reinforce the U.S.’s dominant global position. One of the key aspects of this was, of course, preventing Russia from re-emerging as a major rival in the region. The pipeline the U.S. needed had to cross through Afghanistan to Pakistan to the open seas in order to freely access the Western market.” (“A History of the Imperialist ‘Great Game,’” A World to Win, 2002/28)
(The U.S. also sought to weaken and isolate the Islamic Republic of Iran by preventing pipelines from being built through Iran—a natural bridge to the Persian Gulf—and by surrounding it with hostile states. This was another reason the U.S. initially supported the Taliban in Afghanistan—it served as a “Sunni buffer” on Iran’s eastern border.)
Gaining control of Afghanistan was seen by the Clinton administration as a crucial element of this strategy. So in 1996, when the Islamic fundamentalists of the Taliban seized power, after four years of bitter civil war following the overthrow of the pro-Soviet Najibullah regime, the imperialists supported them in hopes they could stabilize Afghanistan and partner with the U.S. The Bush administration initially continued to maintain ties with the Taliban—approving over $40 million in financial aid in May 2001.
But even as they were approving this aid, and before September 11, 2001, the U.S. was also turning against the Taliban regime, including by planning to destabilize and possibly overthrow it. One such plan hit Bush’s desk on September 10.
The U.S. rulers’ concerns had nothing to do with the reactionary, theocratic nature of the Taliban, which mainly represented the feudal classes and tribes of Afghanistan’s largest nationality, the Pashtun. Instead, they were concerned that the Taliban was becoming a dangerous opponent, standing in the way of the U.S. regional agenda and global plans.
First, a civil war continued to smolder in Afghanistan, which the Taliban proved unable to stamp out. This made it impossible to go forward with plans for building an oil pipeline across Afghanistan to Pakistan. Second, the Taliban’s actions and this ongoing instability were fueling radical Islamic fundamentalism, which was increasingly viewed as a key problem by U.S. strategists. This was driven home to them by the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The U.S. blamed Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, which were based in Afghanistan. (The Clinton administration launched cruise missile strikes in Afghanistan against al-Qaeda camps after these attacks.)
These growing tensions led the U.S. to begin building covert anti-Taliban networks in Afghanistan as early as 1997. This included providing millions of dollars in aid to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and dispatching secret teams to work with them.*
Such planning was stepped up after George W. Bush came to power. Before September 11, 2001, there were sharp divisions within the Bush regime over whether to focus on non-state Islamist “terrorists” like al-Qaeda or states such as Iraq. But plans to step up attacks on al-Qaeda and destabilize the Taliban regime—perhaps even overthrow it—were being developed and debated. In his book Bush at War, Bob Woodward reports that in April 2001—5 months before the attacks of September 11—plans were in the works to begin arming the Northern Alliance. By July, proposals were put forward to not only roll back al-Qaeda, but to eliminate it and “go on the offensive and destabilize the Taliban.” Although the divisions within the Bush team had not been resolved, this plan was approved on September 4, with $125-200 million given the CIA to implement it. It was placed on Bush’s desk by National Security Advisor Rice on September 10 as a secret Presidential Directive, awaiting his signature.
* The Taliban leadership was reportedly ready to turn bin Laden over to the imperialists or at the very least have him leave the country until the U.S.’s 1998 missile strikes convinced them they too were a target of the imperialists. [back]
Part 2: September 11, U.S. aims in the Middle East and the planet and the horrific impact of the so-called “war on terror” on the people of Afghanistan
Revolution #145, October 19, 2008
Revolution Books Presents a Program on:
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Revolution #145, October 19, 2008
To our readers:
From the holds of the slave ships to the locked-down penitentiaries and desperate street corners of today, the bitter oppression of Black people, and the struggle against that oppression, has been central to the history and current-day reality of this society. But now some claim that this is all a question of the distant past. Some go so far as to say that the nomination of Barack Obama signals the “transcendence of race” in America. Others may acknowledge the desperate straits of the majority of Black people, only to then blame the masses themselves for this situation. And meanwhile, the grinding and horrific oppression of the African-American people continues. To take but one outrageous example, one in nine young Black men are locked down in prison—while crises like the collapse of the housing market and the new epidemic of homelessness hit hardest in minority communities.
Issue #144 of Revolution is a special 20-page issue on the emancipation of humanity and the struggle for the liberation of Black people. It goes deeply into the history from slavery through the struggles of the 1960s to the present-day reality of Black people in America...how the oppression and brutal exploitation of Black people is rooted in and a pillar of this criminal system...and it makes the case for the necessity…and the possibility…of revolution.
Many people have been reading this...talking about it...debating and discussing it. This needs to get in the hands of many, many more people, of all nationalities.
And Revolution newspaper wants to hear about people’s experiences: What do people think about this issue? What are we finding out when we take this out to others? What questions are we encountering...and what are the debates and controversies...and what creative ways have people found to get this issue into the hands of different kinds of people? How is this issue getting taken up in the prisons and to the families of prisoners? What insights can prisoners add to this discussion? What kind of arguments is it provoking in barber shops? What about on the campuses?
Let’s go all out to get this important issue out to many more people.... We know there are a lot of people out there who have strong feelings and thoughts about these questions and we want to hear about this. Write to Revolution so everyone can learn from positive experiences, and let’s collectively wrangle—including in the pages of the paper—with the sharp questions people raise and the debates this issue touches off and dig into these questions deeper.
These are tumultuous times. Millions are worried about the very future of society and the planet. Many are wondering if capitalism really is “the best of all possible worlds” or if maybe things could be another way. In such a situation, it is even more urgent to get this special issue of Revolution: “The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System, and the Revolution We Need” out in the world. And every week this newspaper needs to be read by many, many more people—out in the mix of all kinds of scenes, stirring up the debate and spreading revolution.
Write to us at: Revolution c/o RCP Publications, Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654-0486 or e-mail to email@example.com.
Revolution #145, October 19, 2008
October 22, 2008
From the 2008 Call from the October 22 Coalition:
“Not-guilty verdicts in New York for the three detectives who shot Sean Bell 50 times on his wedding day. The court system once again put its stamp of approval on any action taken by a police officer, no matter how outrageous. Then in July, a Grand Jury was led not to indict the NYC officer who killed 25-year old Jayson Tirado in a fit of ‘road rage.’ District Attorney Robert Morgenthau described the incident as ‘a justifiable shooting in unfortunate circumstances.’
“A police ‘surge’ in Chicago leaving six people dead in a month. Between June 11th and July 5th in Chicago, police shot twelve people, all Black and Latino. Six were killed, six wounded and survived. The Governor of Illinois responded by suggesting that state troopers be sent into Chicago to help control ‘violent crime’! More than forty killings by police in LA County, including four by Inglewood police alone in four months…
“More than twice as many people have been shot and killed this year in Maryland by Prince George’s County police than in all of last year…
“Massive raids and round-ups of immigrants ripped from their families and sent to detention centers and prisons. There were six hundred people arrested during raids in Mississippi, 321 arrested in South Florida…
“Prison-like schools and the school-to-prison pipeline. In Tampa, FL, 14-year old Keon Dawson was dragged from his classroom, detained and searched as part of the ongoing harassment against him and other witnesses to a cop’s murder of his brother, Javon Dawson…
“Increased police state and attacks on political dissent. FISA Amendments of 2008 legalized wiretapping and email spying Protesters against the moving of war equipment (Strykers) to Iraq in Olympia, Tacoma and Fort Lewis have been met with tasers, rubber bullets, and more…
“STOP POLICE BRUTALITY, REPRESSION AND THE CRIMINALIZATION OF A GENERATION! NO MORE STOLEN LIVES! FIGHT BACK! ON OCTOBER 22nd, WEAR BLACK!”
Protest actions on October 22 have been announced for New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Cleveland, and a number of other cities across the country and in Canada.
For more information contact:
National Office of the October 22nd Coalition
Revolution #145, October 19, 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 Chiu 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, jumps 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 revolution-aries 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 vise-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 pored 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.
|Chen Yanning, Chairman Mao Inspects the Guangdong Countryside. 1972. Oil on canvas.|
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.”
|Rent Collection Courtyard. 1974. Fiberglass.|
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.
|Zhang Songnan, Youth. 1972. Charcoal on panel.|
I suggest that before people see this exhibit, 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, as Marx said, consciously 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 and 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 particular policies and practices with regard to artists and the development of revolutionary art. (For example, the exhibit talks about “black painting” exhibitions of art that were “held up for denigration”—something 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 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.
Liu Chunha, Chairman Mao Goes to Anyuan. 1969 poster.
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 #145, October 19, 2008
In Tijuana, Mexico, La Mesa Penitentiary is just over the border with San Diego, near the Otay Mesa border crossing. From September 14 to 17, thousands of prisoners, men and women, rose up in rebellion twice in 72 hours against torture and murder by the guards. Built to hold 3,000, La Mesa is the most overcrowded prison in Mexico; crammed with 8,000 prisoners, sometimes housed 24 to a 10’ x 13’ cell. Mexico’s entire prison system is overwhelmed. La Jornada describes, “Prisoners sleep standing up tied to the bars of their cells in order to not fall over.” In La Mesa, most prisoners being held there have never been sentenced, many are awaiting trial, they were picked up for the crimes of poverty: robberies, car thefts, women are being held for stealing diapers.
By the end of the day on September 17, the government had perpetrated a horrific massacre. Officially, the prisoner death toll is 23, with 70 wounded, most with gunshot wounds to their head, back and thorax. But almost a month later there are 200 prisoners still unaccounted for.
The night of September 13, Israel Marquez Blanco was tortured to death in front of his cell mates. His sister was interviewed by Free Speech Radio News, after identifying Israel in the morgue: “His body was all beaten, full of scars. He was handcuffed. They put a book over his stomach and beat him with a baseball bat until he died from a blow to his head. He was covered in bleach and his arm was broken. That’s why all this destruction started. They saw how they killed my brother.… He had just 10 months before getting out. And look, he came out early, but only because he’s dead.” Israel was 19 years old, imprisoned for car theft.
Sunday, September 14, was visiting day. Hundreds of families were strip-searched, charged a visitor’s fee, and let in to see their loved ones. There was a heavy tenseness in the air. At about 1 p.m. the prison exploded in rebellion. Prisoners fought with guards. They hurled chunks of concrete ripped from the walls. Mattresses and furniture were burned. Three guards were taken hostage and a guard tower was set on fire. A door was forced open and a still undetermined number of prisoners escaped. Banners were hung from the roof: “Guardias Asesinas! Murdering Guards!” “We demand an end to the abuse! Queremos Justicia! We Want Justice!” Hundreds of imprisoned youth hung from the rooftops of the prison, shouting to the crowds of thousands of family members who had gathered below. The families of the prisoners threw rocks at heavily armed riot police advancing down the narrow street. Two police cars went up in flames. “Justicia! Justicia! Justicia!” The cry echoed off the prison walls. At 2 a.m. state police stormed the prison and opened fire on the inmates.
The next day, thousands of people, mainly women, clamored at the gates and demanded information: “We want to see our inmates! Justice!” “Queremos ver a nuestros internos! Justicia!” The authorities told them nothing. The families blocked traffic in nearby city streets and surrounded official vehicles. 21 family members were arrested and charged with riot and destruction of property.
Then on September 17, at 1 p.m., the women prisoners broke out of their cells and climbed to the roof. They yelled that the prisoners had been denied food and water for two days, that there were hundreds of injured prisoners who were not receiving medical care and that there were dead bodies. They hung banners that said, “¡Alto al Maltrato!” “Stop the Mistreatment!”
By 3 p.m. on September 17, the local, state and federal military police (federal preventive police, PFP) stormed the prison and began shooting high-powered rifles from helicopters. Prisoners report being chased down prison hallways by police shooting at them from behind. The press described how the federal military police (PFM) “took great delight” in firing live ammunition at the prisoners.
250 prisoners have been transferred to other prisons in Baja California. But according to the Committee of Families of Inmates, there are still 200 prisoners missing. A local Tijuana newspaper, El Sol de Tijuana, 9/26/08 reported statements by Alicia Aguilar Dávalos: “The inmates have told me that there are at least 200 dead, the inmates are seeing this, they’re telling me that the authorities are secretly taking bags of lime into the prison so that the bodies won’t smell.” She said that neighbors of the prison have reported seeing prison officials taking containers out of the prison that smell strongly of dead animals, and a prison worker told her that the containers hold dead bodies. Human remains have reportedly been found in ashes that are being examined by the coroner. Aguilar Dávalos also heard that bodies were being buried in a common grave in “Cemetery No.12 near Maclovio Rojas”—an area on the outskirts of Tijuana. Prison officials have admitted that they did not know the exact number of persons being held in La Mesa at the time of the rebellion, and they also don’t know how many prisoners escaped during the rebellion.
To justify the massacre, government officials and members of the media have played on the climate of fear generated by warring drug cartels and widespread kidnappings and have portrayed the rebellion as nothing but a fight between two known gangs involved in drug trafficking—the Sureños and the Norteños. Alicia Aguilar Dávalos, president of the Committee of Families of Inmates, commented: “Understand this: this was no fight between gangs. [The prison] was a barrel of gunpowder, with a slow-burning fuse, and the death of Israel was the detonation.”
Revolution #145, October 19, 2008
The “Palin Factor”:
“If you thought, in the wake of the nightmare of the Bush years, and the euphoria surrounding the Obama campaign, that the political pendulum in the USA was swinging to the ‘left’…
“If you thought that the Bush regime was so widely and bitterly hated that a repackaged version couldn’t seriously contend for the presidency…
“If you thought that the Christian fundamentalist theocrats were passé…
“Then you got a shocking wake up call from the Republican National Convention.”
Sarah Palin emerged out of that convention as the self-described “pit-bull with lipstick” rallying sections of the middle classes around increasingly virulent expressions of Joe Sixpack’s “small town” values of arrogant ignorance, intolerance, implicit if not explicit racism, and hyper-patriotism, justified by and linked with fundamentalist Christianity.
In the closing weeks of the U.S. presidential election, in a time of great economic, social, political, and moral turmoil and uncertainty, the “heels are on, the gloves are off.” Palin’s campaign appearances bash “liberals” and “cosmopolitans,” lash out at the “mainstream media,” and implicitly call into question whether Obama should even be considered a legitimate presidential candidate by accusing him of “palling around with terrorists.” Reporters are confronted and harassed by crowds at her rallies, and the mention of Obama’s name at her and McCain’s events sets off cries of “liar” and “traitor.”
Only a millimeter beneath the surface in this mix are the winks, hints, and shouts from the audience that the real problem in this country is Black people and immigrants, with an ominous and dangerous tone reminiscent of how poor and middle class whites have historically been incited to violent racist pogroms against Black people.
When Adolf Hitler rallied the angry “volk”—the “common people” in Germany—against the “cosmopolitans”—(which in Germany, at that time, took extreme concentration in his attacks on the Jews)—it was called fascism.
What do you call it in the USA?
This fascist movement has arisen in some ways “spontaneously” out of the current situation, but mainly through major promotion by key sections of the ruling class. The forces now grouped around Bush have been building up in society for decades, a structure or infrastructure within society that could move this society towards a fascist kind of setup when things come to that. It is an effort to deliberately build a base of people, in their millions, who are frightened by the idea of thinking, who cannot deal with the complexity of modern society, who want simple absolute answers to the complexities of this society.
Who is Sarah Palin? Her bizarre biblical literalist beliefs put her squarely in the “religious nutcase” category. She is associated, through churches she attends and looks to for guidance, with one of the most extreme forms of fundamentalist Christianity—dominionism—whose program for the country is to establish religious fascist rule.
Sarah Palin doesn’t just oppose abortion—she opposes it even in the most extreme circumstances involving rape or incest. She is an active member of Feminists for Life, an anti-abortion group that also opposes the use of birth control. Palin opposes all rights for gay couples, and the church she attends hosted an event on “converting” homosexuals to heterosexuality through prayer. She has no doubt that the theory of evolution is wrong—despite the fact that its explanation of the development of all life is one of the most established facts in all of science, and the crucial foundation for all of modern medicine.
Under the cover of “states rights” and “local control” she wants creationism taught as science in the public schools—that the earth is 6,000 years old, rather than billions of years old as proven by science, and that humans and dinosaurs inhabited the earth at the same time—rather than millions of years apart as all scientific evidence concludes. And she has no doubt of this because she once saw a photo of a human footprint inside a dinosaur footprint. She attributes her victory in the Alaska governor’s race to the prayers said over her in her church in 2005 by an African minister—who also prayed for her to be protected from witchcraft. And Palin believes that the war in Iraq, along with drilling for oil in Alaska, is “god’s will.”
It’s not just that Palin is guided by an outlook and beliefs that are extremely detached from the real world; she is part of a movement that believes that people like her are mandated to impose these beliefs on the world.
Palin’s religious beliefs and connections—the churches she attends and gets guidance from extreme fundamentalist ministers—are rooted in one of the most extreme forms of Christian fundamentalism, a resurgent dominionist movement referred to as The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit or the New Apostolic Reformation. This is the same “Spiritual Warfare” movement featured in the movie Jesus Camp. That film showed young children being trained to “do battle for the Lord.” This movement rejects any separation of church and state, and tells believers they have a god given mandate to rid the world of evil. They are organizing youth into “Joel’s Army,” which they believe is prophesied to become an Armageddon-ready military force of young people with a divine mandate to physically impose Christian “dominion” on non-believers. They recently held a series of stadium events in Lakeland, Florida that lasted at least 100 days, drawing tens of thousands of young people from around the globe.
Palin has been treated with kid gloves by the mainstream media (that Palin bashes)—who elevated her to superstar status. Compare the lack of outrage over Palin’s connections and background to the way that Obama’s relationship with Reverend Wright was brought into the media “center ring” until Obama was forced to renounce his relationship with him. Think too about the way that people like Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, or Cynthia McKinney are marginalized by the mainstream media—treated as fringe candidates beyond the pale of serious consideration, while Palin is generally portrayed as a perfectly credible candidate. Where, in contrast to the uproar over Reverend Wright, is the media outrage over Palin’s bizarre, reactionary beliefs, her dangerous connections to extremist, militant right-wing religious fascists, and her campaign of personal vilification of her opponents. And what does all this tell you about the parameters of acceptable political thought these days?
And what has Obama had to say about Palin? Here we have a very sharp example of the overall message and role of the Obama candidacy. Obama’s message of “getting beyond differences” is a call for accommodation and conciliation between polar opposite forces in society—those who believe in a woman’s right to an abortion, for example, and those who demand that women be forced to bear children against their will. Or those who see the historic and ongoing oppression of Black people as a crime and an outrage on the one hand, and those who celebrate white supremacy and blame those who have been oppressed and exploited even more than they have, for their current economic hardships and the fact that the world as they’ve known it is coming apart, on the other hand.
The fact that such a nutcase, and not a harmless one, but an extreme religious fundamentalist who believes she has been called to carry out “god’s plan” and is preparing for the “end times,” can be in a position to be Vice President of the United States—and the fact that Obama and the Democrats do not bluntly call this out, nor do the mainstream and so-called liberal media hammer at this point, reveals the utter bankruptcy of this whole system and the ruling class of this country. And it reveals once again how it is not the people who select their government through elections but the ruling class, with its media playing a major role in this, which shapes and determines who and what are “legitimate” candidates and issues, and what does and does not constitute illegitimacy in politics—and overall sets the terms within which the people are allowed to play a role by casting votes completely within these confines.
Revolution #145, October 19, 2008
|Indian children who used to work protest against child labor in the manufacturing of soccer balls in New Delhi, India, May 31, 2002. AP Photo|
From a Reader - Soccer Balls Made in India:
Each year, India produces more than one million hand-stitched soccer balls, most of which are exported for sale to nations around the world, including the United States. In some of the poorest areas of the country, children as young as six play a part in that industry, spending their days tediously sewing soccer balls together with little hope of a better life. The fortunate ones are paid cents a day for their work; the rest see nothing at all, because they’ve been sold into debt bondage and are forced to work as indentured servants.
From: Episode 138 of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel
From a Reader
The beginning of the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA poses reasons why…“The world today cries out for radical fundamental change.” One of those reasons is a “…world where the lives of countless children are ground up and destroyed, some as child laborers and even outright slaves, others as victims of poverty and humiliation…their potential crushed, or their lives cut short.” A graphic documentation of this entire statement can be seen this month on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel segment, “Children of Industry,” where children in India are “ground up” in the “meat grinder” international soccer ball industry.
“Children of Industry” shows how thousands of children in India, as young as age 6, work for up to 15 hours a day, crouching on dirt floors, stitching soccer balls for five cents an hour or nothing at all. One 12-year-old girl is paid 15 cents for a ball that sells in the U.S. for $15. She tells of having back aches due to being hunched over all day, and her eyes hurt from finding the small holes to thread the string. Children regularly cut their fingers cutting the string with a sharp implement.
|Child workers in the Meerut District of Uttar Pradesh in Northern India stitch soccer balls which are sold worldwide. Photo: Manpreet Romana/AFP/Getty Images|
There’s the heart-rending story of a 10-year-old boy—when his baby brother got sick his mother borrowed less than $100 from a soccer ball contractor for medicine. In order to pay off the loan, she exchanged her son’s labor to stitch soccer balls. The loan was made at an exorbitant rate and the loan has grown—now her son can’t even make enough soccer balls to pay down the loan, which means he will be a debt slave for an indefinite period of time. You learn that sometimes this debt is passed on—to other family members who then become slaves to pay off the debt. But in this case, the baby brother escapes this fate—because he is so sick that he dies.
The soccer balls made by child labor in India are made for over 10 international companies, including Mitre, whose soccer balls are used by the U.S. pro soccer league and by the most prestigious soccer league in the world, England’s Premier League.
The soccer industry, from the sporting companies, to the U.S. government, to the stores that sell the balls, all officially prohibit the use of child labor, and there is wide-spread denial that children are used to make these soccer balls. Despite these claims of no child labor, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel traced the UPC codes of the balls made by children in India to balls sold by Walmart in the U.S. All those balls have a label on them that states, “Child labour free production.” Who stitched on those labels? Children!
People who have watched this segment of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel are blogging all over the Internet, expressing horror and anger at what they have seen on this show. Everyone should check this out on HBO on Demand all this month (it is available until October 27). (Also, see “Offside: Child Labour in Football Stitching: A Case Study of Meerut District in Uttar Pradesh,” which can be found at bba.org.in.)
Revolution #145, October 19, 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 L.A. 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.”
1. “Day 1 For the New Locke”—L.A. Times editorial, 9/8/08 [back]
2. “An Idea Whose Time Has Gone,” Washington Monthly, April 2008 [back]
Next Part 2: The Green Dot Charter School Model: Making a Bad Situation Worse
Revolution #145, October 19, 2008
From a Reader:
Chanting “War Criminal, War Criminal,” 300 Claremont College students protested a speech by Karl Rove on September 16 and kept him from leaving the building for an hour and a half after his speech. He was only able to escape after his security, “guys in suits,” busted through a door, shoved and pushed their way through those trying to keep him from leaving, and then, frantically, made a mad dash to a waiting car and sped away at a very high speed, almost running over several protesters and some students who were not part of the demonstration. Several students were pepper sprayed by the head of security for Claremont McKenna College.
One of the students who participated in the event called this “very exciting” and was very uplifted that “students had been able to pull off a very successful demonstration.”
Rove was invited to speak at the Claremont McKenna College’s Marian Minor Cook Athenaeum on “Politics and the Presidency.” Claremont McKenna (CMC) is one of the five, and the most conservative, of all colleges on the Claremont campus, which is located 40 miles east of Los Angeles. During the week prior to the speech over 30 students from all of the colleges held two meetings to plan for the protest action.
Early in the evening they militantly marched to where Rove was speaking, with drums beating and chants proclaiming Rove’s criminality in torture and war. Someone poured red pool dye (which is non-toxic) in a pool adjacent to the building where Rove was speaking, representing the blood of those who have lost their lives in Iraq. While Rove was speaking inside, the students held a teach-in, where several professors gave their “alternative views on politics and the presidency.” People carried signs opposing torture, the Iraq war, and the “lies, deception, and terror” of the Bush Regime. Banners proclaiming “War Criminal” were hung from the top of the McKenna Auditorium. There was an open mic where people could speak, and someone sang a song:
“Architect of terror
architect of hate
throw the man in jail
lock his ass away”
Despite the fact that many at CMC tried to paint this as just a small group from only one of the colleges, the demonstration was attended by students from all of the Claremont Colleges (Pomona, Pitzer, Scripps, Claremont McKenna, and Harvey Mudd), along with people from the community.
Demonstrators organized themselves into groups to block all the entrances of the building and to surround cars parked nearby that they thought would be used to whisk Rove away. Even when Rove’s security thought they found a way out by crossing a second level into another building, the students were able to gather themselves to block the doors of that building.
The demonstrators sat in front of Claremont cop cars to block them from being used to remove Rove. The Claremont police were out in riot gear with pepper spray in their hands trying to intimidate the protesters. At one point the cops tried to arrest a woman student, but the students all linked arms with her preventing the arrest from taking place.
When Rove left the building, several students attempted to make a citizen’s arrest for his “crimes against humanity” but were thwarted from doing this by the Claremont police.
The protest was covered by the Los Angeles Times as well as by all the papers in the local area, and it was all over the blogosphere. In response to attacks on the students by Charles Johnson of CMC on the LA Times website for trying to disrupt Rove’s speech, a Pitzer student responded online with, “It might be annoying to admit, but this protest was entirely acceptable, especially in light of the long list of crimes that have been ascribed to the man who came to speak.”
The students have been very buoyed up by this action. Afterwards 30-40 people met to discuss what had happened that night and to figure out “how to hold on to and continue the energy” that was created by this demonstration. One student who participated said, “We want to take this further than just discussions about what is wrong by bringing a sense of action to our outrages, which are not just against the Iraq war, but include things like workers rights and opposing the Minutemen.”
Revolution #145, October 19, 2008
Posted October 17, 2008:
Don’t Paralyze the People
I agree with almost all of the article (“On Obama’s Nomination: The Change You Believe In – And the Change You’ll Get,” Revolution #142, revcom.us) and even before I read it as I have been watching Obama in recent months and have been less and less enthusiastic about his candidacy. What I do know though is that his life has been mostly demonstrative of the same kinds of things that I value up until these recent speeches and maybe a few of the past votes he cast. Which I will admit may have not been in the best interest of the people. One of the things he has demonstrated, however, is his ability to admit his own faults and that is something that has immeasurable value to me. So, no I do not just see him as a “great black hope.” The bottom line is that anyone who makes it to where he is is going to have some undesirable qualities. I think the main thing to consider is that he is someone who is waaaaay more willing to listen to the people than the alternative and that is all we can hope for at this point. I agree that the people need to take this country, this world, back but until that day AT LEAST exercise the right to vote in addition to being a part of any and all revolutionary causes you believe in.
I think that articles such as these can be so damaging. There is a real difference between Obama and McCain and articles like these can paralyze the people and keep them from going to the polls at all which will most certainly give us McCain! I think we can all be clear that this would be a bad option. I think we need to stop being scared about this. One of the things that Obama did say is that change comes from the bottom up, from the people up, and anyone who says that is someone who feels like they owe the people something.
Yes, he was auditioning for the imperialist capitalists and he did a damn good job but we have to remember that he is doing so much of this to secure his position and when I start worrying about his words I stop and look at his life and feel more at ease. I know that once in office the words can and will change we all know that, but let’s just hope that this time the words change for the good instead of the other way around and I have faith that this is our best option for that.
Don't paralyze the people,
We agree that the specter of a McCain presidency is ominous. McCain is an unrepentant war criminal who was shot down and captured while dropping bombs on the people during the Vietnam War. He represents a continuation, and in some ways an intensification (with some adjustments), of the last eight years of horrors under the Bush regime. He is a “stay-the-course” cheerleader for endless and expanding war that has brought almost unimaginable suffering to the Middle East. And this so-called “anti-torture” “Independent/Maverick” shepherded legislation legitimizing and legalizing Bush’s open torture.
There are many people who are very disturbed by what Obama is saying and doing, who are angry that Obama is not standing up to McCain on any of this in any real way. He’s not, but that’s not the essential point of our argument; Obama’s role is worse than that. Obama, with his “bring us all together” mantra, is fundamentally capitulating to and strengthening all that McCain is associated with. Obama is working – consciously so – to look out for the interests of the capitalist-imperialist system that is the cause of all the oppression, exploitation, ignorance and suffering people face around the world. And you can’t do that, and at the same time represent the interests of the people.
Look at how Obama responded to comments by Congressman John Lewis about the atmosphere at McCain and Sarah “wanna-be-lynch-mob-leader” Palin rallies – rallies that have taken on a very ugly, dangerous atmosphere.
Palin has repeatedly accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists.” The state Republican Party Chair in Virginia, according to MSNBC, told 30 of McCain’s organizers to try to forge a connection between Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden. And statements by Palin referring to Obama, that “this is not a man who sees America like you and I see America,” are code words to set off hard-core white supremacists. The media is reporting that people are yelling, “Kill him,” and “terrorist” when Obama’s name is mentioned at McCain and Palin rallies. And despite all the bullshit in the media about how McCain is supposedly “reining in” these kinds of vicious forces, McCain arrogantly denounced Lewis’ statement as “beyond the pale,” and “unacceptable.” And he went after Lewis’ statement as one of his “attack points” at the final presidential debate.
Lewis only touched on the surface of what is going on at these rallies, but he did identify something very real and dangerous when he said: “During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.”
And here it is important to say clearly that if anything like the kind of thing that Lewis is warning about were to actually happen, that would be a tremendous crime of this system.
But what has been Obama’s response to all this? Did he forcefully call out what is going on? Did he call out McCain, and in particular Palin, for whipping this up with all their “coded” messages to the white supremacist hard core? Did he call out the pandering to and whipping up of “small town” values of ignorance, intolerance and racism?
No he did not. In fact, Obama refuted the essence of what Lewis said. At the final presidential debate, Obama said that Lewis “inappropriately drew a comparison between what was happening there [at the McCain and Palin rallies] and what had happened during the civil rights movement, and we immediately put out a statement saying that we don't think that comparison is appropriate.”
If Obama were to “go there,” to really speak the truth about the ugly and threatening scenes at these Palin and McCain rallies, to put on the table the question of what is behind all that, and the current situation in regard to the oppression of Black people in the U.S. today, that would require, or at least open the door to, examining how deeply embedded white supremacy is in this society. Right now white supremacy is intensifying – it is a critical part of the social glue that keeps this country cohered and in line at a time of great crisis and uncertainty. And in that context, Obama’s “post-racial” message serves to cover all that up at a time when what is really required is recognition of and resistance to the continuing oppression of Black people. Here’s the reality: You don’t get to be one of the two candidates for president without the backing – money, media, and everything else that is necessary to be a “credible” candidate and without being fully vetted and approved by the ruling class. And, if you do become president, you are the president of the capitalist-imperialist system, and what you do is going to be locked into and defined by that.
And that is why, to just take one example, you can go back to day one of this campaign, and examine what Obama has said and done about the “race” question – the oppression of Black people in particular – and you’ll see that whatever his personal life experience and even personal inclinations, his words and actions are guided by the interests of a ruling class for whom white supremacy is a cornerstone of the society they rule over. (For a critical analysis of these questions, see “The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of this System, and the Revolution We Need” – that appeared as a special issue of Revolution #144 that is still available in print, and can be read online at revcom.us.)
There are differences between McCain and Obama on how to cohere or re-cohere society in the face of a future of endless war for empire, repression, and severe economic crisis. But again, these are differences over how the current setup will emerge stronger – in a better position to wage its wars, oppress and exploit people, and impose death and terror on the world.
In this light, what about Obama appearing to be more willing to listen to people than McCain? In many ways because of his background, and his ability to appear to be listening to people, Obama is uniquely positioned to divert and stifle grassroots anger and opposition to all kinds of potential scenarios that the ruling class of this country thinks they may confront. His ongoing message of “bringing us all together” is essentially one of leading those who are on the correct side of basic dividing lines in society (over the right to abortion, opposing racism, opposing the war, opposing the imposition of Christian theocracy…) to “come together” with and capitulate to the forces and agenda that have been concentrated in the Bush regime.
And, if what we are saying about Obama, and his role, is true, then how can it be harmful, or paralyzing the people, to tell people this truth? People can only become conscious, and act in their own interests (and not be played by the system against their interests), if they understand the real situation. What is harmful is that people’s anger, hopes, dreams, energy and resources are being channeled into the Obama campaign – something that is going to strengthen the very system that is responsible for all the things that oppress people. And the Obama campaign is strengthening dangerous illusions about the system and narrowing people’s sights to what the system will allow – as we have said, Obama is “change – that you are allowed to believe in.”
You write, “AT LEAST exercise the right to vote in addition to being a part of any and all revolutionary causes you believe in.” But supporting Obama is not a matter of doing what we can until there is a chance to build a revolutionary movement. Supporting Obama is working against building a revolutionary movement, which is where people’s time, energy and resources really need to go. And supporting Obama is an obstacle to even standing up to and resisting what the powers-that-be are doing right now. For example, some leaders and organizations in the anti-war movement opposed protesting the war at the Democratic National Convention because this would hurt Obama’s campaign.
Exposing Obama is not what is paralyzing people. Right now, people are way too paralyzed. But they are paralyzed by the terms being set by the ruling class – that the “choice” they are allowed to make is between McCain and Obama. The way out of that paralysis is not to promote illusions about what Obama is about. The way to break out of this box is to pose that the real choice right now is between being caught up in and locked into the terms being set by the election overall, or busting out of those terms.
For those of us who understand that this world must be taken in a completely other direction, who understand that capitalism is the source of such profound and unnecessary suffering, exploitation, war, oppression, and ignorance, building real resistance to the whole direction of things must be part of the whole process of building a revolutionary movement. Let us not forget that times of great turmoil can provide openings for such a revolutionary movement, if we keep firmly in mind and act based on the real interests of the people of the world, and we do not – in the name of “getting people involved,” or whatever – support things that strengthen the forces of oppression and exploitation and deter people from doing what is really needed to fight this system and bring about real change.