Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
On January 1, 2009, Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Black man, was beaten, put face down on the platform of a rapid transit station, handcuffed, and then shot in the back by police. This cold-blooded murder was caught on cell phone videos and seen by millions. People in Oakland righteously rebelled in response. Since then, this has become a “flashpoint” struggle in this supposedly new, supposedly post-racial America. Resistance has gone on, with revolution in the mix of it—and word of this struggle has been spreading, even if not yet fast and wide enough.
Obama sent a message of condolence to the memorial for the four cops recently killed in Oakland. In this connection, some relevant questions:
Obama’s March 27 message of condolence sent to the memorial for the four cops recently killed in Oakland:
Our Nation is grateful for the men and women of law enforcement who work tirelessly to ensure the safety of our citizens and our neighborhoods. They risk their lives each day on our behalf and ask little in return. And although the danger of their work is well known, words still fail to explain the senseless violence that claims so many of them.
Sgt. Dunakin, Officer Hege, Sgt. Romans and Sgt. Sakai were taken from us far too soon, and their loss reminds us that the work to which they dedicated their lives remains undone.
As we honor their memories, I hope each of you will take comfort in knowing that their commitment to their fellow man will never be forgotten. We will always carry them in our hearts, and their legacy of service will inspire us as we work together toward a better Oakland, a better world.
Michelle and I offer our heartfelt sympathy. May their sacrifices be rewarded with eternal peace.
As part of this resistance, during the week of March 16, revolutionaries and families of victims of police murder built for the March 22 “People’s Tribunal on the Murder of Oscar Grant and the Nationwide Epidemic of Police Brutality and Murder” (see article on the Tribunal in this issue). Many copies of Revolution #159 with the article “The Cold-Blooded Murder of Oscar Grant” got into the hands of people in Oakland and Hayward, the city where Oscar had grown up. The article was also picked up and published widely on the Internet. And there were several radio shows that week where police brutality was discussed, exposed, and the Tribunal vigorously promoted. Different political organizations were actively building for protests on Monday, March 23, when the preliminary hearing for Oscar’s killer—Johannes Mehserle—was scheduled to begin.
From the beginning, the rulers—BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit] officials, the local power structure, state and national politicians, police, courts, and media—have moved on many fronts to protect the ability of their police to continue to violently suppress the people, while attacking and attempting to stifle and derail the struggle for justice for Oscar Grant.
These reactionary moves took a new leap over the weekend of March 21-22. On Saturday, March 21, four police were shot and killed in East Oakland (reportedly during a routine traffic stop), allegedly by Lovelle Mixon. Mixon was a young Black man who was on parole after spending nearly his whole adult life in prison. (He was later killed, reportedly in a shoot-out with police.)
The system immediately seized on this incident to unleash a counter-offensive against the people. This counter-offensive aims to excuse and even justify the wanton murder of Oscar Grant, to discredit people’s righteous anger and resistance against this monstrous crime and the larger epidemic it’s part of, and to go after those who have been fighting for justice for Oscar Grant.
This included a deluge of media coverage and official commentary about the “fallen heroes” (echoing Bush regime rhetoric after September 11, 2001) aimed at falsely portraying the notoriously brutal and scandal-ridden Oakland Police Department (OPD) as heroic, and burying the Oscar Grant story under a deluge of coverage about the dead cops.
The week culminated in a massive memorial-tribute to the police at the Oakland Oracle Arena, attended by over 15,000 cops flown into Oakland from across the country. It was broadcast live on local TV. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Attorney General Jerry Brown, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared to eulogize the cops. And the representative of the imperialist system, Barack Obama, and his wife sent a statement of condolence. The whole military-style event ended with a flyover by 20 police helicopters.
This ugly spectacle is aimed at creating public opinion for new assaults on the people, attempting to put people fighting against injustice on the defensive, and to let killer-cop Mehserle walk free or escape with minor punishment. (The shooting was used on March 23 by Mehserle’s attorney and the presiding judge to postpone the killer-cop’s preliminary hearing for two months. See an article about this on line at revcom.us/a/161/Discrepancies-en.html).
Taking center stage at the Oracle arena, the acting Chief of Police summed up the occasion with a jarring platitude, “This will be their final lineup with us,” he said. “They rest in peace, we know, because they were men of peace.” Men of peace?
No amount of lies, propaganda and media extravaganzas, however, can change the reality of the violent police terror that—particularly the Black and Latino masses—live under in Oakland. This reality was powerfully conveyed by the families of victims of police terror at the People’s Tribunal.
Since 2003, Oakland has paid an average of $2,403,877 every year to settle lawsuits against the police and to keep this killing force on the streets. Oakland police killed six people in 2008 and five in 2007. The Oakland cop who shot Andrew Moppin on December 31, 2007 went on to kill Jody Woodfox in July of 2008. The cop who tased and then shot young Gary King in the back had also killed another young man and shot and paralyzed a third.
During the memorial, Captain Edward Tracey, SWAT commander, said the officers died while they were “doing what they loved best—being Oakland police officers, riding motors, kicking in doors, serving as SWAT.” So now kicking in doors and being SWAT is what constitutes “peace”?
All this—and much more that could be documented here—shows that the Oakland police are not heroes but a brutal occupying army of thugs responsible for many stolen lives. They are an army of thugs whose job is to protect a system of exploitation and oppression and violently keep people down.
A very serious component of the system’s counter-attack on the people has been led by State Attorney General Jerry Brown (a former state governor and mayor of Oakland, now again running for governor). Right after the March 21 shootings, Brown made a series of fascistic pronouncements that vilified and attacked the masses and targeted political activists and revolutionaries, while defending the police, including the murders and brutality they carry out.
Brown declared: “The fact of the matter is...you have urban terrorists, not by the hundreds, but by the thousands, and they have to be kept under control, and parolees and probationers need extra control. And cops when they get into combat sometimes make mistakes, and people shouldn’t pile on as though they were doing something bad, when they were really doing something good.”
Stop and think about this statement. Brown is not only ignoring the state-sponsored violence and terror unleashed against the people by the police. He’s also targeting large sections of the people as “terrorists,” particularly those cast off by the workings of this system into joblessness. And yes, sometimes into crime—crimes that pale in comparison to the towering crimes—and terror—this system unleashes against people across the globe and in the U.S. on a daily basis. His words deliberately invoke the eight-year-long U.S. “war on terror,” in effect calling for military measures against the people.
Second, Brown is saying that whatever the police are doing—whether beating people, harassing people, even murdering people—it’s “good” and therefore should be excused as well-intentioned errors. And note: as Attorney General, Jerry Brown is in charge of the state’s District Attorneys—including the Alameda County DA who’s supposed to be “prosecuting” Oscar Grant’s killer. What does Brown’s statement say about how vigorous that prosecution will be?
The cold reality is that it’s the police who terrorize the people, not the other way around. It is the police who kill and brutalize the people by the hundreds and thousands. Brown’s own office lists fatal police shootings of civilians in California at about 100 per year. By contrast, the number of police killed by citizens per year in California is a handful.
Brown also went out of his way to attack the various organized forces—in particular communist revolutionaries—who have been leading the Oscar Grant battle. Speaking to MSNBC, with coded reference to the political struggle against police brutality and the groups he was targeting, Brown singled out what he called “ideological opponents” of the police. He claimed the “vast majority of people like the police” and “want their protection,” but these “ideological opponents of the police” are “so fixed in their belief that the police are the problem.” They are a “tiny group of people,” Brown said, “that I think can be kept in check.”
There is in this statement something to understand and take seriously. First, Brown’s lies to the contrary, there are thousands upon thousands of people with bitter, first-hand experience with police brutality and a deep hatred of it. (Consider, for example, the life experience of Oscar Grant and his family and friends, as testified to in the People’s Tribunal, or the documentary evidence gathered by the Stolen Lives Project. Even mainstream reports have noted the deep “chasm” between the police and people living in East Oakland.)
Second, while the politically organized forces—in particular the revolutionary communists—may be relatively small in number right now, Brown’s statement points to the underlying concerns at the highest levels of the state about the potential for growing numbers of those outraged by the actions of this system to get connected with revolutionary consciousness and organization—and become part of the movement for revolution.
Third, Brown’s vow to keep “ideological opponents in check” is a clear threat to use the violence of the state, and other means, against revolutionaries and radical opponents of the system. This should be taken extremely seriously—there is a long and bloody history of repression in California against those who unite with the people to stand up and defy the powers-that-be, and who bring forward the need for revolution, or radical change. Right now, in the course of the important battle for justice for Oscar Grant, the police, legal system and the media have targeted revolutionary communists, including members of the Revolution Club and Revolution Books in Berkeley. And now the top law enforcement official in California has added his weight to this. This is ominous. Fighting back against this and defending the revolutionaries who come under counter-revolutionary attack of various kinds is an essential part of the struggle. In particular, we urge people to read the Oakland Revolution Club statement on David.
The events of March 21 do not change the bitter reality of police brutality and murder experienced by many thousands. They do not somehow justify the cold-blooded murder of Oscar Grant—or the thousands of other lives stolen by the police. And they cannot be used as an excuse to derail, stifle, or suppress the righteous struggle for justice for Oscar Grant and an end to this nationwide epidemic of police brutality and murder.
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The following text is drawn from part of a talk, “Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future,” which I presented to a group of Party members in the first part of 2008. In preparing this for publication, I have reworked some parts of it. In this process, I have benefitted from, and wish to express my appreciation for, criticisms, questions, suggested changes and proposed formulations, etc., that were raised by various people on the basis of reading an earlier version of this text. In particular, I wish to thank Ardea Skybreak, author of the book The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism—Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters, for her contributions to this process.
* * * * *
It seems that there is today a reappearance of a phenomenon that appeared in an acute way 100 years ago, in Lenin’s time. I am referring to what could be called “crises in physics” and crises in philosophy—and their political ramifications: discoveries or queries or theorizing in physics, the relation of this to questions of philosophy, and in turn the relation of that to the struggle for revolution—and, more specifically, the struggle, within the communist movement, between Marxism and revisionism (revising communism, to eliminate its revolutionary outlook and objectives, while still retaining the name of “communism”).
It is noteworthy that a number of people, based on their reading of “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity,” particularly Part 1,1 have raised objections in regard to the following (from the polemic against Karl Popper, in Part 1 of “Making and Emancipating”):
“There are definitely things in Marxism that are falsifiable. For example, dialectical materialism. If the world were made up of something other than matter in motion—if that could be shown—then clearly Marxism in its fundamentals, in its essence and at its core, would be falsified, proven wrong. Or, if it could be shown that, yes, all reality consists of matter, but that some forms of matter do not change, do not have internal contradiction and motion and development—that too would be a fundamental refutation of dialectical materialism.”
The objections I’m referring to seem to be arising, at least in part, on the basis of some people looking into some recent discoveries and controversies in physics in particular. And, while this is occurring against a backdrop of the defeat of the first stage of the communist revolution (with the revisionist coup and the restoration of capitalism in China, several decades ago) and continuing difficulties for the communist movement in the present period,2 these questions concerning physics—and their relation to philosophy (world outlook and method)—do need to be addressed in their own right, as well as in a larger sense examined in their relation to politics and in particular the struggle between Marxism and revisionism.
If it were the case that all reality did not consist of matter in motion—if it could be shown that there are some parts of reality, some things which actually exist, which do not consist of matter, or if it could be shown that there are at least some things which exist but which do not undergo change, or that the changes in at least some things which exist are not owing to the motion and contradiction within matter itself—then, among other things, this would open the door to the existence of supernatural beings (gods, or one single God) as the controlling force in the universe, or at least as the “creator” and “prime mover” bringing things into existence and providing the initial impulse setting things into motion. The implications of this—not only philosophically but socially and politically as well—would obviously be enormous.
Well, let me say from the outset here: I don’t pretend to be an expert in physics in any sense (either applied or theoretical physics), but there are some basic realities and fundamental questions of outlook and method that I do feel confident in speaking to, and indeed insisting upon.
In at least one response to “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity,” it was actually raised whether it is correct to say that all reality does in fact consist of matter in motion—citing the example of space and time, noting that space and time are part of reality but questioning whether they are matter, and matter in motion specifically.
First, it seems clear, from the work of Einstein and others, that space and time are relative and not absolutes. It could be said that they are, in essence, properties of matter in motion. But, in any case, they are not something outside of—not something different from—matter in motion.
More often, however, what has been raised about the above passage in “Making and Emancipating” relates specifically to—and objects to—the last sentence in what is cited above here, which refers to the fact that all forms of matter change and have internal contradiction and motion and development. To a significant degree at least, these objections stem from (or at least relate to) an incorrect, mechanical understanding of what is meant by motion, change and development, and more specifically what is meant by internal contradiction. Saying that something has internal contradiction is not the same thing as saying that it is “infinitely divisible” in the sense that it can be divided endlessly into smaller and smaller components.
It was once thought that the atom was the smallest possible component of matter and that it would never be possible to break it down into smaller component parts. But it turned out that atoms are actually made up of a mix of sub-atomic particles, which include a dense nucleus (itself made up of a mix of neutrons and positively charged protons), surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. So the atom is a good example of a part of matter once thought to be indivisible which later turned out to be quite divisible after all. In fact, the discovery that the atom was not the smallest possible component of matter, and indeed consisted itself of smaller components, was one of the main factors giving rise to a “crisis in physics” and in philosophy (marked by a growing chorus of philosophical idealism, claiming that “matter has disappeared,” when in reality what had happened was that the existence of matter in previously unknown forms had been discovered) and a related crisis in the socialist-communist movement—a collapse into revisionism on the part of more than a few former Marxists—which occurred in Lenin’s time. This was particularly acute in Russia, where the movement had suffered a severe setback with the crushing defeat of the 1905 revolution in that country. For these reasons, Lenin recognized and acted on the necessity to vigorously struggle, in both the philosophical and political spheres, against these erroneous trends of thinking and the defeatism and capitulationism bound up with them. Lenin’s work Materialism and Empirio-Criticism was a concentrated and powerful weapon in this struggle. And, as it turned out, this struggle was crucial in laying ideological and political foundations for the successful revolution in Russia, in 1917, which led to the establishment of the new, socialist republic.
The discovery that the atom consists of smaller component particles does not, however, necessarily lead to the conclusion that each and every particular component part of matter will eventually be shown to be divisible into ever smaller component parts, again and again...infinitely. Whether or not that proves to be the case is not the same thing as whether there is internal contradiction within all of these things. This kind of dividing (splitting into smaller and smaller components) may, in the future, be found to apply to small particles which are now the smallest particles whose existence has been detected (or has been inferred from other discoveries)—such particles may, in the future, be found to consist of even smaller particles, etc.—but it is not necessary for there to be an endless process of such discovery (of smaller and smaller particles, or components) in order to correctly appreciate how all matter has internal contradiction.
To take one dimension of this: At a scale below a certain point in the division of a particular form of matter—in motion—what may occur is the transformation of the particular form of matter into something else, such as a particular kind of energy (which is itself a form of matter), but that is still an expression of the internal contradiction of the particular form (or forms) of matter—and of the existence of all reality as matter in motion.
Once again, the existence of internal contradiction does not necessarily mean that something can be endlessly “split”—in the sense of being divided into further, smaller component parts. I am repeating this because it is a very important point—and one on which I think some people get hung up, because they look at this mechanically. This splitting into smaller and smaller components does not have to go on infinitely, the way we are used to thinking of dealing with everyday objects (for example, an apple or a cookie square: cutting these into half...and half again...and so on...which after all does finally reach at least its practical limits). And there is a difference—an important difference—between internal contradiction and internal “structure.” Some particles, for example, may not have discernible internal “structure,” at least in the way we are used to thinking of that (again, extrapolating from more everyday objects), but that does not mean that they do not have internal contradiction, or that they do not experience and take part in motion and change. Take subatomic electrons, for example. It is my understanding that they have no known internal substructure and yet are very dynamic constituents of change, capable of generating or deflecting magnetic fields, absorbing or emitting photons of energy, altering their nuclear orbits and entering into excited states, switching places with electrons of other atoms (which is the basis for the formation of chemical bonds), and they can even be annihilated in collisions with the corresponding anti-particles known as positrons. These are certainly very dynamic components of matter in motion!
Even the smallest of known particles have properties of matter in motion. We are told that photons of light, for example, can best be conceived of as being simultaneously both particles and waves. As I understand it, the much debated “string theory” in physics proposes that particles conceived of as waves on strings vibrating in different patterns could account for some of the basic properties of all matter. Regardless of whether this particular theory ends up being ultimately validated or not, the point here is that none of the many new discoveries and theoretical proposals in modern physics have in any way uncovered anything that would refute or undermine dialectical materialism as we understand it, and should correctly understand it—and specifically the understanding that all existence consists of matter in motion, of one kind or another, and, yes, that all matter involves, and is in fact characterized by, internal contradiction.
Linked with this is the principle that Mao spoke to in “On Contradiction”—that, because the range of things is vast and there is the interconnectedness of things, what is universal in one context is particular in another (and vice versa). As you know, in speaking to this before, I’ve illustrated this in different ways—with examples from everyday life or, as a useful conceptual abstraction, the military sphere: When you take a war situation as a whole, that is the universal, and any particular campaign within that overall war situation is the particular; and in turn any such campaign can be the universal, viewed from that context, and in that context a specific battle becomes a particular within that...and so on. You can think of many different examples—in fact, this applies to any phenomenon. In reading a book, the book as a whole is the universal, but if you’re within a particular chapter, that chapter can become the universal. This is not just a game, this is how reality actually exists and different “parts” of reality are inter-connected (and inner-connected, that is, connected internally, on another level).
It is important to understand that what is involved in this—the dialectical relation between the universal and particular, and the different levels on which this can be expressed—is not simply the “interaction” of different particular forms of matter (or levels of matter), which should be conceived of as simply “external” to each other and “separated” in some absolute sense. No—while each particular form, and level, of matter (in motion) does have discrete existence, and identity, as such (some defining characteristics or internal coherence), at the same time this is relative, and not absolute. Accordingly, a particular form of matter may not only “interact with” another distinct form of matter, but may also be integrated, along with that other form of matter, into another entity at a different level of the organization of matter. And, once again, each of these different forms, and levels, of matter has its own discrete existence and identity—relatively. To put this conceptually: “a”—a particular form of matter—“interacts” with “b”—another particular form of matter that is distinct, relatively, from “a”—while both “a” and “b” are also integrated into “C,” embodying a different level of the organization of matter.
To help illustrate this more concretely, let’s take the example of a cell within an overall human body. Such a cell itself has a discrete existence and identity as such—with its own relative identity (as spoken to here), which itself is marked by contradiction (internal contradiction in that context, or at that level), while at the same time that cell exists within, and forms a part of, a certain organ of the body (a lung, heart, liver, etc.), and in turn that organ exists within, and forms a part of, the body as a whole. The discrete existence and relative identity of each of these things (or particular forms, or levels, of matter) once again is real, but is also relative—there is not an absolute separation between them, and they not only “interact” with each other but also are integrated, at different levels, as part of a larger whole (or universal)...which in turn is integrated at another level, as part of a larger universal...and so on. And at every level—which again is only relative, and not absolute—the particular “organization of matter,” corresponding to that level, involves internal contradiction, motion and change.
In order to grasp this more fully and correctly, it is important to emphasize, yet again, that internal contradiction does not necessarily mean (is not identical with) the existence of “component parts.” Rather, as Ardea Skybreak expressed it, in an exchange on this point, internal contradiction is better understood as “the unevenness within things—or within a given level of matter, with its relative identity—that holds the potential, and in fact provides the material basis, for change within those things.”
Skybreak further elaborated on this, along the following lines: Besides whatever other contradiction(s) there might be within a particular form of matter, there is contradiction in the sense that for a thing to have relative identity (some kind of defining and distinguishing characteristics), it seems that it must have a “limit” or “border” or “boundary,” of one kind or another, which sets this thing off—relatively—from other “things.” At the same time, this “border” or “boundary,” while part of that particular “thing,” also itself constitutes a contradiction within that thing, and specifically a contradiction with whatever lies “within” that “limit” (or “border” or “boundary”). And (in Skybreak’s words), “this ‘border’ or ‘boundary’ would, in itself, seem to establish a minimally sufficient unevenness relative to the inside, which we can call ‘internal contradiction.’”
Further, since the “separation” between the levels (and particular forms of) matter is only relative, and not absolute—and different particular forms, and levels, of matter are in turn “integrated into” other levels of matter—then at any level, along with the internal contradiction that characterizes the particular form of matter corresponding to that level, there is also internal contradiction in the sense of the contradiction involved in the relation(s) between different levels (or particular forms) of matter. A cell within a lung, another cell within the same lung, yet another cell within a different organ, those organs themselves: all are “integrated into”—but at the same time exist as, relatively, discrete entities within—the human body. And all these relations are marked by, indeed consist of, contradiction.
To return to the realm of physics, if it is true that, as Brian Greene characterizes it in The Fabric of the Cosmos (p. 491), “space, like electrons, comes in discrete, indivisible chunks,” that does not change the fact that these “chunks” not only interact with each other, even as electrons interact with other forms of matter in motion, but these “chunks” have internal contradiction themselves, as spoken to here, and are also “integrated with each other” at other levels of matter (in motion). Thus, even if space consists of “discrete” and “indivisible” “chunks,” space would still be, at the same time, continuous—even while discrete—and “chunks” of space, like electrons, would still involve internal contradiction and motion, in the ways I have spoken to that here.
Also important here is the fact (referred to earlier) that motion is the mode of existence of all matter, and the point (a point emphasized by Engels) that motion itself involves contradiction—is a form, or an embodiment, of contradiction. And it seems clear that all forms of matter involve motion not only in relation to other “things” (forms of matter), which are (relatively) “external” to them, but also in their very internal coherence (or relative identity).
How does all this relate to the change—transformation—that different kinds of matter (including subatomic particles such as electrons) undergo, under certain conditions? It is true that an object, or “thing” (form of matter) can undergo change, in certain situations, when it is “acted upon” by something external to it (again, in the relative sense spoken of here). Yet I believe Mao was essentially correct in saying that external factors can be the condition of change, but internal factors—or contradiction—is the basis of change. That is, internal factors, or internal contradiction, is decisive in terms of the possibility for a particular thing to change—it provides the very material basis for this change to occur—and it is decisive in determining how it will change, even if that change is “brought about” by the action of an external factor, interacting with that internal material basis.
To take an example from everyday human experience, the transformation of water into steam: It is the effect of something external to water (the application of heat to the water) which causes the water to boil, but the fact that it can be changed, as a result of being boiled—and that it is changed into steam, and not something else—is owing, principally, to the internal nature (and contradiction) of water itself. And again, I believe Mao is essentially correct in arguing that this basic principle (concerning internal factors, or contradictions, as the basis of change, and external factors as the condition of change) applies to matter in general, although this is complex—and, among other things, is complicated not only by the fact that matter exists as particular forms of matter, each with its own relative identity, some of which differ greatly in their particularity, but also by the fact that the distinction between external and internal is itself relative, and not absolute, and what is external in one context can be internal in another context (and vice versa).
Now, if it could be shown that there is something which actually exists which does not consist of matter, that would constitute a fundamental refutation of dialectical materialism. But, in fact, nothing has ever been found which actually exists but which does not consist of matter.
Or, if it could be shown that some kinds of matter do not involve internal contradiction, motion and change, then that would falsify a basic tenet of communist theory—or at least of communist theory as it exists now and as we understand it now—and we, along with everyone else who is determined to be consistently scientific, would have to confront and draw the appropriate lessons from that–-and not instrumentalist ones which suited and served our preconceptions. But it is not, in fact, the case that such a concept (of matter which does not involve internal contradiction, motion and change) has not only been posited but demonstrated, through scientific means, to be valid and true.
Once more, the scientific understanding we have of reality points to the fact that all reality consists of matter, and involves internal contradiction, motion and change, in one form or another.
As physics (and other branches of science) probe deeper into the nature of reality, on the “micro” as well as the “macro” level, and as they attempt to develop a scientific conception which correctly comprehends the integration of matter at those different levels (“macro” and “micro”), what is also said in “Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity” is in fact what is taking place:
“And, over the whole period of more than 150 years since the time when Marx and Engels first formulated communism as a scientific theory, there has been the continuing enrichment of the understanding of dialectical materialism itself, on the basis of learning from continuing discoveries, in natural science as well as social science and history. It is not that these developments have shown that, after all, reality does not consist only of matter in motion; it is that they have deepened our understanding of what that means, and at the same time have posed new challenges in understanding particular forms of matter and particular aspects of the laws of motion of matter.”
The problem is not that continuing discoveries and the continuing development and enrichment of scientific theories—or, for that matter, the positing of various hypotheses, in physics and other fields—have proved invalid, or objectively called into question, the basic understanding that all reality consists of matter in motion and that all such matter in motion involves internal contradiction. The problem is rather that some communists (and some erstwhile communists), at least in some cases on the basis of familiarity with some of these “continuing discoveries” and hypotheses—and, once again, in the context of the setbacks and difficulties of the communist movement in this period—have responded to this with what is an inadequate, or not a deep enough and not a fully correct, grasp of materialism and of dialectics—and more specifically have applied a mechanical and/or in other ways incorrect notion of internal contradiction and of motion and change—and for that reason (or at least in part for that reason) have fallen into questioning the basic dialectical materialist understanding of reality, when in fact there has been no scientific discovery and no verified theory that actually calls into question this basic understanding.
At the same time, while I remain firmly convinced that the fundamental principles of dialectical materialism, as I have touched on them here—including that all reality consists of matter in motion, and that all levels and forms of matter involve internal contradiction—are valid and have not been refuted, or called into question, by what has been learned in physics, or other fields, it also remains true that, without lapsing into an agnostic orientation—as if we cannot draw definite conclusions about, and proceed on the basis of, these fundamental principles—we could all benefit, and must continue to learn, from further exploration and grappling with questions concerning the basic character of reality (matter in motion). This, if approached with a consistently scientific outlook and method, will serve to strengthen our ability to grasp, apply and further enrich dialectical materialism.
In many ways, and in essential aspects, the tendency to call into question the basic understanding that all reality consists of matter in motion, and that all forms of matter in motion involve internal contradiction—and in particular the way this tendency finds expression among people who have considered themselves communists—is indeed very similar to the phenomenon Lenin addressed in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. As alluded to above: today, as in Lenin’s time, developments in physics have (in certain measure at least) led, or contributed, to—and have been mutually reinforcing with—a crisis in philosophy; and among communists, where this has not found expression simply in terms of a dogmatic clinging to a brittle version of (and essentially a religious substitute for) communism, it has been manifest as rampant empiricism, agnosticism, and relativism.
This, in turn, has been linked to a tendency to embrace revisionism politically. In some cases this has meant adopting an agnostic stand toward the prospect of making revolution and achieving communism—along with a more general philosophical agnosticism—or in fact openly abandoning the goal of revolution and communism altogether.
A number of erstwhile communists—including some who have gone from being in the camp of revolution to sinking into the cesspool of counter-revolution—are characterized, in their philosophical-ideological outlook, by a rather stark pragmatism and empiricism, which goes along with, and reinforces, rampant economism and revisionism, particularly in the form of “the movement is everything, the final aim nothing.” Generally, this is also combined with an embrace of bourgeois democracy—and, where this does not involve an outright abandonment of communism, it is marked by the attempt to identify communism with bourgeois democracy. Among some of these former communists (and some “intellectual fellow travelers of communism”) there is also a full-scale retreat toward relativism, agnosticism, and scholasticism. (By scholasticism I mean not just dealing with theoretical abstractions in their own right—which can be very important, particularly if this is part of an overall correct method and approach—but making a principle of divorcing theory from practice and in particular from the struggle to change the world; examining—or playing around with—ideas not only in abstraction from such practice and struggle but as a substitute for it, and as something held to be more important than understanding reality as it actually exists, let alone actually changing it.)
Some who are representative of these opportunist tendencies have even gone so far as to denounce our Party for “outlawing agnosticism.” They have insisted that at times agnosticism is a good thing, because sometimes you can’t really tell what’s true, and can’t draw firm conclusions about things. Here, as is typical of such types, we see an eclectic combining of things which are in opposition to each other—and specifically the eclectic combining (or identification) of aspects of the correct scientific outlook and method, on the one hand, with actual agnosticism, on the other hand. On the philosophical level—in terms of what characterizes agnosticism, its fundamental antagonism philosophically with dialectical materialism and its opposition to the scientific method generally—the fact is that agnosticism is not the assertion that, at a given time and in a given circumstance, it may not be possible to draw definitive conclusions about something. There are in fact times when not drawing definitive conclusions can be part of a correct, scientific approach. It depends on the circumstances, and what in the particular circumstances it is, and is not, possible to know (to determine with—yes, relative but nonetheless real—certainty). But agnosticism as an “ism,” if you will—as a philosophical outlook and method—is the declaration that it is not possible to have any certitude about reality, or the assertion that you cannot know something when in fact there is a very solid basis to know and to draw definitive conclusions about it.
So, here once more, we see the eclectic combining (the conflating or “merging together”) of agnosticism, as a philosophical outlook and approach, with the assertion that we cannot, at a given point, say with certainty what is true, or not true, about a particular thing (or process), which may or may not be the case—and which assertion may be part of a correct scientific approach or in fact may be part of an agnostic outlook and approach. But this “two-into-one”—this “merging together” of these two very different phenomena (situations where it may not be possible to draw definitive conclusions about something, and on the other hand the general assertion that it is not possible to really know anything, with any certainty, about reality, or the assertion that it is not possible to come to definitive conclusions about a particular part of reality, when in fact there is a very sound basis for doing so)—is a classic example of eclecticism, as a method and approach.
Here it is important to emphasize that the essence of eclecticism (and the way in which it serves revisionism, when it is communists, or those professing to be communists, who adopt and apply such eclecticism) is not simply to pose things in terms of “on the one hand ‘this,’ and on the other hand ‘that’”—but to do so in a way that obscures the essence of the matter, and specifically undermines what is in fact the principal and defining aspect of the contradiction.
For example, take the statement: “True, imperialism involves the intense and vicious exploitation and oppression of people in many parts of the world; but it has also led to the development of many beneficial forms of technology and to a high standard of living for significant numbers of people.” Both aspects here—what precedes the semicolon (before the word “but”) and what follows after that—are true. But which aspect is principal, defining, and essential? Clearly, it is the former: the highly exploitative and oppressive nature of imperialism, and the very negative consequences of this for the great majority of humanity. But the way this sentence is formulated, it blunts that essential truth by, in form, putting the secondary aspect (as embodied in the second part of the above sentence) on an equal footing with the principal aspect. This serves, at least objectively, as an apology for imperialism.
All eclectic approaches have the same basic character and effect: They serve to muddle things and to deny or undermine the principal aspect and essence of things.
This, for example, is the way certain people, even certain self-proclaimed “communists,” deal with religion and its effects on people, in particular basic masses, caught up in religion. True—such people would probably admit, at least when pressed—religion presents a false view of reality, causing people to believe in, and even to try to rely on, things which do not exist; but, they would hasten to add, it is more complicated than that—there is a way in which religion “explores the mysteries of existence” and/or provides solace and consolation for suffering, to people who are in desperate need of that, and certain kinds of religious belief may even impel people to take some actions which have a positive political, or social, effect.
Here, once again, both aspects of that statement have truth to them, but—as is characteristic of eclecticism as a method and approach—this statement, and the second part in particular, serves to obscure things, and specifically to obscure, blunt and undermine what is in fact the essence (the principal aspect) of the matter: the essential role of religion precisely in keeping people shackled to a false understanding of reality—including in the way religion presents a distorted picture of what may, at any given time, be “mysteries of existence”—obstructing and interfering with people’s ability to confront reality as it actually is, and to transform it, through struggle (including by solving what were previously “mysteries”), in accordance with the pathways for change which lie within—the contradictory nature of—reality.
And, once again, such eclecticism frequently goes along with—is frequently bound together as a “package” with—agnosticism, relativism, empiricism and pragmatism and, in the political realm, revisionism and reformism (often in the form of “the movement is everything, the final aim nothing”), even if this is, at times at least, put forward in the name of—and as a gross perversion of—communism.
From all this, we can see that questions of science and philosophy—of outlook, and method and approach—are not only very important ideologically but also will be bound up with decisive questions of political line and orientation: with what kind of society and world one sees as possible, and desirable, and accordingly for what one is, or is not, prepared to struggle and sacrifice.
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
Verdict in Lawsuit Against University of Colorado:
On April 2, a jury in Denver rendered its verdict in Ward Churchill’s lawsuit against the University of Colorado (CU), saying in effect they agreed with Professor Churchill—that he was wrongly fired by the CU Regents in retaliation for a controversial essay he wrote right after 9/11—and not for alleged research misconduct as the university claimed.
This verdict is significant, with great stakes for the battle to defend dissent and critical thinking in academia, and ultimately in society. The essence of the case from the very beginning was the political persecution by a major university of a controversial professor, scholar, and activist; and that’s what the jury confirmed.
This case began in early 2005 when Ward Churchill was the target of a highly orchestrated, nationwide political witch-hunt by two powerful Republican governors and other politicians and right-wing forces after an essay he’d written shortly after 9/11 came to light. In that piece Churchill described the attack on the World Trade Center as an example of “chickens coming home to roost,” and compared the business operatives working in the WTC serving “America’s global financial empire” to “little Eichmanns.”1
Right away Churchill became the focal point of a major assault on critical thinking and dissenting scholars in academia. A chilling message spread to faculty across campuses to “watch out!”—criticism of past or present U.S. crimes could threaten your reputation, your job, even your career.
The university first tried to openly fire him for the content of this essay, but then decided it wiser to switch gears and go after him another way. They cobbled together some mainly old complaints about certain aspects of Churchill’s scholarship, formed a faculty committee to investigate, and used the committee’s findings of alleged research misconduct to fire him.2
The jury verdict is a welcome development, and a setback to the forces who are working to suppress critical thinking on campuses, and in society. But this battle is not over. The University has 30 days to decide whether to challenge the verdict. And Churchill has been adamant all along that a key demand is to get his teaching position back. In response to the question “What’s next?” he said, “Reinstatement follows rather naturally, wouldn’t you say?”3 There are strong indications that the CU administration will try to oppose Churchill’s return to CU, a decision now apparently up to the judge.
It was reported in an interview with one of the jurors, who knew nothing about the case beforehand, that looking back she had respect for Churchill’s willingness to take an unpopular stand. “This was a truth to him that he sent up, and he defended it even when the whole country opposed it,” she says. “I feel it takes a lot to do that, whether we agree with him or not. It takes a lot for somebody to step out and go against the grain like that.”4
Look to future issues of Revolution for further analysis of this important case.
1 Adolf Eichmann was a Nazi, put in charge of the trains that carried Jews to the death camps in Poland during WW 2. After the war he was captured in Argentina, brought to Israel for trial, and executed. [back]
2 See Issues #158 & #159 at revcom.us for background on the controversy, and the start of the trial. [back]
4. Michael Roberts, “Juror Bethany Newill talks about the Ward Churchill trial,” Denver Westword (online), 4/3/09. [back]
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
“We’re here today to prove that Oscar was killed in cold blood by Officer [Mehserle], New Year’s night at the Fruitvale BART station. We’re asking everybody to please help put officer [Mehserle] away for killing Oscar, for destroying his friend’s minds, souls—young men who will never be the same, that watched their best friend be executed in cold blood, helplessly they watched him, and couldn’t help them.”
—Tribunal opening statement by Zeporia Smith, Oscar Grant’s
auntie and mother of his best friend.
“If a cop, especially a policeman, can get away with [murder] on video we are all in trouble, every single one of us are in trouble. That is putting a statement out there that any policeman can get away with murder even when it’s committed on video….”
—Rosemary Hernandez, mother of Oscar Grant’s partner Sophina,
and grandmother of Oscar’s daughter Tatiana, discussing the
Tribunal on KPFA’s Flashpoints (http://flashpoints.net/index.html#2009-03-19)
“This story should anger you. The situation should sadden you. This message should stir your heart. I challenge you to examine what role you can play in this stand against injustice.”
—Lita Gomez, sister of Oscar Grant’s partner, Sophina
On Sunday, March 22, the Bay Area Revolution Club and Revolution Books held a powerful People’s Tribunal on the murder of Oscar Grant and the nationwide epidemic of police brutality and murder. The Tribunal was convened at Calvin Simmons Middle School in East Oakland, just blocks from the Fruitvale BART station where Oscar Grant was murdered early in the morning of January 1, 2009.
The audience of over 100 included family and friends of Oscar Grant, and those of other victims of police murder, people active in the struggle for justice for Oscar Grant, and others. The Tribunal included an indictment, analysis of video footage of Oscar Grant’s murder, and testimony or statements from 15 witnesses: seven different families whose loved ones had been murdered by police, as well as experts on police brutality and murder.
Each of the testimonies was painful and shocking, and throughout the afternoon a damning and enraging picture of the whole epidemic emerged. Below are excepts of statements, summaries and testimony from the Tribunal.
“In contrast to all the lies and misinformation put out by BART, the police, and much of the media, we’re going to show today that the killing of Oscar Grant was not a mistake or an accident, it was cold-blooded murder.
“This murder was not an isolated act by one rogue cop; it was the culmination of an orgy of brutality by a whole gang of police against a crew of Black youth that included racial profiling and slurs, threats with tasers, assaults, and illegal detention.
“We’re going to show that what happened on the night of January 1 is part of a much broader pattern of police brutality and murder and the criminalization of a whole generation of youth—African American youth in particular—taking place on a truly epidemic scale—yet is never talked about.
“We’re going to show how the system—the ruling institutions of this society—support police violence—while vilifying and attacking those who have righteously fought for justice.
“We’ll show how all this points to the cold truth that brutalizing, terrorizing, and yes murdering oppressed people—especially Black and Latino people—is what the police are supposed to do—not to 'protect and serve,' but to keep people down.
“We’ll discuss how this is rooted in the system—the system of capitalist exploitation—a system of organized greed backed up around the world by weapons of mass destruction and at home by police violence.
“And finally we’ll talk about what we can do—why things don’t have to be this way—and how we can go forward—together…”
“Think what Oscar was thinking when he was punched and pulled to the ground… Did Oscar suffocate in his own blood?... I wonder if Oscar believed the message that Pirone and Mehserle were giving him? ‘You’re nothing. You’re garbage and have no life: you don’t deserve to survive.’”
“My son has experienced such a violent act by police executing his best friend his brother in cold blood….
“We are human beings. We don’t want to be treated that way. There has to be something done about this police brutality. I’m scared for my son, I’m scared for all of my nephews that were on the platform that night. I’m scared for all my nephews coming up that are only 7, 11 years old….
“Our children were raised in the Hayward area and we endured a lot of brutality from Hayward police accusing our kids, taking them to jail, planting false evidence on them. We’ve had DAs threaten our children. Our kids have had no real chance to be the average young men, to just enjoy their lives, raise their children, work.”
“A reporter out front, when I got here, asked me why we would have a tribunal in a country like this. Usually we think of tribunals in Third World repressive countries. Why would we need a tribunal here? And I told him that those of us who are victims of police shootings don’t have any more rights than people in the countries that he mentioned…
“Justice is hard to come by and it’s a secret to the vast number of Americans, who believe as the reporter who asked me, that it is different here. That this is a democracy, that it is not a dictatorship, that this is a not a Third World country. I believed this too until December 15, 1993, when in 20 minutes I lost one third of my family”
“David, a member of the Revolution Club, has committed no crime. Yet he’s been charged with two felonies as a result of the righteous rebellion of the people on January 7 against the police murder of Oscar Grant. David is the only juvenile with such serious charges. Two adults are also being charged with felonies.
“This case is very significant because it is against someone who has taken a firm stand against the violence of the police against the people…. These same authorities and system which continually carry out these violent outrages against oppressed people are particularly singling out someone who brought to those involved in the righteous rebellion a clear understanding of the cause of these outrages—the system itself, and the way in which its oppressive nature is enforced, through brutality and murder—and the fact that the solution lies in building a revolutionary movement with the final goal of fully sweeping away this monstrous system.
“We call on everyone here to be part of taking on this attack and turning it around....Be there at his next hearing on April 10. Enough is enough!”
“Right now I’m mad. I was not going to come up. I feel like a knife is sticking straight to my heart right now. The police department, every time it happens to one of our youth they sugarcoat it. I feel that Jody’s case was thrown in the mud. It’s not about money. He went to get something to eat and was shot in the back eight times and we’re greatly angry right now and until something is done I’m going to be here and to stand up and my heart goes out to everyone in here. Thank you for letting me speak.”
“First of all, racial profiling inverts, or actually reverses, the actual policing process. And if you
think about it, what policing is supposed to do is, if you have a crime, or an injury, or a problem the police respond to solve and provide some kind of justice for that. But what racial profiling does is, it flips it on its head. So first you find a suspect, and then you try to find a crime to fit to that suspect. So that’s the first thing to recognize that there is an inversion process happening which is completely inappropriate and unethical.
“Now the historical context for that of course takes us back to slavery and I want to say a few words about that because in slavery we begin to see the beginnings of modern policing really take form in the way we see it today. So with slavery, you have the slave patrols, a police force that essentially patrolled the U.S. South, during slavery, to enforce the terms of the slave society. Now what this means is that they were not there to arrest lawbreakers, i.e. slaves that resisted the laws of slavery, but they would just roll up on a plantation, accost or arrest a black person, free or not, beat them up string them up from a tree, torture them, do whatever they may, maybe return them to the plantation, maybe not, but the point is not that there was any kind of transgression that occurred, no violation had occurred. This was purely gratuitous violence, meaning violence for its own sake. The common term for this, is of course, terrorism. So you have to understand this policing force began to enforce ‘blackness,’ to enforce racial identity, as the sole transgression.
“And then after slavery, of course, we know about lynching. The era of lynching has extended this process in a whole new way. And it’s during the era of lynching that we see actual law enforcement including the FBI and local law enforcement working together with white people from all classes of society coming together to police black people, and again the point here is, thinking about racial profiling, that there’s no violation of the law occurring, this is simply policing the identity, because of who they are and how they’re racialized in society.”
Karen Saari stated that according to Department of Justice statistics 350 people are killed annually by the police, but these statistics do not include all agencies of law enforcement, from local to national. Nor do they include deaths by tasers, pepper spray, beatings, asphyxiation, or other causes at the hands of police. So her research shows that least 1000 people die each year at the hands of law enforcement. And even this, may only cover 60 percent of the actual total because of the lack of documentation in many rural areas of the country, and in jails and prisons. Her research has also shown that while, statistically, the greatest number of killings are of young, poor men of color, everyone is in danger—all nationalities, women as well as men, old and young, and those with wealth and relative privilege have all been victims of police murder.
“My cousin Michael Cho was shot 11 times in the back on New Year's Eve, 2007 by La Habra Police (Southern California). A UCLA graduate, artist, graduate school applicant, a positive and productive contributor that had a sixth sense for turning a sour day around. A piece of every member of our family and Michael's friends has died with Michael.”
“Reading your rights is hog tying and tossing you in back of a police van to die. It is beating your ass until you die.
“That is what they did to my brother Mark Garcia. He was tortured, beating and on and on.
“He was just asking for help after being robbed instead the police went into attack mode.
“To them he was just nothing. To us and his family and friends and associates he was everything that we all can be happy and proud of.
“He was left unattended in back of the paddy wagon until they were sure he was dead. That is why it took them over 20 to 30 minutes to get him over to San Francisco General Hospital. A ride that only takes 3 minutes if you stop at every stop light or stop sign.
“In fact, Lt. Suhr, who oversaw the brutal murder of Mark Garcia, is not only STILL on the force, but is a leading candidate for the San Francisco Chief of Police.
“And if you think because we have a black pres. now everything is going change—Wake up People:
“Did it change when we had the first Black cop?
“It didn’t change when we had the first Black DA,
“It didn’t change when we have the first Black judge.
“In fact the whole system didn’t change. We still have cold-blooded murder and cold-blooded cover-ups.”
“Driving while black, Talking while Brown, Breathing while poor, BARTing while black.
“My only son was killed—it is very difficult for me to talk about this. I usually don’t—June 13, 2001. He had a nervous breakdown that day. So my son was killed. The story is very common. Nothing special about it, despite the fact that I miss him very much.
“Two police stations were dispatched. They evacuated the whole theater. Shotguns. They entered...
“My son was still in the back seat confused. They shot him 48 times, 9 officers, my only baby, and while his girlfriend was calling me saying ‘Ma! They say he’s got a gun. He ain’t got no gun!’ and then I heard the 48 shots through the cell phone. So that’s the story. It’s a common story.”
“But what kind of situation is this? These people that say that they are serving and protecting the people? This is how they’re serving and protecting the people by shooting people down like they did with Tyisha Miller?
“Things don’t have to be this way. And under a system, under a socialist society, which we would fight to bring into being, this kind of thing would not happen. Not only that, but in a similar situation, police officers of the people would be willing to risk their own lives rather than commit the kind of crimes that they committed against Tyisha Miller.
“What this shows, is that this system itself needs to be pushed off the pages of history and a whole new society needs to be brought into being, where people can flourish, where you don’t have to have the fear of your son growing too big. You don’t have the fear of your kid going outside at night to get a meal and then finding out that he’s shot six times in the back on his way back home. We don’t need this kind of world and, in fact, we don’t always have to have this kind of world. We need a revolution to get rid of this kind of society. But right now, what we need, is we need a revolutionary movement with the Revolution newspaper at the center of it, and we need to be raising political consciousness and organizing people. And yes, we need to be resisting, and resisting the things that they do when they come into these communities where these youth have death sentences on them and they shoot them down for no reason at all. This needs to be part of the movement to make a revolution.”
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
The Courts and police used the occasion of the deaths of the police killed in a shootout on March 21 to put off the preliminary hearing for the BART cop who killed Oscar Grant for two months.
The Monday, March 23 hearing was supposed to determine what, if any, charges killer-cop Johannes Mehserle would face, and to set a trial date. Instead, this “hearing” provided a textbook example of how the whole legal system works to protect or exculpate killer cops—in this case the Judge openly helping the killer-cop’s lawyer come up with an excuse to postpone the hearing.
Michael Rains, Mehserle’s attorney first argued the hearing should be postponed because he thought there would be “violent” protests during the trial, and now the Oakland police were “emotionally scarred,” and did not have the resources to deal with the violence of the protests.
The judge said that he could not postpone the case just because of protests, but suggested another line of argument for postponement to the cop’s lawyer. With sympathy, the judge noted that Rains had personally known the deceased officers, that he represented the Police Officers Association, and because of all this perhaps he had not been able to prepare for the hearing. Rains immediately picked up on the judge’s “suggestion,” and quickly agreed that his thoughts had been scattered, that he did not want to “stumble and fumble.” The judge then proclaimed that Mehserle’s rights needed to be protected, that he deserved Rains’s full attention, and that the hearing should be postponed until May 18.
The district attorney—who is supposedly representing “the people” and prosecuting the killer-cop—did not oppose this continuance. (Continuances are often used to delay and drag out legal proceedings in hopes that the masses anger and vigilance is eroded and the system has more political freedom to allow murdering cops to walk or escape with minor punishment.)
Oscar Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, bitterly told the press, “I cry every night for my son. It's unfair that we have to wait. We're hurting and we are in pain.”
Wanda Johnson’s words, the testimony heard at the People’s Tribunal, and reams of other evidence points to the vast discrepancy between the number of instances in which the people are killed by the police, compared to the other way around.
And the legal system’s treatment of killer-cop Mehserle points to another even great disparity: that between the vigorous prosecution—even execution—of people who kill police versus the incredibly small number of situations in which killer-cops—including those guilty of wanton, unprovoked murder of unarmed people—are actually prosecuted, let alone prosecuted vigorously and "to the full extent of the law," convicted and punished accordingly.
Recent history shows that even the most blatant police murders are seldom punished. No charges against the Riverside, California cops were ever filed in the case of Tyisha Miller who died in her car in a hail of 27 shots. Most cops get away with killings and are never charged. The cops who fired 50 shots and killed Sean Bell on the eve of his wedding were found “not guilty.” And so were the killers who shot Amadou Diallo 41 times while he was reaching for his wallet.
Thousands of people have been shot, tasered, pepper-sprayed or beaten to death by law enforcement. The Justice Department admits that during the three years from 2003 through 2005 police in the U.S. killed, on average, a person every day. Yet in the last 15 years, according to recent research by the San Francisco Chronicle, only 6 cops were even charged with murder—and none convicted!
In fact, Mehserle would most certainly never have even been charged for murdering Oscar Grant if it had not been caught on videotape and if the people in Oakland had not risen up against this towering crime.
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
Fighting Against Criminalization of Protest:
A very important case is unfolding in Minnesota—eight people are being singled out by the government for their role in the political protests at the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC).
At the September ’08 RNC in St. Paul, war criminal John McCain and right-wing religious fundamentalist Sarah Palin were being selected as the Republican ticket for the presidential race. The national media spent endless hours on things like Palin’s unmarried pregnant daughter. Meanwhile, the streets of St. Paul were turned into a militarized zone with massive police mobilization. Over the course of four days, thousands defied the armed clampdown to make known their opposition to U.S. wars-torture-spying and the imperialist globalization that has brought suffering to a huge section of humanity and caused catastrophic environmental damage. Over 800 people were arrested and scores were brutalized by the police.
Even before the protests started, law enforcement authorities carried out preemptive raids and arrests of activists and independent journalists throughout Minneapolis/St. Paul (the Twin Cities). Among those arrested were eight who are now being targeted for persecution, facing over 12 years in prison. They are known as the RNC 8.
For the first time, a state version of the fascistic USA Patriot Act is being applied to political demonstrations. The RNC 8 are charged with felony conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism and felony conspiracy to commit criminal damage to property in furtherance of terrorism, along with two other felonies. They were sitting in jail for the duration of the Republican convention—but they are being held legally responsible for anything that any protestor did during that time.
The prosecution of the RNC 8 would set a very bad precedent that criminalizes political protest. But too few people even know about this case. Everyone who understands the importance of dissent and the ability to resist the crimes being committed by the government and ruling institutions needs to speak out. A big demand to drop the charges on the RNC 8 needs to be raised from a broad cross section of society. This railroad must be stopped cold in its tracks.
Read Part 1: The Case of the RNC 8
A striking feature of the government’s repressive strategy which has come to light in relationship to the Republican National Convention (RNC) in St. Paul, Minnesota in fall of 2008 was the use of informants and undercover agents against the radical and progressive forces who were organizing and participating in the protests outside the RNC. For a number of years there has been an intensification of this more openly repressive expression of bourgeois dictatorship.
As it has in the past, especially when it felt threatened and challenged, the government sent people into movements of resistance around the RNC to disrupt, discredit and to spread ideas in the context of it, which the authorities then turn around and seized on to attack the movement.
For any movement which is serious about trying to challenge the hideous objectives of the most powerful imperialist empire that has ever existed, there is a difficult contradiction to handle well. On the one hand, how not to easily get set up or entrapped and do this without falling over into creating an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia. The former is aimed at destroying the movement from the outside and the latter would essentially destroy it, but from the inside. The role of the informants and undercover agents in Minneapolis and in the months leading up to the RNC is important to examine.
First, the use of informants/undercover agents has a lot of bearing on the magnitude of the injustice of the raids, arrests and prosecutions of demonstrators, including the case of the RNC 8 who are charged with felony riot and property damage in furtherance of terrorism and face 12+ years in jail as well, and undoubtedly will continue to be an important element of legal defense strategies. (See Part 1: The Case of the RNC 8) Second, there are important general lessons to learn for all who are struggling to bring into being a better world. Learning those lessons now is one way of raising standards so as to not get derailed by the government’s strategies arrayed against progressive, radical and revolutionary movements.
Who were the so-called terrorists that the government was busy enlisting informants to ferret out? Apparently the kind that hung out in vegan potlucks. An article from the alternative paper, the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, reported that a University of Minnesota student was approached by the FBI on behalf of the Joint Terrorist Task Force (JTTF), in May 2008, months before the convention. The student had been busted for a tagging incident on campus and the campus security police summoned him to a meeting with the FBI agent. She tried to recruit him. “She told me I had the perfect ‘look’ and that I had the perfect personality—they kept saying I was friendly and personable—for what they were looking for,” the student told City Pages. He said they wanted an informant “to show up at vegan potlucks throughout the Twin Cities and rub shoulders with RNC protestors, schmoozing his way into their inner circles, then reporting back to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.” According to the article, and this is very important, the student would be “compensated for his efforts, but only if his involvement yielded an arrest.” And equally as important, this student went public immediately and exposed the JTTF effort to recruit him.
In December 2008, Brandon Darby emerged as a key FBI informant-provocateur in relationship to the RNC protest scene. There is much that remains to be learned about Darby. Some of his closest former associates have started a working group and a web site to piece together the picture of his role and “personna” by gathering information and analysis from people who knew him over a number of years. These activists are trying to determine at what point Darby began informing for the government and what his behavior looked like so others can learn from their experience. Those who knew him feel deeply betrayed by his actions. While almost everyone was shocked, some were less so than others, as there had been controversy and disagreement for some time among those who worked closely with him about his role. This was well before it became known he was an informant.
There is a lot of uncertainty about when or why Darby became an informant or if he was in fact an undercover agent (an actual employee, not a volunteer as he claims), especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It is not known what other investigations he might have been a part of besides in relation to the RNC protests. It is important that the movement and those who knew him scientifically figure this out as he has been a known social activist for 10 years in the Austin and New Orleans areas.
While being careful to not jump to an unwarranted conclusion, it is worth considering what Darby himself says about his “ideological” change of heart, (particularly in the context of the “we are one” patriotism promoted by Obama that there is not a “red America and a blue America” but the United States of America). What is noteworthy here is that Darby justifies his actions not on the basis of Bush-style reactionary Republican politics, but on more traditional values of American bourgeois democracy: that as long as people are allowed to participate in politics within the (highly confining limits of) the political system, it’s appropriate for the government to spy on and attempt to imprison those who do not confine their political opposition to those constraints.
In an interesting piece titled, “The Informant, Revolutionary to Rat: The uneasy journey of Brandon Darby,” by Diana Welch, Austin Chronicle, January 23, 2009, the author interviews Darby and reports that while Darby says “he is ‘the furthest thing from a Republican,’ it was protecting the rights of Republicans, ...that finally persuaded him to work with the feds. ‘One morning, I woke up and realized that I disagree with the group I was associating with as much as I disagree with the Republican Party,’ he recalls. Later the article goes on to quote Darby saying he opposed the RNC Welcoming Committee because when “they organize around the country, not to protest but to specifically prevent another group of American citizens to exercise their right to assemble, the U.S. government is going to get involved,” he says. “And they should get involved, and I support it wholeheartedly.”
After interviewing Darby and others who have worked with him including some who suspected him long ago of being an agent, in Common Ground and in Austin, the author Welch writes, “None of this fully explains why Darby chose to go undercover as an FBI informant and surreptitiously spy on his friends when he could have instead simply left the movement and tried to get involved in public policy in some other productive way. ‘I’ve watched countless activists begin to work in the Legislature and begin to do things that participate in the system; we have a system that is wide open for our involvement,’ he [Darby] said. ‘You can get involved and have a say so; if you disagree with the way our city is run, you can get involved. If you have an ideological bent that’s on social justice, you can become a law enforcement officer, you can get involved with the FBI, or a lawyer.’”
One reason Darby’s working as an informant was such a big deal was because Darby was a major figure in Common Ground (a group formed in the wake of Katrina to enlist volunteers in clean-up and rebuilding efforts in New Orleans) and he used those credentials to do the government’s dirty work of spying on people who were trying to oppose the government’s crimes. Again, it is not known yet if Darby was an informant at any point when he worked with Common Ground in New Orleans. Darby has only publicly admitted he was paid by the government for his role as an informant since 2007.
Darby’s identity as a key informant became known during a case involving two men from Austin, Texas who were arrested during the course of the RNC protests. These two defendants do not have anything to do with the case of the RNC 8. When Darby’s role as an informant emerged, a co-founder of Common Ground and a long time friend of Darby initially publicly defended him against what seemed like possible snitch jacketing of Darby (i.e., falsely labeling Darby an agent). Discovery materials released during the case pointed strongly to Darby as the informant. Apparently, after being confronted by his former friends, Darby issued a public statement, arrogantly and unapologetically defending his role as an informant for the FBI as being in the best interests of the movement in order to protect it from “violent” elements.
The story of Darby the FBI informant sheds light on the government’s handiwork not only in the case of two Texas defendants arrested in conjunction with the RNC in Minnesota, but also on the underpinnings for the lurid and scary tales that authorities used to shape their rationales and pretexts and then fed to the public to justify their repression and the arrests.
According to a December 8, 2008 New York Times article: “Darby provided descriptions of meetings with the defendants [ed: two from Texas later arrested at the RNC] and dozens of other people in Austin, Minneapolis and St. Paul. He wore recording devices at times, including a transmitter embedded in his belt during the convention. He also went to Minnesota ... four months before the Republican gathering and gave detailed narratives to law enforcement authorities of several meetings they had with activists from New York, San Francisco, Montana and other places.”
Darby, age 32, had a lot of “street cred” lore surrounding him for his supposed role in the immediate aftermath of Katrina and for his work with Common Ground. In the spring of 2008, he worked with an affinity group in Austin, Texas which included two friends in their early 20s (McKay and Crowder) who wanted to protest at the RNC. Both were charged in Minnesota with the making of firebombs. They were not charged with ever using one. While Crowder pled guilty, McKay decided to fight his entrapment by Darby. McKay’s lawyer, Jeff DeGree, told the courtroom (according to an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on January 26, 2009):
“This is a case of a government informant who took it upon himself to make things happen,” he told jurors in his opening statement. He said that Darby showed McKay and Crowder jujitsu moves and lambasted protesters for looking like “a bunch of tofu-eaters,” saying, “You better start eating meat to bulk up and prepare for this,” DeGree said. And it was Darby who planted the seeds of violence after their [homemade] shields were seized, the attorney said. “Brandon Darby went crazy when that happened, [saying,] ‘We’re not going to take this lying down. You’ve got to do something about it,’” DeGree said.
McKay took the witness stand on his own behalf to argue he was entrapped by Darby into doing something he never would have done otherwise. FBI agent Sellers testified that Darby wore a transmitter on the night of September 2, 2008, when McKay allegedly told of plans to use the firebombs. Sellers said five federal agents were listening to the conversation, but they made no recording! And Sellers was the only one who took notes. How convenient that no less than five FBI agents forgot a tape recorder!
On February 2, 2009, in a highly unusual development the judge declared a hung jury because the jury could not reach a verdict of guilt or acquittal in McKay’s trial! The judge released McKay on bond pending a new trial. He had been sitting in jail since September 2008.
While Darby is one of the main informants for the FBI to surface in conjunction with the extensive repression surrounding the RNC, he is not the only one to have been publicly identified. There are at least three others who have covered in a December 1, 2008 Minneapolis Star Tribune article.
The father of one of the defendants pointed out that the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper has not had one good, substantial piece on the case of the RNC 8, yet they did manage to review 1,000 pages of notes from undercover operatives for the local sheriff’s department. Similarly, the New York Times did a story on Darby’s emergence as an informant after years as an activist in New Orleans and Austin but not on the scope of the repression and the legal cases unfolding in Minneapolis in relation to the RNC. These undercover agent stories prey on most people’s ignorance about the historical role of informants in political cases and movements as agents for the fabrication of evidence, for lying about what activists were planning and/or entrapment—all for the purpose of proving legal charges against those the authorities target. They also provide justification for the heavy hammer of repression that was brought down against all the protestors. These stories of informants can convey that somehow the ensuing legal cases are based on first-hand eyewitness accounts, so the general public should not be too alarmed that young people and protestors are being railroaded to prison. And at the same time it can breed distrust among activists, creating a paranoid atmosphere so it can be a “win-win” for the authorities to cover these cases through the eyes of the informants. This is one of the things that support for the protestors and exposure of the government’s repressive strategies can counter.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune ran an article on December 1, 2008, “‘Anarchist’ looked like someone’s mom. A deputy sheriff and two others infiltrated the RNC Welcoming Committee before GOP convention.” (Except where noted, all of the descriptions and quotes which follow are drawn from the Star Tribune article.)
The local sheriff’s department (which was working in close connection with the JTTF and other federal law enforcement agencies) in August 2007 sent Marilyn Hedstrom, a woman in her 50s into a storefront used by activists in Minneapolis and introduced herself as Norma Jean. According to her reports, she told activists she had issues with President Bush and the Iraq war.
Hedstrom, a narcotics officer, was partnered with a guard in the county jail in her 20s, who posed as Amanda, Hedstrom’s niece. “Amanda,” now a deputy, halted her undercover work after a few months. The sheriff, Fletcher, told the Star Tribune reporter that Amanda “didn’t have the level of acceptance that Marilyn had.” Hedstrom told activists that Amanda dropped out after finding a new boyfriend. Activists point out that Amanda had a fake Facebook page.
According to the article, most of the anarchists were decades younger than Hedstrom, but Fletcher said that posed no problem. “We’re not always looking for a person that seems to fit perfectly,” he said. “Someone that is not an obvious fit ... is least likely to be suspected.” Also, he said, pairing Hedstrom with “Amanda” increased their safety.
Hedstrom went “dumpster diving” at the group’s instructions to find food for the anarchists to eat. She cooked meals for some meetings, ran errands, coordinated committee discussions and represented the organization at some gatherings of the protest movement. She became friends of some of the activists. And she, ironically, even helped on security for the anarchists, who worried that the cops were infiltrating them.
The Star Tribune goes on to describe a third informant (paid and rewarded later with a job as a jail guard with an avenue to become a deputy). Chris Dugger “gave off different vibes and was often under a cloud of suspicion. In his late 20s, he was ‘kind of muscular,’ had tattoos and looked like a biker.” An activist account says that Dugger “portrayed himself as participating in a radical project for the first time and avoided helping except for the most basic tasks.” According to the undercover agents’ reports, at a meeting where Hedstrom was the facilitator, someone expressed concern that Dugger was a cop and he “became emotional and told them how bad he felt, he wiped his eyes and blew his nose.” He denied he was an informer. The memo said two activists told him they “don’t think he is a cop. They said a cop would have just walked away and never returned and wouldn’t cry.” In another chilling part, the article says that by August 2008, Dugger was urging an anarchist to suspect another anarchist of being an informer.
There is a fourth informant who worked for the FBI like Darby. His identity has been confirmed by news coverage of the January 2009 arrest of Andrew Darst for an incident where he allegedly broke into a house by ripping the door off the hinges and confronting his wife and striking two men present at the gathering. In an embarrassing development for the state, Darst is now charged with two felony counts of first- and second-degree burglary as well as fifth-degree assault, a misdemeanor. Darst is a key prosecution witness in the case of the RNC 8. His arrest for a violent rampage will likely become an issue as it reveals his instability and propensity for violence.
When he was an FBI informant, Darst was known as Andy “Panda,” about 30 years old. According to those familiar with the movement scene in Minneapolis, “Panda” began attending RNC Welcoming Committee meetings, introduced to the group as an avid urban explorer, and was (and still may be) active in the regional urban exploring scene. According to an account posted on Indymedia in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul), Darst was “first seen within the anarchist circle at the Crimethinc convergence three years ago, and has attended the convergence annually ever since. Like the other infiltrators, he was active in committee meetings and attended functions with other, non-anarchist organizations. Importantly, however, ‘Panda’ was also involved in anti-RNC activity independent of and unrelated to the RNC Welcoming Committee.” According to this same account, in addition to recording meetings he attended, his apartment in Minneapolis was wired for audio and video recording.
* * *
The on-going exposure of these agents and scientific (rigorous, and unsparingly objective) analysis about how they were able to insinuate their way into movements are important both for the legal cases and in combating repression in general because they will continue to be sent in to derail, disrupt and set up organizations and people who the government considers a threat, including those who are fighting for a better world.
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
This article is reprinted with permission from The World Can’t Wait and available at worldcantwait.org. The entire article is reprinted here, and is serialized in the print edition of Revolution.
There have been many moments in history in which the minority—acting boldly on its convictions—has been on the side of truth and justice, while the majority—either acting in opposition to that minority, or standing passively to the sidelines—has been on the side of lies and injustice.
On February 18, 1688, four Pennsylvania Quakers—Garret Hendericks, Derick up de Graeff, Francis Daniell Pastorius, and Abraham up Den Graef—wrote the first anti-slavery petition in the colonies.
Those four men were right. And the majority was wrong.
A May 2, 1967 article in the NY Times began: “About 75 anti-Vietnam war demonstrators picketed the New York Stock Exchange yesterday afternoon for 70 minutes, while 1,000 financial district… [employees] jeered them from across the street.”
Yes, even at the height of the radical 1960s upsurge, forces fighting against war and oppression sometimes found themselves badly outnumbered. Nonetheless, once again, the minority was right. And the majority was wrong.
And on March 19, 2009, on the 6th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War—a war that has killed more than 1 million Iraqi civilians, and displaced millions more—50 to 100 people marched through the streets of New York City to demand an end to the U.S. wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, no wars against Iran, Pakistan, or Gaza, and a stop to ongoing torture of prisoners at Bagram, Guantanamo and other hellholes throughout the world.
In a city of 8 million people, the vast majority of New Yorkers did not act in a visible way on March 19 to resist these crimes against humanity. In one form or another, for one reason or another, that majority went about its business and pretended these crimes were not happening.
But, once again, the minority was right. And the majority was wrong.
Together with actions that World Can’t Wait organized in Atlanta, Berkeley, Miami, Seattle, Washington, D.C. and several other cities throughout the country, we referred to the March 19 action in New York as being part of “The first national protest of the wars under President Obama.” Obama’s actions during his first two months in office have underscored the urgency of framing things in these terms.
Only one day before the March 19 protests, a front-page story in the New York Times reported that the new administration is considering a significant escalation of drone missile attacks on Pakistan, from targeting “tribal areas” to striking into the province of Baluchistan, despite acknowledging this would result in “high risks of civilian casualties,” as the Times put it. One month earlier, Obama ordered 17,000 more troops into Afghanistan, where thousands of civilians have already been murdered. Obama is continuing the criminal occupation of Iraq, where the U.S. military admitted to killing a 12-year-old girl at a checkpoint on March 16. Obama’s supposed withdrawal plan calls for 35,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops to remain in Iraq even after August 2010, and for U.S. forces to remain after December 2011 to conduct “targeted counter-terrorism missions.” Under Obama, the U.S is continuing to torture prisoners at Guantanamo, and to hold detainees indefinitely with no charge or trial.
“Is this the change we’ve been protesting and marching for all these years?” World Can’t Wait national director Debra Sweet asked the crowd of protestors before the march.
“No!” the crowd shouted back.
“Hell no!” Sweet emphasized.
During the past several years, the Bush Regime’s wars of aggression, torture, and indefinite detention are among the very crimes that caused millions of Americans to loathe their government. And yet, these very same practices are being widely ignored, or even justified, under the new administration.
“It just seems like people accept what Obama’s doing—because he’s Obama,” said Thaddius, a 16-year-old African-American student from Humanities Prep Academy who responded to World Can’t Wait’s call to walk out of school March 19th.
The truth of his statement made it all the more vital that a group of people stepped forward on this day to send a message that crimes against humanity are not any more acceptable under Obama than they were under Bush.
“You don’t know,” Sweet told the crowd of demonstrators early in the day, “how important you are.”
The afternoon began around 1pm in Union Square. Under gray skies and a light rain, about 50 people crowded near the subway entrance in the south end of the square, as Sweet and Mathis Chiroux—a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War who refused to fight in Iraq—together emceed a rally that preceded a march to the Times Square recruiting center. A group of youth held a large white banner with black letters that said, “You Can’t Win An Occupation.” Others held orange signs demanding “Stop Occupations and Torture for Empire! The World Can’t Wait!”
Among the speakers, performers, and participants at the rally, there was a spirit of defiance, resilience, and moral responsibility. Before performing “Nakba,” an angry condemnation of Israel’s history of genocide and persecution against the Palestinians, 24-year-old rapper Marcel Cartier told the crowd that he had recently renounced his status as an “army brat.”
“They didn’t get me,” Cartier said. “But I lived my entire life around the U.S. military until last year.”
Cartier said he “ruptured” with the military life after deciding he didn’t want to spend the rest of his days as an accomplice to crimes against humanity.
In addition to Cartier, other musical performers included the Bronx hip-hop group Rebel Diaz, and Outernational, which adjusted well to the lack of amplified sound by playing a stirring acoustic set.
Radical attorney Lynne Stewart, who in the past few years has felt the repressive force of the government very directly—in 2006 she was convicted of conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism and obstruction of justice merely for passing a message from one of her clients to his supporters—told demonstrators she would not be deterred in resisting the crimes of empire and that they shouldn’t be either.
“I think we have to ask ourselves, is Obama running out of his Kool Aid? Yes!” Stewart said at the beginning of her speech. “Are we alive and kicking? Yes!”
Sunsara Taylor, a writer for Revolution newspaper, said a great number of people in society are under the illusion that Obama will end wars for empire, despite his continuation of the occupation in Iraq, his escalation of the Afghanistan war, his intensifying of missile strikes in Pakistan, and his support for the Israeli massacre of Gaza.
“The only way this occupation and these wars are going to end,” Taylor said, “is through protest, through resistance, through people taking a stand like we’re doing today. Actually going and challenging other people to wake up and act on ‘What kind of future do you want to live in?’”
In her speech, Taylor took on some of the key arguments that are used to justify U.S. wars for empire. For instance, in response to the notion that these wars make Americans safer, Taylor said this reasoning is not only false but also unethical.
“It is immoral to say that American lives are worth more than Iraqi lives, are worth more than Afghani lives,” Taylor said. “A million dead in Iraq, I don’t care if it did make us safer. It’s not worth it. It is immoral, it is unjust, and it has to be opposed.”
Taylor also slammed the idea that the U.S. military is trying to liberate the women of Iraq and Afghanistan; she pointed out that Iraq was a secular country prior to the U.S. occupation; it is now a theocracy where a man can hire someone for $100 to carry out an “honor killing” against his wife or daughter.
Taylor said that people in the U.S. must put forth the message that, “We refuse to choose between Islamic fundamentalism and U.S. imperialism. They are both nightmares. Humanity needs another way, and you out here today are part of bringing forward another way.”
Taylor argued that truly bringing a permanent stop to crimes against humanity required bringing into being a radically different system.
“Most fundamentally, humanity needs revolution. Humanity needs communism,” Taylor said. “We need a whole different world. We don’t need just a new flavor and a new face on empire. This country, America, was founded on slavery and the genocide of Native Americans. It has committed more than 100 foreign invasions throughout its history, CIA-backed coups, and other occupations. It has cost us a million lives in Iraq—today there are 740,000 widows in Iraq. This system is committing crimes on a monstrous scale, and we owe it to humanity to get to the bottom of what kind of system this is, and what kind of change is truly possible.”
Many of those who took part in the March 19 action were high-school students who walked out of classes. A 17-year-old girl who attends Stuyvesant High School said that she and other students there had only made the decision to walk out a couple of days earlier; she said she previously knew a few people who had been involved with World Can’t Wait, but that generally the process by which the students decided to walk out was “pretty spontaneous.”
“The bottom line is people are dying, and more troops are being sent in,” the student said. “There’s more people being killed. As the student body, we don’t support it and accept it.”
The student said that one teacher at her school had been spreading the message—possibly to the school’s principal—that the students were simply looking for an excuse to cut school. She added that she wasn’t sure what consequences, if any, Stuyvesant students would suffer for leaving school. But she said that, exactly because many people view students walking out as unacceptable, it sends a very strong message when students go ahead and do it anyway.
Thaddius, the Humanities Prep student, said that Obama sending 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan was one of the biggest factors motivating him to participate in the walkout and march. He said his teachers had reacted favorably to his decision.
“I told my teachers I was going on a walkout to protest, and they were completely fine with it,” Thaddius said. “One of them completely agreed with me.”
Thaddius said walking out was not a tough decision. “Once I saw what the cause was,” he said, “I didn’t see any reason why I wouldn’t come out.”
After the rally concluded, demonstrators set off on a march down 14th Street, west towards 8th Avenue. Several people, including some of the high-school students, responded to the call from organizers to join a contingent of “detainees” dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods, representing the many people who have been rounded up, indefinitely detained, and tortured by our government. These detainees marched in a line with large chains running between them.
Eight others participated in a “march of the dead,” dressed in all black with the exception of white masks. These mourners marched silently, with the names and ages of dead civilians and the dates they died displayed on their chests: “Sadia Bibi, Age 10, From Afghanistan. 01/12/06.” “Hussein Nawaz, Age 5, From Afghanistan, 1/12/06.”
Another group of protestors carried a giant black shroud through the streets of Manhattan to represent mourning for the millions of innocent civilians massacred during U.S. wars for empire. The protestors carried the shroud to the Times Square Military recruiting center in order to bring this symbol of death and destruction to the literal doorstep of those responsible for it.
As the procession left Union Square, the marchers chanted “Stop the Torture! Stop the War! This is What We’re Marching For!” Other chants along the way included: “Out of Afghanistan! Out of Iraq! Out of Palestine! Don’t Come Back!” and “Six Years! Say No More! It’s Up to Us to Stop the War!”
The march was followed by a large and uninvited police escort. As protestors arrived at Humanities Prep to join up with more high school youth, chanting, “What are they recruiting for? Murder, rape, torture, war!” many students were watching on the opposite side of the street ,weighing whether to join in; several of them did. The march stopped again at Lab High School, also in Chelsea, to pick up more students.
One of the most interesting elements of the March 19 action was the reaction of New Yorkers on the street who watched the march pass by. Conversations with several of them suggested that, while political disorientation and demoralization may be prevalent—and the Obama Kool Aid potent —popular sentiment against the wars, torture, and other crimes of this government remains very pervasive in society. Several people World Can’t Wait spoke to along the march route expressed being appreciative of, and inspired by, the march.
“It’s too bad. The people are dying, dying, dying,” said a 55-year-old Latino man as he watched the procession go by. Asked what he thought of the protest itself, he replied, “That’s what we have to do.” He commented that he hoped the action would receive coverage in the major media. (It did: the New York Times had rather extensive coverage on its Web site.)
As he looked at the World Can’t Wait flyer for March 19, which depicted a hooded detainee, the man pointed to the image and said, “You see this? It’s horrible.”
Further along the march, in front of Flannery’s Bar at 14th Street and 7th Avenue, a 36-year-old woman who was born and raised in the Dominican Republic said she was particularly moved by the sight of youth taking part in the march.
“Right now, when I saw those young people doing something like that,” she said, “I just wanted
to cry. They show me that they’re thinking about others.”
She went on to say that she was in “complete agreement” with the call to stop the wars.
Further north, in Chelsea, Gloria, a 62-year-old woman, stood on the sidewalk with her 9-year-old grandson watching the march of the dead, pointing to the procession as she explained its meaning to him.
“It’s a sad situation,” the woman said. “Children are getting killed. Soldiers are getting killed. For what?”
A moment later, she added, “We gotta put more effort to stop this war, to stop these soldiers from going there.”
“I don’t think it felt good,” her grandson said, when asked his reaction to seeing the names of murdered children roughly the same age as himself. “I saw some signs that had the ages that were really young.”
As the march neared the recruiting center, Noble—an African-American man in a wheelchair—exclaimed, “Fight the Power! Always Fight the Power!”
“I think stopping the war’s a good idea,” Noble said. “My personal perspective—I’m not no politician, but from my standpoint, the United States government just wants to keep troops out there to police Iraq.”
Asked why he had been moved to yell out, “Fight the Power,” he responded: “ ’Cause that’s exactly what needs to be done—you gotta fight the powers that be!”
Accompanying Noble, a woman in her 30s visiting from Canada was unequivocally enthusiastic about the protest.
“I’m in total support of this march, and it’s great to see it,” she said. “The whole city should be marching. The whole country should be marching. All of North America should be marching. The crimes that have been committed are unforgivable.”
The woman added that the small size of the march did not diminish its importance. “It was a fairly short one, but it’s still significant,” she said. “If there were several of these in different parts of the city, I think it would have as much impact as one huge one.”
The march even commanded the attention of those who opposed—or were lukewarm about—its message. A 19-year-old white woman on the corner of 21st Street and 8th Avenue stood and watched from the opposite end of the street.
“This is terrifying,” she said, referring in particular to the march of the dead. “That’s really freaking me out.”
She asked what the purpose of the black attire and white masks was, and when she was told that it was to symbolize the civilians murdered in U.S. wars for empire, the woman replied, “Wow. If that’s what they believe in, they’re definitely drawing attention.”
However, the woman went on to say that she believed civilian deaths in these wars was the fault of terrorists who used them as shields.
“America, I’m sure, doesn’t want to be killing civilians,” the woman said.
Meanwhile, in front of Humanities Prep, an 18-year-old student was hanging out in a park when he saw the orange jumpsuit contingent and moved to the street to get a closer look; at first, he said, he thought the “detainees” were actual prisoners.
The student said that while he was against the war, he did not consider himself a “political person” and didn’t feel the war directly impacted him.
“None of my family members are in it, so I don’t care that much,” the student said.
Still, he described the protest as captivating. “I don’t know if it’s gonna make any moves, but it sure moved me,” he said. “It’s gonna turn a couple of heads.”
Both among the bystanders and the protestors themselves, there were definite contradictions in terms of how people were seeing the current political terrain. Not surprisingly, this was most evident when it came to the question of how people viewed Obama. Several people who spoke very passionately about the immorality of U.S. wars for empire and the righteousness of resisting them were nonetheless failing to confront Obama’s role as commander in chief of these same wars.
Thaddius, the 16-year-old Humanities student who lamented that people are accepting things under Obama that they would not accept under Bush, also said he had a high opinion of the new president.
“I still feel really good about Obama,” he said, adding that he thought it was the responsibility of the people to remind Obama of the need for change, so that he didn’t lose sight of the people’s will.
The 36-year-old woman in front of Flannery’s Bar said she was willing to give Obama a year to implement change; if, after that point, nothing has changed, she will declare him to be “just another politician.”
Gloria, the woman watching the march of the dead with her grandson, was also still holding out hope. “I pray that he’s gonna make a difference,” she said, “and bring these soldiers back home.”
The idea of anyone looking to George W. Bush to end wars at the same time as he was escalating them is so difficult to picture that it conjures laughter. And yet, many people in this society are still, in essence, hoping that when Obama talks about escalating wars in Afghanistan or Pakistan and continuing the occupation of Iraq, he is actually just joking.
On the other hand, a conversation during the Union Square rally with Elise, a 24-year-old white woman, showed the potential for these sorts of illusions to be overcome when they run up against reality pointing sharply in the other direction.
Elise said she had attended a huge anti-war protest in London on February 15, 2003.
But then, after the Iraq War started, “I just kept working and stopped paying as much attention,” Elise said.
In fact, she said, her attention had been focused on responsibilities such as paying rent and bills. “I got lazy as well,” she admitted.
On election night, Elise was excited about the nation’s first Black president, and hopeful that Obama would stay true to his campaign slogan of “change.”
“I got swept up in it,” she said. “I fell for the change thing. It was really empowering to see people come together, and now you see that he’s not delivering anything.”
One of the first developments that caused Elise to become disillusioned in a major way is when Obama announced he was sending 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
Soon, she was online researching the history of other U.S. wars, discovering in the process that this country has a long history of going to war on fabricated pretexts.
“There’s so much information,” Elise said, “that we don’t know.”
Now, Elise said that she struggles with people who are enthusiastic about Obama to thoroughly research Obama and his cabinet members, and their histories.
Elise described feeling newly empowered. “It seems sometimes that it’s such a huge battle that I’m not going to be able to do anything on my own,” she said. “I woke up again.”
The 50 to 100 people who marched through the streets of New York on March 19 are to be commended; what they did was right and just, and it made a difference, even if—in the immediate—it was on a much smaller scale than what is needed.
Of course, our goal is not simply to be right. It is to be part of radically changing the world.
So now, the question becomes: How do we wake up the many other Elises around the country and the world?
How do we move people all over the country like the woman in front of Flannery’s bar—not just to tears, but to action?
How do we connect with the Nobles of this world, inspiring them to not merely exclaim “fight the power!” but also become an active part of a movement that is waging this fight?
How do we mobilize youth like Thaddius, for whom there is “no reason” not to sacrifice a day of school in order to resist crimes against humanity?
It is highly unlikely that there is one simple, magical answer to these questions. But it is important, as a starting point, to recognize that these are questions anyone desperate for a world free of wars, torture, repression, and oppression must constantly be asking ourselves and posing sharply to others.
And the more that we are out there, as we were on March 19th, boldly and unapologetically speaking the truth—that crimes against humanity are continuing in our name, that it is the Obama administration that is now carrying out these crimes, and that these crimes are no more acceptable under Obama than they were under Bush—the closer we will get to answering these questions.
We must act in a way that demonstrates moral clarity, thereby spreading that clarity to others. We must inspire people to move from saying “resistance is needed ”—in an abstract sense—to proclaiming “I will resist”—in a concrete sense.
In that light, it seems fitting to close with a challenge that Sunsara Taylor issued to the crowd in Union Square:
“When anybody tells you that protest doesn’t make a difference, you tell them sitting on your ass for six years sure didn’t make a difference. Voting for Obama sure didn’t make a difference… Step out into the streets, and go back and challenge everyone you know that this is the only way that history has ever changed. It always starts with a handful. It always starts with a minority. Then you go back, you challenge your friends, you challenge your teachers, you challenge your parents, and you get them out in the streets with us. You hook them up with the World Can’t Wait movement. Another world is possible. But it’s our responsibility. It’s only through struggle that we can make it real.”
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
In early April, the G-20 met in London. This was a meeting of the heads of state of the 20 largest economies in the world imperialist system. In the streets outside, battles raged for three days between police and thousands of people who had come to protest these capitalist vultures who exploit people all around the world.
Demonstrators ranged from committed anarchists to small businesspeople, craftsmen, housewives and students. Diverse protests and encampments focused on many crucial questions—poverty and hunger, global warming, the oppression of the Palestinian people, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what came up again and again was a powerful sense that the capitalist system is not working, and a deep anger—what one young woman described as “a fire in our bellies” at the leaders and enforcers of that system. Anti-capitalist, anti-government and anti-money banners and graffiti permeated the wide range of activities.
Police prepared a vast repressive machinery days ahead of time. Duncan Campbell of The Guardian newspaper spoke to the fear behind this: “The nightmare scenario, as far as the police are concerned, is a repeat of the poll tax riots of 1990 when control of the centre of London was lost.” To maintain the power of the state, police deployed thousands of cops armed with clubs, tear gas and at least five armored vehicles. They forced protestors into a system of barricaded protest zones, a tactic known as “kettling.” Thousands, including children and passersby, were penned in for up to eight hours, not allowed to leave even for water or to use the bathroom, and ID’ed and photographed when they did leave.
Once protest began police were shockingly brutal, with many people carried away bleeding or unconscious, and one man dead under circumstances that are still not clear. Police claimed that they were only going after a “violent minority.”
This did not stop the protests which went on almost continuously and in many parts of the city; a number of times police charges were driven back, and at one point protestors laid siege to the Bank of England and broke into and ransacked the Royal Bank of Scotland . But the repression did fuel wider anger. As Campbell commented: “Does this mean that anyone wanting to go on a demonstration in the future needs to be prepared to be detained for eight hours, photographed and identified? And how long, if such techniques continue, or are further refined, before the confrontations become bloodier? The thing about kettles is that they do have a tendency to come to the boil.”
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
This past weekend a group of us went into a very multinational area with a large concentration of people from South Asia, as well as people from East Asia, Latin America and other areas of the world.
“Many people in the world today are wondering how to evaluate the recent developments with the revolution in Nepal—where, after 10 years of an inspiring People’s War led by the CPN(M), that war has come to an end, the CPN(M) is now the leading Party in the recently elected Constituent Assembly and the Party’s Chairman, Prachanda, is the Prime Minister of the government. Does the current trajectory in Nepal and the course taken by the CPN(M) represent an historic new thing, a victory and breakthrough in advancing the communist revolution in the 21st century, as some have claimed; or—as many others fear—does this represent a setback and betrayal of the goals of the revolution and of the heroic struggle waged to achieve them, and a serious departure from the communist cause that the CPN(M) claims to be fighting for?”
So begins Revolution newspaper’s introduction to the letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, and a reply from the CPN(M), in issue #160.
Our experience indicated the great importance of taking out Revolution to introduce many people to this exchange and to spread it to people from around the world, including people from South Asia. We found a deep reservoir of questioning and concern about these developments and desire to dig into the letters themselves.
From the moment we set up a table, it was a SCENE, with lots of people stopping to read the enlargement of the cover of the issue, and to ask about, take and buy the paper. People often were struggling through language barriers to understand what was being said in this major exchange over the direction taken by the CPN(M). Many people were not able or prepared (or, in some cases willing) to dig into all of this on the spot—but the atmosphere created by the introduction of this polemic, the curiosity and enormous concern, was electric.
A couple of people also went out through the surrounding community, and people we met “guided us” to various gathering points of Nepalese people—restaurants, record stores, and an employment center.
People stepped forward to try and bridge the language gap. In one restaurant, after we went through once with no one speaking to us or getting the paper, a young woman—there with her mother—saw the paper. She speaks and reads some English, and she looked at the paper, saw its importance and not only bought the paper herself, but went back with one of us to the tables where people had not engaged, speaking to them in Nepalese about the importance of the issue and getting one person from each table to buy a paper. Several indicated that they were going to find a friend who knew more English to help them read the issue and there was a general sense that one copy was going to get seen or read by many more than one person.
We had with us packets of the 120+ pages of the PDF printouts of the letters themselves from revcom.us and often brought them out to show to people who were getting the newspaper. Some looked through them and indicated that they planned to go online and check them out.
Many expressed support of what the People’s War had achieved; some had apprehensions about the direction of things now. Some expressed a “watch and see” approach. For everyone, this issue of Revolution and the letter exchange represented a challenge to dig into the major questions of overall strategy and political line concentrated in the direction the CPN(M) is taking.
In fact, this engagement in a two-line struggle—the outcome of which will have enormous implications not only in Nepal, but all over the world—uncorked comments and discussion where some people from Nepal and other parts of South Asia used the phrase “two-line struggle” and spoke of the danger of revisionism. We got a sense of how widely the influence of Maoism has been felt in that part of the world from comments not only from people from Nepal, but also from India, the Philippines and other countries. After speaking to people in one restaurant, as we left, the owner called out, “Lal Salaam” (A Red Salute), a phrase widely used by revolutionary Maoists in India, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Several people expressed that it was a most pleasant surprise to learn this day that there is a revolutionary communist party right here in the U.S.! 116 copies of the paper were sold, with some giving additional donations.
Twelve of those sold were in Spanish. We found that most Spanish-speakers we met had very little prior sense of the history and recent developments in Nepal, but some quickly saw the importance of this two-line struggle. One raised what he saw was a possible parallel to what had happened in Chile, leading up to the horrific 1973 coup, with deep concern. And one got the RCP Manifesto, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage and Away with All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, by Bob Avakian, in Spanish in addition to the newspaper.
We have now learned where people from South Asia “hang out,” and we aim to go back next week, once people have had some opportunity to dig in to the issue and the letters, to call on people to get bundles of papers to get out to friends here and “back home,” as well as subscriptions; to join an email list so that these documents can get to many others here in the U.S., throughout the world, and in Nepal; and to volunteer, and to develop an on-going network, for regular distribution of Revolution in this important area.
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
Interview with Bai Di
Bai Di grew up in socialist China (before capitalism was brought back after the death of Mao in 1976) and participated in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). She is a co-editor of the book, Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up During the Mao Era and is the Director of Chinese and Asian Studies at Drew University. The following interview with Bai Di was done in February 2009 by Revolution correspondent Li Onesto.
The entire interview is posted online here, and is being serialized in print.
Li Onesto: A young person who heard you talk about your experiences growing up in socialist China told me that before this they had no idea at all what it was like during the Cultural Revolution, including what it was like to be a woman during that time.
Bai Di: In my generation, most of the women hoped to accomplish great things. When we were young, when we were teenagers, there were revolutionary ideals. We worked for some goals. We felt that our lives were full of meaning, not for ourselves but for all these larger goals of society. That is what we were discussing at that moment. We were idealistic about the world that we envisioned. We were about 15 years old when we went to the countryside, around 1972. At that point I graduated from high school. The school was reopened after about a year of closing in 1966. We spent most of the time studying Chairman Mao’s works, and some math, chemistry and physics. Later on we were digging tunnels in the school yard because of the Soviet threat of war. We were trying to protect our country.
Our class had more than a thousand students and four of us, all women in our high school, got together and decided to write an epic of the history of the Red Guards. We were very ambitious at that moment, now to think about it. There were two guys who tried to join us and we interviewed them. I remember that each of them presented something poetic written by them, and the four of us looked at them. We decided not to have them in this writing group because they were not good enough. We just laughed at their writings because they were not up to our standards. We totally rejected them. The four of us, we thought we were the best. We wanted to record our deeds of trying to educate other people with Chairman Mao’s teachings. We organized the first “Chairman Mao Thought Propaganda Team” in the school.
Li Onesto: When most people hear the term, “propaganda team,” they don’t know what that is and/or they look at it like a negative thing, like it’s about just telling people what to think, that it goes against critical thinking.
Bai Di: The Mao Zedong propaganda teams in the beginning of the Cultural Revolution were organized by the revolutionary Red Guards so that educated people, students, armed with all the songs and poems, could go to the neighborhoods in the cities and later on in the countryside to spread knowledge to the not so well educated. They tried to teach the so-called “less educated people” about the party’s directives and Chairman Mao’s ideas. Our propaganda team taught people revolutionary songs and read the current events from the newspapers to them. We organized our school’s students to go to clean up the neighborhoods and after that we performed dances and songs and called on people to clean up the neighborhood because sanitation was very important. We felt that was part of building a greater society.
Li Onesto: How did you see that in relation to the ideals that you had?
Bai Di: The idea was that we could make a change, that there were all these opportunities. We were going to change the world; we were going to change China. That was the mission of my generation because we lived in a very special era: the great 1960s and 1970s. We called that moment the dawn of communism, that’s the point. We were working to build up this great society and we felt that everyone in that society should have education. Because we students could read and we could write so we used this to try and inspire other people—to teach them to sing and teach them sections of Mao’s works. That was what the propaganda teams did. Something gets lost in the translation of this concept to English. In Chinese right now this phrase still refers to what is considered a very positive thing. The phrase propaganda team is not a negative thing, it is to let everybody know what they need to know, the ideas of the party’s central committee, what they are doing. During the Cultural Revolution everybody needed to know that. China at that point, it was such a large country, and the government organization at each level had a propaganda department, you needed this at every level. There was a lot of illiteracy. And Chairman Mao’s teachings aren’t all very easy and they are open to interpretation. If you change one line, it changes the meaning. You can’t just teach the words, you have to explain it.
Take something like what was called the “constantly read three articles” by Mao: “Serve the People,” “The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains,” and “In Memory of Norman Bethune.” Look at the old story about the foolish old man—why do we have to talk about that? That is an ancient Chinese fable that everyone already knows. It is about an old man who called on his sons to dig away two big mountains that were obstructing their way out. Others made fun of him saying it was impossible for them to dig up these two huge mountains. But the Foolish Old Man replied, “When I die, my sons will carry on; when they die, there will be my grandsons, and then their sons and grandsons, and so on to infinity.” This resilience impressed the God so much that God sent down two angels, who carried the mountains away on their backs. But Chairman Mao changed it and said it was the hard working people who moved the mountains. He said, right now, we the communists, the party are like the Old Foolish Man. We will try to move all these three mountains—imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism—but we cannot do that. So we have to impress the Chinese people; they are the God. Only they can move away the three mountains that are oppressing us. And we have to entrust the people. Do you get that? So we have to move them, we have to understand what we are doing. You have to explain that to people, why that is very important. We have to keep doing something and we have to keep letting people know what we are doing. We have to politically educate people—that is our job. When I think back—that was our whole mission. We were so lucky that we were able to get the ability to write and understand things and others didn’t understand that, didn’t see the connection. So that’s what we were doing and when I think about it, what confidence we had.
Li Onesto: What effect did the Cultural Revolution have on the status of women?
Bai Di: One example is what I told you before, that young women changed their names. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 Chairman Mao would greet the Red Guards at huge rallies in Tiananmen Square, for about eight times I think. At one of the rallies, one girl went up to Tiananmen and put a Red Guard armband on Mao. He asked her what her name was. She said, Song Binbin. Mao said, that is very Confucianist, Binbin means prudence and modesty. And Chairman Mao said, why be prudent, why be modest? You should Aiwu; you should love that militancy in women. So she changed her name from Binbin to Aiwu that stood for loving militancy, fighting. Then there started a trend: the girls who had feminine names like flower or jade or whatever, changed their names.
According to Chinese culture, your name means something. My name never had gender connotation and this was due to my parents. Bai is my family name; it means cypress, like the tree. It’s a great surname in the first place. I was the first born and my parents were very progressive at that moment in the 1950s. They were checking out the dictionary to get a name. My father grew up in the communist system and he was among the first class in the Foreign Languages School run by the Communist Party in 1946, when the Russian Department of that school was moved, Yenan moved to Harbin. He was in the class with children of many famous communists including Chairman Mao’s second son. He and my mother were very revolutionary. So they went to the dictionary and they found “Di” which means wood, which is not very assuming but very easy to survive. And it seems that I have lived up to the name. When young women were trying to change their names from these girlish names to something revolutionary, I didn’t have to change my name because it meant independence already. Girls tried to change their girlish names if they weren't revolutionary or were too feminine - they would change it into something fighting and strong like the men’s names. After capitalism came back, I can give you three instances where women changed their names back. One of my friends, before the Cultural Revolution, her name was very womanish, so she changed it to Wenge which literarily means “cultural revolution.” But recently I heard from her and she changed her name back. I have another friend who is an editor in a Beijing publishing house and her name was “red” and she changed it back to “little flower.”
Li Onesto: You’ve written a lot about the role of women in revolutionary China. Can you compare the status of women before 1949, then 1949 to the Cultural Revolution, then during the Cultural Revolution and then what it is like now for women under capitalism?
Bai Di: I always like to look at the differences among the three generations of women in my family as an indicator of how China had changed under the Communist Party. Both my grandmothers were born at the turn of the 20th century and they both married early, one at the age of 14, the other at 15. They both had bound feet and each of them gave birth to 14 kids. They were in arranged marriages. They were both illiterate. They did nothing for their whole life but giving birth and having kids, seeing some of the newborns die helplessly. My mother’s life is very different. She was born in the ’30s so basically in 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded, she was in middle school and in the early ’50s she went to college to study Russian, dreaming to be a diplomat. Both my parents were the first generation of college educated in their respective families. My mother was a translator and researcher in Russian literature before her retirement. Then I think of my generation, I am a college professor with a Ph.D. degree. I have been traveling around the world teaching and writing. Compared with my grandmas and my mother, I am more ambitious, more idealist and more confident. I am very grateful that I grew up in an extremely special moment in Chinese history. The dominant ideology was that women hold up half of the sky; what men can do, women can do. Those may sound now as hollow slogans; but I lived through that period really believing in myself, in my ability in bringing about changes in my own life and the lives of other people. And then I think of the fourth generation of the family. I do not have a daughter, so I will use my niece as an example. She is now about 26 years old, having a college degree and a very high paid job in China. It seems that all she is interested in are brand name bags and clothes. She likes to talk about who has money, who has brand name bags, what kind of husband is there. And I just look at her now and I see that there is another generation right now, it is called “post-’80s” in China; a generation that puts most of their energy into this consumer culture. When I was young, the social ideal was to do something good for other people, to work to change the world into a better system. We were willing to sacrifice. And we all believed in fair and equal distribution of social wealth. But right now for young people growing up in China, it’s me, me, me. And the whole culture buttresses that. And also the women’s role today, you can see it ingrained, basically that you should be a good wife and then right now the Chinese popular culture is full of this kind of discussion. On CCTV, on the women’s programs, both the hosts and guests will focus on what kind of husband you will be happy with; how one can be more feminine so that she is more attractive. The famous women in every realm of the society are invited in to talk about this. Can you imagine a program that famous men were on to talk about how to be a good husband? They never ask the guys this kind of question.
Li Onesto: One of the things during the Cultural Revolution was refutation of Confucian thinking and how this is oppressive, especially to women, the feudal and patriarchal thinking. Can you talk about that and compare this to now?
Bai Di: This kind of criticism of feudalism was going on back in the May 4 Movement at the beginning of the 20th century. But the real legal reform started in 1930s in the Red Soviet areas controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the first law that the new government passed was not the Constitution, the Constitution was passed in 1954. The first law passed by the Communist government in 1950 was the Marriage Law—for the first time it abolished the concubinage system, abolished arranged marriages, saying men and women should be partners in marriage and that women should get equal inheritance and divorce rights, banned polygamy, child brides and also the concept of “illegitimate” children. That was a great moment in history. Think about how the government saw the role of gender issues in changing people’s minds and lives.
In order to build a new world, women have to be liberated. Like Marx said, for the liberation, you have to liberate everybody. And if women are not liberated you cannot say that the nation is liberated. This showed the progressiveness of the Chinese Communist Party. So the first law passed was the Marriage Law and the second law passed a month later was the land reform law. So basically you can see in 1950, the next year after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, two laws basically representing the new government’s focused agenda. First, the change of superstructure—because families were so ingrained in Confucian family hierarchy, this was so ingrained in Chinese culture, that you had to change it. So I think that was a symbol of the change of culture.
Secondly, the change in the infrastructure of the economic base, that is of the poor peasants and their ownership of the land. You were not only changing the economic structure, you had to change the superstructure, including people’s ideas. And law is a part of superstructure. So that’s Mao’s great idea, changing both sides, rather than just the economy. On the other hand, those who wanted to bring capitalism back, like Deng Xiaoping, said that if you just change the economy, everything else will change. But at the beginning, the Chinese Communist Party saw that you have to abolish the old things that are oppressive. There is a dialectic, you can see this in anything. Like the problem with the Marriage Law. There was great resistance all along. Because it’s not like you will just have a law and then all the people will follow that. There were still a lot of women’s issues for the 17 years after 1949 from the start of the new socialist government until the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966.
When new China was founded in 1949, the new government met so many challenges: prostitution, concubinage, drug problems. And miraculously, within two or three years, all the prostitutes were reformed and all the drug addicts got treated. My grandmother told me about how there was this place in Harbin where there was this neighborhood for prostitution and it then became a normal residential area. Unfortunately today that area has gone back to its “tradition” of prostitution.
Li Onesto: A lot of things were changed in the first 17 years, but what made it necessary to go further? What problems was the Cultural Revolution trying to address, including around the woman question?
Bai Di: There was the newly emerged elitist group within the Party and the government. They were called the capitalist roaders in the Cultural Revolution and they were the targets of the revolution. But I think “capitalist roader” may be a misnomer. They were people who were trying to return back to the old hierarchy in the society. Also the social idea was emerging that those who were educated should stay in the cities and then they looked down on their parents in the countryside. This was one of the symptoms in that 17 years and then the Cultural Revolution tried to get rid of this.
The peasants said of their children who were lucky enough to go to the university in the cities: The saying went—the first year they are country bumpkins, the second year they catch up with the other people, the third year, they will desert their parents in the countryside. So that’s a change in the peasant children sent to the cities. This was used to talk about the larger problem and social issues. The Communist Party came also from the peasant base. It represented peasants’ interest. So people send them to govern the country, they go to Beijing right? First, they’re fine. They keep their basic color, their values, and their mission. But after a while, the second period, they catch up with all the people there, they try to “get in,” they forgot why they were there in the first place.
Li Onesto: You’re saying this was an analogy to those who were supposed to be serving the people but then ended up somewhere else. And the reason why Mao and others started calling them capitalist roaders was because there were two roads that China could go on, one to socialism, one to capitalism. And there were those like Deng Xiaoping who were saying China should be capitalist and this is why they were called “capitalist roaders.”
Bai Di: But I don’t think these people wanted to go to capitalism, they were trying to take people back to old [feudal] tradition, and they were trying to retrench back to feudalism. Before China didn’t really have capitalism. But Deng Xiaoping was really a capitalist roader who wanted to emulate the capitalist system. Liu Shao Qi was trying to emulate the capitalist system too.
Li Onesto: What about the role of model operas, the role of women, the importance of the superstructure—the Confucian superstructure had a certain image of women—the mummies, beauties, etc. on the stage.
Bai Di: Jiang Qing gave a speech in 1965 and said we have to reform the opera and literature; that signaled the official start of the Cultural Revolution.
Li Onesto: Why was it so revolutionary what they did with the model operas?
Bai Di: That is what my research is all about. I feel that before the Cultural Revolution, even though the Chinese Communist Party was very aggressive politically, but culturally the Party still carried a kind of conservative bend. The Marriage Law was passed and was a great moment in Chinese history, a very progressive thing. But culturally, at the same time it carried something very traditional—why a marriage law, it is still thinking that women need to get married. That’s my argument. What Jiang Qing did was more radical than that. I’m writing a paper on this that I will present this summer on the opera and literature of the Cultural Revolution. What I want to say is that compared to the old works, the gender roles changed in the model operas and ballets.
The model theaters have to be highlighted—this was how the revolution should be. We can’t idealize the Cultural Revolution but this addressed the problem of the fact that there were 600 million people who still carried a lot of old baggage with them. Chairman Mao said you cannot carry out the revolution in one generation. You have to have a second and third generation; there is still baggage that the people carry with them. Right now it’s very difficult to speak out about this, the people who study Cultural Revolution say that model operas have created all these false images and stereotypes. Yes, so what? Any artistic work creates and promotes certain images and stereotypes.
Li Onesto: And they are used to promote certain ideas...
Bai Di: Exactly. What’s wrong with that compared to promoting some other kinds of ideals? If you look at Swan Lake, that is a certain view of women’s beauty. Then what is in the Red Detachment of Women where you use the same form of ballet but a different image of women. There is that comparison, contrast. Jiang Qing used Beijing Opera which is very, very abstract—she used this form to carry a certain message, a certain image. People say, oh those women are not real—they don’t have a family. But that’s the point. That the woman being portrayed isn’t burdened down by a family. So in that cultural sense, Jiang Qing was more advanced. And you look at things now in China under capitalism. The family is totally disruptive for women. And in terms of women’s total role, the liberation of themselves and their social roles—you have to get out of the family. Especially in Chinese culture, the word family is a loaded word, a loaded concept, you have a role and obligation.
Li Onesto: It’s true in U.S. culture as well—there are unequal relations, obligations, there’s patriarchy...
Bai Di: Exactly. Women can never be equal in the family structure. That’s Jiang Qing’s very radical feminism right there. So women can be revolutionaries and can be great leaders only when she is liberated from being a mother, from being a wife. Those are the images the model theater in the Cultural Revolution has built.
Li Onesto: Can you talk more about what the Cultural Revolution accomplished and what it meant to grow up in a socialist society?
Bai Di: I grew up there, and for me, I always had a purpose. That was what education was about. And you didn’t have to worry about something like the kind of financial crisis that capitalism will always have periodically. We never had that much—two sets of clothes, but we never felt we should have more. You don’t have that kind of crazy desires for everything, like the need to go shopping all the time. I feel that capitalism is very good at creating a void in people’s psyche. It will teach you that the only way you feel okay is to want more. It is so consuming. When I grew up, I did not put much time at all in material stuff. So we had energy to do other things for greater good. We studied all kinds of subjects, and we thought our presence was very much a part of the future. Yes, we were very future oriented and our focus was also wider than only on China. It was about the whole human kind. It is what inspired us. That’s what I feel education has to be about.
Some people believe in individualism. But if you think that you are the most important, then that is really a boring life, because your existence is irrelevant to others; that is how I feel. You can’t survive that long. You have to put yourself into human history. Then your life, your existence will carry some meaning. That is what Chairman Mao said. In his memorial to Doctor Norman Bethune, he said everyone has to die. But the meaning of death is different. Somebody dies a worthy death so that death is as weighty as the Mount Tai. Some other’s death is as light as a feather. And because Bethune put his life into this communist cause, we all remember him—his death was weighty. We were all trained this way. You feel that you become part of something. And this makes your life and death more meaningful. Now to think about it, we were pretty profound as teenagers. We were already coping with the existential questions for all humankind: life and death.
I had never lived in a capitalist society then so I didn’t know how to compare it to socialism. But looking at the things now both in China and U.S., I feel that there was, back then, an optimism that was always in the air, we were always optimistic. People didn’t complain. Right now everyone is complaining even though he/she has already so much. Under capitalism there is all these desires for all kinds of things. Right now when I go back to China everyone is complaining and it’s just money, money, money. But back under socialism, the purpose in life was not money. As Lei Feng said succinctly: We cannot live without food, but our lives are not for food. It is for making a better society. That pretty much sums up the spirit. Lei Feng was an ordinary soldier in the People’s Liberation Army and died manning his post. He spent his short 22 years of life helping other people. And Chairman Mao called on the whole nation to “Learn from Comrade Lei Feng” in 1964.
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
We received the following letter from a reader:
A team of us went out to the 10th Anniversary of Tavis Smiley’s State of the Black Union 2009—held at the LA Convention Center on February 28. The theme: “Making America As Good As Its Promise.” 6-7000 people were expected, we estimated perhaps 2000 showed up. There was an exhibit area where Libros Revolución had a booth; however, this was in a lower parking lot, away from the main hall where the panels occurred, so there was very, very little foot traffic. So, right from the beginning we decided to distribute the newspaper #144 [“The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need“] outside of the main hall—that’s what we overwhelmingly focused on throughout the day. We printed up 500 leaflets that excerpted the main article from “The Promise of Change... The Rules of This System... And The Revolution We Need“ (#153), and got most of these out in the morning and late morning—an effort to “provoke” those in attendance with the content of that piece, and promote the Libros Revolución booth, Revolution on-line, and encourage people to talk with us.
We distributed 182 copies of #144 for $162 and in addition there were 4 short-term subs sold, one year sub, and one 10-week sub/DVD combo.
While this was an overwhelmingly pro-Obama crowd, this was not a group in agreement with notions of a post-racial America. One of our team was able to hear all the panels and said that the panelists, from different angles, thought Obama represented something good for Black people and for America, but everyone wanted to critique the “post-racial” America line, and there were panelists who took on the “no more excuses” thinking, with Michael Eric Dyson setting terms with “yes, there are no more excuses... to hold Black people down.” In a certain basic way the newspaper connected with these sentiments—there wasn’t a lot of “don’t tell me about something I already know” when it comes to the oppression of Black people and there was significant openness to the newspaper.
Principally though, the paper both connected and provoked and challenged people. This was an overwhelmingly Black middle strata crowd, many educated people, Black professionals, and a good number of Black women in their 20s-40s, as well as many men of different ages. Our agitation challenged people’s views that this system is reformable; that elections could be a road to fundamental change; and we challenged ideas that Obama could solve this problem of national oppression, or bring anything good for humanity as the head the imperialist U.S. And—I think most importantly—we argued that revolution in the U.S.—something far more radical and fundamental than reform or elections or Obama—was required, needed and possible.
People with significant illusions who were deep into Obama (and who clutched very tightly onto the supposed “hope” that Obama brings) wouldn’t, in the main, buy the paper. There’d be grandmothers talking to young men... the young men might say “you are taking away my hope” after hearing our agitation, and the grandmothers would then say to these young men “don’t let them take away your hope” and there’d be discussion over the difference of false hope and the real hope (exposing how the oppression and crimes were rooted in a system), and need for revolution and not reform—a number of these people turned down the paper, but were challenged.
That said, our agitation on key points in issue #144—the relation of the history of national oppression of Black people and the growth of capitalism and imperialism; how slavery was foundational to the U.S.; how the oppression of Blacks can be found in the DNA of this system, etc.; why the tremendous struggles hadn’t won even equality or upended discrimination to this day (and why new forms of oppression keep going on and arising)—all this did bring to people something different than the spontaneous understanding. This reality not only contrasts with an understanding of the problem as just racism (which is important) but sharply provides a contrast between a view that would only fight for reform (or that we’re in a situation of slowly evolving ideological change on this) versus revolution.
Interestingly, after hearing our exposure, some people asked “are you saying the people can’t change...?” They felt it was positive that a lot of white people voted for Obama. Our response was, “No, we were saying the system can’t and won’t change...“ and there was struggle off of this, about not settling for a situation where there were certainly positive currents among white people but where there is, in reality, a not insignificant reality of racism, and even more deep an economic system and superstructure that exists that enforces national oppression and spreads hateful messages about the Black masses. Yes, people, including whites, could change—we pointed to the section in #144 on the lessons of the 1960s—but revolution was needed to get to a situation where state power would back those who want to truly and fully uproot and end the oppression of Black people.
Many people bought papers who straight up didn’t agree with the revolutionary solution, but were grappling with what we put forward. They’d raise, “then you’d have to educate the masses... they’d have to know what to put in its place...“ which were very important points and we got down on how this is true and this opened the door to talking about how there needs to be a core of millions educated and trained in Bob Avakian’s new synthesis—including the need for a powerful enough section of people who are trained scientifically, and how this underscored the role of the newspaper now.
People might say “I’ve seen how revolution isn’t the answer...“ and they might talk about what happened after the 60’s, or more sweeping issues of communism, and one said “are you talking about John Brown because I don’t agree with him...“ This provoked discussion on the necessity for millions, not scores or hundreds or thousands, to be won to a revolutionary position to contest with the U.S. imperialists and have a chance at winning revolution and the need to be scientific about revolution, which includes the understanding this isn’t about revenge but the emancipation of humanity. Putting the question of the need for revolution at the center of things (and not leaving it at the unreformability of the system)—contrasting this with Obama in some places as part of this—changed the discussion and underscores the importance of doing this more powerfully and consistently in our work, such as the events we’ve been holding “On Making Revolution in the U.S.”—carrying this dialog through more consistently. That certainly means getting back to those we met and engaging them on this, and developing ties with them on this revolutionary basis.
Some of the panelists upheld religion and got a positive response from significant sections of the crowd at times. I found that people more deeply religious would sometimes listen respectfully, but then say they thought the answer to problems was spiritual and not buy the paper.
While some panelists wanted to criticize this “post-racial” idea and take on the “no more excuses” assaults, it is also the case that no one challenged the view that we need to “help Obama” and do that by “holding him accountable” and saying “he can’t do what needs to be done without us.” This line of thinking, along with viewing things from the framework of being American, wasn’t challenged from the stage by anyone and it did reflect what a number of people were saying to us.
We’d talk about #144 [“The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of this System, and the Revolution We Need”] and say this is the history of America (and do exposure) and explain how this shows the need for revolution and they say “we are part of the history of America” and agree with the exposure but draw a different conclusion and there’d be struggle over whether the U.S. can be reformed or not. This wasn’t a deeply patriotic sentiment but there was some deeply ingrained and involved (and convoluted at times) thinking about “getting in” and the assertion of the “American” aspect of African-American, if you will, and this is one way it got expressed—which is of course very explosive given both the crimes the U.S. continues to commit against the people of the world and direct at the Black masses specifically as part of that.
Especially toward the end of the day we were getting a number of people asking us “whose paper is this”—they hadn’t gotten it yet and wanted to know (and may have been weighing whether to get it)... but there was also a “testing” going on—this was communist and they wanted to hear that and were interested. Some rejected it and were then challenged about engaging this perspective, some still declined but others changed their minds, and others didn’t reject it but said they did not agree with communism and then explain they did want to check this out and see what we had to say—they were open to the analysis, and to communism though (right now) this wasn’t their perspective.
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
Note from the editors: The following is from a group of Revolution distributors. It describes their experience in Harlem taking out issue #158 “A Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity” and working to bring forward people around the newspaper:
There is a deep wellspring of outrage in Harlem that is most often buried and atomized, that we are fighting to tap into and unleash and lead for the revolution. The paper is getting into the hands of women and men of all ages and nationalities, there is a lot of curiosity and openness. Where we are getting sharper in taking out that this is the revolution that can change all this, challenging people to get with this revolutionary movement now and contending sharply with the prevailing norms, this starts to open people’s thinking up in different directions.
In our approach to getting out issue #158 we drew people’s attention to the photo enlargements on the back page that showed a badly bruised Rihanna and this focused up the touchstone question of women’s oppression. While the response among younger people is broadly similar to what was learned from the recent Boston survey that found that half of young men and women both think in some way her beating was Rihanna’s fault, we have also had serious engagement with young boys and men (12 and up) who look seriously at the back page of #159 and want to understand why this happened and express their opposition to it. A newspaper seller described a scene where 5 young boys, 12-13, talked seriously with us about the Rihanna case—and this is significant, as it is very difficult to engage this age-group of young boys. This group was divided: two of them were firm that this was wrong. One said, girls hit too, and she hit him first. They were curious about what we were saying about why this happens and how to stop it and pooled their change to get one paper (#158) between them.
Much of the initial response to people seeing issue #158 (and #157 on International Women’s Day) has been to view women’s oppression as a societal problem “over there” (meaning somewhere in the world besides the United States) and to come at the question here as the responsibility of individuals and individual choices in one form or another, all locked within the bounds of patriarchy and the family: “real men don’t hit their women and I wouldn’t;” “she shouldn’t have gone back;” “I know all about that and I don’t have that problem/ wouldn’t put up with it.” We summed up that the terms shifted somewhat after the Oprah show to more references to “battered woman syndrome” and more discussion of how to mediate (escape on an individual basis) these conditions within the overall framework.
Wherever we went we were aiming to open up speaking bitterness, and to connect this with the full-out revolutionary solution.
We got this report about a domestic violence workshop at a local college that one of the newspaper sellers happened upon while on campus and the social worker leading the discussion allowed them to sit in and participate in the discussion:
There were 35 women, mainly young with maybe four over 40, Black and Latino, except for one young white woman, seated in a circle. A young social worker stood in the middle of the circle leading the session which involved one woman after another talking about what they had gone through. There was something significant in the fact they were even able to open up to others and tell about their experiences. Nearly all of them talked about feeling ashamed that they had been assaulted and didn’t want people to know. They didn’t want people to know that the marriage was not the ‘ideal’ or that they would ‘let’ themselves be treated this way. They talked about feeling stupid for believing and wanting to believe that ‘their man’ was not what he clearly was. They gave example after example of torture, death threats, and a state that not only would not protect them, but sanctioned their vulnerability. What they had to say was at once moving, horrifying, and deeply challenging.
Half the women bought the paper. Nine gave us ways to get back in touch with them after they read the Declaration. I told them we’d be interested in hearing what they thought about this and maybe an article could be done for the paper.
Many of these women are in a GED class taught by a teacher who has gotten the paper from us on occasion and recognized us.
The social worker’s confidence that our paper seller would sit in and participate in a positive way stands out in this, and we plan to follow up with both her and the women’s group. We promised them that we would return and write something with them for the paper—this is a very important group of people to involve in the Rihanna debate and overall.
In Harlem, there has been some polarization and debate and some of the women in particular have jumped in to work with us in various ways. At a major Harlem intersection where we regularly sell the paper, a woman who has related on and off with the local Revolution Club showed up on March 21.
Charlene is a Black woman in her mid-20s. She is sometimes homeless and destitute. She has been through hell as a woman. She said that she had come by the corner the week before but nobody was there. [It turned out she came by after the newspaper selling team had already left to go to a nearby project.] This day Charlene jumped right in and helped with the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund benefit leaflet. She listened to the agitation and watched others as they sold the paper. Somebody talked to her briefly about the Declaration and before long she was selling the paper with flare and talking about ending the oppression of women.
When we were packing up to go the projects, a man and woman were walking across the intersection arguing. The woman said something like “You said that you can’t relate to how I ....” She was nearly in tears. He said “I don’t like how you...” Charlene yelled to the woman, “If he can’t relate to you, we can. We revolutionaries on this side of the street and we ain’t about no mistreatment of women.’
What Charlene did was significant. She was in effect challenging the man. She felt able to do that in the company of the revolutionaries. There might have been a little street posturing but the main thing going on was unleashed fury—deep anger and outrage at the oppression of women. And, she felt that not only was it okay to express it, but the revolutionaries had her back.
A couple of other experiences that stood out:
—A jewelry vendor who is overall friendly and has alternately bought the paper and tangled with us, most vociferously about religion— when we showed her the Declaration she started pointing to outrages that she felt concentrated what we needed to speak to. She brought over a newspaper article on the local politician who was arrested for cutting his girlfriend, telling the selling team, “Talk about this.” And she brought over the New York Times story about the 80-pound, 9-year-old girl in Brazil who had been impregnated with twins by her stepfather and had a state-approved abortion, and everyone except the father had been excommunicated by the church (a decision that was later reversed on “mercy” grounds), and said to us “Talk about this.”
—The 12-year-old daughter of one of the French-speaking African women vendors who often gather on the corner—listened carefully to our agitation, bought the paper, and then told us that she thought we weren’t talking enough about how “boys talk bad to girls on the street.”
We are working to bring forward organized ties around the paper at the center of a revolutionary movement. In one project where we are focusing our blitz efforts, over 100 of #158 have been distributed door-to-door or in the courtyard outside one building where we have now been twice, and there are several people who want to be involved.
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
The following correspondence is from a reader in Chicago:
We grabbed up issue #159 and #158, “A Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity,” and headed for what had been described as a part of a series of town hall meetings on immigration reform that Congressman Luis Gutierrez was convening across the country. We’d heard that thousands of immigrants were coming out to these events and among those featured here were Luis Gutierrez and Cardinal Francis George.
As we neared the church’s location on the north-west side, traffic became crowded. Yellow school buses filled with people were heading toward the church. The sidewalks were busy with mainly Latinos, families and individuals, heading toward the church. On the street corners south of the church stood a small group of a dozen “Minutemen” waving large American flags. A call to come out and protest this had been posted to their website. One of the Minutemen was shouting to the people—”Stop breaking the law. Obey God. God commands you to obey the law. The church should not protect illegals who break the law. Obey.” As we got closer to the church we had to pass through a police line and then were greeted by musicians playing on the steps as people passed into the church. Inside, we could see it was huge, filled to capacity and overflowing with overflow seating in the basement 1,000 - 1,200 people possibly.
This church-sponsored event was entitled, “Liberty and Justice for all Immigrant Families” and was designed to send a message for urgent reform of immigration laws to Congress and President Obama. The most impressive aspect of the event was the masses of people drawn to it, families and singles, young and old, mostly Latinos but also Polish, Asian, South African, all for the purpose of hoping for change so they could make a decent living and live without fear of being deported. Coming from the pulpit was the message that the immigration raids should be opposed based on biblical text—God created man and woman and families and no man, no government and no law should tear asunder what god has created. Again based on biblical text and prayer people of all faiths were called to stand with the immigrants and protect them.
The program laid out the problem as being “broken laws,” how the current laws impact the innocent and how even some of the lawyers further victimize the people. Several children made prepared speeches of when and how their parent had been wrenched away from them and deported. One mentioned a father being taken as he was on his way to pick up his wife, eight months pregnant. Another example was a man taken from a gas station while he was filling his car with gas. A young girl was seven when her mother was taken, leaving her the eldest of four in this country. All real horrors, but it was exasperating to see it all unfolding within the “killing confines” of the church and petitions to Congress.
The Cardinal and other priests took a stand against immigration laws but used Bible quotes and used God as the basis for doing so. They spoke of it not being good for government to interfere with what God hath made. Also, the church teaches that the family is sacred so to separate what God has joined is wrong. I thought back to last week’s great newspaper, “A Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of all Humanity.” It laid out the truth that the family was not made by a non-existent god. The family first emerged as an economic unit after private property was established because the owner of property wanted to pass on his wealth and power to the next generation. In fact, the Latin root of the word “family” is “familia” meaning a household of slaves. Just think of all the men and women trapped in traditional family units and taught it is God’s will! Don’t dare go up against it. It was clear that the audience was being propagandized to ideologically not question religion or the traditional family. All I could think of was how crucial it is to get this newspaper into the hands of as many as possible. Also, the writings of Bob Avakian, particularly in this case, Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World. Our Lady of Mercy is a progressive church but all religion is an obstacle to emancipation. As Avakian writes, paraphrasing Stevie Wonder’s song “Superstition”: “When you believe in things and they don’t exist... you suffer...” So the correct stand of opposing immigration raids was being approached by an illusion and worse, a lie, that prayer and god will solve it.
After the meeting we mingled with people waiting for their buses. I don’t speak Spanish so I mainly held up the Spanish edition and read the front page, showed the centerfold of International Women’s Day celebrations and the back page “On the brutal beating of Rihanna by Chris Brown.” The paper had to stand on its own and it did. I sold 22 papers in a short time, mostly to women. The photo of Rihanna broke through the language barrier and provided immediate common ground. Regardless of what the priests had been saying about the family and sacredness of mothers and unborn children (i.e. anti-abortion comments) reality asserted itself. The women were drawn to the newspaper’s revolutionary message. One woman came running up after her friends had bought papers. She had just a nickel but wanted a copy.
A number of people, including women and youth, had been turned off by the religious framework and were interested in a revolutionary approach. A woman came up and quietly said, I agree with you, this is global. I am a socialist. I am a victim of human trafficking. My husband has been deported. I can’t even talk about this now because I am still traumatized—but I will read this.
A family walked by and looked at the paper, the mother said we don’t have the money. I opened up the paper to the center fold showing all the varied forms of the oppression of women incorporated and embraced by capitalism/imperialism. And then I took on the message from Cardinal George, God created man and created woman for man and created children for man. While agreeing that the imperialists were tearing apart families and that all deportations must stop, I told this grouping of women including a 14-year-old girl that the root of the word family is slavery. Her eyes opened wide in shock as her mother pulled her away. A short while later I saw them again and approached them this time, the young girl pulled out her purse with money and peeled off a dollar. “I want to read about it.”
A high school student came up for the paper and said he didn’t like all the heavy weight of religion. He was thinking about revolution but wanted to know more about what we meant by revolution. He thought there should be separation of church and state and when he saw the flyer for the debate on “Morality With or Without Gods”—he took some to tell his friends about and make his plans to come.
We summed up that this was an extremely important event. Undocumented immigrants are not just a problem for the people. It is a huge problem for the system as well which was indicated by the huge crowd attending. Capitalism requires them, yet fears not being in control. It cannot solve the problems arising from it and is vulnerable to the people’s rage and resistance. Religion cannot solve the problem either but there they were, the Congressman and the priest colluding to get people to follow them.
This event posed some questions to us: Why was this meeting held? Why now? Cardinal George is a big voice calling for an end to immigration raids. (He didn’t say end deportation, however.) Congressman Gutierrez attended, got several standing ovations but didn’t speak. Is the Cardinal saying the system is getting too blatant in how it treats immigrants and needs to reform? Isn’t he risking people taking it too far when he calls for a solution now? Is there a growing dissatisfaction with the new Obama administration’s approach? Is the church aiming to reign in a growing momentum for the May 1 demonstration marking the end of the administration’s first 100 days? Is the church competing for members, reacting to losses to Evangelicals especially south of the border? We had thought the event was going to be about the Dream Act that Gutierrez has been promoting, but it wasn’t so we wonder whether the event was tailored for our city or are there other church events across the country similar to this one? It’s a complex situation requiring more investigation. But it’s clear, only revolution will resolve these contradictions and people need Revolution in their hands to build a movement toward that possibility.
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
Taking up the challenge to popularize Darwin Day that was issued in Revolution #156 has been a real eye-opener and wake-up call!
On February 12 (Darwin Day), Gallup Poll released a survey indicating that only 39% of Americans “believe in the theory of evolution” (gallup.com:80/poll/114544/Darwin-Birthday-Believe-Evolution.aspx) .Hawai`i is a pretty “liberal” place and, until recently, religion has not played a very big role. Consequently, we didn’t think the poll accurately reflected sentiment in Hawai’i.
We had two important experiences in taking up Darwin Day that we wanted to share with Revolution readers.
Taking Darwin Day to the University Campus
On Darwin Day, Revolution Books set up a table and display at the University of Hawai’i’s campus center. What we learned at the table more reflected the Gallup Poll than our previously held ideas.
Many, many students avoided the table, refused leaflets, or dismissively said “I don’t believe in evolution” when we attempted to engage with them. Some asked who Darwin was. We were condemned to hell or worse. A student from a Christian fundamentalist campus organization who had been assigned a table next to us told us that we needed to reject evolution or suffer eternal damnation. He then packed up his stuff and vacated his table!
A religion instructor self-righteously informed us that he didn’t believe in any religions—including “Darwinism”—arguing that there was no such thing as “truth,” and that evolution was simply another belief system. Several people admonished us for saying evolution is “true” (even though they agreed that it is), leading to discussions around truth, the difference between relative and absolute truth, and the danger of the current trend in universities to avoid fighting for any truth at all.
On the other hand, some faculty and students—many of whom had seen leaflets posted on campus bulletin boards or were recipients of a massive e-mail blitz prior to Darwin Day, came to congratulate us for taking up Darwin Day and perused the table. They were the ones who hung out, telling us about experiences in classrooms, sharing their fears about the rise of creationism and religious fundamentalism, or lamenting the fact that some professors were avoiding any discussion of evolution because they didn’t want to face the controversy. Some students also told us that they had had no exposure to evolution in high school, and were at a loss when science professors taught their classes as though they had a grasp of the basic principles of evolution.
A student told about being in a large biology class where a student demanded that the professor give equal time to creationism in the class, and challenged others to walk out of the class with her if he didn’t. While no other student walked out with her, many privately talked about having the same sentiment, but said they couldn’t walk out because they needed the grade.
What we learned was that students are very polarized around evolution. Many don’t accept the theory of evolution, but they study what is necessary to regurgitate the answers and pass the course and are not challenged to really examine the theory of evolution critically. Evolution seldom becomes the subject of open debate and discussion among students. Even students who felt strongly about evolution acknowledged that they never spoke about it with friends who completely rejected evolution because they didn’t want to “step on their religious beliefs.”
We think this was the first year that Darwin Day became a broad social question on the UH-Manoa campus. Revolution Books and World Can’t Wait–Hawai’i posted hundreds of brilliantly colored leaflets on campus prior to Darwin Day. World Can’t Wait showed the Nova film, Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial in a campus theatre and put up large orange signs reading “Celebrate Darwin Day 2009” at several campus locations. The Darwin Day issue of Revolution was distributed at the table and on the mall. Science departments sponsored a film-showing on the evolutionary history of the Hawaiian Islands, and a prominent evolutionary biologist was the featured speaker at a Darwin Day seminar. More than 500 copies of the Celebrate Darwin Day leaflet produced by the Defend Science Project were distributed at Campus Center.
The book table enabled us to get into deeper conversations about evolution and science more broadly than we had ever engaged in. We were disappointed by the number of books that were actually sold, but many took leaflets advertising Skybreak’s The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism or purchased the Darwin Day issue of the paper. Dozens bought Darwin emblems or stickers for their cars, bikes, or office doors.
Darwin Program at Revolution Books
On February 24 Revolution Books organized a talk on “Early Animal Evolution” by evolutionary biologist Dr. Mark Martindale. The talk, which was adapted from one he had given the previous week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Conference in Chicago, related the fascinating results of his research exploring the base of the evolutionary tree of early animals. Throughout his talk, Martindale emphasized the importance of evolution and brought to life the dynamism of the scientific method. He conveyed both the profound joy of knowing what is actually true, as well as the necessity of understanding what’s true in order to solve the immense environmental problems confronting the world. One particularly provocative point he made was how critical it was to have a truly scientific approach, and recognize that every question that is answered will give rise to even more questions. The talk itself really resonated with those of us who have been studying Bob Avakian’s new synthesis and Marxist methodology.
For almost two hours after the talk ended, scientists and laypeople continued to debate issues of science and religion—the growing distrust of science among many “progressive” forces, the impact of postmodernism, the often thorny relationship between science and cultural traditions, and more.
One of the most challenging parts of taking up Darwin Day was organizing for the talk. Many people—even people who have supported the store for a long time—could not understand why the store was sponsoring a talk by a scientist “who isn’t even political.” Revolution Books organizes many programs featuring speakers and artists who aren’t Marxist, including scientists who have also spoken about the government’s attacks on science. But most people just couldn’t understand why we were asking an evolutionary biologist to talk about his own work in evolutionary theory.
Before the program began, a long-time store supporter came in asking “why we are giving up on revolution and getting into science.” Another customer asked if now, since Obama was elected, we had given up on the possibility of revolution and were replacing politics with science! Numerous people—especially those into identity politics—ridiculed having a scientist come to speak, saying “science is the problem.” While this was not unanticipated since many scientists at the University of Hawai’i are increasingly relying on military and corporate grants to do research, these questions challenged us to get into principled discussions around just what science is, how science is being used by the system, and why critical thinking and the scientific method are so important (including, but not limited to, making revolution and realizing communism). One scientist, questioning why a revolutionary bookstore was sponsoring a talk by a scientist, charged Marxists with being anti-science, even citing Karl Popper as his source. (Fortunately, we could actually unravel this in a non-dogmatic manner given Bob Avakian’s recent dissection of Popper’s profoundly unscientific charges against Marxism.)
In building for this program we learned there is a very serious divide between “science” on the one hand, and “politics” on the other. Most people accept that there is such a thing as “science.” But at the same time they argue that Marxism cannot be scientific because it’s political and therefore the antithesis of science. And they certainly don’t see that a scientific method is necessary to make a communist revolution and transform the world.
Getting into Darwin Day and evolution has underscored just how path breaking and crucial the new synthesis developed by Bob Avakian is—and that we have to engage with it continuously and bring it to life in the way we take it to the masses. That we have to fight through with the masses to continuously deepen their (and our) understanding of it. Portions of the new synthesis resonated with each new experience and challenge, as we were reminded over and over again that communists must be scientists. That we have to operate like teams of scientists. That we have to fight for the scientific method in society more broadly. And that we have to do this in a way that truly conveys the joy of scientific discovery (whether that discovery fits our preconceived notions or not!). If a scientist in the biological sciences can exhibit so much enthusiasm over discovering that humans developed from the genetic line of jellyfish, and that the previous understanding that humans evolved from sponges is wrong, how much more exuberant shouldn’t we be over discovering (step by step and piece by piece) the road to communist revolution and the liberation of all of society?
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
Killed by Police:
The following letter was sent by a Revolution reader/distributor:
With brutality and murder at the hands of police again on the rise around the country (I just read about two more in Chicago!), readers of Revolution should know about this:
After two weeks of testimony, there was a settlement in state Supreme Court in the Bronx on March 20 in the civil wrongful death case of Anthony Rosario and Hilton Vega, two young Latino men killed by two New York City detectives in 1995. For two weeks, the Rosario and Vega families and their supporters sat through testimony from the killer detectives, a medical examiner, and others. The friend of Anthony and Hilton who survived that night 14 years ago also testified, airing the true story in open court for the first time. Imagine having to listen as a judge interrupts every five minutes or scolds the family for sobbing during some of the most difficult testimony to listen to. This judge did both of these things and more. And when the parents of Anthony and Hilton took the stand, the judge instructed them to only talk about the facts of what happened when the police came to tell them their son and nephew were dead, and not show any emotion! They were not allowed to talk about these young men’s character, or that Hilton had a young child. The jury wasn’t allowed to hear that the two cops retired with a pension, collecting for disability for a “hearing injury” because the bullets were too loud -- their reward for this murder. The cops, during testimony, implied that the killings were Anthony and Hilton’s fault because they didn’t obey orders fast enough.
But with all this, what came through was a tale of an execution.
On Friday, a press conference and rally was held outside the court. About 30 people took part, including the Stolen Lives banner with a thousand listings out of the Stolen Lives Project book. The night before, Margarita Rosario, Carmen Vega, Iris Baez and Juanita Young [all relatives of people killed by the police] were on WBAI radio.
Anthony Rosario and Hilton Vega were killed on January 12, 1995, by two New York City detectives, Patrick Brosnan and James Crowe. It wasn’t till March 2009 in that courtroom in the Bronx that Freddy Bonilla, the friend of Anthony and Hilton who survived, finally was able to tell the true story in open court.
“IN MEMORY OF MY SON, I DIDN’T WANT TO SEE ANY MORE KIDS BEING KILLED”—Margarita Rosario.
I first got to know Margarita Rosario in 1996 when we both took part in the first October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. The quote above is hers toward the end of the movie “Justifiable Homicide,” a film by Jon Osman and Jonathan Stack which takes you through what happened to her son and nephew, and the heart and courage of Margarita and other parents and family of people killed by police that choose to fight. You get to know this epidemic crime of police brutality up close and personal, including getting to know Anthony and Hilton. And if you’re really paying attention it’s a searing indictment of this capitalist system and the repressive force that enforces its domination and rule.
Anthony, Hilton and Freddy had gone to an apartment to collect some money owed to Hilton’s girlfriend. The two cops, who were called by those that owed this money, were waiting inside. Anthony and Hilton were shot by these cops, in the back, while face down on the floor, with the cops standing right above them. Anthony was shot 14 times. Hilton was shot 8 times. Freddy is alive only because the cops ran out of bullets. The medical examiner said they were shot in the front, but an independent autopsy showed all shots were in the back. The police had been exonerated by a grand jury that only heard the cops’ lying story. In the face of mounting exposure—because Margarita and the movement wouldn’t drop it—then-Mayor Giuliani repeatedly, on radio and in press conferences, tried to publicly humiliate and blame Margarita and Tony, Anthony’s father, for the murder saying they must have been bad parents. Brosnan had been Mayor Giuliani’s volunteer bodyguard, and Giuliani visited Brosnan after the murder. There was, not surprising, a major cover-up to get these murdering cops off. Margarita never quit. She and other families of victims of police brutality played a key role in an emerging national movement of resistance during the 1990s.
When she started waging this fight, she met other families and was a key force in bringing them together and starting Parents Against Police Brutality. There are a couple of powerful scenes from “Justifiable Homicide,” so many parents and siblings brought together here in New York by an epidemic of murder and brutality of the system’s enforcers that took a leap through the 1990s across the country. One of those scenes is in front of a beautiful mural of Anthony, Hilton, and the names of many other Stolen Lives that has covered two sides of Margarita’s house for years. These and other parents led protests across the country, stirring a whole upsurge of protest.
Over 2,000 people were killed by law enforcement in the 1990s, documented in the Stolen Lives Project. The vast majority were Black and Latino. This kind of thing runs through the whole history of this country, yet there was a leap in the 1990s. A whole generation criminalized. Now it’s generations, plural. The numbers are leaping again now. Some names are well known, like Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Anthony Baez, Oscar Grant. Maybe people heard of Nicholas Heyward Jr. or Malcolm Ferguson. Most aren’t so well known. Revolution #144, “The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need,” spoke of, with intense exposure of the brutal reality for a whole section of people, the roots of it and the profound truth that humanity can resolve this horror and bring into being a whole different world with revolution.
I just watched again Justifiable Homicide, and a rage just bubbled up in me. I thought about the beautiful struggle that erupted since Oscar Grant was murdered by the police in Oakland. Let’s bring together the courage and heart of the many parents like Margarita Rosario, the daring and courage of the stirring youth of Oakland and elsewhere, others from all walks of life who can’t stand the devastation this system puts people through, and the profound revolutionary vision and leadership of Bob Avakian and the Revolutionary Communist Party, and really bring on the scene a movement clearly set on liberating humanity from a system that in reality can’t do anything but treat its youth this way.
Me and Margarita don’t agree on all things, but I’d say we definitely agree that the struggle is for a world where no one has to lose something so great in such a profoundly unjust way.
Revolution readers should check out Justifiable Homicide. Info is available at: realityfilms.net/justifiable/index.shtml
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
The day after I read “A Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity” in Revolution newspaper, I came across an article in the health section of the New York Times. Buried in the back section, a very short, but profoundly gut wrenching title hit me—“Fires Are Big Killer of Indian Women.”
It stated that “more than 100,000 young women were killed in fires in India in a single year, and many of those deaths were tied to domestic abuse.” The women’s ages ranged from 15 to 34. The source of this horrific exposure was from The Lancet, a British medical journal.
According to the NYT article, the abuse of women in India stems from disputes over dowries and domestic abuse, where women are doused with gasoline and set on fire, then reported as kitchen accidents. According to the NYT this was the first time this kind of survey has been undertaken.
Women’s rights activities have confronted the Indian government about these crimes against women. According to the Women’s Rights Initiative of the Lawyers Collective in New Delhi, the authorities dealt with the issue with nothing more than lip service, “Once the death takes place they are willing to investigate, but then it’s too late.”
I thought about how critical it was for “A Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity” to reach these women around the world. How the Declaration stated, “In every corner of the globe women live knowing they can be the victims of violent attacks—most often from men in their family. What does that say about the kind of global system we live under?” To think that half of humanity is forced to live like this is unbearable and doesn’t need to be this way—women beaten and abused, doused with gasoline and set on fire, sold as sex slaves, tied to machines in sweatshops, covered in burkas or head coverings, crowded into jails, held up as sex objects or married to their fathers pledging “purity” so they can be virgins when they marry and become breeders, makes me want to scream.
“To live like this on this planet in the 21st century cannot be justified and should not be accepted. None of this can be tolerated or excused away with counsel of patience.”
WE NEED REVOLTION—A REAL REVOLUTION, THE MOST RADICAL AND LIBERATING REVOLUTION IN HISTORY.”
Lets make some big noise—shake things up and get this issue of Revolution into the hands of thousands.
From a Reader who WILL be in the streets with Revolution newspaper!
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
Revolution received the following correspondence:
The fight to accomplish the Bold Initiative [see issue #147] brings us necessarily to the edge of two worlds: The world we have now and the dire consequences of it remaining the same, and a world that could be. If this coming to the edge does not drive the effort to build a financial base for Revolution, we will be deploying pretense and will fail. What is required is not just staring into the face, but far beneath the surface of the entanglement called the objective conditions, where the reach of things is vast, and things and people are interconnected, where different contradictions interpenetrate and things constantly become something other than what they are.
This is a world historic moment of defining tendencies, possibilities, and indeterminacy. We can draw our line of sight to where time collides with necessity, and opportunities emerge for building a revolutionary movement with the newspaper as its pivot, even as necessity constrains and greatly complicates matters. The blinders have to come off to see that the motion and development of things is not linear, not predetermined, not static.
What do we see, and fight for, and win over in this interpenetration of contradictions? A lawyer in a metropolis at one end of the country stands before a judge in an august court of law where vying corporate interests dispute multi, multi million dollar settlements. At the same time, a lawyer in a rural setting at the other end of the country sits aside a desolate cell trying to defend a young inmate whose life has already been judged and condemned as worthless.
One lawyer is choking on what he grasps as the crisis of capitalism as a world system. He is thinking that Avakian just might have a point. The other lawyer won’t give up on the Obama solution in the face of all evidence, but won’t just write off revolution, its opposite, either. From this entanglement where the action of one immediately, if imperceptibly, affects the other as they both become part of a movement, though at opposite ends of the country, has come many hundreds of dollars to support the newspaper. With a sense of time that is both urgent and calm, and with struggle that sees the scope of what is being built here, these seemingly disparate strands with all their contradictions can be drawn into a more and more coherent whole.
All the different contradictions and outcomes lurk beneath the surface where a particular struggle to contribute and sustain has its own dynamic. At the same time, the particular struggle is part of a larger dynamic, the creation of a newspaper that is not an end in itself but an essential part and a hub for creating a revolutionary movement (which itself is a part of a larger project). People can sense where we are coming from, say for instance, if it is instrumentalism, even if they do not express it as what’s universal in one context is particular in another.
In one part of the country is a Latino professor who enjoys the privileges of academia. In another part of the country is a Black social worker whose intellectual aspirations are tied down by the daily demands of life and the exhaustion of trying to rescue lives that are moored to a sinking ship. Both have roots in the liberation struggles of the 60s. One is very cautious in the face of the state and its agencies of control. The other is not naïve but is more willing to risk something. One has no illusions about Obama. The other feels an allegiance to Obama as bearer of a Black badge of honor. Both are critically religious, though one has a more deep rooted faith while the other is more skeptical. Both value the newspaper for its power of exposure and provocation, but draw the line when it comes to revolution and communism.
From these different contradictions situated in two different people, has come some hundreds of dollars to sustain the continual development of the influence of the paper.
Other examples show how this effort to build a movement takes innumerable forms. A nurse caring for the dispossessed says, “I will send a check.” A recent college grad who works for Obama who acknowledges relying on “blind faith” that things will turn out ok, pledges to contribute when he has some money. Even those from various dispositions of age, work, or mentality, who for one reason or another said no, the very encounter and willingness to wrestle with the idea of the emancipation of all humanity and how it could be done, draws them into the determination to transform the landscape, even if at the margins.
We are staring into an abyss of needless suffering and observing a brutal system shaken to its foundation. Seeing the real contradictions that are at work, and identifying how they interpenetrate and change, and how they can be resolved in the interests of the great majority of people and ultimately of humanity as a whole, is the larger perspective we must bring to the particular requirements and methods of raising money for Revolution newspaper.
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
Dozens of people came together on March 15th and raised more than $2,000 in donations and pledges for Revolution in Oakland, CA. For some, it was their first time at a Revolution newspaper event. A young Black woman said she got introduced to the paper because of the BART police murder of Oscar Grant. A Black community college student had heard Clyde Young on the oppression of Black people just three days before. Latino immigrants from the San Francisco Mission District, teachers, and activists, joined with long-time Party supporters.
Building for the Event
A few weeks before the event, Revolution supporters talked to many people at a community college and in different neighborhoods about the paper, its role in building a revolutionary movement and why funds are needed.
We talked to people in restaurants, bakeries and delis showing them the special “Declaration for Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity” and the brochure for the Bold Initiative. We told people about the march in Los Angeles and Europe for International Women’s Day called by the March 8 Women’s Organization (Iran-Afghanistan).
Many businesses were introduced to the newspaper for the first time and donated pastries and Punjabi food. People from Middle Eastern countries were among the most receptive. One baker had never seen the paper before, but was very familiar with the Oscar Grant battle and wanted to donate because we were involved in that battle. He also was excited to find out about Revolution Books in Berkeley. A pizza parlor owner from the Sudan found out about the event the day of the feast and readily agreed to donate. An Iranian small business contributed, too.
FEASTING, CAMARADERIE AND FUNDS FOR THE REVOLUTION
A beautiful red, yellow, and black banner of the Revolution masthead stretched across the stage of the Humanist Hall in Oakland, catching peoples’ attention as the program began. Colorful flowing saris hung from the rafters and enlarged posters from Revolution ringed the walls condemning the brutal worldwide crimes of U.S. imperialism and the resistance against it.
Larry Everest, writer for Revolution, and a Revolution Club member were the emcees. Larry began with, “Why are we here? Because the world urgently needs changing—radical change. Revolutionary change. Communist change. A whole new world.”
The excerpts read from the paper brought out what a difference it would make if more people understood the world as it really is and acted consciously to change it. Joe Veale’s article, “Thoughts Provoked by the Comments of Preachers at the Funeral of Oscar Grant” and Bob Avakian’s “Revolution and a Radically New World: Contending ‘Universalisms’ and Communist Internationalism” were read from.
With passion, the poem, “Stop Police Brutality and Murder: Thousands of Stolen Lives! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!” was brought alive, drawing loud applause at its conclusion:
“This system has criminalized generations of Black and Latino youth, offering them nothing but unemployment or chump-change jobs, prison, the army, an early grave. This system sees millions of youth as nothing but a ‘social problem’—to be constantly dissed, degraded, disrespected. This system offers the youth no future, no meaningful life, nothing to live for. But the revolution does.”
Clyde Young, representing the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA was a special guest who spoke on the Prisoner’s Revolutionary Literature Fund and read a letter, one of his favorites, from a prisoner on Obama, “This Could Lead People to Support this Juggernaut and All its Death and Destruction.” Clyde said one newspaper inside the prisons is read on an average by 5 people. The urgency of raising funds was brought home when he said 783 prisoners’ subscriptions will run out at the end of March unless $20,000 is raised.
Several people wanted especially to support PRLF, because they have been inspired by the prisoners’ letters about how they look forward to reading and discussing the paper, and how it gets passed around to countless others. Funds will make it possible to provide subscriptions and books like Ardea Skybreak’s The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism, Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters and Bob Avakian’s Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, which are needed in the midst of Christian fundamentalists pouring resources into pumping religion into the prisons.
Larry said there was no better thing that could people do with their money than to give it to this newspaper, which was answered by donations, of $300, $150, 100, and other amounts. He also encouraged people to get subscriptions and to become monthly sustainers. He also suggested different ways people could contribute to producing the newspaper, writing for it, helping distribute it. He talked about how people could give some money now and pledge to raise more in coming weeks, hosting fundraising parties, sustaining and going canvassing with the paper.
As the afternoon turned into evening, groups of people engaged in spirited discussions as others took to the front of the hall and danced to salsa, cumbia, Afro-Cuban and rhythm and blues music, thanks to a DJ who donated his services.
Many people were happy that we were able to raise this money. There was a feeling of camaraderie that we were sharing in the struggle to bring into being a new and better world. There was also an understanding that we need to reach a lot more people and involve them in the revolutionary movement and in all aspects of work surrounding the newspaper.
We encourage others to organize events big and small to raise funds. It can be as simple as getting your friends together, having a potluck and a party and making a fundraising pitch or larger events can be organized. One of the Revolution Club high school students said this event was, “a good mix of chilling out and politics” and that it was “really cool and totally rad.”
Revolution #161, April 12, 2009
February 1, 2009 December 6, 2008
Revolution newspaper received the following comment from a reader off of reading the article in issue #117, “Bagram Prison, Afghanistan: A Brutal U.S. Torture Center”:
Comment: i have been stationed in Bagram for more than a year now and the things that are discussed among soldiers out here is horrid that the prisoners should all be burned and thrown into ovens like in the concentration camps. i mean it is like the people in control of this prison have all the same mentality to make this their own holocaust. i mean if you think of it the things they do to these prisoners is not far from what was being done in Dachau. there is so much wrong out here that they need to make this base bigger and bigger just so they can contain the amount of people they have here. i mean they know that if the families of their prisoners ever find out where they are they will want to see them or talk to them and they can not have that. the sad thing is that our children are going to have to grow up in a world where the children of these men will grow with hatred in their heart for what these people are doing today and i mean some of us came out here to try and defend our country and protect our loved ones but in the end it will all have failed due to the new type of breed this war will create.
* * * * *
Revolution received the following letter:
Maria is a 23-year-old college educated mother of 2 young children. Her mother is white, her father is Black. She sees herself as Black because that’s how she’s been treated during her life. She was brought up in an evangelical household but her college instructors have influenced her toward nationalism and feminism.
She bought the “Declaration for Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity“ (issue #158), but had not read it yet when I showed her the back page Revolution poster of Rihanna. Her first reaction was “why would your newspaper print such a picture, it’s not right to humiliate the victim in this way.” She read through the poster and said she agreed with what it said, but still, why put this picture of Rihanna out there. I pointed out that the photo of Rihanna was pushed out in public very broadly by other media and had created a backlash against Rihanna. I thought Revolution saw the necessity to respond to those arguments in a provocative and forceful way and so created the poster.
Maria is part of a support circle of young low-income Black mothers, most of whom she says are in very bad relationships. She is like them in that she is Black, young and poor; she is not like them in that she graduated from a small respected liberal arts college and has a broader and deeper view of society. She sees her role as trying to help these women break out of the cycle of violence and poverty they are trapped within. The group had talked about Rihanna. Most of them thought it was wrong for her to go back to Chris Brown, but on the other hand the women in the circle do the very same thing in their relationships. Maria said that the Rihanna story has had a very bad effect on these women because here is someone who is a celebrity, who has no economic reason to go back to a bad relationship and yet she did. If Rihanna can’t make that break, how are these women expected to do it? She talked about how these women blame themselves for problems they have in relationships and constantly make excuses for their abusive partners. She said that they joke and laugh about getting beat up. And then added, how would they be able to live with it if they didn’t do this?
I told her about an experience I had as a very young revolutionary. I was arrested for putting up posters and ended up in jail with women who had been picked up for prostitution. I was as curious about them as they were about me. They explained that women were created from Adam’s rib and had to be under the protection and control of men and that’s how they justified their relationship with pimps, included the abuse.
Maria and I talked about how deeply embedded in society these views of women are. But it isn’t human nature, she said. You can go back thousands of years and see that women were looked at and their roles were very different.
Exactly, but how did that change and how do people learn that it is not human nature.
She said it’s white, patriarchal European culture that reinforces all these backward ideas.
Yes, but it’s not just white patriarchy, these ideas have grown up in many different cultures and are reinforced by many different religions. It is true that imperialism reinforces and promotes these backward views, but we have to dig deeper to understand the roots.
I encouraged her to read the Declaration which digs into all of this. We need a very broad and deep discussion in society on this Declaration. There needs to be a revolutionary movement that is uncompromising in its opposition to all of this abuse of women, so that women who are caught in this trap see that there is another way for them to live.
Maria said she wanted to make copies of the Rihanna poster and get it out to the women in her circle and she wants to read the Declaration and talk about it.