Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
A hooded man stands on a stool at the U.S. Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, with wires running under a blanket to administer electric shocks.
CIA “interrogators” waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times in one month in 2003—using a torture technique that provokes the human instinct to gasp for air when being suffocated, and is among the most horrific tortures ever devised.
Thousands of similar stories and images are yet to be revealed.
New developments have shed light on how and why an unchecked reign of torture came to be openly approved during the Bush years. On April 16, 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice released four formerly secret memos issued by Bush administration lawyers. They document how, at the top levels of government, a stamp of legality played a critical role in unleashing depraved brutality.
With the release of these memos, Barack Obama announced that: “[I]t is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.”
If the perpetrators and commanders of this are “not subject to prosecution,” that would set a terrible precedent for the future.
The torture memos are written in the form of responses to (and approving of) requests by the CIA to torture post- 9/11 detainees. The memos approve waterboarding; slamming prisoners into walls; confining a prisoner with a fear of stinging insects in a small dark box with a crawling insect, and a long list of sadistic, dehumanizing and brutal acts.
The torture memos were illegal, and those issuing them knew that. They put the official stamp of approval on torture techniques—like waterboarding—that are illegal under international agreements signed by the U.S. The U.S. had charged and convicted Japanese torturers for waterboarding U.S. troops during World War 2.
These so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”—the U.S. press still resists calling them torture—maimed and traumatized thousands of people. And they resulted in death for at least scores of people.
A report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) dated 2/14/07, on the treatment of 14 detainees at Guantánamo, paints a horrific picture of how combinations of torture techniques were repeatedly applied (the report is available at several online sites including http://www.nybooks.com/icrc-report.pdf). The ICRC report revealed, in one case, that CIA “interrogators” waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times in one month in 2003—an average of 6 times a day. Waterboarding is drowning. It is unambiguously illegal under international agreements signed by the U.S., and is a war crime under U.S. law.
A recently released report by the organization Human Rights First, documents the death of 98 detainees captured in Iraq and Afghanistan, in U.S. detention centers since 2002. Jamal Naseer, an Afghan army soldier mistakenly arrested in 2004, was “punched and kicked” and then, according to the report, hung upside down, and hit with sticks or cables. He collapsed and died about two weeks afterwards. In 2002, Mohammad Sayari was killed by four U.S. servicemembers after being detained for allegedly following their movements. A Pentagon document obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2005 said that the Defense Department found a captain and three sergeants had “murdered” Sayari, but the section of that report dealing with the department’s probe was redacted (blacked out).
Another man in U.S. custody, Abed Hamed Mowhoush, was “beaten over days by U.S. Army, CIA and other non-military forces, stuffed into a sleeping bag, wrapped with electrical cord, and suffocated to death,” The Human Rights First document reports that, “In the recently concluded trial of a low-level military officer charged in Mowhoush’s death, the officer received a written reprimand, a fine, and 60 days with his movements limited to his work, home, and church.” (See “Command’s Responsibility: Detainee Deaths in U.S. Custody in Iraq and Afghanistan.”)
This torture and murder was carried out, in most cases, against people rounded up basically at random. An Amnesty International Report stated that “More than 85 percent of detainees at Guantanamo Bay were arrested, not on the Afghanistan battlefield by U.S. forces, but by the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan at a time when rewards of up to U.S. $5,000 were paid for every ‘terrorist’ turned over to the United States.” (“Bounties paid for terror suspects,” January 16, 2007). The Northern Alliance is a faction of Islamic fundamentalists, warlords, and drug lords who have been aligned with the U.S. in the occupation of Afghanistan.
The widespread use of torture was known to those at the top of the chain of command.
All the top officials of the Bush regime, up to Bush, approved of what Bush insisted on calling “enhanced interrogation techniques.” “Well, we started to connect the dots in order to protect the American people,” Bush told ABC News White House correspondent Martha Raddatz. “And yes, I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved.”
ABC News reported that “the most senior Bush administration officials repeatedly discussed and approved specific details of exactly how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the CIA. The high-level discussions about these ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed—down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.” (“Bush Aware of Advisers’ Interrogation Talks,” by Jan Crawford Greenburg, Howard l. Rosenberg and Ariane de Vogue, April 11, 2008).
In the wake of worldwide furor over exposure of brutal, sadistic torture at the U.S.-run prison at Abu Ghraib, the U.S. Army commissioned Major General Antonio M. Taguba to head an official investigation. Whatever the intent of those who appointed him, Taguba’s report concluded that “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” went on at Abu Ghraib, and that this was “systemic and illegal.”
Taguba was called into the White House where he was interrogated and mocked by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and another top architect of the Iraq war, Paul Wolfowitz, who asked Taguba at this meeting if what was done to detainees was torture, or “abuse.” Taguba told the White House officials, including Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, that: “a naked detainee lying on the wet floor, handcuffed, with an interrogator shoving things up his rectum… That’s not abuse. That’s torture.” This was 2004, five years ago. (See “The General’s Report,” by Seymour M. Hersh, June 25, 2007.)
The terms of debate over the torture memos in the mainstream media revolve around whether or not information extracted by torture is “reliable.” Those terms are both deceptive, and morally wrong.
The systematic, widespread, and openly sanctioned use of torture by the U.S. in the so-called “war on terror” is not mainly about information. The images of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, of degrading sexual humiliation and grotesque physical and psychological torture, were meant to strike terror in the minds and hearts of the people very broadly, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but around the world.
Let’s make it plain: torture is, literally and in essence, a crime against humanity. Like rape, it is a systematic attempt to violently degrade people and rob them of their very humanity. Any government which not only tolerates such things but which, from its highest offices, justifies and insists on them as “instruments of policy”…any government which does not, once this has been exposed, prosecute the perpetrators but instead provides them in advance with immunity...reveals itself as a system that requires such crimes, and such criminals, for its functioning. Any people that does not resist such crimes, and demand prosecution of the torturers and, even more so, those who formulated the policy at the highest levels, reveals themselves to be complicit in those crimes. And in passively allowing the humanity of others to be degraded and attacked, they lose their own.
It is instructive to examine a column by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times in support of Obama’s decision to release the Memos but to not prosecute the torturers. While claiming to oppose torture now, Friedman argues that “Al Qaeda truly was a unique enemy, and the post-9/11 era a deeply confounding war in a variety of ways.” Later in his column, he elaborates: “We could deter the Russians because they loved their children more than they hated us; they did not want to die. The Al Qaeda operatives hated us more than they loved their own children. They glorified martyrdom and left families behind.” (“A Torturous Compromise,” April 28, 2009).
Friedman’s argument here is that threatening to kill their children was sufficient for the U.S. to contend with their former rivals, the Russians, but since, according to Friedman, that won’t work with Islamic fundamentalists, even more brutal, sadistic, extreme thuggish methods are needed.
This is Thomas Friedman speaking, not Barack Obama. But Friedman is not just some columnist—he is an influential voice of ruling class forces represented by the Democratic Party. And the logic of his argument is really just a franker, cruder version of Obama’s own argument that prosecution would hurt the “confidence” of “the men and women of our intelligence community who serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world.”
The high-level, legal approval of torture was a statement that the people who run the U.S. are ruthless and crazy and will stop at nothing in the defense of their “right” to run the world; that not only will they kill you and your family, but they will hold you and torture you and fiendishly fuck with your mind, not just torture your body but torture your very psyche in ways that will make you wish you were dead. All in service of their empire.
Bush’s vice-president, Dick Cheney, and those around him in the ruling class, are lashing out at Obama for supposedly being soft on terrorism for permitting the release of the torture memos. Obama, in turn, pledges that while he cleans up the image of the U.S., nobody will prosecute the torturers.
But the interests of justice lie completely outside the terms of that “debate.”
Torture is torture. It’s immoral, and illegal.
The underlying logic behind Obama’s refusal to prosecute the CIA agents who carried out torture is that they were “only following orders.” That “defense” was explicitly ruled invalid at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals after World War 2. And, Obama is refusing, at least at this point—absent mass protest and societal upheaval—to prosecute those who did give the orders.
There is an immoral logic behind refusing to prosecute the torturers. That “logic” boils down to: We have to do whatever it takes to protect American lives. And then, if those actions provoke even more hatred for Americans around the world, “we” need to carry out even more vicious brutality to protect the safety of American lives. With this “logic” goes the underlying assumption that those American lives are more precious than those of anyone else. In an intensely lopsided world, where a few countries plunder the globe and vast sections of the planet suffer in widespread starvation and pain, that logic is morally unacceptable.
This logic does reflect the interests of a particular class—the capitalist-imperialists who sit atop and run the American empire and fight for “their share” of that plunder. But this logic does NOT reflect the fundamental interests of most people in the world. It is NOT in people’s interests to live in a world where the imperialists can have their enforcers put a hood on the head and electrodes on the genitals of anyone they deem to be a threat, and terrorize them, all in the name of safety—and all in the service of exploitation and empire.
It is a fact that torture has always been a part of the arsenal of U.S. imperialism—from the roasting alive of Native Americans by the colonists, to the use of waterboarding during the conquest and occupation of the Philippines, to the torture of prisoners in the Chicago police dungeons to extract false confessions. That torture, undercover and usually illegal, is terrible enough.
But, if those who set up, legitimized, and endorsed open torture simply walk away, if those who concocted the legal “golden shield” for the torture go free, and if those who “almost choreographed” the torture go free, that is nothing other than a statement that torturers need not look over their shoulders in the future. Regardless of the honeyed promises of the representative of the imperialist system, Obama, it would leave intact the “right” of the U.S. imperialists to order torture.
And on the other hand, if people DO resist, if they DO demand that the criminals be prosecuted and wage a serious political struggle to make that happen, it can be the beginning of a struggle that can, among other things, lead to the beginnings and possibility of real justice—and not some phony, feel-good, ‘let’s-forget-about-the-past-and-move-on’ so-called redemption and/or “reconciliation” that only ultimately enables still more, and still worse, crimes by the bloody criminal enterprise known as America.
Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
Providing the kind of sophisticated, high-powered legal justification for illegal torture found in the Bush regime’s torture memos has an ominous precedent. In a recent column, Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney of the Guantánamo project at the Center for Constitutional Rights, writes about this historical parallel:
“The problem: The nation has been on a war footing for years. Elected leaders believe it is full of sleeper cells of subversives. Officials in the capital decide that torture should be applied to detained subversives (whether to spread terror among their fellows, extract intelligence, or produce confessions is unclear). But law enforcement officers are uneasy about applying ‘more rigorous interrogation’ techniques.”
And, Kadidal reports the solution:
“[A] confidential memorandum, the joint product of the highest officials in the intelligence and justice departments, setting forth in extraordinary detail when certain techniques could be applied, the specific equipment to be used in such interrogations, the number of times certain techniques could be used on certain categories of detainees, and so forth—and specifically promising immunity from prosecution when the rules are followed scrupulously.”
Finally, Kadidal notes the time and place:
“Not Washington, DC circa 2002-2005, but rather Nazi Germany, June 4, 1937.” (“The Torture Memos: Berlin, 1937 Version,” by Shayana Kadidal, Huffington Post, April 21, 2009.)
The parallel is valid and sobering. The legalizing of torture was a significant element in the Nazi’s legitimization of their program. It was part of the legitimizing of the Nazis. It put a formal, legal stamp of approval on activity that, if perceived to be the work of brutish thugs acting outside the law, might have provoked more discontent and outrage.
Legalizing torture helped smooth the path for the acquiescence of “Good Germans” who went along with the Nazi program. After all, they could tell themselves, “it’s legal.”
Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
In announcing the release of the torture memos, Barack Obama said he was doing so because:
“First, the interrogation techniques described in these memos have already been widely reported. Second, the previous Administration publicly acknowledged portions of the program—and some of the practices—associated with these memos. Third, I have already ended the techniques described in the memos through an Executive Order. Therefore, withholding these memos would only serve to deny facts that have been in the public domain for some time. This could contribute to an inaccurate accounting of the past, and fuel erroneous and inflammatory assumptions about actions taken by the United States.”
Most significantly, he said, “In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.”
Why is Barack Obama insisting on not prosecuting those who carried out, or ordered these crimes?
First, Obama’s promise not to prosecute means protecting the CIA and other operatives of U.S. imperialism, letting them know that they are needed to carry out their crimes and need not—indeed, must not—fear that anyone is looking over their shoulder when they do them. It is very significant that the day that the torture memos were released Obama gave a speech at the CIA headquarters. What did he say? Did he say that torture was a crime, and these things must never be done again?
He opened his speech by saying, “It is a great honor to be here with the men and women of the CIA. I’ve been eager to come out here to Langley for some time so I can deliver a simple message to you in person on behalf of the American people: Thank you. Thank you for all the work that you do to protect the American people and the freedom that we all cherish.”
And after explaining that he was compelled to release the torture memos because of court rulings, and because he felt it was expedient to do so, he said, “Don’t be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we’ve made some mistakes. That’s how we learn. But the fact that we are willing to acknowledge them and then move forward, that is precisely why I am proud to be President of the United States, and that’s why you should be proud to be members of the CIA.”
In releasing the torture memos, Obama was playing “good cop” in a way that Bush did not. He is working to shore up the U.S.’s “image” around the world, to maneuver in the battle for public opinion against reactionary Islamic fundamentalist forces who the entire U.S. ruling class sees as untenable obstacles to its interests in the Middle East and beyond.
But with the “good cop” routine goes the real deal—the “bad cop,” and Obama can be that too. In the movie The Godfather Michael Corleone made a civilized and pious appearance at the christening of his nephew, while outside the church, his thugs gunned down his rivals. In a similar fashion, as Obama talks about upholding “our values and our ideals even when it’s hard, not just when it’s easy; even when we are afraid and under threat,” he simultaneously ordered death from the sky in Pakistan via CIA drone planes, and serves as commander-in-chief of the U.S. imperialist war machine that massacred 147 civilians in Afghanistan on May 4, 2009.
There is another reason why Obama will not prosecute the perpetrators of torture. In a column in the New York Times (“A Torturous Compromise,” 4/28/09), Thomas Friedman writes that “justice taken to its logical end here would likely require bringing George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and other senior officials to trial, which would rip our country apart…”
Indeed it could.
There are real, and potentially volatile divisions in the U.S. ruling class over even releasing the torture memos. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has been all over the news basically warning that Obama is opening up the U.S. to another 9/11 or worse. Polls show that “evangelical Christians”—most of whom form a critical social base for the former Bush regime, are the most supportive section of people for using torture. The ruling class forces grouped around Bush, though out of office at the moment, remain unrepentant and powerful, as expressed for example in the wide promotion of Cheney on the major networks—unusual to say the least for an extremely unpopular ex-Vice President.
And there is another dimension to Friedman’s warning that prosecution would “rip apart our country.” Millions and millions of people were outraged by the crimes of the Bush regime, including the open, crude sanctioning of torture. It is one thing to placate these people with a new president who, under court order, releases a few memos documenting how the former administration endorsed torture. It is quite another to pursue criminal prosecution of those who broke the law in the Bush regime. Such a prosecution could open the door to what is called a “legitimacy crisis,” a moment when the legitimacy of the ruling order is called into question, when substantial sections of people come to see that ruling order as illegitimate.
A criminal investigation would also have the potential to reveal the active involvement of leading Democratic Party forces in the open sanctioning of torture. For example, the CIA—for their own purposes—recently released a statement revealing that the Democratic Party House of Representatives leader, Nancy Pelosi, was briefed on everything they were doing, and signed onto the program. That finger-pointing gives a hint of the kind of infighting among the ruling class that could erupt if a criminal investigation got off the ground.
In short, the entire ruling class, including Barack Obama, is concerned that if pursued, criminal prosecution of those who committed and orchestrated torture could provoke widespread questioning of not just how the U.S. defends its empire, but open the door to people coming to see that this is an empire—one far bloodier than that of ancient Rome.
Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
Those issuing the Bush torture memos included then White House Office of Legal Council (OLC) head Jay S. Bybee. Bybee was later appointed by George W. Bush to a high-level federal appeals court judgeship, a position he holds today.
Jack Goldsmith, who succeeded Bybee as head of the OLC, is himself basically a supporter of much of the political rationale behind the so-called “war on terror.” He wrote a book, The Terror Presidency, which argues that the government should have significantly expanded power to pursue the “war on terror.” Yet even Goldsmith was taken aback by the torture memos.
Here is how Goldsmith characterized how these memos were understood by the CIA: “Violent acts aren’t necessarily torture; if you do torture, you probably have a defense; and even if you don’t have a defense, the torture law doesn’t apply if you act under the color of presidential authority.” And, Goldsmith continued, CIA “interrogators and their supervisors,” saw these findings as “a ‘golden shield’ as one CIA official later called it, that provided enormous comfort” (cited in Justice at War,by David Cole).
The memos issued by the White House Office of Legal Council not only provided the “golden shield” for torturers, they provided specific, detailed instructions on how to carry out torture in ways that applied a veneer of civilized legality to depraved brutality.
The May 10, 2005 memo, by Steven Bradbury (another OLC attorney) notes that the CIA’s Office of Medical Services (psychiatrists and doctors who violate the most basic ethics of medical professionals by facilitating torture), were nearby to perform a tracheotomy if during waterboarding the suspect is approaching death. He wrote approvingly that “the necessary emergency medical equipment is always present—although not visible to the detainee—during any application of the waterboard.”
The Bybee torture memo, issued August 1, 2002, is a comprehensive legal justification and guidebook for torture, systematically explaining why a wide range of international legal precedents do not apply to CIA torturers, and/or how to fine-tune torture techniques to circumvent existing U.S. and international law.
For example, Bybee’s memo examines in detail a case in which a U.S. court found Serbian torturers liable, under the federal Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA). The acts that the U.S. court ruled constituted torture included beatings, hanging the victims upside down, and death threats in the form of “Russian roulette,” along with degrading treatment (Mehinovic v. Vuckovic, 2002).
In this particular instance (as throughout his memo), Bybee does three things:
1) He simply dismisses some of the findings in the federal court ruling in the case. Bybee writes, “To the extent the opinion [the court ruling against the Serbian torturers] can be read to endorse the view that this single act and the attendant pain, considered in isolation, rose to the level of ‘severe pain or suffering,’ we would disagree with such a view based on our interpretation of the criminal statute.”
2) He identifies specific Serbian torture techniques that the court ruled illegal, like hitting a victim with a metal pipe, or pulling out the victim’s tooth, in order to essentially instruct torturers: don’t do it this way, do it another way.
3) Bybee’s memo assures CIA torturers that their acts will not be considered torture under this precedent: “A broad view of this case, and of the TVPA cases more generally, shows that only acts of an extreme nature have been redressed under the TVPA’s civil remedy for torture.”
In this way, the torture memos both provided a “golden shield” for torture, and a how-to guide for torturers.
Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
The coverage in this issue of Revolution of the Bush regime lawyers’ “torture memos” is of special significance to readers. These memos, released last month, legalized the torture by the U.S. of thousands in the wake of 9/11. And while Obama has promised that the U.S. will now discontinue torture, he has also emphatically opposed further legal investigation and any prosecution of those who developed and carried out these crimes. And Obama has stated that the torturers will not be prosecuted.
In response, there must be continuing efforts to get the truth out to people about these criminals and the brutal methods they legalized and sponsored. Most people have no idea of the scope and meaning of these crimes; they must be informed. Those who “don’t want to know,” must be challenged. And all that must serve building mass political struggle to demand that these criminals of the highest order (and on the highest levels of society) be tried and punished for their criminal acts.
To do less is unconscionable. Barack Obama has said this is a time for “reflection, not retribution.” NO, this is not a time for reflection, or a time to put this Bush torture era “behind us” in the interests of “uniting the American people” and “repairing the U.S. image in the world.” This is a time to make the horrific reality of the torture of prisoners in Guantánamo—and in U.S. run and sponsored prisons around the world—known to millions. And—again—this is a time to organize and spread resistance and demand the prosecution of these criminals and to demand justice.
Key to this is distributing Revolution newspaper far and wide: Get this paper (and its on line edition) into the hands of thousands. Go deeply into the articles here, discussing them in small and large groups. And yes, challenge people and wage sharp struggle with those who have been silent or indifferent to not turn their heads away when confronted with the horrible reality of what their government is responsible for.
As the lead article in this issue says, “Let’s make it plain: torture is, literally and in essence, a crime against humanity. Like rape, it is a systematic attempt to violently degrade people and rob them of their very humanity. Any government which not only tolerates such things but which, from its highest offices, justifies and insists on them as ‘instruments of policy’...any government which does not, once this has been exposed, prosecute the perpetrators but instead provides them in advance with immunity...reveals itself as a system that requires such crimes, and such criminals, for its functioning. Any people that does not resist such crimes, and demand prosecution of the torturers and, even more so, those who formulated the policy at the highest levels, reveals themselves to be complicit in those crimes. And in passively allowing the humanity of others to be degraded and attacked, they lose their own.”
From the perspective of building a revolutionary movement aimed at a world where no human will subject another to these brutalities, to torture or any other violent repression, there is urgent importance to acting now. There is a moment to seize, to draw a sharp dividing line—exposing and isolating those who represent a world of oppression and exploitation backed by legions of killers and torturers who enforce all these relations. Such exposure will fill people with an irresistible urge to protest, to demand the prosecution and punishment of the torturers and those who gave them their orders.
In this light, the actions called for by World Can’t Wait for May 28 take on great importance. (See Torture is a war crime! Prosecute! Thursday MAY 28—National Day of Resistance to U.S. TORTURE!) All those who are outraged, who cannot sit by while their government lets these criminals and killers go free, with impunity, should be organizing for and actively building for these demonstrations wherever they are.
There is infighting over these memos in the ranks of the ruling class over how to repair the image of U.S. imperialism, cohere the allegiance of people who hated Bush, and to do this while essentially pursuing the objectives Bush represented. From the perspective of building a revolutionary movement, these fissures in the ruling class could provide real openings for the anger and resistance of the masses to break through. It is this we must work for, from the strategic perspective of hastening the development of a revolutionary situation, shaping as much as possible the political terms of things and gathering revolutionary forces, even as we are tensely awaiting and preparing for further breaks and crises in the situation overall that will be brought on by the system’s own dynamics.
As the article “The Torture Memos…And the Need for Justice,” concludes: “[I]f people DO resist, if they DO demand that the criminals be prosecuted and wage a serious political struggle to make that happen, it can be the beginning of a struggle that can, among other things, lead to the beginnings and possibility of real justice—and not some phony, feel-good, ‘let’s-forget-about-the-past-and-move-on’ so-called redemption and/or ‘reconciliation’ that only ultimately enables still more, and still worse, crimes by the bloody criminal enterprise known as America.”
Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
Going further, there are two things that are relevant to all this, things which do bear very significantly on human life, human relations and human thinking: one, all human beings die; and two, human beings are not only conscious of this but in many ways acutely aware of it. Now the point is not to "wax existential," or to lapse into existentialism as a philosophical outlook, but there is a value, if you will, to exploring this, at least a little bit. Why do I raise this? Well, often, for example, in existentialist literature, but more generally in a lot of literature which seeks to deal with "profound ironies and tragedies of life," this contradiction—that human beings are living beings but all human beings die, and that human beings are conscious of this—forms a significant theme, a significant phenomenon with which people wrestle. This is true in philosophy but also in the arts. Especially in a society which places so much emphasis on "the individual," in an ideological sense, even while it grounds down individuals in material reality—and this is particularly true of U.S. society and U.S. imperialism—it is not surprising that this phenomenon, that human beings die and they are conscious of this, has a prominent place in the culture.
This is also one of the main elements that factors into religion, and in the way people understand and explain the phenomenon of—and, as many portray it, the need for—religion. Some people even argue that you will always have religion because people will need a way to deal with death—not only their own death, but perhaps even more the death of loved ones. It is interesting, I was recently reading one of these pulp novels, by these two sisters, the O'Shaughnessy sisters (they write these legal thrillers—"page turners"—fun to read for a little diversion), and they actually made an interesting comment in passing in this book about how American society is so litigious these days (one of the two sisters is a former lawyer). They were speaking specifically of all the litigation that goes on around wrongful death, which of course is a big phenomenon in the U.S.: somebody dies, well very often there is going to be a lawsuit for wrongful death—unless it's one of the basic masses, and then generally nobody in a position of authority or prominence cares and, while there are some prominent cases of people suing when a loved one is murdered by police, the death of one of the basic masses is not the kind of thing that usually ends up in litigation. But, in any case, in this book the point was made that in countries like the U.S., where there is a certain decline in religious belief (at least of the more "traditional" kind), there has been an increase—I don't even know if this is actually true, but it's an interesting point to think about—there has been an increase in wrongful death suits because people have to find somebody to blame. And especially if you can't get the false consolation that religion offers—"they're in a better place, god had a plan for them," and all these other outrageous things that are said when someone dies—then somebody's got to be held accountable, so you sue somebody for wrongful death. Now I thought that was an interesting and provocative point. I'm not sure this is capturing an essential aspect of reality, but it's a little bit interesting as a side point.
The main point I'm exploring here, briefly, is that the fact that human beings die is often used to justify religion, or in any case to argue that human beings will always need religion: in order to deal with death, the argument goes, human beings will always need some sort of consolation in the form of religion of one kind or another.
This is something worth exploring a bit—precisely from a materialist standpoint and in relation to our communist outlook and communist objectives. First of all, it is necessary to recognize that while death is universal for human beings—all human beings die, sooner or later—there is not one common viewpoint about death: people in different social conditions have different experiences with and different viewpoints on all kinds of phenomena, including death.
In this connection, I was thinking of a statement attributed to Mao near the end of his life—I believe it was in a letter that he was reported to have written to Chiang Ching in which he talked about what he had tried to achieve through the revolution in China, and as part of the world revolution, and the ways in which he'd run up against obstacles in this. His statement was something to the effect that "human life is finite, but revolution is infinite." Now (assuming he said this) I don't think Mao meant this literally—that revolution is literally infinite—because Mao was materialist enough to know that human existence as such, the existence of human beings as a species, is not going to be infinite. Or, perhaps, as another leading comrade has suggested, Mao was actually thinking more broadly—beyond just human existence—to reality overall, and the fact that all of reality proceeds not just in a gradual and linear way but is marked by profound leaps and ruptures, involving qualitative changes from one state of matter in motion to another. In any case, and in the dimension in which Mao was speaking about human beings and human society, he was pointing to the contradiction that individuals can play a certain role—and specifically if they become conscious of the need for revolution, and more especially if they take up the outlook and method of communism, they can contribute a great deal to radically transforming human society—but, in all cases, their role and their contributions will still be limited, not only by their particular abilities (and shortcomings) and by their circumstances, but also by the fact that human life is finite, that people live only a few decades. But revolution—that is, not only the overthrow of exploiting classes but, even far into the future in communist society, the need for the continual transformation of society, the need to recognize and transform necessity into freedom—will constantly pose itself and human beings will constantly, and with varying degrees of consciousness, act in relation to that. So, with regard to human society, that is the essential meaning of the statement (attributed to Mao) that human life is finite, but revolution is infinite.
This poses an important challenge morally and, if you will, psychologically—or in terms of one's basic orientation. It is true, everybody is going to live a relatively short life—certainly compared to the life of the cosmos. Even though, over millennia, we've prolonged human life for several decades, it still involves a relatively brief period of time. But the fact remains that your life, whether shorter or longer (within this overall finite framework), is going to be devoted to one kind of objective or another. It is going to be shaped by larger forces that are independent of your will, but then there is the question of how, yes, each individual—as well as in a different, larger dimension, social classes—respond to the way in which the contradictions that are shaping things confront and impinge on them. And there is conscious volition and conscious decision in terms of what people do with their lives, in relation to what they see as necessary, possible, and desirable. After all, it is not as if revolution is something outside of human experience, nor certainly is it outside of material existence; in other words, it's not as if revolution is not made by people. It is not as if "revolution is infinite" means that there is something called Revolution, with a capital R, that's some sort of metaphysical force, like nature with a consciousness, or history with a consciousness, that is marching on, in accordance with some sort of teleological notion.
No, people make revolution. They do so on a certain foundation. That is Marx's point, which I have repeatedly referred to, and for good reason: People make history, but they don't do so any way they wish—they do so on the basis of certain definite material conditions which are inherited from previous generations and are independent of the wills of individuals. But, within that framework, people have a great deal of initiative, and a great deal of scope for conscious decision about what they're going to do with their lives; and the more they become conscious of the way that the world and the contradictions driving the world actually are and actually move and change, the more conscious their decision can be about what they're going to do with their lives.
I was further provoked to think about this whole question, in watching a film about the P-Stone Nation gang in Chicago. As part of this film there were interviews with some "O.G.s"—veteran or former members of the gang, who are now in their 50s and 60s—people who were in the P-Stone Nation way back when, and who remained in for several decades, but now have gotten out of it, let's say. One of these guys was being interviewed about the situation with the gangs and the youth who are drawn into the gangs now, and it's kind of funny, but very often when you hear one generation of people who have gotten a little bit older than the teenagers and people in their early 20s who make up the "soldiers" of these gangs, they make the comment about these younger guys: "Well, things were crazy when I was doing this, but these younger guys nowadays, they're really crazy, much crazier than we were." But what stood out to me in what this guy was saying was his comment that these young guys don't expect to live to be 21—and they just don't care. And then he went on to acknowledge: That's the way I was when I got into this—I didn't expect to live to be 21, and I just didn't care.
This is a contradiction that was pinpointed and focused on by George Jackson in talking about the question of revolution, emphasizing that gradualism can never appeal to youth like this—that, as he put it, the idea of revolution as something in the far-off distant future has no meaning to a slave who doesn't expect to live beyond tomorrow. This is a very difficult and very important contradiction that we have to continue to grapple with. But here what I want to emphasize is that this viewpoint (not expecting to live past 21, and just not caring) flows from a certain social experience—it is a more or less spontaneous response to that social experience. It's not that, somehow, mysteriously and magically, an existential philosopher and a gang member are likely to have very different views of life and death. This flows out of different social experience (again without reifying things—without ignoring or pounding down into an undifferentiated whole the actual differences among different individuals within the same social grouping, having the same social experience, broadly speaking).
But there is something very thought-provoking in that statement: these youth don't expect to live to be 21, and they just don't care. That's a different view towards life and death than that of a middle class person who, nice person though they may be, is doing everything possible to prolong her or his life by another two years, three months, six days, seven hours and twenty-seven seconds, or whatever: doing all the right exercising, the right diet, et cetera, et cetera. I'm not arguing that people should be careless of the considerations of health and fitness and living as long as they can—the quantity of life is not irrelevant. But the point is that it's not nearly as significant as the quality of life—that is, what someone's life is all about, and what it is dedicated to, no matter how long or short one's life is. But there is also the point that different social classes, different groups in society, with different social experiences, have different views on this—views which, without being reductionist and mechanical, do correspond, broadly speaking, to different social experiences.
Or we can think of youth and others giving their lives in struggles and wars—doing so willingly, many times, especially today, for what are ultimately dead-ends or bad ends. But, on the other hand, there has been historical experience—and, yes, even today, there is experience—where this is done for truly liberating ends, for emancipating goals and objectives. Or, in a more "personal" dimension, you see parents who will say, "You have to protect your children no matter what," and who give up their lives for their children. Sometimes this is in a more lofty way, sometimes in a not so lofty way. But, overall, there is the significant phenomenon of people consciously making the decision—which, again, is "intertwined" with social experience, but still involves a process of consciously making the decision—to devote and dedicate their lives, and even to give their lives, for one purpose or another—sometimes very negative, but also sometimes very positive.
So, the fact that all human beings die, and that they're conscious of this, is not the beginning and end of the story. There is a much greater reality that this is situated within, and people have different views of this, which largely reflect their differing social experiences, as well as their own individual experiences, secondarily but importantly.
It is not the case that the great existential drama—and, as this is often presented, the great unavoidable tragedy—of human beings is that, do what they may and try as they will, they cannot escape death. That is a material reality. But being a material reality, it is also something that people do come to terms with in various ways, and that people do act consciously in relation to, under differing circumstances and out of differing social experiences.
This has a lot to do with the point in "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future" about why, in initiating the People's War in China, Mao drew on what he called the brave elements. As he said, they were less afraid of dying, they were more willing to take a risk that could involve dying. It's like the line from the Bob Dylan song: "When you ain't got nothin', you got nothin' to lose." Now let me emphasize that it is most emphatically not the case that communists count human life, or the lives of the masses of people, as cheap or as nothing. Quite the contrary. As Mao also powerfully articulated: Of all things in the world, people are most precious. But the reality is (a) no one is going to escape death and (b) people's lives, and even their deaths, are going to have one content or another, and count for one thing or another. It is a tragedy, to put it that way, if people's lives are given for what are ultimately dead-ends—or, still worse, bad ends. And it is never a light thing when anyone gives her/his life even for a truly liberating objective. To paraphrase another powerfully poetic statement by Mao: While dying in the service of the imperialists and reactionaries is lighter than a feather, to die for the people is as weighty as a mountain. (This basic orientation is also emphasized in the statement I made on the occasion of the murder of Damian Garcia.)1 The content of people's lives—the quality of those lives, what they are dedicated and devoted to, and ultimately what they've been lived about, whether their death comes sooner or later—is the most important thing and gives meaning, one way or another, to people's lives, short as they are in relation to the infinite existence of matter in motion.
This is a basic point of orientation which has to do with the question of whether we can actually confront, and should confront, reality as it actually is—in opposition to the notion that human beings (or at least some human beings) need some sort of consolation in the form of distortions of reality—and in particular inventions of gods and/or other supernatural beings and forces. This is a fundamental point of ideological orientation—and ideological struggle. Can we and should we face reality as it actually is? Can human beings actually have, and how can they most fully have, a life with meaning and purpose, and is that best done by actually confronting and, yes, striving to transform, reality on the basis of how reality actually is and the potential for change within that; or should we descend—and I use that word very consciously—into inventions, obfuscations and distortions of reality, in an ultimately failed attempt to provide consolation—consolation not only for the fact that people will die, but also for the fact that most people's lives, in the world as it is, under the domination of the imperialist system and relations of exploitation and oppression, are not lives that are richly lived (and I don't mean that in a monetary sense, I mean that in the sense of the fullness of their lives, the humanity of their lives, if you will)?
How should we deal with the glaring contradiction between the fact that most people's lives are ground down, and while they exist their lives are full of misery, and on the other hand that this could be radically different and the world as a whole could be radically different and better? What should be our orientation toward that contradiction? What should we seek to do about that? Should we, because lives are short and all human beings die and we know it, shrink from the sacrifices that are necessary in order to make human life radically different and better—or should we more and more consciously and willingly devote, dedicate and in an overall sense give our lives to the emancipating goals of the communist revolution?
We cannot change the fact that all human beings have finite lives. We cannot change the fact that human beings are aware of this (and if they were not aware of this, then their lives would be that much more impoverished, because obviously their consciousness of many things would be extremely curtailed and limited). What we can change, and what has a great deal of meaning, is what we do with the lives that we do have. This, once again, is the meaning of Mao's statement, or an important aspect of what Mao was getting at, when he said human life is finite, but revolution is infinite.
So perhaps having waxed more existential than I intended to, let me end this part of the discussion by citing the following passage from the evolution book (The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism—Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters2 ), which speaks very powerfully and sweepingly to fundamental questions of orientation:
"There is no particular special purpose to our existence in the grand scheme of things—except what we make of it. Whether we're even here or not doesn't really matter (at least not consciously) to anything on this planet except ourselves; and certainly (at least at this point) our existence or non-existence can't possibly have the slightest impact on anything in the greater cosmos, where objectively we are of no greater significance than a single grain of sand on a beach. But so what? Does that mean we don't matter? Does it mean that we might as well kill each other off because there's no god there to care what we do one way or the other? Does it mean that our lives have absolutely no purpose? Of course not! Our lives are precious and we do matter a great deal...to each other! We should decide to 'do the right thing'—and act with each other in ways that are 'moral and ethical'—not because we're afraid we'll get written up by some warden-like god if we don't, but because what we do directly affects the quality of human life. And, of course, our lives can and do have purpose (though different people will define that in different ways in accordance with their world outlooks) because we humans can choose to imbue our lives with purpose." (pp. 155-56, emphasis in original)
1. Comrade Damián García, a much-loved member of the RCP, was assassinated by police agents in Los Angeles on April 22, 1980. Two weeks earlier he had raised the red flag over the Alamo, in place of the Texas flag, as part of the campaign to bring forward a revolutionary outpouring for May Day 1980. Bob Avakian’s "Statement on the Death of Damián García" was published in Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution) #51, April 25, 1980. A portion of it is quoted in his memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, Insight Press, 2005, pp. 408-409. [back]
2. By Ardea Skybreak, Insight Press, Chicago, 2006. [back]
Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
|The judge's decision at the end of the May 18th hearing for Johannes Mehserle will determine whether he is held to answer for murder or if the charge is lowered to manslaughter. The judge could even decide to let Mehserle walk free and avoid trial completely.|
On Monday May 18, Johannes Mehserle, the cop who killed Oscar Grant goes to court. That day there needs to be massive protest outside the Alameda County Courthouse, at Fallon and 12th Streets. You need to be there to demand...
JUSTICE FOR OSCAR GRANT!
Thousands of people are killed by the police every year in the US—and usually the cops who commit these murders get away with it. But this terrible murder was caught on video and the outrage that followed force the system to do something rare: charge Johannes Mehserle with murder! But just because he was charged doesn’t mean he will be tried and convicted. The system must feel the people’s anger and the demand for justice for Oscar Grant. A strong and determined culture of resistance must come into being— to win this battle, as part of building the revolutionary movement we need to end injustices like police murder and bring into being a whole new kind of society.
Four months have passed since Oscar Grant was shot in the back, and the system has gone through contortions to minimize this horrible killing and even lie to exonerate Johannes Mehserle... but
COLD BLOODED MURDER IS STILL COLD BLOODED MURDER!
Millions have seen the videos of the New Year’s execution of 22 year old Oscar Grant—executed by BART cop, Johannes Mehserle. 3 different cell phone videos showed, from different angles, Oscar and his friends fully complying with police, and trying to chill, even while police were slugging, choking, handcuffing and throwing them to the ground. [see youtube.com/user/oscargrantjustice]
After months of BART telling the public how sorry they were about Oscar’s death, offering “condolences” to his family, and promising to investigate the killing and get at the truth, their official answer to Oscar’s death is that HE is responsible, not the cop who shot him.
• BART says, “ Oscar Grant willfully and wrongfully provoked the altercation in which he was involved.”
• They say that when Mehserle pulled his weapon and shot Oscar in the back it was simply a “tragic mistake” and a “terrible error.”
NO! These lies are attempts to cover-up, and deny justice in this case. Why did Obama send a letter of condolence to the families of the four fallen “heroes” but did not utter a word about Oscar Grant or the other thousand people killed by the police each year? And Attorney General Jerry Brown (who some are saying should take over the case) called the people of Oakland “urban terrorists” who “pile on [the cops] as though they were doing something bad, when they were really doing something good.”
Why is it that no one can remember when a murdering cop got convicted? Because their whole system rests on the violent suppression of the people—especially Black and oppressed people. This is why the system is attempting to exonerate Mehserle. They want to legitimize what he did and defend the police, so they can protect their system and so their police can keep on brutalizing the people.
And this is exactly why the people must not let them get away with this, why we have to step way up on our fight for justice for Oscar Grant.
As a member of Oscar’s family said: “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.” But if people really come out to fight this and WIN, it will be a blow to the system of oppression and part of bringing into being a radically different world.
The Whole Damn System Is Guilty!
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Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
Last week's issue of Revolution put out a challenge for May First—the international holiday of revolution, a day of revolutionary rededication and celebration. The challenge called on all who refuse to accept that this world we live in now is the "best of all possible worlds" to dig into the two key works published in that issue: the beginning section of Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage: A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, and the first of a series of excerpts from the new talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP: "Ruminations and Wranglings: On the Importance of Marxist Materialism, Communism as a Science, Meaningful Revolutionary Work, and a Life with Meaning." And a call was put out for people to take up the challenge of "getting this issue of Revolution out into society widely—everywhere people are protesting, thinking critically, rebelling in anyway against the way things are."
Revolution received correspondences from several cities about how this challenge was taken up.
SF Bay Area: Immigrant Rights Marches and School Walkouts
From Revolution readers
In San Francisco and Oakland, several groups organized May 1 marches and rallies for immigrant rights and to stop the ICE raids. Despite the heavy rain, about a thousand people came out for the day, including many Latino youth from high schools and colleges. There was a group of youth from a city north of San Francisco who had been organizing around 9/11 Truth who were really against the "America first" stuff and had a healthy distrust of the system. We got them the May Day issue of the Revolution newspaper, and they were interested in the challenge embodied in the new manifesto from the RCP, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage.
The turnout this year was far smaller than in years past. Partly this was due to the weather, but it was also fueled by the reactionary and unscientific anti-immigrant atmosphere whipped up around the swine flu that discouraged many immigrants from stepping out that day.
A group of people who identified themselves as FMLN supporters were anxious to talk about revolution, but didn't have a clear understanding of the harm being done by revisionism in El Salvador. But they also didn't see the recent FMLN electoral victory in El Salvador as the end-all of what they were fighting for. [FMLN, which waged an armed struggle against the U.S.-backed regime in the 1980s, won elections in March for president and vice-president.] With these people, we highlighted and got them issue #160 of Revolution newspaper with the front page "On Developments in Nepal and the Stakes for the Communist Movement: Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, 2005-2008 (With a Replay from CPN[M], 2006)." One of the FMLN supporters bought a copy of the Spanish-language edition of Bob Avakian's book Away With All Gods! as well as the new Manifesto from the RCP. He said his son had told him about Away with All God!s and now that it was available in Spanish, he was eager to get a copy for himself.
On the march in Oakland, the Revolution Club members displayed their slogan, "Humanity Needs Revolution and Communism," on a banner and led chants that called out this whole damn system and painted a picture of an entirely different world: "¿Un mundo sin fronteras? ¡Si se puede! ¿Un mundo sin barreras? ¡Si se puede! ¿Un mundo comunista? ¡¡SI SE PUEDE!!"
Also on May Day, there was a walkout in the morning that drew from three different high schools in Oakland. They marched to city hall for immigrant rights and for justice for Oscar Grant, the young Black man who was shot in the back on New Year's Day by the police. 50 students from UC Berkeley also held a May Day protest and march and then took the train to Fruitvale station in honor of Oscar Grant, who was murdered there four months ago.
Houston: Taking out "Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage"
From a reader
Challenging people with the Manifesto from the RCP helped break open the thinking of many people we reached out to. It challenged many of them, and also others with varying degrees of familiarity with the RCP and Revolution, to deepen their thinking, and in some cases to work more closely with the party. People talk with each other about what's going on in the world all the time, but don't see any way out. This issue put some rays of light in there, and opened up thinking on potential and possibilities of change.
The Manifesto got out at different events and to different sections of people—but its central message that another world is not only desperately needed but possible resonated widely. On April 30, Sunsara Taylor and Robert Muhammed (southwest regional coordinator of the Nation of Islam) conducted a vigorous exchange on religion, politics, and morality before an SRO crowd of about 250 people at Texas Southern University law school; this event also kicked off some intense efforts by teams of people to get the Manifesto further distributed in key areas throughout the city: Cinco de Mayo celebrations in barrios; the "Art-Car Parade" that draws huge crowds; some universities and a high school, housing projects and sprawling apartments in neighborhoods preyed upon constantly by police.
One immigrant at a Cinco de Mayo concert in the park said "everything you're saying is really striking a chord with me, but I've never heard anyone talk like this before." He said that all of his friends just accept the way things are, they never think about things being different. He got both the paper and the Manifesto, and is interested in coming to the weekly Revolution discussions. We also met a couple of Chilean leftists at the concert. One of them got the Manifesto right away, and also bought a subscription on the spot. His friend also wanted the "Revolution in Ideas…" issue. Both spoke to how they saw the situation in Latin America and the world. One said that he saw the U.S. going down as an empire. His friend said that people around world are fed up with the U.S. Another guy, in his 20s, got the Manifesto and was clearly looking for alternatives. He said that he didn't think Obama could do anything different than previous presidents, because he's just someone else in the same position, controlled by the same interests.
At the Art Car Parade, we met an interesting mix of people. One guy, who described himself as a "stone-cold capitalist," came up to us and dug out a couple of bucks to get the paper. He felt compelled to check this out, saying that this is something different, something new, that people are talking to us about communism. A young Chicano low rider gave $5 for a bundle of papers, and wanted us to contact him further. He said he has friends who would be interested. What grabbed him was the front-page headline about "the historic breakthrough." He wanted to know what that was all about. He was representative of a number of more working class people who are disgusted by the way things are, and feel that the way things are is just intolerable.
Another important aspect of taking out the May First issue is how it raised all kinds of questions about the first wave of communist revolutions. A young guy who got the paper, said he argues with friends about whether communism has anything good to offer people. He feels people only hear one side. Others were intrigued about what we were saying about the accomplishments of these socialist societies. This is not the "narrative" they've heard, and many feel compelled to check it out, especially in these turbulent times.
A lot of people were struck by the point that things haven't always been this way, and don't have to stay this way. "The Long Darkness…" section of the Manifesto challenges the framework people have been taught that there's always been someone dominating others. This is very powerful, and cannot be underestimated—especially when it is combined with how we've come to the point where this is no longer necessary, and we have the means to end class society once and for all. Giving people a scientific understanding of the development of class society, as this section does, really resonates with people. Several times we pointed out that billions are starving in a world where we have the means to feed everyone, how it is only capitalism that stands in the way, and how socialism can resolve this basic problem. You can see how this reality hits people from all different strata.
A lot of this really connected with people in the proletarian neighborhoods—both this issue and the previous one on "The Revolution in Ideas…." When you bring revolution and communism to the masses, it raises all the big questions. Many people are kind of shocked to meet people who don't believe in god, or capitalism. People do attempt to find their way under this system, and even will justify this, because they don't see an alternative. But the points above really grabbed people exactly because it broke out of the framework of this system. Several guys in the 'hood responded, "wow, never talked with anyone like this…people talk about what's wrong all the time, but not that there's something that can be done about it." Talking about the big questions of revolution and communism also brought up—but in a larger context—the shit people have to deal with every day. There is a lot of anger at the police brutality and outright murder that is constant. A number of people have pointed out that it has escalated since Obama's election, and they were shocked to hear that he sent condolences to the families of the cops killed in the Bay Area, but not to Oscar Grant's family. Another guy, who now works steady but has been in prison and had to struggle all his life, got the paper, and spoke to how the youth really need this.
This issue also struck a number of people who have been reading the paper for a long time. One social justice activist said that this was "an impressive issue." He especially liked how the paper used photos and captions to break things down. A woman who has some background in Marxism, said she really needed to get into "this article on Marx" ["The Long Darkness—and the Historic Breakthrough"]. She has come to a number of events recently, and heard people talking from a perspective she hadn't heard before, and wanted to dig into this more.
Chicago: Revolution Was in the House!
From a correspondent
For a number of years, Chicago has witnessed massive outpourings on May 1st of immigrants and others demanding rights for the undocumented and an end to the vicious La Migra/ICE raids. And that demonstration took place again this year, but with some new features. First, the size was significantly smaller—a few thousands as opposed to tens of thousands. While this reporter is not in a position to sum up all the reasons for the decline in size, one factor definitely was the lack of support this year from the local Democratic Party machine. In the past Mayor Daley had welcomed the march. This year the city pressured the organizers to cancel by using the excuse of combating the "swine flu epidemic." But the organizers, to their credit, would have no part of that. They told the city, "We will cancel the march when every sporting event, movie showing, church service and class is cancelled." Since that wasn't about to happen, the march went on.
Another new thing was the relative absence of American flags from the march. There were a few, but not the nauseating flood of previous years. Plus there was another flag in the house—the red flag of revolution. Sandwiched between a huge scroll of the Constitution in front and banners covered with the Virgin of Guadalupe behind, a bold RCP-led contingent stepped out—challenging people to raise their sights and to becoming emancipators of humanity. While our contingent wasn't that large, it had a big impact. Our presence was striking—people marched as a block, all in black T-shirts with the beautiful masthead from Revolution newspaper emblazoned across the front and "revcom.us" across the back. Two giant banners proclaimed "Somos seres humanos, exigimos un mundo mejor, no aceptaremos ninguna forma de esclavitud." ("We are human beings. We demand a better world. We will not accept slavery in any form.") and "Humanity Needs Revolution and Communism, Not a Better Imperialism" (in English). Other people carried giant red flags, while paper sellers fanned out among the crowd as we passed through.
And the contingent had a beat! What people heard was right in sync with what they saw. Powerful chants—with catchy rhythms, in both Spanish and English. "We don't have a problem with immigration. We have a problem with capitalism!" (a big favorite) "Revolution is what we need... to emancipate humanity!" And more. The bold message definitely resonated with some. A group of high school kids went crazy as we went by. People sought us out to get red flags. Members of surrounding contingents started to take up our chants. And an anarchist even invited us to join their contingent (to which we declined, but suggested "let's talk first"). For others, however, it presented a challenge—like the woman who felt compelled to defend her view that people already know everything they need to know, so activists should just focus on "building communities." But agree or disagree, there was an undeniable loftiness and seriousness to what we were doing that drew people's attention. And this was clearly felt within the contingent itself. A young Latino went around to non-Spanish speakers to help them get their Spanish pronunciation right—because he felt it was that important for people understand what we were saying.
Paper sellers took out the issue of Revolution with the excerpt "The Long Darkness and the Historic Breakthrough" from the RCP's Manifesto Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. And this issue definitely connected with a politically advanced section among them who were surprised and excited to find a revolutionary party right in heart of U.S. imperialism. One seller commented on how more than a few people peppered her with questions—"What is your party about? Who is your leader? Where are you from?"—while grabbing up the paper. A similar experience happened with some people from India. While with the Black masses, the experience was more contentious. A seller summed up that a number of Black people along the route got the paper because they see this system as completely screwed up—but they still had the question "aren't those Mexicans taking our jobs?" Since there wasn't much time for talk, sellers encouraged people to dig into the paper itself for answers to their questions. Another seller was asking college students in the march if they had read the original Communist Manifesto. And, particularly with those who had, she challenging them to get Revolution and dig into the RCP's new Manifesto which lays out what has been learned in the 150 years since then about how we can emancipate all of humanity. One student who got the paper agreed repeatedly with a seller's description of all the horrors caused by the U.S. government, while steadfastly maintaining that "we still have to force them to live up to their own Constitution."
As one seller summed up, "among the Latino masses the idea of revolution—whatever they may think that means—has a lot of appeal." Paper sellers are planning to go back into Chicago's main Latino neighborhoods in the coming weeks to build off the connections that were made at the march.
After the march, much of the contingent got together to sum up what we had accomplished. And the discussion also helped people deepen the understanding of how this was a critical part of building a revolutionary movement. First off we talked about the importance of our contingent clearly being about a revolution to emancipate all of humanity. This was completely different from the orientation of all the other forces involved who mainly focused on specific issues. A young person who is quite new to revolution actually captured this difference quite well when he said, after listening to numerous speeches from the stage about workers' rights. "Yeah, the way they treat you at work is fucked up, but we're talking about something way bigger than that."
The second point was that while, yes, we did get a positive response from many people, overall communism is still extremely controversial. And not just with the people who wouldn't buy Revolution or even engage us, but also among those who are in some ways drawn to the idea of revolution. This got us to a third point—what a huge difference an advanced revolutionary force makes in bringing people the understanding they need to act upon their desires for a better world. We talked about what we had accomplished with the modest numbers we had, and the qualitatively greater impact we could have had if our size had just been double what it was. How much stronger would our presence have been? How many more copies of Revolution could we have gotten out? How many more people could we have engaged and gotten to know?
Which led to our final point—we all really have to be communists to expand that revolutionary core. We have to challenge people to shed the blinders imposed by this system. We have to respond with substance to their questions and disagreements, while helping them see the world more scientifically. And we have to draw on Revolution newspaper and the works of Bob Avakian to lay out for people why communism is exactly what we need—based on summing up the enormous achievements of past revolutions, as well as their real weaknesses, and struggling with people to see how we can do much better next time. That is the immediate challenge we face. And our meeting ended with the youth planning to get together soon to begin systematically digging into Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage so they can meet that challenge.
Los Angeles: Marching During the Day, Celebrating in the Evening
From readers and distributors of Revolution/Revolución
On May 1, thousands of people, predominantly immigrants from Mexico, Central America and Asia poured into the streets in half a dozen marches throughout Southern California. Numbers were much smaller than the mega-marches a few years ago, but there was much enthusiasm, punctuated by the raucous chants of high schoolers who had walked out of a number of schools, with some teachers in the mix. The main chants kept things well within the framework, like "Obama Escucha, Estamos en la Lucha" and reflected the sentiment of pressure politics (pressuring Obama for immigration reform).
We organized teams and took out the RCP's Manifesto and the May 1 issue of Revolution. There was heavy promotion of Obama-lade, but we found people who were open. There were youth and students who were very unsatisfied with the politics coming from the stage. One college student said, "This is making me sick. Why are we begging Obama? We didn't do anything wrong!" And sections of youth found the tone of the marches politically suffocating. We engaged young people (and others) who argued for reformist solutions, and we got into why a revolutionary movement that aims for communist revolution is far more "realistic," and meaningful, than trying to "get in" on this capitalist way of life or pressuring the system to be more humane.
We got into discussions about what we mean exactly by communism and revolution, what do we think about Cuba, Venezuela, and of the recent election of the FMLN in El Salvador. While we united with the desire of people to end the vicious attacks on immigrants we raised the possibility of another future, refusing to accept the horrors that are captured in Part I of the Manifesto, talking with people about how the world doesn't have to be this way, and demanding instead that another world is possible. What attracted people most to our message about revolutionary May 1st was the vision of fighting for a whole different world, in contrast to begging Obama for change. One Black college student who had joined the march as it passed by (he said he'd done a report on the original Communist Manifesto in his class recently) was carrying two American flags ("because I'm American," he said), like many of the other marchers. He listened to our agitation on why the American flag represents oppression and why we need to stand with the people of the world, and ended up tossing the flags into the trash. Some marchers bought the Manifesto, and others took bundles of Revolution newspapers.
Later that evening the teams who had been in the streets in the daytime, along with other masses, came to a revolutionary May 1 celebration and dinner hosted by Libros Revolución which highlighted the RCP's Manifesto and also commemorated the lives of two RCP comrades, Damian Garcia and Willie "Mobile" Shaw. [Editors' note: Damian Garcia was a RCP member who was assassinated by police agents in L.A. in April 1980 while organizing the people for revolutionary May 1st. Read Bob Avakian's statement on Damian Garcia at revcom.us/s/damian2009_e.htm. Willie "Mobile" Shaw was a RCP member in Watts who died in November 2005. A statement on his death by RCP Chairman Bob Avakian is available online at revcom.us/a/027/avakian-statement-willie-shaw.htm] It was an inspiring evening that featured readings from the May 1 editorial in combination with video excerpts which gave the audience a "visual" history of the revolutions that were led by Lenin and Mao and included images from the Cultural Revolution in China. There was also an excerpt shown of Bob Avakian's Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, and What It's All About DVD where he talks about imagining a different society. This was followed by a very moving reading of his statement on the occasion of the death of Willie "Mobile" Shaw and an excerpt from Avakian's memoir From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, where he talks about the murder of Damian Garcia. This was done in the spirit of "living a life with meaning," which Bob Avakian speaks to in his most recent work, "Ruminations and Wranglings: On the Importance of Marxist Materialism, Communism as a Science, Meaningful Revolutionary Work, and a Life with Meaning."
We ended with a toast to the Chairman's path-breaking contributions to Marxism and his re-envisioning of revolution and communism, along with the point from the "An Open Letter to the Revolutionary Communists and Everyone Seriously Thinking About Revolution: On the Role and Importance of Bob Avakian" that because of his continuing leadership, the chance of there being a communist revolution in the USA during our life times is immeasurably increased.
New York: Planting the Red Flag at May 1 Immigrants Rights March
From a reader
Over one thousand people defied heavy rain—and a climate of fear around a possible swine flu epidemic that was at a fever pitch in Queens where two schools were closed—for the immigrants' rights march in New York City. There were sizable numbers of Salvadorans who came from Hempstead. Large contingents came from areas that have been centers of attacks on immigrants over the past few years, coming from as far away as Long Island and Freehold in central New Jersey. Make the Road New York and Ecuadorian organizations that had organized marches against the brutal murder of Jose Sucuzhanay last year in Bushwick (in Brooklyn) had contingents. There were groups of jornaleros (day laborers) there who have been confronting round ups where they gather for work, reflecting the ominous cooperation between police and immigration. Besides people from dozens of countries throughout Latin America, there were immigrants there from Africa and Asia. A number of organizations of Philippines immigrants mobilized a powerful presence.
It was an important expression of the continuing movement for immigrants rights amidst the continuing attacks—which was viciously confirmed the following day, as an all-white jury acquitted those who had beaten to death Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania last summer.
We planted the red flag amidst this gathering, taking the May First issue of Revolution into this crowd. Many marchers came from countries where May 1st is the official "labor day," and there were those who welcomed a more radical message that called on people to be emancipators of humanity.
Some people voiced opposition to the continuing wars, torture and other crimes carried forward with Obama. There were those who recognized that the steps taken by Obama so far have been bad for immigrants, but some argued that at least Obama "listens" to the people and people should "pressure" him to act. Some even argued that because his aunt came to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant; Obama would be particularly sympathetic toward immigrants—a dangerous illusion and recipe to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie. We had some valuable discussion about Obama's role as commander in chief of U.S. imperialism, and just how decisions are really made in the top levels of power.
Despite heavy rains that made broad distribution difficult, over 150 copies of Revolution were sold. There was a lot of interest in the excerpt from the Manifesto in the May Day issue; four people bought the pamphlet with the whole Manifesto, and one bought the Spanish edition of Bob Avakian's book Away with All Gods!. Hundreds of flyers for the Revolution newspaper open house and organizing meeting the next day got out.
Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
From A World To Win News Service
Revolution Editors’ note: The accompanying article dated May 4, 2009 from A World to Win News Service (AWTW NS) gives important information about significant developments in Nepal over the past week–specifically a crisis in the government in Nepal which has led to the resignation of Chairman Prachanda from the post of Prime Minister. We are publishing this article to inform our readers about the immediate power struggle that precipitated this resignation, and as things develop in Nepal we will be posting articles from AWTW NS providing further information. The change in who is heading up the government signals a certain nodal point in the process of the revolution in Nepal, with sharp contention between the UCPN(M) and political forces and parties tied to the old ruling classes and India. This contention is taking place within the framework of the current government, and it is not clear how things will develop from here, but clearly what line is taken by the Maoists in Nepal will be decisive.
The article from Revolution #160 “On Developments in Nepal and the Stakes for the Communist Movement: Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA 2005-2008 (with a reply from the CPN[M], 2006)” introduces letters recently made public which contain a sharp polemical exchange between these two parties over questions of fundamental ideological and political line. All of this provides both a historical and present context for evaluating this recent turn of events and a political framework for evaluating the measures taken by all sides in the current crisis. The issues of two-line struggle that are gone into in great depth in these letters are of cardinal importance now— focusing up the life and death stakes for the future of the revolution in Nepal, and the larger struggle for genuine communism in the world today. We urge our readers to dig deeply into these materials, to take a serious approach and get involved in this extremely important struggle over line in relation to a revolution whose very life hangs in the balance.
The following is from A World to Win News Service.
May 4, 2009. A World to Win News Service. Prime Minister Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal) resigned May 4 in a crucial dispute over whether or not the head of the Nepal Army would be allowed to thumb his nose at his government’s authority.
Prachanda, Chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), had sacked Army Chief of Staff Rookmangud Katawal for continual and deliberately provocative insubordination to the civilian government, in defiance of the interim constitution and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that brought an end to the decade-long people’s war in 2006. But President Ram Baran Yadav overrode Prachanda’s decision and ordered the army head to remain in his post. (General Katawal had already refused to accept the government’s letter informing him he was sacked.) He also overrode the decision of the defense minister, Ram Bahadur Tapa, supposedly in charge of the Nepal Army, to appoint another general as interim army chief to take Katawal’s place “until an agreement is made.”
In his resignation speech the next day, Prachanda denounced the president’s move as “unconstitutional and illegal” and “an attack on this infant democracy and the peace process.” He said, “I will quit the government rather than remain in power by bowing down to the foreign elements and reactionary forces.”
President Yadav accepted his resignation and asked him to continue as caretaker prime minister pending the formation of a new government. The president called for an all-party meeting to discuss the way out of this crisis. The UCPN(M) responded that they would block all parliamentary business until the president came before that body to apologize for reinstating the general, and organize protests in the streets as well.
Asked by a correspondent whether or not his party would join a new government, UCPN(M) leader and Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai said, “The so-called president who is directly dictated by New Delhi has been sent messages to act against the elected government and has restored the sacked army chief. The president should (admit that it is an unconstitutional decision) and then only we can think of joining the government, otherwise we will go to the streets and gather the masses to fight against the anti-democratic party.” (The Hindu, May 4) The “anti-democratic party” refers to the Nepal Congress Party, the pro-Indian opposition party to which the president has ties.
After initially waffling, the other major party in the UCPN(M) government, the Communist Party of Nepal United Marxist-Leninist (UML), along with a smaller party, quit the cabinet to protest Prachanda’s firing of the general. This meant that the UCPN(M) faced a no-confidence vote in parliament that it may not have been able to survive even if Prachanda had not resigned. But this should not obscure the more basic issues at stake in this confrontation, which is not a parliamentary squabble.
There is the “parallel power” of the presidency, as Prachanda called it in his resignation speech, an office created to make sure his government could not weaken or disorganize the army, and most centrally the existence and role of the army itself. The armed forces are the central pillar of any state power, no matter who holds office. This general truth has specific applicability in Nepal, which has one of South Asia’s biggest armies proportional to its population. There the military has played a particularly important institutional function in society and an open and naked role in keeping the ruling classes in power through violence against the people, while working closely with India.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was followed by the rebels’ surprise victory in the Constitutent Assembly elections, the abolition of the monarchy and eventually its formation of a government in August 2008. (The party adopted its present name earlier this year when the CPN(M) merged with the Unity Centre [Masal] from which it had originally split. Masal had opposed the concept of Maoism and the people’s war.) Despite the fact that it had won more votes than the other two main parties combined, in return for the UCPN(M) being allowed to lead that new government, those parties forced it to accept the creation of the post of a president who would be head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. At the time, the presidency was shrugged off as mainly ceremonial. But the president’s power turns out to be very great when used to legitimize the Nepal Army.
General Katawal is a man who has been entrusted with putting down revolution all his life. He won honours in his training by the U.S. Special Forces (Green Berets) and counter-insurgency Rangers, and command teaching in the UK, as well as in Indian and Pakistani military schools. As head of the Royal Nepal Army’s Western Division in 2003-04 and then RNA Chief of General Staff, he oversaw some of the most hard-fought battles during the people’s war in which his army was severely battered by the revolutionary forces. He also played a major role in the army’s murder, rape, torture and wanton destruction of homes and villages. He became overall head of the Royal Nepal Army a few months after the April 2006 ceasefire and before the Comprehensive Peace Agreements that brought a formal end to the war in November 2006. Adopted by the Nepali royal family as a child, he grew up in the palace. While undeniably a product of the monarchy, he showed even greater loyalty to higher interests when a consensus emerged among the Nepali ruling classes, political parties and foreign powers that Nepal could preserve social stability only by becoming a republic. In this way, he became a symbol of the political and social continuity of the armed forces.
While not opposing the abolition of the monarchy, what he has opposed is any attempt to touch what is now called simply the Nepal Army but is little changed. According to the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the People’s Liberation Army should be “integrated into the security forces.” This would mean that the revolutionary army would go out of existence; the contention has been over how that would happen. For the time being, some 19,000 PLA members have been living in UN-supervised camps, with their main weapons under UN-supervised lock and key.
Katawal has opposed allowing PLA commanders to retain their officer rank and PLA units to join the Nepal Army in bulk. In fact, he flatly stated that he would not allow the “politicized” PLA members into the Nepal Army, as if his army were any less politicized. As a result, there hasn’t been the slightest “integration” of the two armies.
Instead of allowing PLA members into its ranks, the Nepal Army has been recruiting on its own. There have been at least three recruiting campaigns, all widely advertised in the media and carried out with public rallies, most recently in late 2008 and early 2009. In reaction, the UN envoy in charge of the peace process, Ian Martin, declared that any recruitment by either side was in violation of “the spirit and the letter” of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. (December 23, 2008 press statement, cited by the International Crisis Group, “Nepal’s Faltering Peace Process,” February 19, 2009) Yet none of the foreign powers that have taken it on themselves to oversee the process have found this reason to complain. Instead, the general has held meetings with foreign ambassadors, or perhaps better said, foreign ambassadors have met with him, as if he were the real head of state.
Meanwhile, Prachanda’s government hasn’t been allowed any say about the army command. The current crisis began to come to a head earlier this year when the government refused to extend the terms of eight generals who had reached mandatory automatic retirement age. (The king had often extended terms, in a gesture that made them even more beholden to him.) Katawal ignored the defense minister and reinstated the generals anyway. In March the Supreme Court suspended the defense minister’s decision.
In mid-April, the government formally asked Katawal for “clarification” as to why he violated its orders on three issues: the recruitment drives, the eight retired generals, and, in a gesture whose only purpose was to provoke, the Army’s withdrawal from the National Games between various branches of the military and police, because it refused to play in an athletic competition against teams made up of its former enemies, members of the People’s Liberation Army. The general was given 24 hours to reply; two weeks later, Prachanda’s cabinet voted to sack him.
The general’s defiance is not simply a particular character trait or the residue of his lifetime of royalist training. Whatever his personal desires may be, he has been told to stand firm by greater powers.
The Nepal Army’s “strongest international ally, India,” as the well-informed International Crisis Group wrote in its February 19 report, “shares most of its concerns over integration and can be relied upon to resist any steps that appear to threaten its existing structure and culture.” The Brussels-based ICG is a consulting organization run by former Western heads of state, their advisers and other people they’ve trusted. When they say, “rely on India”, they mean exactly that: the interests of Indian expansionism are what the imperialist powers are relying on.
But the major imperialist states and other powers have done more than that. They’ve intervened directly on the political level.
During the period of political crisis when the UCPN(M) was proposing that the general be fired and its coalition partners were wavering, “envoys from eight countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, India, China and Japan reached the PM’s residency to discuss the issue collectively. The meeting is undergoing where Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai is also present. The international community has expressed dissatisfaction on the government move to sack the army chief, saying it would hamper the peace process.” (Nepalnews.com, April 12). How does asserting civilian control over the army “hamper the peace process”? Isn’t this really a reminder that the “international community,” like Nepal’s domestic reactionaries, intends for the monopoly of the means of armed violence to lie in the hands of people they can trust to serve their interests? In fact, isn’t this an implicit threat of violence against the UCPN(M) if it doesn’t behave as wished?
Following that “collective discussion” held in the most unconcealed gangster style, the Indian ambassador returned to New Delhi for consultations, and “warned that the current Maoist-led coalition would be overturned within days if the government ousted the army chief. Reports also say, the Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee also telephoned UML chairman Jhala Nath Khanal and told him not to support the Maoists’s plan to oust the CoAS [chief of army staff Katawal].” (Nepalnews.com, April 25) Later a UML leader was to announce that while the civilian government had “a right to ask for explanation from its army chief for defying its order, ‘it did so with wrong intentions.’” (Nepalnews.com, May 1)
The U.S. sent its own unmistakable signal: on April 30, as the political crisis in Nepal reached a crescendo, the U.S. State Department released a statement declaring that the UCPN(M) would remain on its official list of terrorist organisations (Terrorist Exclusion List), despite the end of the people’s war and the Maoist electoral victory.
The pretext was alleged violent acts by the party’s Young Communist League. Of course, the U.S. is now waging two wars of occupation, with the Iraq war being illegal according to “international community” UN rules, and the Afghanistan war merely criminal in human, moral terms. So it is hardly in a position to condemn anyone else for alleged petty violence. Further, when did it protest the massive crimes of General Katawal’s army? But it should at least be noted that similar charges have been levelled against the UML’s youth organisation without that provoking international condemnation. The point was that the “boss of all bosses,” the gangster-in-chief of the “international community,” the Obama government, had spoken.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
* * * * *
Available for download at revcom.us
Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
January 29, 2009 Letter from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
November 4, 2008 Letter from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
March, 2008 Letter from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
October 2005 Letter from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
July 1, 2006 Letter from the Central Committee, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) to the Central Committee, Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
Appendices to October 2005 Letter from the RCP,USA to the CPN(M)
“The Creative Development of MLM, Not of Revisionism”, excerpt from a talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
“Some Further Thinking on: The Socialist State as a New Kind of State”, excerpt from a talk given by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, to a group of Party members and supporters in 2005.
Article from Revolution #160, March 28, 2009.
On Developments in Nepal and the Stakes for the Communist Movement: Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, 2005-2008 (With a Reply from the CPN(M), 2006)
Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
On or by May 28, the Obama administration is being forced to release 2000 photos of detainee abuse in U.S. facilities from 2001-2006. The Abu Ghraib photos, released in 2004 only because a soldier was horrified over the torture, brought an international storm of protest against the U.S. torture state. The new photos, including many from Bagram, where the detention facilities have just been doubled to hold 60,000 Afghanis, will show that U.S. torture was widespread, sustained, and systemic, not an “aberration,” but an integral part of the “global war on terror.”
Weeks after 4 more torture memos revealed the detail with which George Bush’s lawyers managed the torture of individual detainees, calls to prosecute those responsible—from the White House principals, to the legal torture team, to the CIA agents who tortured—have met objections from Washington. Cheney and the open advocates of torture scream that they must be able to use “harsh methods” to win the global war on terror. The Obama administration, after deciding to continue indefinite detention, CIA rendition, and Bush’s executive powers, says prosecution would stop them from “moving forward.” Democratic party leader Nancy Pelosi knew about the torture and waterboarding since 2002, saying and doing nothing to stop it.
It’s up to the people to act! World Can’t Wait and other groups are planning non-violent civil resistance protests, programs digging into the substance of the charges, waterboarding and rendition re-enactments, and film showings in communities around the country to demand prosecution of the Bush era war criminals. More information, listings, posters, flyers & background on the war criminals are at warcriminalswatch.org.
Wherever the Bush era war criminals are appearing this month, raise the cry “Torture is a War Crime! Prosecute!”
Check the calendar (warcriminalswatch.org/index.php/wcw-events) to find events in your locality and/or contact us via warcriminalswatch.org with your plans for the day so we can post and help publicize them.
Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
Revolution received the following correspondence from a reader:
The following incident was told to me recently by a teacher at an inner city, all Black high school in a major urban area.
This school recently held a Career Day in which various teachers invited outside people to talk about their careers. The speakers stayed in a certain room all day, and all the different classes (with different teachers) who used that room got to hear that particular presentation. Two army recruiters set up in one room and what follows is a) a description of what they ran out, and b) a discussion between the teacher and some students after they heard the recruiters.
The U.S. Army Pitch to Black Inner-City Youth
Both of the recruiters were Black men—one older and one younger—who had grown up in the surrounding neighborhood.
Their pitch was entirely framed in “we’re here to help you get out of the ghetto—we’re your alternative to the life on the streets which will only get you killed or jailed.” This choice was portrayed very starkly. Then they laid out all the ways they said the Army could help you:
A discussion between the teacher and some students who had heard the recruiters
At the end of the day—which had been pretty much destroyed as a teaching day—the teacher talked with 9-10 students during last period about what they thought of the recruiters’ presentation.
A number of the kids involved in this discussion had a history of being serious discipline problems in the class and the teacher had had some major confrontations with various ones including throwing at least four of them out of class on various occasions. One kid is a big kid who is extremely immature and just wants to wrestle and play all day. A couple of the other boys are into proving themselves by constantly talking shit about anything and anyone at anytime—especially when the teacher is trying to teach. One girl is so hungry for attention that she can’t shut up in class. Another kid is a gang banger who had been locked up and just recently got off of probation. And one of the girls was the teacher’s best student and someone who is thinking about the world and is concerned about where it is going. So it was a real mixed bag of kids.
The teacher started by asking if, after hearing the presentation, did anyone want to join the army. Most of the kids said “no way.” They smelled a rat, but they felt what was being hidden was that the army was just like boot camp the whole time—which they wanted no part of. The teacher asked them “what does an army do—what is its reason for existence?” This kind of stumped them—they hadn’t really thought about it that way. The teacher said that their job is to kill people—that is the whole point, to kill people in the interest of the government.
The teacher (who had also heard the presentation) pointed out that the recruiters never mentioned that this was what the army was about nor the wars that the U.S. is fighting today in Iraq (except slightly in passing) and Afghanistan (not at all) and the repeated tours of duty that almost all soldiers have to do there—including the reserves.
The big immature kid had been sort of listening around the edges of the group and it turned out that he had a U.S. Army sticker on his shirt. He said—"What are you talking about? The U.S. is not fighting any wars!" Huh? This was a serious self-exposure of how far this kids head had been up his ass. The teacher told him that he had better wake up and know what was going on in the world. The kid said, “how do you know about any of this—have you been in the Army?” The teacher responded that she had not been in the Army—but she had paid a lot of attention to what is going on in the world -- she had read and studied and talked to people who did know. And then she went on to make the point that is how people learn most of what they need to know. “No one person’s experience can encompass anything but a small slice of reality—you have to work at learning things. And if you don’t do this and take it seriously—you will get used. Just like the army is using you with that whole presentation that just played on your ignorance and got you wearing their sticker around and saying that you wanted to join.” This not only shut this kid’s mouth, but the look on his face suggested that he had actually run into something pretty big that he needed to think about.
The focus then shifted back to the Iraq war. The teacher asked the kids if they knew why the U.S. had attacked Iraq. A lot of the kids had no idea. A couple of them thought it had something to do with OBL [Osama Bin Laden]. The teacher said that this was one claim—which was not true—and the other was WMDs [“Weapons of Mass Destruction”]—which a couple of students then remembered. Here the gang banger kid jumped in and said: “It was about the oil—we’re gangsters and when we want something we just take it.” It was somewhat unclear who this kid meant by “we” in his statement—but at least to some extent, the kid was upholding this approach. So the teacher said that although Bush would never cop to it, it was about oil to a large degree. Then he asked the kid: “so this is the gangster way, right?” And the kid, feeling a little proud, said yeah! So the teacher said that if you want to embrace this gangster approach, here’s a little something else you will need to wrap your arms around. And then she told them the story that is portrayed in the film “Redacted” about how these GIs—in true gangster form—watched this 14-year-old Iraqi girl each day come home from school and decided to rape her. And on the day, they took their black PJs to their checkpoint, changed into them, ate some chicken wings and then followed her home. They walked into her house shot to death her entire family, raped the young girl and then brutally murdered her. “You want to be a gangster—that is what you will be!” The rest of the kids went crazy—pointing at the gang banger kid and yelling things like “she nailed your shit!” The teacher went on and asked the kid if he knew that 1/4 of all returning Iraqi vets need psychological care or that more Vietnam vets came home and killed themselves than were killed in Vietnam. They could not live with themselves and the horrors they had seen and participated in. “That is also part of your “’gangster way.’”
Now two of the girls were asking the teacher, “What was the name of that movie? How do you spell it? Why can’t we see that movie in class?” One of these was the girl who is aware of things, but the other was a girl who actually does pretty good work (some interesting writing), but never says a word in class, usually has her iPod in her ear and is always extremely well accessorized.
There was a moment at the end of this discussion when the teacher and the kids were all kind of looking at each other with different eyes. The teacher said to the kids, “do you know how tired I am of having all these stupid fights over dumb ass stuff. Let’s spend the last 10 weeks of school focusing on things that make a difference. I’ll bring in the movie Redacted, we’ll learn about the ’60s and the Black Panthers and stuff like that.” They all said yeah—and with some real conviction (at least for that day).
Before leaving, the teacher talked for a second with the gang banger kid. She asked the kid if he really identified with what the U.S. is doing with these wars all over the world. He said no, he wasn’t that kind of gang banger. But then he added “plus, we don’t have enough guns.” The teacher also took a moment to talk with the big immature kid and tell him that the reason that she has been so hard on him about growing up was because she did see the potential the kid has—if he will just deal with the world and not run away from it. The next day this kid was really cool in class.
A final thought of mine—none of this will last forever and nothing is permanently different. But I do think this episode does reveal in a small way that revolutionary work is never wasted. And that sharp political and ideological struggle can transform conditions—again understood within very real limits. And most importantly it shows that many of these kids do, deep in their hearts, really want something far better than the world they live in—including in their relationships with each other—something with more importance and dignity and justice than what this society has dumped on them.
Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
From World Can't Wait (SF Bay Chapter):
We received the following correspondence from the SF Bay Area Chapter of The World Can't Wait.
On May 18, Stephanie Tang, a leading World Can't Wait organizer, will face trial in a case stemming from last year's "Battle of Berkeley." Stephanie is charged with obstructing and resisting the Berkeley police; she faces a year in jail and a $1000 fine. While many others were arrested during those intense months of "no business as usual" protest and resistance, all of them have long ago had all charges dismissed, or never even filed. Stephanie Tang is the only person still facing charges.
In early 2008, an important wave of mass anti-war resistance broke out in Berkeley, California. Berkeley made national headlines when a Marine Corps recruiting station sparked bold demonstrations, and then a storm of controversy over the City Council denouncing the Marines as "uninvited and unwelcome intruders." Thousands young and old joined the activists of World Can't Wait, Code Pink, Veterans for Peace and other groups to demand the recruiters be shut down—while pro-war flag-wavers mobilized by right-wing talk radio demanded that Berkeley shut up and apologize. [See the Revolution online article "The Battle of Berkeley: This War Must Stop!"]
For weeks the Marine Corps recruiting station became a dividing line symbol nationwide, as protests and vigils there, large and small, continued to demonstrate opposition to the Iraq War. World Can't Wait (WCW) was a leading force in this battle, working with other anti-war groups but especially mobilizing youth. High school and college students responded especially sharply and from the heart. They marched, chanting "Murder, rape, torture, war—That's what they're recruiting for!" They challenged and denounced the deadly work of military recruiters who prey on the youth, and they donned orange jumpsuits and black hoods to represent against the ongoing war crime of torture.
Berkeley police in riot gear repeatedly assaulted these persistent, spirited, and nonviolent demonstrations. On February 22 , the police again violently charged into a WCW march. Although a Berkeley police officer's club sent Stephanie flying head first into a brick wall, she was not arrested. Weeks later, she was notified of the criminal case against her—via a letter in the U.S. mail.
The case against Stephanie Tang is based entirely on accusations by police officers. She says: "It is absolutely no crime to organize to drive military recruiters out of our communities and schools! What is criminal is this package of war and occupation without end, the torture state and the spying—and no matter who is president, all of this must come to a halt!"
World Can't Wait calls on the whole community to demand that this politically-charged, politically-motivated case get dropped, right now! What can you do to help?
PACK THE COURTROOM! Your presence tells the world anti-war protest and resistance will not be silenced, because it's absolutely right to oppose the deadly work of the recruiters and this outrageous, illegitimate war.
Pre-trial Hearing FRIDAY, MAY 15, 2009 at 9:00 AM
Trial begins MONDAY, MAY 18, 2009 at 9:00 AM
Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse Criminal Div., 661 Washington St., Oakland, CA 94607
[Note: Come at least 20 minutes early to go thru courthouse security. Check in lobby for specific courtroom.]
CONTRIBUTE TO THE WCW LEGAL DEFENSE FUND. Write checks to "World Can't Wait"—write "WCW legal fund" in the memo line. Mail to World Can't Wait, 2940-16th St., Rm. 200-6, San Francisco CA 94103
SEND LETTERS SUPPORTING STEPHANIE TO THE COURT! Mail or email your personal or organization's letters to WCW (info below). WCW will give your letters to Stephanie's attorney.
HELP GET THE WORD OUT: media and publicity, invite us to speak to your organization, classroom or house party.
OPEN HOUSE UPDATE/DINNER PARTY in Berkeley, Wednesday, May 13, 7-9 PM
Support Stephanie's Defense! at Le Petit Cheval Restaurant. 2600-A Bancroft Way (at Bowditch). For more information, contact WCW SF Bay Area chapter:
Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
A small village in Afghanistan. People are working in the fields. Women are home preparing the evening meal. Children are playing. Nearby, fighting breaks out between Taliban militia and the U.S. backed Afghan military. Women and children flee to what they hope is a safe area a distance away. The fighting ends and the combatants leave the area. For a while it seems safe. Then over the horizon a squadron of U.S. warplanes appears. The planes’ bellies, full of bombs, open up. A storm of death comes raining down.
This is life and death under U.S. occupation. This is what happened on May 4, 2009 in the villages of Shiwan and Granai, in Farah province in western Afghanistan.
Muhammad Jan, a farmer, told the New York Times (May 6), “Six houses were bombed and destroyed completely, and people in the houses still remain under the rubble, and now I am working with other villagers trying to excavate the dead bodies.” Villagers, crazed with grief, collected mangled bodies in blankets and shawls and piled them on tractors. Another villager; Sayed Ghusuldin Agha, described body parts littered around the landscape. “It would scare a man if he saw it in a dream.”
On May 7 a delegation from Kabul visited the area; the head of the Afghan Task Force investigating the deaths told Xinhua Press Agency all the houses in the village had been completely destroyed. “The list prepared of those killed in air strikes [there] contains the names of 147 people, mostly women and children.”
One legislator, Mohammad Naim Farahi reported: “The governor [of the affected province] said that the villagers have brought two tractor trailers full of pieces of human bodies to his office to prove the casualties that had occurred.” Farahi said he had talked to someone he knew personally who had counted 113 bodies being buried, including those of many women and children.
As reports of the carnage hit the news, the U.S.-puppet leader of Afghanistan, President Karzai, was meeting with Obama at the White House. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed “deep regret” over the deaths caused by the U.S. air strike. After multiple reports from villagers, the Red Cross and Afghan government officials confirmed that the U.S. was responsible for this attack. But U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the senior American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David D. McKiernan, claimed the U.S. was not to blame, implying that the deaths were caused by Taliban hurling grenades.
Villagers noted that the bomb damage was so extensive that it could not have been caused by grenades. “Taliban have no strong weapon to bring these kinds of casualties. The Taliban did not throw grenades into civilians’ houses.”
On May 7, after Afghan residents angrily protested the casualties and demanded that U.S. forces leave the country, an unnamed Pentagon official finally acknowledged that “at least some of the casualties were caused by the airstrikes” and that initial American military reports that some of the casualties might have been caused by Taliban grenades, not American airstrikes, were “thinly sourced.”
Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
From A World to Win News Service
April 27, 2009. A World to Win News Service. It is impossible to predict the spread, severity and consequences of the swine flu epidemic that broke out in Mexico. But influenza epidemics have occurred regularly—with three pandemics (global epidemics) in the 20th century—and scientists and public health authorities have known for a long time that new pandemics were inevitable. Some possible parameters and paths of development of such a situation can be scientifically understood, in both the biological and social spheres.
There are two separate and mainly independent factors at work. One is the nature and evolution of the disease itself, which is not caused by human activity. Although social factors—for instance industrial pig farming—may conceivably have played a contributing role in the appearance of this particular disease, human beings didn't invent viruses or human and animal vulnerability to them.
The other factor is just the opposite: What kind of society people live in, what drives the economic organization of those societies and their social and political relations. In short, if the first factor concerns natural phenomena, itself, the second is the capitalist and imperialist world in which they occur.
Regarding the first factor, some crucial information is known: It is not unusual for farm people to catch flu from pigs, but what's being called swine flu is something new and has never been detected in pigs before. Viruses mutate constantly, and different kinds are able to swap genetic material. The current swine flu has genetic elements that seem to have come from swine, birds and people. What makes it different than classical swine flu is that it can be readily transmitted between people. Its epicenter (where the original outbreak was centered) was not rural, but in Mexico City, a huge and dense concentration of people.
Other life-and-death biological issues remain unknown:
The following article is excerpted from part one of "Bird flu in an imperialist world," from AWTWNS, January 15, 2007. The current swine flu epidemic and possible pandemic is not the same as the possible bird flu epidemic that article discussed. But insofar as this article focused on historical experience and general scientific knowledge about viral epidemics in humans, it remains relevant. The article puts emphasis on a worst-case scenario, not as a prediction but because the world's authorities and the social system they represent can be judged by how seriously and effectively they work to prevent and prepare for such a catastrophe. The same standards apply today, no matter how this particular crisis unfolds.
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Flu viruses are now known to have caused many pandemics in the last few hundred years, including three globalized flu pandemics in the 20th century. The one in 1968-70, commonly called "Hong Kong" flu, was the mildest, killing about a million people worldwide. In 1957-58, the so-called "Asian flu" felled about twice that many. The deadliest, in 1918-20, labeled "Spanish flu" (although there is evidence that it first arose in the U.S.), killed between 20 and 100 million people—no one is sure. No other disease in history has cut down so many people so quickly.
A great many experts believe that such a mutation is bound to occur again sooner or later. David Nabarro, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official and the UN's coordinator for influenza, said, "I am certain that there will be another influenza pandemic sometime. In the natural history of these things, I am almost certain that there will be another pandemic soon."
Since by definition few people would be immune to a new strain of flu, the number of people who would get sick could be extremely high—in the hundreds of millions or even billions. How sick—how many people would die of it—is another factor that cannot be predicted. At one end of the scale of virulent infectious diseases, some are not dangerous on a world level because they are too lethal—people who get sick die too quickly to spread them effectively. An example of this is the Ebola virus. At the other end of the scale, ordinary seasonal varieties of flu affect millions and billions of people every year, but unless they are frail for other reasons, relatively few people die of them.
The 1918 flu circled the world in several waves. The first took nine months to infect almost every country. The flu virus was at its most lethal at the beginning. As it continued to mutate, it became weaker. So death tolls from place to place varied according to when the disease struck—and it struck many places two and three times. In Turkey and Iran, death tolls were very high. In parts of central India, where the death rate was the world's highest, British colonial records indicate that almost eight percent of the population died, and the real numbers might have been higher. Japan was able to escape the worst by limiting travel, as were a few islands, but other islands and isolated populations were devastated. Europe and the U.S. were hit hard. About 400,000 people died in France. Some American cities were all but spared. In others, like Philadelphia, nearly every family had someone sick. Horse-drawn carts were sent through every street as criers called "Bring out your dead!"; steam shovels were used to dig mass graves. The city's manufacturing and economic life ground almost to a halt. As described in The Great Influenza by John Barry, the city's political and social structure had reached the edge of collapse when suddenly the disease ran its course.
Within two years, when nearly everyone in the world had been exposed to the disease, enough people had developed a resistance and it completely disappeared. A recent study involving the examination of tissue from a long-frozen corpse revealed that the 1918 flu originated in birds. Current prevalent scientific opinion is that all human influenza viruses probably originated in birds. [Pigs can serve as a way station in a chain of viral mutations.]
A study in the international medical journal The Lancet (December 21, 2006) estimates the number of deaths a hypothetical new outbreak of a similar influenza would cause today, based on a statistical analysis of recorded deaths in 1918-20. The figure it came up with is 62 million dead. This, the study concluded, is probably the "upper limit"—the worst-case scenario.
But although this terrifying number is what made headlines, the study went much deeper. The scientists studied the relationship between those deaths and poverty. The relationship was not direct for many reasons, some of them chance and others non-class social factors (for instance, local population density—American troop ships headed for Europe became floating coffins). There was no cure or effective treatment for the "Spanish" flu then, when even the cause was a mystery, so medical care was not a factor. In fact, the study says that the reasons for the relationship between people's income and why they died are still not thoroughly understood. The authors believe that the victims' general health, diet and other diseases ("co-infections") played a major role—although not the only one—in determining who survived and who did not.
Why is the experience of the 1918 flu relevant in looking at what might happen today? Hasn't medical science taken enormous leaps since then?
First of all, it's not entirely clear how much medicine could do if a new lethal flu pandemic were to break out. The Lancet report says that even with advance preparation, six months could easily pass between the emergence of a disease and the development and manufacture of an effective vaccine. It is certainly true that contemporary medicine does have some potentially powerful tools, especially anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu that cannot cure influenza but have proven effective in helping people sick with existing kinds of flu. There are also anti-bacterial drugs that could prevent or treat pneumonia in the wake of a viral infection, which may have been a major cause of death in 1918-20. Anti-inflammatory medications could also help prevent sick people from dying because their own immune systems overreact. But the WHO has warned that most of even the world's best medical systems might be overwhelmed and perhaps collapse.
Further, the study's grave concern is based on more social realities rather than the possible inadequacies of contemporary science in the face of such a challenge. Their statistical studies of deaths in 1918-20 lead them to conclude, "The burden of the next influenza pandemic will be overwhelmingly focused on the developing world." Some "96 percent of those deaths will be in the developing world," they say.
The study's comparison between 1918 and today is valid: "Health inequity [inequality] is scarcely less now than in 1918, and the medical advances of the last 96 years are unlikely to benefit much of the developing world in any future pandemic.... Large stocks of antibiotics or anti-virals are unlikely to be available in most resource-poor countries during a pandemic. Therefore, perhaps the best estimate of mortality in a possible 2007 pandemic is that from 1918—a rather damning indictment of global inequity in health care."
In countries where other diseases are already widespread, the report's examination of the experience of the 1918 flu makes it horribly clear that many millions are at serious risk. It is known that malaria, for instance, left people especially vulnerable to dying of the flu. In today's world, as many as half a billion people have malaria. Another factor in our time is the unprecedented existence of up to 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS—and little or no immune system. These are the starting points for scenarios almost too grim to contemplate.
Malaria and AIDS are primarily (though far from exclusively, especially in the case of the latter) diseases of poor countries. This is one factor that led the study's authors to conclude that Africa and Asia could be where the most deaths occur.
The decisive question, however, contrary to the study's terms, is not poverty but social system. The authors believe that differences in per capita (per person) income account for about half of the differences in death rates between different countries. Yet when China was still a socialist country, under the leadership of Mao, even though per capita income was less than today, the health situation of the people was far better than it is now. In a few decades of revolution, China wiped out many of the diseases that had preyed upon the people. When Chinese society was guided by the principal "Serve the people," the allocation of resources and the conscious participation and mobilization of the masses of people in many different ways more than doubled the average life expectancy. Since the restoration of capitalism (in fact, if not in words) when the right took power after Mao's death, the rural health care system has been largely dismantled, leaving two-thirds of the population—800 million people—with little access to health care. Guided by the new principal "to get rich is glorious," when an epidemic of the SARS virus struck China's countryside in 2003, instead of doing everything to stop it, the authorities covered it up so as to protect commerce and their own rule.
Also in regard to the question of social system, although the study rightly makes a crucial distinction between what it calls "developing" and "developed countries" and concludes that the peril is very different in these two cases, the difference between them is not just their degree of development. A major characteristic of the contemporary global economic, social and political system is the domination of most of the countries and peoples of the world by the monopoly capitalist rulers of a handful of imperialist countries. The crucial difference is not one of national incomes, but that in the dominated countries the economy—and ultimately almost everything else—responds to the needs of foreign finance capital.
It is inevitable that new and potentially dangerous diseases will arise under any social system, long into the future. The point is not that capitalism created this flu. But the way human beings are organized in today's imperialist world is an enormous obstacle to being able to deal with the problem.
Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
Last November 29, Malika Calhoun borrowed the car of a friend's mother—a family she was living with. Pulled over by King County deputies near Seattle, she and another friend were arrested and charged with stealing a car they had simply borrowed without permission. That night, Malika Calhoun, a 15-year-old African American girl, was brutally beaten in a jail cell at SeaTac city hall. A jailhouse videotape shows Deputy Paul Schene slam Malika into a concrete wall, throw her to the floor by her hair and repeatedly punch her in the head and face. Another deputy, Travis Brunner, assists Schene in the attack, helping him pin her to the floor.
After carrying out the assault, Schene and Brunner filed reports lying that it was Malika who assaulted Schene—claiming a tennis shoe Malika flicked off her foot toward Schene caused "bruising, bleeding and pain." Schene and Brunner suggested she be charged with assault on Schene, in addition to auto theft. How many times have Black, Latino and other oppressed nationality people seen this picture? Assaulted, brutalized and even murdered by police, who then claim they were the victims.
And what does it show that the police, knowing full well everything they do in the jail cell is videotaped, felt the complete freedom to viciously beat Malika and then lie in their official reports? It shows that they know such attacks are allowed and will not be punished by this system.
No doubt none of this would have even come out and been made an issue, except that the jail video was released in late February 2009 when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (PI) [and other media] asked a judge to release it through state records. King County prosecutors and Schene's attorney both tried to prevent the video's release. The video was picked up by various national news media causing widespread shock and mass outrage (youtube.com/watch?v=rE1kxAsaGwk). Describing what happened, Malika said on the CBS Early Show, "I just want justice, I don't want this to happen to anyone else."
But what will it take to get justice and stop this police brutality? The police department refuses to discipline Schene until "a criminal investigation is complete," and have placed him on paid leave. Schene is pleading innocent to 4th degree assault, a minor charge. Brunner, who backed up Schene's lies and assisted in the assault, is not being charged or disciplined in any way. Meanwhile, Malika faces auto theft charges and, in the wake of the video going viral and calls for punishment of the cops, the authorities have charged her with felony harassment in another unrelated case. In other words, the power structure is on course to punish Malika while setting the stage to let Schene off and continue to unleash the police to attack and brutalize the people.
It has also come out that Deputy Schene has previously shot two people, including killing a mentally ill man named Pedro Jo in 2006. The word of this cop, who did the shooting and is now exposed for his false report justifying assaulting Malika Calhoun, was accepted as the truth in the Jo case. An inquest jury ruled justifiable homicide. And since then Schene works as a field training officer which means he trains new police.
The beating of Malika Calhoun is just one of a number of cases of police brutality recently exposed by Seattle PI articles involving King County Sheriffs. None of these have resulted in any justice or punishment of the cops involved.
Nationwide, a 2007 report by the government's own Bureau of Justice Statistics documents over 2000 people died during their arrests by state and local law enforcement from 2003 to 2005.
And police continue to murder people with impunity. One of the sharpest and most important struggles vs. police brutality is taking place in Oakland, CA. On Jan. 1, 2009, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police murdered Oscar Grant, a 23-year-old Black man in cold blood. Oscar's murderer, Johannes Mehserle, was only charged after people in Oakland righteously rebelled. And since then the police, politicians and officials have gone full throttle to try to suppress the growing resistance to Oscar's murder while maneuvering to create public opinion to blame Oscar and let Mehserle off the hook. (see Revolution #161 and Revolution Online).
All of this—from the beating of Malika Calhoun and other cases in Seattle—to the cold-blooded murder of Oscar Grant in Oakland and many more killings, to the stats of the U.S. government itself, show the unrelenting epidemic of police brutality and murder aimed at the oppressed, particularly Black and Latino people.
What kind of a system unleashes police to drag young girls by their hair, punch them in the face and kill mentally ill people? What kind of system time after time lets these murdering abusers off the hook and justifies their crimes by blaming the people who they attack and murder? The unjust system of capitalism, the system killing people, the system we need to get rid of through revolution.
The handling of the Calhoun case by the authorities—refusing to punish Schene or Brunner despite the clear video evidence of assault; filing only minor charges against one of the officers while filing new charges against Malika; and all the past history of letting killer and brutalizing cops off—demonstrate the only justice in this case will come from mass and uncompromising resistance from the people. And as we fight the power, we need to spread revolution, and transform the people for revolution to get rid of the system that is the source of police brutality.
It's crucial that the outrage coming out after people viewed this video be turned into many more people joining in with and spreading the demand for justice for Malika Calhoun and wider resistance to police brutality and the criminalization of a generation.
On March 12, the Seattle chapter of the Oct. 22nd coalition to Stop Police Brutality mobilized people to speak out about the Calhoun case at the King County courthouse. Oct. 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, distributors of Revolution newspaper and Revolution Books in Seattle, and the National Action Network are taking this case out to the masses, organizing people to develop more opposition and resistance to the brutality against Malika and to demand justice.
Join the resistance. Call 206-325-7415 for more information.
NO MORE CRUSHING THE SPIRIT OF THE YOUTH! JUSTICE FOR MALIKA CALHOUN! JUSTICE FOR OSCAR GRANT! THE WHOLE DAMN SYSTEM IS GUILTY!
Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
On April 8, 2009, Best Church of God comedy troupe (www.bestchurchofgod.org) and Revolution Books partnered in an interactive communion service featuring atheist and revolutionary, Sunsara Taylor, at the delightfully odd Chopin Theater in Chicago. I had never heard of BCOG, so I was not sure what to expect. The immediacy of parody lies in its hyperbolic power to blur the lines separating truth from fiction, and Best Church all but erases them.
BCOG is a hilarious, if uncomfortable admixture of traditional Roman Catholic ritual, feel-good Protestant piety and down-home mega-church preaching and histrionics, all wrapped into tongue-in-cheek quasi-improvisational theater á la the formerly edgy Second City variety. In fact, the troupe is located in the same Old Town neighborhood as that venerable institution.
BCOG takes no prisoners and is merciless and irreverent in all matters sacred and profane. No one, from Catholics to Jews to Muslims, gays to straights, liberals, commies and fascists and anything in between, is spared. If you're already a confirmed atheist, these performances will have you nodding your head in resounding agreement. If you think you are better off without gods, but still have not shaken the dust of religion and spirituality from your boots, this show can have a strange and unsettling effect on you.
As a liturgical musician who has spent over 30 years in the service of churches and seminaries, the performance was discomfiting, and I did more than my share of squirming and blenching. But I discovered that this had less to do with any religious fervor as much as it did with upsetting years of conditioning and long established habits of the heart. It's not easy confronting the truth about conventions culture regards as sacrosanct and beyond the reach of criticism. It's similar to discovering that your family is dysfunctional. It may be true, but truth is not always very pleasant or easy to accept.
Sunsara Taylor's debate with members of Best Church's caricatured though painfully realistic membership was at all times intelligent, rational and good natured. Ms. Taylor's arguments appeal to reason and are informed by careful and thorough study. Unlike fundamentalists and fascist talk radio hosts who go for the jugular by intimidating their listeners into coercion, Taylor was polite, listening to all sides of the argument prior to presenting hers. So much for fire-breathing, wild-eyed, Feminazi Communists!
Debate incorporated into theatrical performance is a powerful medium that enables us to come to terms with the harsh realities and contradictions of life that religion and mythology are hardly equipped to deal with. Both Taylor and the Church presented in bold relief the litanies of our present age: commodification of virtually every aspect of life, the bane of personal responsibility, biblical anomalies, ecclesiastical hypocrisy, the misery and suffering of much of the world's humanity, the subjugation of women and how religion feeds into rather than alleviates all of that. BCOG and Avakian's book, Away with All Gods!, forge a useful concordance, proving that the Bible and parables of Jesus are not always the warm and fuzzy stories presented to us in sugar coated Sunday school classrooms. Praise BCOG, Revcom and all those who seek to make the world a better place, not by invoking gods or reciting prayers perhaps never relevant to suffering humanity, but by waking us from our delusions, so we may see that the world's salvation is on our hands after all, and that redemption is not only liberating and possible, but underscores the essence of revolutionary activity!
Editors' note: The Best Church of God's "debate" with Sunsara Taylor is online at vimeo.com/4322256
Revolution #164, May 17, 2009
The REVOLUTION On-Line Forum
From the editors: The REVOLUTION On-Line Forum is an arena for principled discussion, debate and controversy among our readers. It is a way to air views and thrash out the truth of the matter under discussion.
This current forum revolves around the Revolution article (#162, April 19, 2009) by Andy Zee, “In the Era of Obama: The Collapse of ‘The Movement’; the Resistance and the Revolutionary Movement We Need.” We are reprinting here a number of reader responses we have received to the article, and a comment that was posted to another web site where “The Collapse” article appeared. We encourage our readers to send in more comments about the article or the responses posted here.
The following are responses sent in through the “Comments” feature on revcom.us or by email to RCP Publications (email@example.com).
So many got so caught up over the historical significance of the "first Black president" that they didn't take the time to read his actual voting record from his days as an Illinois senator; nor his campaign contributor list, which is even more significant, since it colors (no pun intended) his policy decisions!
There is real hope out there. False hope. But, we take what we can work with and do what we can. If this was 'easy', revolution would have happened a long time ago.
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A great and timely analysis. Keep them coming. The leadership of the different currents within the anti-war/anti-imperialist movements refuse to break with bourgeois democratic politics, despite what they say. They need to be called on this. There is so much opposition out here but its diffused. The people have no focus. They are protesting but they are not sure where they want to go.
I look forward to more clear-eyed analysis in the pages of Revolution.
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Love the intensity of the article. We need more of it. As an 80 year old retired attorney, I write similarly. Article submitted today to Opednews follows:
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Hi Andy Zee,
Thanks for your hard-hitting analysis about 'the movement' -- The Collapse of “The Movement”; the Resistance and the Revolutionary Movement We Need."
Six years ago I wrote something similar. I thought you might appreciate reading it. Attached are the three articles, tied together.
Cheers to your efforts,
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The following was posted on AfterDowningStreet.com in response to the Andy Zee article; it is reprinted here with permission from the writer.
Where's the Beef?
Submitted by Carl Davidson -... on Thu, 2009-04-23 00:02.
Sorry, AndyZ, this is thin gruel indeed.
You need a little more than a left rant to get over these days.
You need to make an accurate assessment of the balance of forces in the country, an assessment of all the reactionary forces, and where to aim the main blow, a strategy and tactics, and then show us the forms of organization to 'unite the many to defeat the few,' as well as to unite the advanced fighters.
Most important, show us some successful practice of your perspective.
Otherwise, this is just venting spleen...
Keep On Keepin' On!