Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #165, May 24, 2009
Obama Censors Photos of U.S. Torture:
On Wednesday, May 13, Barack Obama reversed his previously announced position, and said that he would move to block the release of some 2000 photos documenting U.S. military personnel torturing prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, the blocked photos are of U.S. prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, and include depictions of “Abu Ghraib-style” torture, along with photos taken by military criminal investigators—in some cases supposedly documenting allegations of abuse, as well as autopsy photos of prisoners who were killed while in custody.
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU—the group that sued to make the photos public—said the volume of photos shows that “It is no longer tenable to blame abuse on a few bad apples. These were policies set at the highest levels.”
Obama said he would not release the photos because “the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”
What does it mean to cover up evidence of horrific war crimes because knowledge of those crimes would “inflame anti-American opinion?” And what is the responsibility of people living in the United States, right now, when great crimes, committed in their name, are being covered up?
Obama’s Complicity in Covering Up War Crimes
Recently released torture memos from White House lawyers documented how torture was officially endorsed by the White House (see "The Torture Memos …And the Need for Justice", by Alan Goodman, Revolution, May 17, 2009). Now, the scale and breadth of U.S. torture revealed by the existence of over 2000 photos threatens to expose even more deeply how profoundly embedded torture has been in the U.S. so-called “war on terror.”
The existence of over 2000 such photos gives further lie to the claim that torture was used only in extreme circumstances—in so-called “ticking time bomb” scenarios. That rationale, that torture was used only to extract information that would save American lives, even if it were true, would still be immoral.
Where does this so-called “ticking time bomb” logic lead? The logic of that logic is that there is nothing too horrific, too sadistic, too inhuman, when it comes to “saving American lives.” One of the authors of the White House torture memos, John Yoo, in fact, is on record saying that it might be acceptable for the president to authorize applying electrical shocks to the testicles of an innocent child of someone being “interrogated.” (See "The Torture Memos…And the Need for Justice," Revolution #164, May 17, 2009.)
As we wrote last week in Revolution, “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.” ("The Torture Memos …And the Need for Justice," Revolution #164, May 17, 2009.)
The torture being covered up by the suppression of these 2000 plus photos has been refined and perfected over decades by the U.S., including through testing techniques on U.S. troops. A careful reading of the recently released torture memos points to a U.S. torture doctrine that emphasizes psychological torture, combined with nazi-like systematically administered physical brutality. Many (but not all) of the victims of U.S. torture live, but are left traumatized and devastated, as a message to the world that those who rule this country will not hesitate to apply sadistic, depraved brutality against anyone who gets in their way, or even to apply such torture at random as a way of instilling generalized terror.
In understanding the adoption of systemic torture as a central element of U.S. military doctrine, it is important to emphasize that the development and refinement of horrific torture has been a product of the U.S. government, including through the “SERE” program which was ostensibly a program to prepare U.S. troops for torture, but in fact served as a testing ground for torture techniques. These torture techniques were not—as has been falsely claimed—copied from Communist China’s treatment of prisoners in the Korean War. (For a carefully documented refutation of this charge, and a revealing examination of how the Chinese communists did deal with captured U.S. POWs in Korea, see "The Truth About How Chinese Communists Treated Korean War POWs," by Li Onesto at revcom.us).
and Even Enhancing Bush’s Doctrines
Under the Bush regime, the ACLU filed a lawsuit to force the release of these 2000 plus photos from Abu Ghraib and a half-dozen other U.S. prisons. The Bush “Justice” Department opposed releasing the photos in court, arguing that they posed a danger to the safety of U.S. troops (the same argument Obama has now adopted).
Courts have ruled in favor of the ACLU’s lawsuit, and earlier this month the Obama administration announced it would not appeal a standing court order to release the photos on May 28. Now, however, reportedly on “advice from the generals,” Obama announced that the U.S. Department of “Justice” would appeal the court order to release the photos, using the very same arguments.
Over the past couple of weeks Obama has been embracing Bush’s positions on very central civil liberties and torture legal cases at a dizzying pace. Early in his presidency, Obama’s Justice Department moved to block a lawsuit by five men who were kidnapped by the U.S., and “renditioned”—flown to prisons in other countries for the express purpose of torturing them (the lawsuit is Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen—Jeppesen being the Boeing Airlines subsidiary that transported the prisoners to be tortured). On May 11, the Washington Times reported that the Obama administration was renewing threats to curtail intelligence cooperation with the UK if British courts allowed evidence of U.S. torture against a British citizen—a former detainee at Guantanamo (“Obama threatens to limit U.S. intel with Brits,” by Eli Lake, May 12, 2009). And Obama recently announced he was reviving the use of the infamous “Military Commissions” to try detainees. On the campaign trail, Obama had promised to “reject the Military Commissions Act, which allowed the U.S. to circumvent Geneva Conventions in the handling of detainees.” But on May 15, just a few months into his presidency, Obama reversed that position, saying that “Military commissions… are appropriate for trying enemies who violate the laws of war, provided that they are properly structured and administered.” In each of these critical cases, Obama has adopted the entire logic and arguments of the Bush regime.
Imperialist Morality vs. the Interests of Humanity
How will people around the world react to new revelations of an even greater scope of U.S. torture than has already been documented? Or, for that matter, how will people around the world react to new cover-ups of such torture?
That actually depends, to a great degree, on you.
If you voted for Obama because you thought he was going to end torture, and you have been increasingly disturbed by his actions, you have to ask yourself at what point do you say … ENOUGH! If you got behind Barack Obama because you were horrified and furious at the direction this society has taken over the past eight years of Bush… If you put your deep felt desires for change in the hope that Obama will take society in a different direction… If you thought the election of Obama would make you “feel good about America…” You have to ask yourself: at what point are you going to take a look around and confront what is really going on? At what point do you re-anchor yourself in a basic moral stand that the lives of Americans are not more precious than the lives of people around the world.
All too many people are making excuses for Obama. Some point to the extraordinary post-election rampage by Dick Cheney, who has been making outrageous open defenses of torture and very thinly veiled threats against Obama. Let’s be clear: this is a battle taking place between different factions of the imperialist ruling class. Cheney is the point man for the neo-conservative faction, which essentially brought forward the “war on terror” as a vehicle through which to very aggressively pursue U.S. imperialist interests in a world that is going through an uncertain transition with potential for great upheaval. These policies have in the main been adopted by Obama, even as he has modified some of them in certain respects.
Cheney is making clear to Obama that if there is even a hint of a move to prosecute anyone in the Bush administration, the army or the CIA for war crimes, the neo-conservatives will fight back very hard and bring their still quite considerable power to bear to oppose it. At the same time, he is, to a certain extent, providing an excuse for Obama to claim to those who originally voted for him as the “anti-Bush” that “he’s got to do this” (that is, maintain Bush’s policies) “to keep the dogs quiet”—and in so doing seduce these people into approving things that they correctly saw as being criminal under Bush. And Cheney is also positioning the forces he represents to be able to take advantage of any possible attack on the U.S. in the future, to make a comeback. But how can any of THIS justify maintaining and, almost worse, giving legitimacy to the very horrors that Cheney so unabashedly defends?
In this situation, what people in the U.S. do now matters a great deal. . It is time for people to break out of, and start thinking beyond the framework being set by the Cheneys and Obamas, and start thinking, and acting, from the interests of humanity. If people around the world see complacency, passivity, and acquiescence in the U.S., that will fuel the synergy between U.S. imperialism and reactionary Islamic fundamentalist forces, where the actions of the U.S. create conditions that drive people of the Middle East and countries with large Muslim populations into the arms of Jihad.
Hundreds of thousands of people are truly horrified by what is revealed in the torture memos, and being covered up in these 2000 plus censored photos.
If people around the world see that large numbers of people in this country are outraged, and not just feeling angst but getting out into the streets to protest, a different dynamic can emerge.
All Out on May 28!
On May 28, the day the photos were to have been released, World Can’t Wait has called for nationwide protests and political actions to demand “Torture is a War Crime! PROSECUTE!” Those protests were called before Obama reversed his position and moved to block the release of the photos. The fact that the imperialist system’s president has reversed his position adds even more urgency and significance to these protests.
Truth and justice demand that these photos be released, all of them, now! And that the torturers, all the way to the top of the chain of command, be brought to justice.
We strongly encourage all our readers to visit worldcantwait.org, and join in with, and organize protests on May 28.
As we wrote last week in response to the release of memos from White House lawyers authorizing torture: “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.”
And such an outpouring would give heart to, and inspire, people around the world who long to see another way emerge, in opposition to both U.S. imperialism, and Islamic fundamentalism.
Revolution #165, May 24, 2009
In justifying his decision to block the release of the 2000 plus photos of U.S. torture…
Obama says that releasing the photos would “not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals.”
In fact, we will learn plenty of new things, including that these policies of torture happened at many more places beyond Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, and that the ways in which prisoners were treated were even worse than have been admitted. We will all get a better sense of how systemic this was, the role it played, and the damage to people that it caused. Note that Human Rights First has documented at least 98 deaths of prisoners in U.S. custody, many of them labeled as homicides by army medical examiners; some of this may be further documented in these photos.
Obama says that “[T]he individuals who were involved have been identified and appropriate actions have been taken.”
Really? Literally thousands tortured. Following instructions that came from the White House. And there is only one of these torturers serving time. “Appropriate actions?” Only if by “appropriate” what is meant is appropriate to cover up and provide a stamp of approval for what went on.
Obama says “In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”
Gee, well maybe they should have thought of that before they did it! Or maybe the logic should be fully followed, and the government should not allow anyone to publish photos or even news accounts of “incidents” like last week’s massacre of over 100 Afghani civilians by American bombers (initially denied by the U.S. but then exposed by those pesky photos). After all, that stirs up hatred. And let’s not allow pictures of Israeli troops burning children in Gaza with U.S.-supplied white phosphorus bombs (used in a way illegal under the Geneva Conventions). After all, that might rile people up too. In fact, let’s not allow any news at all—because it seems that everything America does is likely to stir up hatred.
Or maybe, Americans should just stop acting like and protecting criminals. Of course, criminals very rarely stop unless their crimes are exposed and resisted. And after all, this is the “responsibility” president, right? If a young Black man on the streets of an inner city, who has never had an opportunity to get a decent education, a job, or any kind of a life is driven to a life of crime, than according to Obama, he has to take responsibility for his actions. But on the other hand, we are told that when it comes to those who ordered horrendous and grotesque war crimes and their willing flunkies, it’s time for “reflection” and “not retribution.”
Revolution #165, May 24, 2009
Revolution received the following letter from Li Onesto:
In an article titled, “In Adopting Harsh Tactics, No Look at Past Use,” the New York Times recently repeated the lie that the U.S. got many of its torture techniques from looking at what the Chinese communists did to POWs during the Korean War. The article says: “In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.”
This “extraordinary consensus” was possible, the New York Times says, because no one knew the “gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.” The article then says: “According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.”
I wrote the following letter to the editor, refuting this lie. (The New York Times did not run it.)
“Adopting Harsh Tactics” (April 22, 2009) claims U.S. torture techniques are based on Chinese Communist treatment of U.S. Korean War POWs. But research shows that the overall approach of the Chinese communists to these POWs was one of leniency, providing basic necessities and “re-education.” In Mortal Combat: Korea 1950-1953, by Pulitzer Prize winner John Toland, recounts how POWs were given healthy meals along with “communal lectures.” Toland says, “Religion was denounced as a capitalist device for controlling people’s minds, yet prisoners were allowed to keep Bibles and religious articles, and were even permitted to hold religious discussions and readings.” The award-winning documentary, They Chose China (shown on HBO) includes interviews Mike Wallace did in 1957 with American POWs who said their Chinese captors provided them with food, clothing and recreational facilities. They recount being influenced by “political education” sessions that compared the U.S. to socialist China and how when the war ended they chose to live in China. Even Congressional hearings after the war conducted by the notorious Joseph McCarthy were unable to document Chinese Communist use of the kind of torture techniques the U.S. has employed. And at the turn of the 20th century—before any communist government existed—the U.S. used waterboarding in the Philippines.
To read about this, I encourage readers of Revolution to go to revcom.us and check out the series I wrote on U.S. torture, which includes Part 3: “The Truth About How Chinese Communists Treated Korean War POWs.”
Revolution #165, May 24, 2009
[Editors’ note: The following is the third excerpt from the text of a talk by Bob Avakian, earlier this year, which is being serialized in Revolution, beginning with issue #163. Part 2 appeared last issue, #164. The text of the talk has been edited and footnotes have been added for publication. The entire talk can be found online at /revcom.us/avakian/ruminations/BA-ruminations-en.html]
Going back to how individuals in society exist not purely as individuals, but in a more fundamental sense as part of social groupings, and how this is grounded in certain definite social and fundamentally production relations, I want to return to some points that have to do with what Marx sharply gets at in his essay The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, specifically on the question of democratic intellectuals and their relation to the petite bourgeoisie (the "middle class"). Let's begin with the following from the polemic against K. Venu ("Democracy: More Than Ever We Can And Must Do Better Than That") which was written more than 15 years ago now but remains very relevant (this polemic is also included as an appendix in the book Phony Communism Is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!—in the second  edition of that book). I will first give the passage in full, and then comment on certain parts of it which are particularly salient in relation to what is going on today:
"Here the following insights of Marx are very relevant. Commenting, significantly, on a variant of petit-bourgeois social-democracy that, in a different context and somewhat different form, also advocated 'the transformation of society in a democratic way, but a transformation within the bounds of the petite bourgeoisie,' Marx goes on to say that:
"'...one must not form the narrow-minded notion that the petite bourgeoisie, on principle, wishes to enforce an egoistic class interest. Rather, it believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within the frame of which alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided. Just as little must one imagine that the democratic representatives are indeed all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers. According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven from earth. What makes them representatives of the petite bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter practically. This is, in general, the relationship between the political and literary representatives of a class and the class they represent....'" (See Phony Communism is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!, 2nd (2004) edition, pp. 209-210, emphasis in original)
In examining this further, let's focus first on the very insightful observation by Marx that the petite bourgeoisie "believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within the frame of which alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided." How often nowadays, much to our frustration, do we see this phenomenon played out in politics and other spheres of society? The petit bourgeois, and in particular the petit bourgeois intellectual, continually gravitates toward, and gives expression to, the notion that the narrow interests, and illusory "solutions," that correspond to the spontaneous strivings and inclinations of people in this ("middle class") position can somehow be imposed on all of society, and will fix society's ills, or at least ameliorate and mitigate the objectively profound contradictions which rive society and repeatedly give rise to antagonistic conflict, in which this "middle class" generally finds itself caught...in the middle.
And Marx goes on: "Just as little must one imagine that the democratic representatives are indeed all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers." Marx is a dialectical, not a vulgar, materialist. He makes clear:
"According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven from earth. What makes them representatives of the petite bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions..."
Note that: to the same problems and solutions. Not only the same solutions, but the same problems and solutions. Even with regard to how they see the problems, as well as the solutions which they believe they have found, these democratic intellectuals come up with ideas and theoretical propositions which ultimately are in line with where "material interest and social position drive the latter [the shopkeepers] practically."
And then follows a very important conclusion: "This is, in general, the relationship between the political and literary representatives of a class and the class they represent...." Here again, Marx is putting forward a correct understanding of the way in which ideas are a reflection of material reality and more specifically of a certain social position—but they are not crudely that, they're not that in a reductionist, one-to-one sense. Ultimately, he stresses, the ideas of the democratic intellectuals do not escape the bounds within which the practical petite bourgeoisie, if you will, is confined by its economic interests and its social position. This is a very profound and very important point. But, again, this is not a linear "one-to-one" relation. To help illustrate this, it is worthwhile referring to a report I read of a discussion relating to how I had applied this statement by Marx to the role of someone like Amy Goodman. In this discussion, one person said, "Well, Amy Goodman, she's a shopkeeper." No...a-a-a-h [laughing, making the sound of a "buzzer" in a game show, when a wrong answer is given]. That misses the whole point. The point is the relation between democratic intellectuals and shopkeepers—the dialectical relation—and how, in the working out of their ideas, these intellectuals may proceed very differently than how the shopkeeper thinks about practical problems all day long, or even the way the shopkeeper thinks about politics, but that the democratic intellectuals—as representatives, in the realm of ideas, of the petite bourgeoisie—don't escape the framework, and the limits, within which the (if you will) more practical activities of the petite bourgeoisie are confined. And this, in its full meaning—and its living application of dialectical materialism, as opposed to mechanical materialism and idealism—is extremely important to understand.
The next paragraph from Marx's "Eighteenth Brumaire," which is also cited in "Phony/Real," further elaborates on and sheds further light on this point. This paragraph begins: "But the democrat, because he represents the petite bourgeoisie, that is, a transition class, in which the interests of two classes are simultaneously mutually blunted, imagines himself elevated above class antagonism generally."
Here Marx is speaking to the fact that the petite bourgeoisie is a class which has no future, as such, and is incapable of ruling society, as such, although representatives of the petite bourgeoisie may actually come to preside over society, or lead society, on behalf of the proletariat or on behalf of the bourgeoisie—"moving over," so to speak to take up the class standpoint and interests of the one or the other of these two fundamentally and antagonistically opposed classes. This is why Marx refers to the petite bourgeoisie as a transition class, in which the interests of two classes—that is, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat—"are simultaneously mutually blunted." It is for this reason that the petit bourgeois democrat "imagines himself elevated above class antagonism generally."
How often have we heard this viewpoint expressed, including in relation to the recent election and the triumph of Obama in that election?! For example, recently someone wrote to our newspaper complaining about our exposure of Obama and declaring: I think people are in a mood more for healing than they are in a mood for conflict.
This is a classical expression of the class outlook of people in the petite bourgeoisie—who, as Marx so graphically and insightfully puts it, commonly imagine themselves "elevated above class antagonism generally." They imagine that they can wave the magic wand of petit bourgeois idealism and eliminate objective class conflicts and the antagonism and struggle to which these conflicts give rise, repeatedly, in one form or another.
Marx goes on:
"The democrats concede that a privileged class confronts them"—you see, Marx is very sophisticated and nuanced in his understanding—"The democrats concede that a privileged class confronts them, but they, along with all the rest of the nation, form the people. What they represent is the people's rights; what interests them is the people's interests. Accordingly, when a struggle is impending, they do not need to examine the interests and positions of the different classes." (emphasis in original)
Once again, this is extremely insightful and extremely important. It is very worthwhile going back to this repeatedly and drawing more and more out of it, precisely in relation to developing reality and the ways in which this constantly gets posed—including the ways in which it is posed in very sharp terms now. While this phenomenon finds repeated expression every time there's an election in a bourgeois democracy—and in the U.S. in particular—it has been very acutely expressed with this recent election, around Obama, which has had by far the highest quotient of illusion, deceit and especially self-deceit of any election in quite a long time. It has set a very high standard for illusion, deceit and self-deceit, even for bourgeois elections.
Along with this, the following quote from the Grundrisse, also cited in "Phony/Real," penetrates beneath so much of the outer appearance of things and the obfuscation by so many (consciously or not) of fundamental and essential reality:
"In the money relation, in the developed system of exchange (and this semblance seduces the democrats), the ties of personal dependence, of distinctions of blood, education, etc. are in fact exploded, ripped up (at least, personal ties all appear as personal relations); and individuals seem independent (this is an independence which is at bottom merely an illusion, and it is more correctly called indifference), free to collide with one another and to engage in exchange within this freedom; but they appear thus only for someone who abstracts from the conditions, the conditions of existence within which these individuals enter into contact (and these conditions, in turn, are independent of the individuals and, although created by society, appear as if they were natural conditions, not controllable by individuals).... A closer examination of these external relations, these conditions, shows, however, that it is impossible for the individuals of a class etc. to overcome them en masse without destroying them." (Marx, Grundrisse, translated with a foreword by Martin Nicolaus, Penguin Books/New Left Review, "The Chapter on Money," pp. 163-64, emphasis in original.)
Here, because Marx has put it within parentheses, it is possible to miss, or to fail to take full note of, an extremely important observation: In the developed system of exchange embodied in the money relation, the semblance of things—the outer and non-essential appearance of things—seduces the democrat into believing that the various individuals who are related to each other through this system of exchange are actually independent and autonomous, when in reality they are enmeshed, and confined, within definite production relations, of which the developed, money-based system of exchange is a subordinate expression. In a significant aspect—and this is true even while the degree to which this is consciously thought out varies—such democrats view the capitalist system, and its mode of exchange, in contrast with the feudal system, in which ties of personal dependence, distinctions of blood, education, etc., are openly determinants and markers of social status. By contrast, in capitalist society such non-market distinctions are, at least to a large degree and in essence, torn down and, as Marx puts it, personal ties all appear as personal, not as fixed by custom and tradition, or even law. This too is part of what "seduces" the democrat.
But what, really, is this much-vaunted independence and autonomy of people enmeshed in capitalist market relations? As Marx caustically characterizes it, this independence is more correctly called indifference, for capitalist relations not only allow but require and compel people to be fundamentally indifferent to the situation and fate of others—and the freedom people have, within these relations, is, as Marx puts it, essentially the freedom to collide with one another.
At base, as Marx also makes clear, the independence and autonomy that is so often proclaimed as an essential feature of bourgeois society, marking it as superior to all other forms of society, is an illusion. In fact, the situation people find themselves in, and the "freedom" they actually have, is defined, and confined, by "the conditions of existence within which these individuals enter into contact"—once again, fundamentally the relations of production of capitalism, and the corresponding relations of exchange and of distribution—which, as Marx emphasizes, are independent of the individuals. What the democrats typically do—again, reflecting the position and outlook of the petite bourgeoisie, understanding that in a dialectical, and not a mechanical, materialist sense—is precisely "abstract" the situation of individuals from these fundamental and essential relations and conditions. At the same time, they are taken in by the appearance that social conditions—conditions which are a result of the historical development of society and what that development has led to, the conditions and relations society embodies and is characterized by, at any given time—are "natural conditions," conditions which are simply "given" by nature, or which conform to the "nature of things," so to speak, and more specifically to a supposedly essential(ist) and unchanging "human nature."
How many times have we heard people say, "Yes, I agree with you, there are many things wrong in society—but that's just the way people are—that's human nature, that's why things are the way they are, and that's why they can never really be changed"?
For these reasons, the democrats—and others, so long as they adhere to this outlook—are not capable of recognizing this most fundamental truth: Not only are different individuals "situated" within a larger system of production and social—and, in class society, class—relations, which are historically evolved and fundamentally independent of the wills of individuals, as individuals, but even though some individuals may be able to change their social-class status within capitalist society, the masses of people—and in particular the exploited masses in the lower sections of the proletariat, and others in oppressed social groups whose oppressed status is integral and indispensable to the prevailing capitalist society—cannot do so within the existing conditions and relations. As Marx very correctly, and profoundly, insists, they can do so, en masse, only by destroying these conditions and relations—only by overthrowing the system which embodies, and enforces, these conditions and relations.
That, of course, is why a radical transformation of society, a revolution, is necessary in order for the individuals en masse—in other words, for the masses of exploited and oppressed people, trapped in these social relations—to overcome them and bring into being radically different social conditions and relations, a radically different economic base and superstructure: to advance to communism and achieve the "4 Alls."
So, from all this, we can see the extreme relevance of these statements by Marx, from the Grundrisse and "The 18th Brumaire," in relation to—and as dissection and refutation of—commonly held notions that prevail in society today, whether in the form of more developed theories and philosophies, or simply popular prejudices and misconceptions, about the nature of things, and "human nature" in particular, and about the possibility—or, as it is often spontaneously conceived, the impossibility—of revolution and communism.
To be continued.
Revolution #165, May 24, 2009
Revolution Newspaper Open House in New York City:
On May 2, in New York City, 60 people attended an open house sponsored by Revolution newspaper. The day kicked off with a presentation by Revolution writer Li Onesto: “The people need a revolution as soon as possible—and we need a revolutionary movement right now. Not somewhere down the line, but now…. Revolution shows WHAT is happening, WHY it’s happening, and HOW a whole other world is possible. It lays bare the worthlessness of this system—and what we need to do to get rid of it. It creates public opinion...to seize power.”
With copies in hand of the “Three Main Points” from Bob Avakian that are in every issue of this paper (p. 2), 60 people grabbed sandwiches and divided into working groups that took up every aspect of making this paper happen—including proofreading and fact-checking, distribution, fund-raising, visualizing the voice (the graphic layout and design of the paper), the website, reporting and, Spanish translation.
Truth in Preparation for Revolution
“We weren’t just dotting i’s and crossing t’s, we were talking philosophy!” So exclaimed a young man who attended the proofreading and fact-checking workshop. An activist around political prisoners added, “There were a lot more varied opinions here than I’d thought. The workshop I was in, about proofreading and fact-checking, got into a very heavy discussion about objective truth.”
For example, one woman in the working group raised: “I don’t see how humans can claim to speak the truth.” “But,” she added, “it’s just admirable that one should try to tell the truth, and if communists are telling the truth to the best of their ability, that’s something admirable. The New York Times is not doing the job! And my second thing is, I feel like in the world, you can’t say anything about Israel, or they’ll say you’re anti-Semitic. You can’t say anything about communism, you know—they’ll make mincemeat out of you.”
The activist around political prisoners told Revolution, “There were a lot of opinions about it, and disagreements and so forth, but at the end, as we were winding down, I think people started to understand what that is, objective truth. I knew that that point was very, very important—objective truth. Whether you see it in terms of a good fact or a bad fact, there’s really no such a thing as a bad fact. Fact is fact, and truth is truth, and that’s it. If you’re gonna build a serious movement towards revolution, you need to come from a point of truth. I’m gonna stay with the proofreading and fact-checking, I think that will be very interesting, and very important.”
Drawing in a New Wave
In the weeks leading up to the conference, volunteers with Revolution reached out to college students in the midst of finals, and a very contradictory and complex atmosphere on campuses. One student who came to the open house talked to Revolution about some of the things she confronts: “The way academia has been structured has not been to raise these very important questions, so there’s this really big disconnect between what’s happening politically in this country and the egregiousness of this system. A lot of student lists are focusing on very particular issues. Like they’re focusing on Palestine. But they’re not having a really big discourse or analysis of implications of what’s happening between Israel and Palestine in terms of U. S. imperialism and empire being partnered. I sometimes join in on the conversation. There was one e-mail I remember, from a student who was very, very upset, and said that she wanted to locate their organizing just on Palestine, and that anything beyond that was not actually addressing what the group had originally set out to do. And this is like [a major university] student anti-war movement! And there wasn’t a really strong response like, actually, you know, this is part of an overall analysis of what’s happening in the system and not just Palestine. There is not this orientation, communism and revolution are off the table. There’s nothing that’s being put out there that’s challenging in that way—it’s not even something that’s in your consciousness.”
This student was part of the reporters working group which, after a bit of wrangling with why revolutionary communists need to do in-depth investigation into the mood and questions of the masses… in order to change things, headed off to the nearby campus of New York University. They broke into teams of two with audio recorders, and over the course of an hour or two conducted over a dozen substantial interviews with students to learn what they knew about the use of torture in the “war on terror,” the significance of the recently released torture memos, and what they knew about the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as what these students thought was necessary and possible protest. The results fed into the coverage of the torture memos in Revolution issue #164, and the interviews are part of a project to take the political pulse of college students, and the results will be made public in the fall.
Through the course of the day, people attending the open house joined working groups led by veterans and others who have more recently joined in producing Revolution. Some of these working groups immediately started getting together and contributed to the production of the next issue of Revolution. Some people who came to the open house from out of town have since found ways to participate in helping to produce the paper.
The artwork, photos and graphics working group workshopped designs for upcoming covers and pictorial centerspreads. One accomplished poster artist, who was met in the course of building for the open house, came to both the reporting and graphics workshops, he was part of interviewing students, and then ended up contributing the front page artwork illustrating waterboarding for Revolution/Revolución #164 [see revcom.us/a/164/cover164-en.html].
New people brought new ideas into the open house, along with impatience to make them happen. Talking about distribution of the paper, one person said, “[The content of the newspaper] is good, it’s not bad, it’s not lacking. But what may be lacking is reaching more people…. It’s important to be attentive to where the discourse is and what words are important right now. Specifically, I think a big reactionary movement of the neo-cons in the last 35 to 40 years is still moving forward every day. ‘Communism is evil’ is something that comes into their [people on the street’s] minds, and that makes them interested. They’re interested in what for them is darkness. It’s really the light—but it’s cloaked in darkness by the reactionaries.”
A woman attending the translation working group said, “We need to broaden the reach of the paper. I learned today how to draw people into the movement, developing strategies to reach broader sections of people. Like for example, we went out to May Day [a major immigrant rights demonstration] to sell the paper. We were thinking of how we could develop creativity, to draw people towards us. Music—we could’ve had some there. You have to spark people’s curiosity. The newspaper is bringing out what things are like in the world, the system, what we’re up against, and also the possibility of revolution. The newspaper is a vehicle to do that in a much broader way. It needs to get out in the neighborhoods, in the communities of people. For example, we need to have a table out in Queens every weekend. In Queens there are posters in Spanish, but not ones that promote our material. So you need to get out your stuff in a different way.”
The New York City open house opened the doors for dozens of people to get involved in Revolution—and in fresh and creative ways to take responsibility for and contribute to the transformation of Revolution into a much more powerful and much more broadly distributed newspaper. Revolution newspaper tomorrow must be a paper which throughout the country, more fully, directly and deeply contributes to the work of hastening the motion toward, and preparing the people for, a revolutionary situation.
Revolution #165, May 24, 2009
On Abortion, Obama and Notre Dame:
When it comes to abortion, there is ONLY ONE moral question: Will women be fully emancipated human beings in control of their lives and reproduction OR will we be forced to submit to patriarchal male authority and to breed against our will?
A woman who cannot decide for herself, without any shame, judgment or restrictions, when and whether she chooses to have a child, has no more freedom than a slave.
The movement to forcibly deny women the right to abortion and to birth control is a movement to enslave women. With its aims, its methods, and its morality, there can be no compromise.
Anyone who is confused about this need look no further than the gathering spectacle of theocrats, rabid woman-haters, hardcore Catholics and other assorted Christian fascists descending on Notre Dame this weekend. They are outraged that Barack Obama will be delivering the commencement address and receiving an honorary degree because Obama does not share their view that abortion should be criminalized.
For over a month these anti-abortion fanatics have been gathering. They flew a plane with gruesome photos of what they claimed were aborted fetuses above the school. They put up billboards shaming Notre Dame. Over 70 Catholic bishops have sent statements of condemnation. Alan Keyes, former Republican presidential candidate, got arrested protesting on Notre Dame campus. And anti-abortion activists will be busing out from Chicago to join protests on Sunday together with students who will be boycotting their own graduation.
It’s never been about
“a culture of life”
“Defending life” has never been the motivation of this movement. These are the folks who barricaded and bombed abortion clinics, stalked and killed doctors, and harassed, lied to, and shamed millions of women entering clinics across the country. They have passed hundreds of laws restricting women’s access to abortion and they have major backing from some of the highest levels of government. They never tire of reminding women and men that the Bible commands women to “submit yourself unto your own husbands as unto the Lord.” [Ephesians 5:22] And not a single “pro-life” organization supports the use of birth control.
As for the Catholic church, this truly is a relic from an era rightfully called the Dark Ages! Earlier this year, the Catholic church ex-communicated a 9-year-old girl in Brazil for the “sin” of getting an abortion when her doctors deemed her too small to safely carry her twin fetuses to term. The church also ex-communicated all her family members and medical professionals who helped her get the abortion. Oh, wait. There was one family member they didn’t ex-communicate: her stepfather, even though he is the one who raped and impregnated her in the first place. The argument of the church was quite plain, while rape is bad, abortion is much worse.
The deadly illusion of
What “common ground” can there be between Christian fascists—who have never given a damn about the sentimentalized “value” of fetal life, but have only ever been motivated by an arcane biblical mandate to forcibly subjugate women and reduce them to breeders—and those who insist that women are human beings capable and worthy of participating in every realm of society?!?!?!
In reality, when there are two completely antagonistic views, “common ground” can only exist if one side capitulates to the other. This is exactly the dynamic at play under in the “new era” of Obama around abortion and women’s basic rights. What is shaping up at Notre Dame this weekend, and in the Obama presidency overall, amounts to a two-sided attack on women. Women’s right to abortion is being openly assailed on the one side and compromised away on the other.
It seems that whether the matter is protecting torturers against prosecution or compromising away the fundamental rights of women, Barack Obama has made finding “common ground” with Nazi-like fascists his hallmark.
Obama’s “moderation” a
stealth attack on women
Despite the claim of the anti-abortion fanatics, Obama’s leading edge has never been to insist on full reproductive freedom for women.
Instead, Obama has repeatedly expressed his desire to move society beyond what he deems an unnecessary and polarizing debate. While maintaining the view that abortion should be legal, he has repeatedly conceded the moral high ground and political initiative to those who oppose abortion, stating himself that, “abortions are never a good thing.” He has increasingly accepted the terms that sever the question of abortion from the question of women’s freedom. For instance, recently, he made the point of distinguishing himself from those “who suggest that this [abortion] is simply an issue about women’s freedom and that there’s no other considerations.” And he has called abortion “a political wedge issue, the subject of a back-and-forth debate that has served only to divide us.”
But the question of abortion is not a “wedge issue,” it is a question of the subjugation or the freedom of half of humanity.
Yet, Obama’s top domestic policy director, Melody Barnes, is convening discussions between anti-abortion leaders and mainstream bourgeois feminists to find areas of “common ground” on abortion. So far, and unsurprisingly, the areas of “common ground” emanating from this group accepts the underlying assumption that abortion is morally undesirable. One of the areas of “common ground” so far emerging is to reduce the number of abortions.
The goal should not be to reduce abortions, but to liberate women
Let’s be very clear: To talk today of reducing the number of abortions is to talk about strengthening the chains on women. The goal should NOT be to reduce the number of abortions. The goal should be to break down the barriers that still exist in every sphere of society to women’s full and equal participation as emancipated human beings. In this society, right now, that means there will be—and therefore should be—more abortions.
This is because there are many, many women who want abortions who are unable to get them due to the tremendous legal, social and economic obstacles that have been put in their way. These obstacles include parental notification laws, mandatory waiting periods, anti-abortion fake clinics that disorient and delay women, the fact that 84% of counties in the U.S. have no abortion providers at all, and countless other cruel and humiliating restrictions.
Further, today there are altogether too many women who have babies because they are led to believe that this is the only way they will ever be loved or be seen as doing anything “positive.” This is a reflection of the class-divided, patriarchal society we live in; a society where women face discrimination and disrespect in the public spheres while being disproportionately burdened with child-rearing and housework, and where a whole cult has been built up around motherhood as if bearing a child is the most tremendous accomplishment any woman can achieve.
Bullshit. Women are human beings. We are capable of participating and contributing to all realms of society fully and equally with men. And when women—half of humanity—are held down and reduced to breeders, all of society is held back.
Changing all this and fully liberating women as part of emancipating humanity as a whole will ultimately require revolution. In a revolutionary society women will be unleashed to break down all the barriers to their full participation in every sphere of society. Women will find their worth in the same way men will, by the relations of mutual respect and equality they forge with others and by how they are able to contribute to society as a whole. And many, many women who wouldn’t even consider doing so today, will delay or defer altogether having a child of their own and society will be better for it. In a truly just world, society as a whole will collectively be responsible for the rearing of the next generation, not individual women in ways that curtail their own social existence.
We must resist
But even short of all this, and key to both building towards that revolution and key in resisting the onslaught against women’s lives today, is taking an uncompromising stand for women’s fundamental rights. Right now, there is a need for political resistance to every attack on women’s rights. There is a need for people to cast away illusions that Obama will do anything but compromise away the rights of women as he proceeds to carry out plunder against the people of the world. There is a need for voices of clarity and conscience who make clear that: Women are not incubators! Fetuses are not babies! Abortion is not murder!
Sunsara Taylor writes for Revolution newspaper (revcom.us) and will be on-site at Notre Dame this weekend covering developments. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Revolution #165, May 24, 2009
Reader Writes About Hampshire College Conference:
“I am furious!”
I really didn’t know what to expect. All I did know was that when I clicked on the schedule for the Hampshire College conference, From Abortion Rights to Social Justice, saw “Abortion Speakout,” something in me clicked. Something refreshing, something liberating. I’d never been to a speakout and I was excited to attend. For two weeks those two words—“abortion speakout”—rolled over and over in my mind.
The buzz and bustle of a hall filled with people who had something to say, something to stand for, in an environment where it was “safe” and even (to some extent) expected (!) should one feel so inspired, was infectious.
When the hundreds present were asked to take a seat so the speakout could begin, the silence of anticipation weighed potently.
I listened as one by one, women from different places and classes stood bravely onstage at the podium, voices booming from speakers, to tell their stories:
One speaker, now a mother, expressed that she was not “ok” with her decision to have an abortion; that after all these years, a sort of feeling guilty for not feeling guilty weighed upon her.
Another woman told of the rollercoaster she had been through: she had an abortion with the support of her boyfriend, who later became her abusive husband, who eventually left her. Now a single mother of two, unable to provide for her children, she again became pregnant. It was with extreme difficulty that she was able to eventually afford an abortion. And that abortion was a conscious decision on her part to get back on her feet.
Yet another woman felt confident in her decision to have an abortion, but couldn’t afford it and had to resort to prostituting herself in order to get enough money to obtain one. And yet another, in such low economic conditions, tried to borrow money from her friends, but could not come up with enough. Desperate, she called a help center and begged for help, fearing she might commit suicide if she couldn’t get out of her predicament.
After each account, I grew angrier and angrier. Many of these women had a deep sense of guilt about their decision, as if having an abortion was something to be ashamed about. Hearing these women—36 years after abortion had been made legal! ‑ burdened with guilt over a simple, necessary procedure that is safer than full-term pregnancy and basically the equivalent of a dental procedure—seemed preposterous, and what’s more, unnecessary. And that most of these women—again, in the 36 years in which abortion has been legal—had difficulties in obtaining an abortion, either economically or inaccessibility—even more maddening.
I was tired and did not feel like talking. Further, my anger had clenched my jaw shut. But I kept thinking, “Unleash the fury of women. Unleash the fury of women....”
And then she got up. “She” was a young woman who had been raped in the middle of the day, in the girls’ bathroom of the high school she was attending overseas, by two of her male classmates. And she told of how she became pregnant from this violent act. She had to go somewhere out of the country in which her family was living, as abortion was illegal there.
I could no longer keep still, no longer keep silent. I leapt out of my chair and strode up the aisle, onstage, to the podium. At first, I couldn’t find the words to express what I was feeling. Then that powerful phrase came back to me:
“I am furious!
“I have been sitting here getting so angry. I cannot wait until there’s a revolutionary society where one-half of humanity, women, is not kept down and degraded just because they’re women, a society in which we no longer need to have speakouts like this!” And I went on to tell about my own two abortions. I stressed the importance of fighting for a society in which young women would know they could fully realize their potential and would not be chained by conditions that obstructed their path to fully participating in society. I concluded by impelling, “I cannot wait until there is a revolutionary society.”
Revolution #165, May 24, 2009
Interview with Bai Di
Bai Di grew up in socialist China (before capitalism was brought back after the death of Mao in 1976) and participated in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). She is a co-editor of the book, Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up During the Mao Era and is the Director of Chinese and Asian Studies at Drew University. The following interview with Bai Di was done in February 2009 by Revolution correspondent Li Onesto.
The entire interview is posted online here, and is being serialized in print.
Li Onesto: A young person who heard you talk about your experiences growing up in socialist China told me that before this they had no idea at all what it was like during the Cultural Revolution, including what it was like to be a woman during that time.
Bai Di: In my generation, most of the women hoped to accomplish great things. When we were young, when we were teenagers, there were revolutionary ideals. We worked for some goals. We felt that our lives were full of meaning, not for ourselves but for all these larger goals of society. That is what we were discussing at that moment. We were idealistic about the world that we envisioned. We were about 15 years old when we went to the countryside, around 1972. At that point I graduated from high school. The school was reopened after about a year of closing in 1966. We spent most of the time studying Chairman Mao’s works, and some math, chemistry and physics. Later on we were digging tunnels in the school yard because of the Soviet threat of war. We were trying to protect our country.
Our class had more than a thousand students and four of us, all women in our high school, got together and decided to write an epic of the history of the Red Guards. We were very ambitious at that moment, now to think about it. There were two guys who tried to join us and we interviewed them. I remember that each of them presented something poetic written by them, and the four of us looked at them. We decided not to have them in this writing group because they were not good enough. We just laughed at their writings because they were not up to our standards. We totally rejected them. The four of us, we thought we were the best. We wanted to record our deeds of trying to educate other people with Chairman Mao’s teachings. We organized the first “Chairman Mao Thought Propaganda Team” in the school.
Li Onesto: When most people hear the term, “propaganda team,” they don’t know what that is and/or they look at it like a negative thing, like it’s about just telling people what to think, that it goes against critical thinking.
Bai Di: The Mao Zedong propaganda teams in the beginning of the Cultural Revolution were organized by the revolutionary Red Guards so that educated people, students, armed with all the songs and poems, could go to the neighborhoods in the cities and later on in the countryside to spread knowledge to the not so well educated. They tried to teach the so-called “less educated people” about the party’s directives and Chairman Mao’s ideas. Our propaganda team taught people revolutionary songs and read the current events from the newspapers to them. We organized our school’s students to go to clean up the neighborhoods and after that we performed dances and songs and called on people to clean up the neighborhood because sanitation was very important. We felt that was part of building a greater society.
Li Onesto: How did you see that in relation to the ideals that you had?
Bai Di: The idea was that we could make a change, that there were all these opportunities. We were going to change the world; we were going to change China. That was the mission of my generation because we lived in a very special era: the great 1960s and 1970s. We called that moment the dawn of communism, that’s the point. We were working to build up this great society and we felt that everyone in that society should have education. Because we students could read and we could write so we used this to try and inspire other people—to teach them to sing and teach them sections of Mao’s works. That was what the propaganda teams did. Something gets lost in the translation of this concept to English. In Chinese right now this phrase still refers to what is considered a very positive thing. The phrase propaganda team is not a negative thing, it is to let everybody know what they need to know, the ideas of the party’s central committee, what they are doing. During the Cultural Revolution everybody needed to know that. China at that point, it was such a large country, and the government organization at each level had a propaganda department, you needed this at every level. There was a lot of illiteracy. And Chairman Mao’s teachings aren’t all very easy and they are open to interpretation. If you change one line, it changes the meaning. You can’t just teach the words, you have to explain it.
Take something like what was called the “constantly read three articles” by Mao: “Serve the People,” “The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains,” and “In Memory of Norman Bethune.” Look at the old story about the foolish old man—why do we have to talk about that? That is an ancient Chinese fable that everyone already knows. It is about an old man who called on his sons to dig away two big mountains that were obstructing their way out. Others made fun of him saying it was impossible for them to dig up these two huge mountains. But the Foolish Old Man replied, “When I die, my sons will carry on; when they die, there will be my grandsons, and then their sons and grandsons, and so on to infinity.” This resilience impressed the God so much that God sent down two angels, who carried the mountains away on their backs. But Chairman Mao changed it and said it was the hard working people who moved the mountains. He said, right now, we the communists, the party are like the Old Foolish Man. We will try to move all these three mountains—imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism—but we cannot do that. So we have to impress the Chinese people; they are the God. Only they can move away the three mountains that are oppressing us. And we have to entrust the people. Do you get that? So we have to move them, we have to understand what we are doing. You have to explain that to people, why that is very important. We have to keep doing something and we have to keep letting people know what we are doing. We have to politically educate people—that is our job. When I think back—that was our whole mission. We were so lucky that we were able to get the ability to write and understand things and others didn’t understand that, didn’t see the connection. So that’s what we were doing and when I think about it, what confidence we had.
Li Onesto: What effect did the Cultural Revolution have on the status of women?
Bai Di: One example is what I told you before, that young women changed their names. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 Chairman Mao would greet the Red Guards at huge rallies in Tiananmen Square, for about eight times I think. At one of the rallies, one girl went up to Tiananmen and put a Red Guard armband on Mao. He asked her what her name was. She said, Song Binbin. Mao said, that is very Confucianist, Binbin means prudence and modesty. And Chairman Mao said, why be prudent, why be modest? You should Aiwu; you should love that militancy in women. So she changed her name from Binbin to Aiwu that stood for loving militancy, fighting. Then there started a trend: the girls who had feminine names like flower or jade or whatever, changed their names.
According to Chinese culture, your name means something. My name never had gender connotation and this was due to my parents. Bai is my family name; it means cypress, like the tree. It’s a great surname in the first place. I was the first born and my parents were very progressive at that moment in the 1950s. They were checking out the dictionary to get a name. My father grew up in the communist system and he was among the first class in the Foreign Languages School run by the Communist Party in 1946, when the Russian Department of that school was moved, Yenan moved to Harbin. He was in the class with children of many famous communists including Chairman Mao’s second son. He and my mother were very revolutionary. So they went to the dictionary and they found “Di” which means wood, which is not very assuming but very easy to survive. And it seems that I have lived up to the name. When young women were trying to change their names from these girlish names to something revolutionary, I didn’t have to change my name because it meant independence already. Girls tried to change their girlish names if they weren't revolutionary or were too feminine - they would change it into something fighting and strong like the men’s names. After capitalism came back, I can give you three instances where women changed their names back. One of my friends, before the Cultural Revolution, her name was very womanish, so she changed it to Wenge which literarily means “cultural revolution.” But recently I heard from her and she changed her name back. I have another friend who is an editor in a Beijing publishing house and her name was “red” and she changed it back to “little flower.”
Li Onesto: You’ve written a lot about the role of women in revolutionary China. Can you compare the status of women before 1949, then 1949 to the Cultural Revolution, then during the Cultural Revolution and then what it is like now for women under capitalism?
Bai Di: I always like to look at the differences among the three generations of women in my family as an indicator of how China had changed under the Communist Party. Both my grandmothers were born at the turn of the 20th century and they both married early, one at the age of 14, the other at 15. They both had bound feet and each of them gave birth to 14 kids. They were in arranged marriages. They were both illiterate. They did nothing for their whole life but giving birth and having kids, seeing some of the newborns die helplessly. My mother’s life is very different. She was born in the ’30s so basically in 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded, she was in middle school and in the early ’50s she went to college to study Russian, dreaming to be a diplomat. Both my parents were the first generation of college educated in their respective families. My mother was a translator and researcher in Russian literature before her retirement. Then I think of my generation, I am a college professor with a Ph.D. degree. I have been traveling around the world teaching and writing. Compared with my grandmas and my mother, I am more ambitious, more idealist and more confident. I am very grateful that I grew up in an extremely special moment in Chinese history. The dominant ideology was that women hold up half of the sky; what men can do, women can do. Those may sound now as hollow slogans; but I lived through that period really believing in myself, in my ability in bringing about changes in my own life and the lives of other people. And then I think of the fourth generation of the family. I do not have a daughter, so I will use my niece as an example. She is now about 26 years old, having a college degree and a very high paid job in China. It seems that all she is interested in are brand name bags and clothes. She likes to talk about who has money, who has brand name bags, what kind of husband is there. And I just look at her now and I see that there is another generation right now, it is called “post-’80s” in China; a generation that puts most of their energy into this consumer culture. When I was young, the social ideal was to do something good for other people, to work to change the world into a better system. We were willing to sacrifice. And we all believed in fair and equal distribution of social wealth. But right now for young people growing up in China, it’s me, me, me. And the whole culture buttresses that. And also the women’s role today, you can see it ingrained, basically that you should be a good wife and then right now the Chinese popular culture is full of this kind of discussion. On CCTV, on the women’s programs, both the hosts and guests will focus on what kind of husband you will be happy with; how one can be more feminine so that she is more attractive. The famous women in every realm of the society are invited in to talk about this. Can you imagine a program that famous men were on to talk about how to be a good husband? They never ask the guys this kind of question.
Li Onesto: One of the things during the Cultural Revolution was refutation of Confucian thinking and how this is oppressive, especially to women, the feudal and patriarchal thinking. Can you talk about that and compare this to now?
Bai Di: This kind of criticism of feudalism was going on back in the May 4 Movement at the beginning of the 20th century. But the real legal reform started in 1930s in the Red Soviet areas controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the first law that the new government passed was not the Constitution, the Constitution was passed in 1954. The first law passed by the Communist government in 1950 was the Marriage Law—for the first time it abolished the concubinage system, abolished arranged marriages, saying men and women should be partners in marriage and that women should get equal inheritance and divorce rights, banned polygamy, child brides and also the concept of “illegitimate” children. That was a great moment in history. Think about how the government saw the role of gender issues in changing people’s minds and lives.
In order to build a new world, women have to be liberated. Like Marx said, for the liberation, you have to liberate everybody. And if women are not liberated you cannot say that the nation is liberated. This showed the progressiveness of the Chinese Communist Party. So the first law passed was the Marriage Law and the second law passed a month later was the land reform law. So basically you can see in 1950, the next year after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, two laws basically representing the new government’s focused agenda. First, the change of superstructure—because families were so ingrained in Confucian family hierarchy, this was so ingrained in Chinese culture, that you had to change it. So I think that was a symbol of the change of culture.
Secondly, the change in the infrastructure of the economic base, that is of the poor peasants and their ownership of the land. You were not only changing the economic structure, you had to change the superstructure, including people’s ideas. And law is a part of superstructure. So that’s Mao’s great idea, changing both sides, rather than just the economy. On the other hand, those who wanted to bring capitalism back, like Deng Xiaoping, said that if you just change the economy, everything else will change. But at the beginning, the Chinese Communist Party saw that you have to abolish the old things that are oppressive. There is a dialectic, you can see this in anything. Like the problem with the Marriage Law. There was great resistance all along. Because it’s not like you will just have a law and then all the people will follow that. There were still a lot of women’s issues for the 17 years after 1949 from the start of the new socialist government until the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966.
When new China was founded in 1949, the new government met so many challenges: prostitution, concubinage, drug problems. And miraculously, within two or three years, all the prostitutes were reformed and all the drug addicts got treated. My grandmother told me about how there was this place in Harbin where there was this neighborhood for prostitution and it then became a normal residential area. Unfortunately today that area has gone back to its “tradition” of prostitution.
Li Onesto: A lot of things were changed in the first 17 years, but what made it necessary to go further? What problems was the Cultural Revolution trying to address, including around the woman question?
Bai Di: There was the newly emerged elitist group within the Party and the government. They were called the capitalist roaders in the Cultural Revolution and they were the targets of the revolution. But I think “capitalist roader” may be a misnomer. They were people who were trying to return back to the old hierarchy in the society. Also the social idea was emerging that those who were educated should stay in the cities and then they looked down on their parents in the countryside. This was one of the symptoms in that 17 years and then the Cultural Revolution tried to get rid of this.
The peasants said of their children who were lucky enough to go to the university in the cities: The saying went—the first year they are country bumpkins, the second year they catch up with the other people, the third year, they will desert their parents in the countryside. So that’s a change in the peasant children sent to the cities. This was used to talk about the larger problem and social issues. The Communist Party came also from the peasant base. It represented peasants’ interest. So people send them to govern the country, they go to Beijing right? First, they’re fine. They keep their basic color, their values, and their mission. But after a while, the second period, they catch up with all the people there, they try to “get in,” they forgot why they were there in the first place.
Li Onesto: You’re saying this was an analogy to those who were supposed to be serving the people but then ended up somewhere else. And the reason why Mao and others started calling them capitalist roaders was because there were two roads that China could go on, one to socialism, one to capitalism. And there were those like Deng Xiaoping who were saying China should be capitalist and this is why they were called “capitalist roaders.”
Bai Di: But I don’t think these people wanted to go to capitalism, they were trying to take people back to old [feudal] tradition, and they were trying to retrench back to feudalism. Before China didn’t really have capitalism. But Deng Xiaoping was really a capitalist roader who wanted to emulate the capitalist system. Liu Shao Qi was trying to emulate the capitalist system too.
Li Onesto: What about the role of model operas, the role of women, the importance of the superstructure—the Confucian superstructure had a certain image of women—the mummies, beauties, etc. on the stage.
Bai Di: Jiang Qing gave a speech in 1965 and said we have to reform the opera and literature; that signaled the official start of the Cultural Revolution.
Li Onesto: Why was it so revolutionary what they did with the model operas?
Bai Di: That is what my research is all about. I feel that before the Cultural Revolution, even though the Chinese Communist Party was very aggressive politically, but culturally the Party still carried a kind of conservative bend. The Marriage Law was passed and was a great moment in Chinese history, a very progressive thing. But culturally, at the same time it carried something very traditional—why a marriage law, it is still thinking that women need to get married. That’s my argument. What Jiang Qing did was more radical than that. I’m writing a paper on this that I will present this summer on the opera and literature of the Cultural Revolution. What I want to say is that compared to the old works, the gender roles changed in the model operas and ballets.
The model theaters have to be highlighted—this was how the revolution should be. We can’t idealize the Cultural Revolution but this addressed the problem of the fact that there were 600 million people who still carried a lot of old baggage with them. Chairman Mao said you cannot carry out the revolution in one generation. You have to have a second and third generation; there is still baggage that the people carry with them. Right now it’s very difficult to speak out about this, the people who study Cultural Revolution say that model operas have created all these false images and stereotypes. Yes, so what? Any artistic work creates and promotes certain images and stereotypes.
Li Onesto: And they are used to promote certain ideas...
Bai Di: Exactly. What’s wrong with that compared to promoting some other kinds of ideals? If you look at Swan Lake, that is a certain view of women’s beauty. Then what is in the Red Detachment of Women where you use the same form of ballet but a different image of women. There is that comparison, contrast. Jiang Qing used Beijing Opera which is very, very abstract—she used this form to carry a certain message, a certain image. People say, oh those women are not real—they don’t have a family. But that’s the point. That the woman being portrayed isn’t burdened down by a family. So in that cultural sense, Jiang Qing was more advanced. And you look at things now in China under capitalism. The family is totally disruptive for women. And in terms of women’s total role, the liberation of themselves and their social roles—you have to get out of the family. Especially in Chinese culture, the word family is a loaded word, a loaded concept, you have a role and obligation.
Li Onesto: It’s true in U.S. culture as well—there are unequal relations, obligations, there’s patriarchy...
Bai Di: Exactly. Women can never be equal in the family structure. That’s Jiang Qing’s very radical feminism right there. So women can be revolutionaries and can be great leaders only when she is liberated from being a mother, from being a wife. Those are the images the model theater in the Cultural Revolution has built.
Li Onesto: Can you talk more about what the Cultural Revolution accomplished and what it meant to grow up in a socialist society?
Bai Di: I grew up there, and for me, I always had a purpose. That was what education was about. And you didn’t have to worry about something like the kind of financial crisis that capitalism will always have periodically. We never had that much—two sets of clothes, but we never felt we should have more. You don’t have that kind of crazy desires for everything, like the need to go shopping all the time. I feel that capitalism is very good at creating a void in people’s psyche. It will teach you that the only way you feel okay is to want more. It is so consuming. When I grew up, I did not put much time at all in material stuff. So we had energy to do other things for greater good. We studied all kinds of subjects, and we thought our presence was very much a part of the future. Yes, we were very future oriented and our focus was also wider than only on China. It was about the whole human kind. It is what inspired us. That’s what I feel education has to be about.
Some people believe in individualism. But if you think that you are the most important, then that is really a boring life, because your existence is irrelevant to others; that is how I feel. You can’t survive that long. You have to put yourself into human history. Then your life, your existence will carry some meaning. That is what Chairman Mao said. In his memorial to Doctor Norman Bethune, he said everyone has to die. But the meaning of death is different. Somebody dies a worthy death so that death is as weighty as the Mount Tai. Some other’s death is as light as a feather. And because Bethune put his life into this communist cause, we all remember him—his death was weighty. We were all trained this way. You feel that you become part of something. And this makes your life and death more meaningful. Now to think about it, we were pretty profound as teenagers. We were already coping with the existential questions for all humankind: life and death.
I had never lived in a capitalist society then so I didn’t know how to compare it to socialism. But looking at the things now both in China and U.S., I feel that there was, back then, an optimism that was always in the air, we were always optimistic. People didn’t complain. Right now everyone is complaining even though he/she has already so much. Under capitalism there is all these desires for all kinds of things. Right now when I go back to China everyone is complaining and it’s just money, money, money. But back under socialism, the purpose in life was not money. As Lei Feng said succinctly: We cannot live without food, but our lives are not for food. It is for making a better society. That pretty much sums up the spirit. Lei Feng was an ordinary soldier in the People’s Liberation Army and died manning his post. He spent his short 22 years of life helping other people. And Chairman Mao called on the whole nation to “Learn from Comrade Lei Feng” in 1964.
Revolution #165, May 24, 2009
Lines Drawn in a Battle for Justice
As we go to press, the preliminary hearing for Oscar Grant’s killer, ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle, is set to begin on Monday, May 18 and proceedings may go on for days. At this hearing witnesses to the killing will testify, video may be shown and interpreted, and then the judge will decide whether there is sufficient evidence for Johannes Mehserle to stand trial for murder, or whether he will be tried for some lesser offense. It is even possible that the judge could choose to let Mehserle walk free and avoid trial and punishment completely.
This case is unfolding against a tense and complicated landscape. There is no question that Mehserle killed Grant and ended the 22-year-old father’s life. And as we have reported before, a careful review of the videos taken by riders that night shows an escalating series of violent acts by the seven BART police against the group of youth on the train platform: threats with tasers; shoving; hitting; take-downs; and finally the drawing of a gun and firing it into Oscar’s back. Many people Revolution has talked with, even people who have seen the police get away with brutalities and killings in the past, think that since this killing was videoed from at least three different angles and aired numerous times on TV, that a trial for murder is the only course and that a conviction is almost certain.
Young people among the oppressed, particularly in Oakland, are eagerly anticipating a trial and want to see Mehserle convicted—and to see justice for Oscar Grant. The system has been forced to arrest and charge this cop, but whether the charges stick and result in a murder trial is anything but certain. Experienced attorneys, and a media source who claims to have talked with all sides in the case, say that it is probable the murder charge will be lowered and that a conviction for murder is very, very unlikely. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, in the last 15 years in the whole U.S. there have been only 6 cases where murder charges have been filed for killings by police “in the line of duty.” In none of these case were any police officers convicted of murder, and most of those charged were cleared altogether.
But brutal law enforcement is an indispensable component of this oppressive system, under which the role of the police is not “to protect and to serve” the people but to keep people down. A murder conviction of a cop for murder would be a set back for the police and this whole system. But the police, district attorney, courts, and the mainstream media do not have the freedom to do anything they want in this case. The cold-blooded police execution of Oscar Grant, caught on video, shocked and outraged thousands of people--in the Bay Area and even around the world. And this outrage still simmers. Attempts to cover up and tank the case will surely be met with deep and justified anger.
At the same time, the powers-that-be have taken full advantage of the coincidental incident involving Lovelle Mixon, a young Black man who was on parole and allegedly killed four Oakland police before he himself was shot by police. A grand state funeral, a personal letter from President Obama about the “heroes,” and even adding an “OPD” patch to the Oakland Athletics uniforms—the system has worked overtime to try to bury and invalidate the people’s anger over the murder of Oscar Grant under a heavily state-orchestrated period of mourning for the “heroic” cops. Jerry Brown, California’s Attorney General, said: “The fact of the matter is...you have urban terrorists, not by the hundreds, but by the thousands, and they have to be kept under control, and parolees and probationers need extra control. And cops when they get into combat sometimes make mistakes, and people shouldn’t pile on as though they were doing something bad, when they were really doing something good.” (See “The Battle for Justice for Oscar Grant...And the Rulers’ Counter-Attack,” Revolution #161, April 12, 2009.)
Meanwhile, the Oakland police department itself continues to be mired in scandal, and stories of the Department’s brutality and corruption keep seeping out.
Johannes Mehserle’s current attorney, Michael Rains, is a notorious and busy lawyer. He represents many Oakland police, and he himself is a former cop. What he has argued in the bail motion, and in his recent motion to disqualify the district attorney, and what BART has said in its answer to the federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the Grant family’s attorney is that Oscar’s death may have been a tragedy, even a “terrible error,” but it was not a murder. In fact, Rains has implied two conflicting defenses: the first is that Mehserle pulled his gun by mistake, that he meant to use his taser; the second is that other cops say Mehserle told them he thought Grant was going for a gun. The implication here is that the cop’s state of mind was that he was in imminent danger and he shot Grant in self-defense.
Both these claims are ludicrous; a gun weighs three times as much as a Taser and is holstered on the opposite side from the BART police’s bright yellow Taser. And Grant was unarmed, lying face down with both hands behind his back at the moment he was shot; he was not going for a gun. And the district attorney has pointed out that it is “disingenuous” for Mehserle and his attorney to claim both the taser and the “waistband” defenses because IF Mehserle really thought Oscar Grant was “going for a gun” he would not be trying to Tase him.
Mehserle’s attorneys have delayed the case, no doubt hoping the stunning images of the videoed murder would fade from the memory of witnesses and the public. The preliminary hearing was originally scheduled for March 23. But Rains seized upon the killing of the four cops in Oakland arguing he thought there would be “violent” protests during the trial, and that the Oakland police were too “emotionally scarred” to deal with the protests. The judge agreed to re-set the hearing for May 18. Now Rains has filed papers saying the Alameda County District Attorney’s office should be disqualified from prosecuting the case for supposedly attempting to question Mehserle without his lawyer present.
If the District Attorney is disqualified, the case will go to Attorney General Jerry Brown whose sympathies are clear! Brown has replied to the motion to disqualify the district attorney, and this issue will probably also factor in the upcoming court proceedings.
Oscar Grant’s family and activists have called for people to protest on the first day of the preliminary hearing, Monday, May 18. A flier with the photos of Emmett Till, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell and Casper Banjo placed above photos of lynchings calls on people to come to court all this week. Emblazoned across the pictures of lynchings are the words, “This Cannot Happen Again.” Exactly! The lines are being drawn and the battle for justice must not only continue, but be stepped up. And everybody, everywhere, should pay close attention to what happens in the next and what may be decisive days.
Revolution newspaper, the Revolution Club in the Bay Area, and Revolution Books have been playing a unique role in the midst of the struggle, joining with others to fight for justice, and bringing into this fight the need for revolution to really change this system and end police brutality. This has been noted by the bourgeoisie which has put outrageous felony charges on David, a young member of the Revolution Club who was arrested during the rebellion on January 7.
This whole situation is in motion, and this preliminary hearing is an important juncture. The people’s active role in waging mass determined resistance is key in fighting to win justice for Oscar Grant as part of building the revolutionary movement we need.
Revolution #165, May 24, 2009
Check It Out:
We received the following from a reader:
This is a movie all readers of Revolution (and millions more who are not yet readers of Revolution/Revolucion) should see. Sin Nombre is the powerful and moving story of Sayra, a young woman (Paulina Gaitan) making the perilous exodus from her home in Honduras to live with her father’s new family in New Jersey, and El Casper (Edgar Flores) who is running from the gang he was part of. On a deeper level Sin Nombre is really about the lives of millions of immigrants who every year are forced to leave their homelands in Central America and Mexico and make a perilous journey north trying to get to the U.S.
At a time when immigrants are being vilified, a time of work place and neighborhood raids, of violent separations of parents from children by Homeland Security—Sin Nombre has enormous heart for immigrants. Sin Nombre shows the desperation, danger, and dignity in the lives of the masses.
The director of Sin Nombre is Cary Joji Fukunaga, and this is his first feature film. Cary Fukunaga is 31 years old, and he casts very fresh eyes on this “typical” story, with a deeply compassionate desire for people to understand what immigrants go through. Fukunaga’s own journey to understand the lives of immigrants really began with a short film he did in 2004, Victoria Para Chino, the story of Mexican immigrants who were abandoned and suffocated in a locked truck in Texas. Fukunaga searched to learn about the experiences and plight of Central American immigrants who face degradation and brutality trying to come north to the U.S. To write his screenplay for Sin Nombre, he visited jails and prisons in Central America to talk with incarcerated people, and he rode the trains alongside the immigrants coming northward through Mexico, so that he could better understand and tell the stories of their lives as they live them. In recent interviews, Fukunaga said: “In terms of why I think I’ve become so fascinated with that world, I think that happened when I finally traveled with immigrants, was living with them, was dealing with some of the same issues and dangers they deal with, and then, at the same time, experiencing some of the camaraderie of traveling with them. That made it absolutely real [for me]. That was the moment when [I] actually felt part of something and could write about it. The characters in my film are all a collage of the stories I heard and the people I met.”
Go see Sin Nombre. This film dramatizes powerfully one more reason the world needs fundamental, radical, real revolutionary change.
Revolution #165, May 24, 2009
Excerpt of Interview on Pacifica Radio KPFK:
The following transcript is of an April 28, 2009 radio interview (including listener call-ins) with Andy Zee on Michael Slate's radio show Beneath the Surface on KPFK (Los Angeles). Andy Zee is the author of the recent article in Revolution newspaper, "In the Era of Obama: The Collapse of 'The Movement'; the Resistance and the Revolutionary Movement We Need."
Michael Slate: What made you want to write this article?
Zee: I think if we look out over the whole last period of time, a trajectory really going from 2004 to now, but particularly in the last year, the resistance movement has gone to lower and lower levels of resistance, of masses of people in the streets, to the point now where we have these revelations around torture, and this is being done and continues to be done in the name of people in this country, and there's a little noise in the media about it and on the Internet, but there's not the kind of protest and condemnation that needs to be going on. So that was the genesis of it.
Slate: I was looking at some of the things that are being said about torture. Even when they wrote the Military Commissions Act, when they passed that and there was this whole idea that somehow under the Bush regime that torture was OK. Then you have this thing now where there's all these memos coming out, that are really disgusting. Somebody mentioned to me the other day that they've waterboarded people over 200 times. There was one guy they did 183 times, another guy they did 90 times. You're thinking about this and not only is there not the uproar that you would think, that basic, decent humanity would require. But somehow the discussion goes into the ticking time bomb scenario, but also they start citing Jack Bauer in "24," and say, "But is the information going to be useful or not?" And to think that these things today are the parameters of discussion of whether or not you're going to oppose something as much of a war crime as torture is just insane.
Zee: These are the terms exactly of a lengthy article by Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books, Part 2, this previous week. There's a lot to learn from this article, but still the terms are being set on, did they get actual evidence from people on account of torture or not? That is completely in the wrong ballpark to be looking at this. It's part of what actually contributes to the passivity of people. Because that's not actually the question. To tell you the truth, while we're learning a lot now, most of what we know has actually been pretty much out there since 2004. In fact, I was involved in doing something in New York, the Bush Crimes Commission, where we actually did a mock tribunal on the Bush regime, including on the question of torture. A lot of the evidence that's coming out now we were able to amass in initial ways back then. At this Commission, Craig Murray, a former ambassador from Great Britain to Uzbekistan, made a very important comment—more than a comment, actually, a stand we can learn from: "I would rather die than have my life saved on account of somebody else being tortured. I think that's a very important stand for people broadly to take.
Then I think we need to go deeper into what is the role of the U.S. and why does it torture? That's something we can get into over the hour.
Slate: I don't know if you saw that Jon Stewart piece on Obama's Camp Lejeune. I think he did this before anybody else spoke to it. It was a speech at Camp Lejeune where Obama talked about how supposedly the combat mission is over and all this other stuff. Stewart played the speech out and then did his commentary. This is where he revealed that most of what's happening to the combat brigades is just changing the name. He did this thing where he compared what Obama was saying to what Bush had said, and the computer came up with one word's difference between the two statements about the mission in Iraq. One was "assistance" and one was "support."
What led up to that was you had Obama on Jay Leno, and not one question for an entire hour said one thing about the war. Then you had that press conference where no one said anything about the war. The war has disappeared except for some articles here and there.
Zee: I think in terms of the question of language, there's been a re-branding of essentially the same overall policies. The New York Times ran an article, which was quoted in the piece, last month. They quoted Bush's national security advisor Gordon Johndroe who said that he "detected a great deal of overlap," of policies between the two presidents. And certainly on the front of national security policy including torture, spying without warrants, that this has essentially been left intact by Obama. He's gotten rid of the term "enemy combatant," but the actual reality of it still exists: The ability of the executive branch to detain anyone without cause and in secret and indefinitely.
There is a question of people confronting the reality of what is continuing, as well as looking at what has changed and what hasn't, and more importantly, how an entire movement over a period of several years, but particularly starting with this endless election campaign and continuing in their first 100 days here, has been demobilized from acting in the interests of people of the world in opposing what our government is doing.
Slate: Let's get into that. I'm sure there are people out there whose hackles are being raised by the fact that we're talking about the collapse of the movement. That's a fairly strong statement. You talk about collapse, and actually talk about criminal complicity. If you're going to say that then let's explain why.
Zee: Sure. Even just take the question of torture. We can't reduce it to torture, but just take the question of torture. Without bringing indictments, without prosecuting the war criminals all the way up, then what are you actually saying? You're saying this is OK, this is fine. And what reason would you have for thinking this is fine or OK? Only that you might face the necessity to do it again. Certainly the question of torture has been with us for a long time. Waterboarding goes back to the Spanish Inquisition if not before. But it's a tremendous American tradition. You have president Taft who before he was the president was the governor of the Philippines at the turn of the last century. He actually presided over water torture that was used. It was so frequent during the Spanish-American War in the Philippines that the military even marched to a little ditty about it. So this is the kind of thing that we're talking about, where you're going from passive acquiescence where you're not getting out and doing the kind of protest that was going to be required to really stop the direction of the Bush regime to a more active complicity, where you're actually out there telling people that some good things can happen from this regime.
Slate: But some people would say, "It's not that the movement has collapsed, it's changed its character. Its open features have changed. Right now," the argument goes, "you have someone who will listen to you in the White House." I've even heard people say the most disturbing thing: "He's one of us," in terms of he's come out of the movement, and you can actually influence him. And they go from the important thing is the movement that Obama has called forth, or that the election of Obama has called forth, that that movement can actually give Obama the basis to do things that he might not be able to do otherwise. Or that the job of the movement is to give Obama a hot foot, to hold his feet to the fire, forcing him somehow to do the right thing.
Zee: Look, there's two basic assumptions there. One is that this system isn't a system, that we don't live under it, that there isn't a nature to imperialism, that there isn't a reason that the U.S. went into the Middle East and that this was just an incidental thing, aberrations that occurred under Bush and not actually part of the whole way that imperialism works. We should get into what this has actually meant to people and what it continues to mean. Then there's the belief that you can actually make this thing work for you; it can work for us. That the very system that oppresses people here and around the world can actually be used to the advantage of the oppressed. This is an illusion which we need to actually talk about and get into.
But we should start from what Obama has actually done. He's brought 20,000 more troops into Afghanistan, and they've held out the option of bringing even more in. The political alliances they're making in Afghanistan and the rest of their program has included instituting Sharia law in part of Afghanistan. He's expanded the war into Pakistan with troops and unmanned drones. He's extended the deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq until 2010, and he's held that, depending on the advice of his generals, it could go longer. And even this withdrawal leaves 35,000 to 50,000 troops to defend what is the largest embassy ever built in the world's history in Baghdad, plus another 50,000 to 100,000 mercenaries.
So this is what he's talking about in terms of even ending the war: close to maybe 150,000 people staying there to continue to reinforce the U.S. role there. He said he'd close Guantánamo in a year and yet he also approved the budget to double the size of Bagram prison in Afghanistan. And he's defended the Bush policy of illegal, warrantless wiretapping, and he's even asserted far broader claims of executive branch immunity. And as I said earlier, there's no motion now to actually prosecute the Bush regime for their torture and war crimes, which, by the way, does make it his war crime.
Slate: When you're saying all these things that he's done, it's like the blinders go down and there's no talking to people who say, "Well, really what we have to do is pressure him. We have to bring the match closer to his feet." This isn't just a question of whether he's betrayed his campaign promises, or he's not doing what we want him to do. There is a system that's operating here. Why don't you get into what is at the root of this? I think people don't understand what's wrong. Why would you argue against this idea of holding his feet to the fire as what the movement should be doing?
Zee: People should be out protesting. The point is not that there is not a need for resistance. There's an incredible need for resistance on many different levels. I understand that on the 28th of May they're supposed to release some more of the torture photographs. [Editors' note: This interview was done before Obama announced he was blocking the release of these photos.] I think there's protests called for Washington, New York and elsewhere. People should be out in the streets, but the question is, out to do what and in what interests? Are people thinking in terms of "hold his feet to the fire?" There is no fire there if you're actually not largely fighting and directing your protests in the interests of the people of the world. Look, one of the big problems here, and one of the main reasons people aren't out there, is an entire movement has turned its attention away from the crimes that their own government is committing, from what the system is actually doing to people here and around the world, and instead refashioning things in terms of what's in the interests of the American people? And looking backward through the lens of the 1930s and saying what we need is a big movement to stave off the effects of the economic crisis on the people here, and not even looking at [the fact] that this is a system that's going on here. This is not new.
I think this is what the article is saying. Just holding his feet to the fire—let's talk about fighting in the interests of the people of the world. Let's start thinking about that. Let's put an end to the torture. What about the fact that this war still is going on? What about the drones that are in Pakistan? What good do you think that's going to do for humanity? And putting out an illusion here that Barack Obama is for you and somehow can serve the interests of the people is extremely poisonous. He's not the president of the People's Republic of the U.S. He's president of U.S. imperialism. That's his job description. And he's actually quite open about it. He's been open about it all through his campaign. His job is to rescue this system.
Slate: This isn't something that just spontaneously happens among people. There's illusion and delusion and deceit and self-deceit, but there have been programs, there have been positions put out that actually take people and say, "Look, America can be made to work. America can be made to do good in the world. America can be made to serve the interests of the people here." You get into this in the article, that some people are saying that the problem with Obama's strategy in Afghanistan is that it might not bring victory. These are the parameters that are being set out, that somehow America can work good in the world.
Zee: There's an old joke from the Lone Ranger series, the television show in the '50s and early '60s. The Lone Ranger was the white guy on his white horse with his Native American sidekick as it was, and at a certain point in one of these episodes, they're surrounded by a number of other Native Americans, though that's not the word they used at that time, and Tonto the Indian as he was called, was on his horse, and the Lone Ranger was on his. The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and goes, "What are we going to do?" and Tonto says, "What do you mean we, white man?"
This is the question. Are you going to identify with the system that does carry out torture, whose whole history is one of invasion. Revolution newspaper put out a challenge last July 4th that said, "Spin a globe. Pick any country in the Third World and find a ten-year period where the U.S. hasn't either been at war, launching a coup, launching an assassination or in some way trying to dominate the rest of the world and bringing tremendous oppression to the people. This is not incidental. There has been a movement. And it continues with these deadly illusions.
The article begins by talking about United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) voting to not demonstrate on the sixth anniversary of the war and instead putting forward a slogan, "Beyond War, a New Economy is Possible. Yes we can." As I wrote here, it's hard to tell what's worse in that slogan, the lie or the chauvinism. We should talk about this some more and get into it. Is that actually going to lead to anything good in the world? Or is it going to lead to people having illusions about what in fact is happening and why in fact Obama is even president for that matter.
Slate: People talk about how in the 1930s the New Deal "saved America." And this is being thrown out now, politically, socially and economically as the path that Obama is going to take to "save America." What about the New Deal?
Zee: First off, why would you want to save America? That's one question that has to be asked of an opposition movement in the country that's at the top of the imperialist food chain. And if you want to know the real truth of the New Deal, it was in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and then an unending period of wars of aggression and counter-revolution, establishing neo-colonies and overthrowing national liberation struggles. This is what it actually meant. If you get into the New Deal—look, determined struggle was waged in the 1930s. People fought, people died fighting against the effects of the Great Depression, and that's an important struggle. But it was led, after 1934 in the direction of supporting and in the framework of supporting the extension of democracy in this country and around the world, and it left people politically and ideologically in a position where they ended up being disarmed ideologically in terms of fighting in the interests of the U.S. It even got to the point where the Communist Party was saying that communism was 20th Century Americanism.
Of course, you leave people ideologically unprepared and then in fact they get hit at the end of World War II with McCarthyism and they're completely incapable of dealing with that. So this is where this can lead, and where it is leading. That's the problem, it's where it is leading: How do we actually repair U.S. imperialism? That is the question.
Slate: Can you speak to the point you raise toward the end of the article, that there will be no anti-war movement worthy of the name, or a movement against anything else of consequence if it is not struggling fundamentally outside of and in opposition to the framework of the system that's at the root of and carrying out the wars and various forms of oppression.
Zee: I think that's very important and that's a point that's gone into in some depth in a pamphlet titled, "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity" by Bob Avakian, who's Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party.1 It's a very important point, because look, the overall framework for how you have to look at this question of what the U.S. is doing in the world and what Obama himself is continuing in terms of the policies of the Bush regime is that we have to stop thinking like Americans and start thinking of the interests of humanity. This is fundamental when you live in a country like this. The rubric under which the Bush regime, Bush and Cheney, carried out their whole program was the War on Terror, which was actually and has proven itself to be, a war of terror on the masses of people for U.S. empire. This is really essential. There's nothing that Obama has said, and there's nothing he's done that gets you out of that kind of framework for what the U.S. is doing. There have been some changes. The Bush regime ran into a lot of problems in the world and the ruling class as a whole felt they needed to make some big changes and Obama was it. But he is re-branding the same essential policy. Even as there are some changes being made, it's largely a matter of re-branding and going forward with asserting U.S. interests.
For all of the talk of empire that went on in this country in the '90s, in the anti-globalization movement, in relationship to the Bush regime, for all people's critique of empire, they tend to not understand it. An empire is a system. It's imperialism. It's not incidental. It's not off to the side, an aberration. The Bush regime was an extreme concentration of programs of empire and imperialism, but it actually was a continuation of it and this is systemic. The only promise of America, as we put it in this article, is the promise of more invasions, more coups and continued immiseration of the masses of people. This is systemic. We could go on. We should talk about it even in relation to the economic crisis. This is something that originates here in terms of the parasitic way that capitalism becomes more involved in finance. And the effect of it? There's now over a billion people who are starving in the world. The rates of starvation and absolute hunger are increasing daily in the world as a result of this economic crisis. Where's that being talked about in terms of people who say what we need is a new New Deal? Where are those interests in the movement?
This has a real consequence. Recruitment is up in the U.S. Army right now. While in part there's economic factors that lead to that, there's also the fact that there's a lot of Black and Latino youth who feel like, "Well, now I wouldn't fight for the U.S., but I will fight for Obama. If the movements of resistance are not actually exposing to people, what is the nature of fighting for Obama when he's head of the U.S. imperialist empire? He's enforcing this system all around the world.
Woman Caller: Your closing comments took the wind out of my sails with what I was going to say. This idea of America: the designers of Obama's campaign did the best job ever of pushing off some candidate on who's designed to divert what our energy was for changing this country. Anyway, the idea of America and saving it, we might as well bank on the fact that there's a financial collapse and one out of six people in this country works for the government and it's too big, it's going to collapse too and we need to just go inside ourselves and become our own America, looking at who we are as people, learning to live as communities from the heart. I think that's the best weapon against these people who want to control us with fear. I hate what's going on, but we can't change the world, can change ourselves.
Zee: I certainly agree with you that people were played in this election and that's what elections do in this system. These are political structures that are set up to enforce an economic system. But let's take a look at this situation now. I think we can't just look inside ourselves. That's the wrong place to look. We have to look to each other. We have to take a look and see that at the current moment in the development of the world, there's a possibility of feeding and housing everybody on the planet—except for the barrier of the fact that this is a system that depends on the exploitation and the oppression of the majority of people. It thrives on and can only live on the basis of exploitation of people. That's the barrier. Here's what's crazy. You mentioned the situation in California where one in sixty-five homes are foreclosed, and yet we've seen national reports of people living in tent cities. This is insane. There's the ability for everybody to have a house here and actually around the world, except for one barrier, which is that it's not profitable. Nothing here is produced according to what's needed for people. It's only produced whether or not one group of capitalists can make a profit off of it, particularly in terms of the U.S. protecting the interests overall of U.S. capital all over the world. This is what happens. This is the reality of it. So we should get together. We should figure out, what does it take to make a revolution? How are we going to do it? And we need to resist these policies, these things that are going on as part of building up our strength and not letting people get crushed. We can't look inside ourselves and get our own act together because that too would be, through the back door in a sense, turning our backs on what exactly is being done in our names.
Male Caller: We've got to understand as American people, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are on the same coin. Heads you lose and tails I win. We're at a crossroads in our life right now. The crossroad is American people must take their life in their own hands, not be afraid. Just the way we act right now. And Obama, well, his policy speaks for itself. He is the head of the whole imperialistic situation. And that's what it's for right now. So if we understand this, then we can come together as a people in our own party, and not trust Democrats or Republicans. I know it sounds like chaos and anarchy, but this is where it's heading to. For example, the people, corporate America, they stole the money from the people. People need their own party, their own movement. Democrats and Republicans are finished as far as I'm concerned.
Zee: We need two things. You said we need our own movement and we need our own party. I want to speak first on the second point, we need our own movement. I think you need to ask yourself and we have to ask each other, what kind of movement we need and we've got to get out there. There are plenty of things for people to be protesting around. I suggest people can look at various websites including The World Can't Wait website in terms of ways to fight around the war and the torture, and like I mentioned before, there's lots of plans around that that need to be made. People need to get out and they need to be looking at what this country is doing, what's happening in the world, open their eyes and act on the basis of the interests of humanity.
We do need to do more than that. We do need to actually change this system as I said and that's what our newspaper deals with every week, Revolution newspaper in terms of exposing the crimes of this system and what are the forces behind it? What are the political forces? What are the class forces? And then what is it going to take to get rid of it? There is a party that puts out the newspaper, which is the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, which is led by Bob Avakian who I mentioned earlier. There is a strategy for revolution in a country like this, which includes, as one component, the need for massive resistance against the key things that are going on at any given time that concentrate the contradictions of this society. That's part of what creates the ground so we can make a revolution at a time when there is a society-wide crisis. I would advise you to get a copy of Revolution newspaper or go to revcom.us and find out about that.
So that's what I think in terms of a political party. The one thing we don't need is to divert our energies playing this game between the two political parties. We need to understand that that is the game they are running on you and did run on you with Obama.
Woman Caller: There have always been problems in the anti-war movement with United For Peace and Justice. There's a split in New York between them and the ANSWER coalition. I'm not sure if it's the question of Palestine and Israel, because the party behind the ANSWER coalition took a very principled stand behind Palestine. But also I think that it is no secret that there are members of the Communist Party in United for Peace and Justice and the Communist Party I found out to my surprise has traditionally backed the Democratic Party and this election cycle is no exception. So United for Peace and Justice and the Communist Party want to continue to give Obama space to whatever. It goes in line with that whole accommodationist line that they have.
I really like your discourse because people can understand the way you're explaining things. Where it comes from of course is Marxism and analysis of class. When we say "we," who are we? Members of the working class? Then are we members of a national class or a world class? With all the globalization that's taken place over the last 30 years, people are living in a transnational world that tends to lapse into a discourse based on one country. There really is no United States of America and there is no U.S. working class anymore and there is no U.S. capitalist class anymore. It's a transnational class. I recommend the works of William Robinson at Santa Barbara. He's currently under fire from the Anti-Defamation League for supposed anti-Semitic comments when he defended the Palestinian people. He's done a lot of class formation, the transnational capitalist class, the transnational working class. When you get callers in Los Angeles who are born in other countries, and they're talking about taking a world perspective and not just thinking about Americans and thinking about people of the world, we're talking about an international or transnational working class. The more we can get away from thinking about single countries and start thinking in global terms, like the capitalists do and start talking about class and realize who our enemies are, it makes it easier to understand that it isn't a matter of whether Obama is a nice guy or not or has good intentions or not because he's working for the ruling class.
Zee: I want to make a brief comment on the situation of the Palestinian people and particularly in relation to the absolute atrocity and massacre in Gaza that Obama stood aside from and has to date still not made any comment that amounts to in any way standing with the people of Palestine. And we should not even expect this. He made this quite clear last year in a speech to AIPAC.
But I want to get to the essence of your question, and it does speak to the previous caller as well. The communist revolution is a world-wide revolution. Our objective is a world without nations and a world without classes. To get to that world is going to require a tremendous struggle that is going to have to take place in countries around the world. While the world is more closely-knit than it has ever been before, and production is largely carried out on a global plane, capital is still largely aggregated in individual nations. In the U.S. itself, I think the figure is approximately 30% of corporate profits come from investments overseas. But they are still profits made by U.S. multi-national corporations.
There is a ruling class in the United States. They do have the largest military in the world: 700 plus bases around the world. Their military is larger than the next several combined. This is not a classless society or transnational kind of formation. This is actually a class of monopoly imperialists. They rule the U.S. They rule it through its political structures and most fundamentally through its military.
This then becomes our responsibility as people who live here to deal with this and to figure out the strategy and the way to both oppose what it's doing now as part of preparing for a time when you actually could make a revolution, here and around the world, and politically supporting such struggles in other countries where people are making revolution. The world cries out for revolution right now because of the nature of the imperialist system. Imperialism will not supersede itself. It needs to be overthrown and in its place needs to be the rule of a different class, the people on the bottom of society. The proletariat needs to rule in the interest of abolishing itself and all classes. This is a big topic that I'm sure Michael has done on his show. We can continue to get into it so people can understand the basis and goals of a communist revolution as well as the strategy that's needed to accomplish that.
Woman Caller: Obama is now the head of the colonialism imperialist American government, and it was set in concrete and he knew that. And this is why anyone who's paying attention—Obama, I was suspicious because he came in as an Illinois senator. He claimed to be against the war, but he continued to vote to fund it. He claimed he was not going to give telecom companies immunity, but he voted for it. So he has lied. He's a very clever liar. He's very articulate and he's managed to fool people. I'm afraid to say it because I was one of the ones who voted for him but then we come to a system that's already set up. If they had really thought that he was going to go against this imperialistic regime, they would have sabotaged him. He would not have gotten to be president.
Zee: Why did you vote for him, if I can ask you that? Why did you think that was what you should do?
Same Caller: Well, because I didn't want John McCain to get in. I mean, it's the same box we're always in. I mean, I know it's a fraud and next time I'll probably vote for a socialist or a Green Party member, because I do think we need another party of the people that represent the people in this country. Also, you can see his policies have not changed. By the way, there has never been any intention to leave Iraq. Obama knows that. He's playing with words. All he's doing is changing the terminology. It's a shell game, and he's managing to fool people with his charisma. It's all a polished act. I'm just amazed at the people in MoveOn and the other places that are falling for this. I'm glad that you're out there talking about this and writing about this, and Michael is talking about it, because it's something that needs to be said. We're being screwed by the same economic team that got us into the mess, the same warmongers that are keeping this going. The same people that support Israel no matter what. Wars around the world. It's a shame. It's a shame. Read Naomi Klein's latest piece. It's quite humorous.
Male Caller: The denial issue is up front and center. A month before the election, Jerry Quickley interviewed a man named Glen Ford, and he's a Black activist and he saw what was coming. His great concern was that if Obama won, for Blacks it would be a nightmare because the honeymoon might last four years and people would be so enamored with the victory it might be four years before people realize this guy is just a handmaiden for the rich. It's ironic that it's not just Black Americans, it's the entire left that's been Svengali-ized, hypnotized into thinking this guy can do no wrong when it's fairly evident that nothing has changed except we're seeing an even more extreme transference of wealth from the poorest to the richest.
Zee: We should at least give Glen Ford credit. On his website, he coined the term "Obamalade." He said people had drunk the Obamalade and he was worried that it would in fact dull people's senses to what in fact the nature of this system is. Look, I think we have to stop being surprised by this. The reason I asked the previous caller about why did she vote—I just want to recommend here, people can get it at Libros Revolución, the book on "Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy," by Bob Avakian, where he really goes into the nature of both bourgeois democracy and why the transition to communism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, would be far more liberatory and democratic. But in this thing he brings out the analogy to Lucy putting that football in front of Charlie Brown and why he goes for it every time.
As long as you think you have a dog in this race, as long as you are playing this game that you are going to get your interests served by choosing between competing elites, then you're not going to get anywhere. We have to understand that this is a system. It has political structures, not just the elections but more particularly the armed forces, the police, and the whole structure of the courts, to enforce definite economic relations. That's what this is about. It's a system. It has imperatives. It has to expand. If it doesn't expand, then another country will expand. Just as with an individual company. They compete with each other, and there's competition for world resources. This is why the Middle East is at the center of it, not just for the oil profits, not even mainly for the oil profits, but to actually control the strategic resources. They fight and go to war over these regions, these markets, and all of this depends on military might which is why you can play that game of spin the globe and you're not going to find any place with a history where the U.S. hasn't been invading one country or another, whoever is commander-in-chief.
Now it so happens that Obama auditioned for this job and it was quite clear that what he was out to do was save the system and his particular role was to bring people into the fold. And when you go along with this and reinforce this, which is indeed what the people who lead UFPJ have done and continue to do to this day, then you're going to be played over and over again and not just not have an effective movement but actually contribute to these crimes that U.S. imperialism does commit around the world.
Caller: The fact that there could be a war for democracy is absolutely ridiculous. The moral center of the people making decisions needs to be fixed. All the great talk about coming out of Iraq, coming out of war, all that needs to be followed with. The fact that we're selling out America and the market's being sold out to other countries in trade for military bases is absolutely ridiculous. The war is actually being fought on our land instead of the other land.
Zee: If there's going to be any movement worth its name, a movement against anything of consequence, it's got to be fundamentally in opposition to and outside the framework of this society.
Revolution #165, May 24, 2009
On Saturday, May 16th, graduates of Boalt Hall—the University of California Law School—were greeted by people calling on them to wear orange ribbons and demand the firing and prosecution of John Yoo. Yoo is a law professor at UC Berkeley’s Law School, and he was one of the White House lawyers who authored the torture memos that provided a stamp of legitimacy and legality to the wave of torture in the Bush years that extended from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib to still-secret sites around the world. Dozens of demonstrators challenged graduates and their families along a mile stretch of Piedmont Avenue in Berkeley on Saturday morning. Graduates and their families were challenged to wear orange ribbons as a sign of protest, and over the course of the day, many did. (Additional photos are available at
Graduation procession passes “tortured prisoners.” Law school officials tried to hide the protest from graduates by leading them in through a side entrance, but protesters alerted to the switch raced there in time to meet the hundreds of students.
A sequence of signs, that began with “Crimes Against Humanity” and listed war criminals now in the SF Bay Area: “Haynes Requested It”—“Yoo Wrote It”—“Judge Bybee Upholds It”—“Rice Authorized It”—“Pelosi Protects It.” The last sign: “Bring Them To Justice”
Revolution #165, May 24, 2009
The following information is from World Can’t Wait, worldcantwait.org
Thursday, May 28
National Day of Resistance to U.S. Torture
In response to an ACLU lawsuit, Obama announced he will not release photos documenting detainee abuse in U.S. facilities because releasing the photos would create “anti-American” sentiments. Would these photos draw outrage and resistance to America’s torture state? Hell yes! Torture is immoral and resistance to this IS what is needed.
Release the Torture Photos!
Prosecute the War Criminals!
The torture memos released last month show that torture was widespread, sustained, and systemic, not an “aberration” but an integral part of the global war of terror. The Obama Administration, which is continuing indefinite detention, CIA rendition, Bush’s executive powers, and denying Bagram detainees the right to challenge their detention, says prosecution of torturers would stop them from “moving forward.” Democratic Party leader Nancy Pelosi knew about the torture as early as 2002, but said and did nothing to stop it.
Visible Resistance Actions in May!
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, water-boarding 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 at warcriminalswatch.org.
Wherever the Bush era war criminals are appearing this month, raise the cry “Torture is a War Crime! Prosecute!”
• WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA: West Hollywood City Hall hangs a “NO TORTURE!” Banner. Actors John Heard & Mark Ruffalo, and director Paul Haggis meet with the press. More information from email@example.com 323-462-4771
• ORANGE CO, CA: Friday, May 22. Graduation at Chapman University Law School, where war criminal John Yoo has been teaching this semester.
• LOS ANGELES: Saturday, May 23, 3 pm. Michael Haas will discuss and sign his book George W. Bush, War Criminal? The Bush Administration’s Liability for 269 War Crimes at Libros Revolucion bookstore, 312 W. 8th St., LA 213-488-1303
• NYC: Sunday, May 24, 1:15 pm. Film: Taxi to the Dark Side. Resistance Cinema at Community Church of NY, 40 East 35th St. 866-973-4463
• NYC: Tuesday, May 26, 6 pm. Radio City Music Hall, 1260 6th Avenue, NYC. Karl Rove appearance will be protested. Warcriminalswatch.org 866-973-4463
Protests on May 28
• NYC: John Negroponte, Bush intelligence czar, presents an award to General Petraeus, architect of the Iraq surge. Union League Club, 38 E. 37th Street (between Park & Madison), NYC. Orange jumpsuit action at Grand Central Station, 5 pm; march to Union League Club. Warcriminalswatch.org 866-973-4463
• BOSTON: Harvard Square, Cambridge MA 2 pm - 4 pm. Protest Douglas Feith, a visiting scholar at Harvard, who admits he played a “major role” in Bush’s decision to suspend Geneva Convention rights for detainees at Guantánamo. Warcriminalswatch.org 866-973-4463
• CHICAGO: Karl Rove at the Chicago Theater, 175 N. State Street, Chicago. 6 pm. Chicago@worldcantwait.org 773-227-2453
• HOUSTON: Freeze Against Torture. 3:00 pm Meet at the corner of Pressler & Fannin; 4:00 pm corner of Westheimer & Post Oak; 5:30 pm
@ Montrose Bridge. Freeway blogging. Houston@worldcantwait.org.
• SEATTLE: Protest at CIA recruiters office, University of Washington. 12:00 noon at Red Square. Plans underway for protests June 13
when Defense Sec’y Robert Gates speaks at commencement.
• SF BAY AREA: The Bay Area has five Bush war criminals (Yoo, Bybee, Haynes, Rice, and Pelosi). Plans underway. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org 415-864-5153
Revolution #165, May 24, 2009
The following article was submitted by a reader:
A recent article from a World to Win News Service ("Some ideas on how to look at the swine flu epidemic") pointed out that while flu viruses are not caused by human activity or produced by capitalism, what class rules and how society is organized—has everything to do with how these diseases effect humanity.
Two main social factors are involved. First—the lopsided character of the development of the world, and specifically the vastly unequal set-up in the access to health care, nutrition, clean water and sanitation faced by the people living in the poor countries compared to those in the imperialist countries that dominate them. Second—the system of capitalism is totally incapable of dealing with the danger such viruses pose to humanity. To really confront these dangers requires rupturing out of relations where production is owned privately and driven by profit-making.
How have these factors played out in the recent flu epidemic that developed in Mexico?
The recent—and still spreading—epidemic of swine flu started in Mexico where it has killed at least 56 people. Many factors are involved in how and why the swine flu started here. But clearly, the number of deaths in Mexico is related to lack of health care and necessary medications. And many people who contracted the disease did not get crucial medical information about what to do.
The health care system in Mexico, which cannot provide decent medical services to people in "normal times," proved really inadequate in the face of the swine flu epidemic.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the already poor health care system in Mexico was slashed by debt repayment conditions forced on Mexico by international financial institutions. In response, the Mexican government "decentralized" health care—essentially dumping responsibility for organizing health care on local governments without any real coordination or national funding on the level needed.
One "selling point" of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that the U.S. imposed on Mexico, was that it would lead to a better, more "integrated response" between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada, to infectious diseases.
But this was certainly not the case with this outbreak of swine flu. Mexico did not even have the technology needed to identify the virus that was killing people. Samples had to be sent to Canada and the U.S. to analyze, taking almost a week. A full two weeks after the initial outbreak, the Washington Post reported, "U.S. public health officials are still largely in the dark about what’s happening in Mexico." Valuable time was lost and this was a huge factor in people getting sicker and dying.
One health report comparing treatment in Mexico to that of the U.S. showed patients in the U.S. were more quickly seen by doctors. In Mexico, some of the patients that died from swine flu had already developed secondary infections like pneumonia before they even got to a doctor, and the pneumonia is what caused their deaths.
People in Mexico who were sick with the flu were often turned away from overcrowded clinics. One story on CBS news on April 27 showed hospital workers in Mexico City protesting to news crews that even for those treating the victims, there weren’t enough masks or medications to go around.
Several news reports said that the government never provided medicine and government and [medical] officials never visited the families of those who died from the flu (or its complications). This meant that those most exposed and apt to spread the flu weren’t getting treatment.
The system of capitalism we live under doesn’t directly produce viruses. But the economic and social relations of capitalism do create conditions that are accelerating the development of new and potentially deadly viruses.
Huge industrial factory farms that have taken over the growth and production of pigs, cattle and poultry in the world are becoming breeding grounds for new viruses. An article by Mike Davis, "Capitalism and the Flu" points out: "In 1965, there were 53 million American hogs on more than 1 million farms; today, 65 million hogs are concentrated in 65,000 facilities, with half of the hogs kept in giant facilities with 5,000 animals or more."
This industrialization is worldwide. For example, Smithfield foods, the world’s largest pork processor, has expanded its industrial hog operations around the world—including into Mexico. Smithfield went into Mexico along with many other big agribusiness firms in 1994 right after NAFTA pried the country open to further U.S. investment and takeover of land. Smithfield became the largest and most profitable pork processor in the world. And in Mexico they did this by driving small farms out of business—buying them out and forcing farmers to contract to grow the hogs.
Jeff Tietz, who wrote a major story on Smithfield in Rolling Stone magazine in 2006, exposed how on these factory farms, thousands of animals are packed together in almost unimaginable conditions of heat and shit. Tietz says, "From Smithfield’s point of view, the problem with this life style is immunological. Taken together, the immobility, poisonous air and terror of confinement badly damage the pig’s immune system. They become susceptible to infection and in such dense quarters, microbes or parasites or fungi, once established in one pig, will rush spritelike through the whole population." The pigs are pumped full of a huge range of antibiotics and vaccine. Many become sick or die anyway. Tietz says, "factory-pigs remain in a state of dying until they’re slaughtered." ("Pork’s Dirty Secret, the nation’s top hog producer is also one of the America’s worst polluters" by Jeff Tietz, Rolling Stone, December 14, 2006)
It is not that governments and companies have not known that such conditions pose an extreme public health danger. Experts in the field of infectious disease have warned that industrial farms such as Smithfield’s can serve as vast incubating centers for the mutation and development of dangerous new viruses. A study by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production in 2008 said, "Due to large numbers of animals housed in close quarters in typical (industrial farm animal production) facilities there are many opportunities for animals to be infected by several strains of pathogens, leading to increased chance for a strain to emerge that can infect and spread in humans."
Pigs seem to be particularly excellent "mixing vessels" for the combining of different flu viruses. This new virus appears closely related though not identical with another virus that emerged in the U.S. in 1998 and became widespread on hog farms across North America. Scientists warned that the swine flu virus had "jumped onto the evolutionary fast track"—meaning it was changing quickly and could give rise to new strains of flu virus. Yet nothing was done by officials to confront this or change the conditions on factory farms that were contributing to it.
Tietz paints an horrific picture of Smithfield’s factory farms as environmental disasters—creating thousands of acres of lagoons of pig shit, spraying waste on neighboring lands, contaminating rivers and lakes and exposing people living in the areas to a toxic brew of microbes, drugs, chemicals and nightmarish stench that is almost indescribable. For five years Smithfield delayed installing pollution control equipment while systematically dumping pig waste into the Pagan and James Rivers and Chesapeake Bay. The pig waste was filled with fecal coliform, an organism known to cause serious illness in humans. Toxins and microbes killed plants and fish while more were suffocated by waste eating up the oxygen.
Even Smithfield’s sales of $11.4 billion in 2006, it’s production of pig shit is so extensive that if it had to employ waste treatment like any big city does, it would actually lose money.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fined Smithfield 12.6 million dollars for knowingly polluting waters in the United States. But this amounts to almost nothing compared to Smithfield’s profits. When things like this happen, companies like Smithfield simply find other places, like Mexico, where they can get away even more with exploiting workers and destroying the environment. And NAFTA helped facilitate companies like Smithfield who wanted to move their operations to Mexico in order to increase their profits.
Carrying out production in a way that safeguards the environment is impossible under the capitalist system—which is driven by profit and is privately owned and controlled. Every individual capitalist (or capitalist enterprise) is looking for a way to compete with other capitalists. And this means that paying attention to things like the environment and public health cut into the capitalists' competitiveness. As Maoist political economist Raymond Lotta put it, "An individual capitalist can open a steel mill and be concerned with the cost of that steel mill. But what they do to the air is not 'their cost,' because it’s not part of their sphere of ownership. In mainstream economic theory, this is called 'externality'."
It has now come out that an industrial pig farm called Caroll Farms in Perote, Veracruz state in Mexico, may be connected to the swine flu outbreak. And guess who owns 50% of this company? Smithfield Foods.
The earliest outbreaks of unusual sickness in Mexico began in early March, a full month before the government raised the alarm about swine flu. 60% of the villagers of La Gloria, near Perote, got sick with symptoms just like swine flu. Federal health officials dismissed the complaints until April 6, when they placed sanitary restrictions on Caroll farms.
Two children died of the illness. Some of La Gloria’s residents said they believed there was a connection to the hog farm in Perote, and that many people in La Gloria also work in Mexico City, so could have easily passed the swine flu to people in the capital. For years villagers have protested that the pig farm is contaminating their water and spreading disease.
Mexican agriculture officials and Smithfield have claimed they found no signs of swine flu among the farms pigs or its workers. Yet a young boy from La Gloria was one of those who tested positive for swine flu. Mexican officials deny that the illness engulfing La Gloria was swine flu. But they haven’t explained what caused the La Gloria outbreak or how the young boy got swine flue. And they haven’t provided evidence from the Caroll Farms of what they actually found.
The problem here is not that companies like Smithfield are "uncaring" or "greedy." Under the capitalist system, if you don’t out-compete your rivals, you risk going under. Capital is compelled in this way to restlessly expand, to maximize profit and try to out-compete others trying to do the same. And according to these rules, the environment and public health are of no concern.
Revolution #165, May 24, 2009
Check It Out
I just came across a great CD put out last year, “City That Care Forgot,” by New Orleans musician Dr. John and The Lower 911, Doc’s band. Released during the presidential campaign that was supposed to convince us that some change was gonna come through the election, Doc begins “Promises, Promises” with the line “The road to the White House is paved with lies...” That particular cut is a duet with Willie Nelson. But Doc is just getting warmed up. On the song “Dream Warrior,” co-written by Doc and the Rev. Goat Carson, Doc sings:
So U tell yo Miss Billie Holiday
The Strange Fruit of today
Ain’t hangin from no tree, layin on the ground
Left to rot right where they drowned
Like monuments to some slave’s pride
The anger and rage that comes through this album is something that grabs you and shakes you. And more, the music is funky as hell, too, or as Doc says, fonky. I’ve been listening to his “Gris Gris” album back in the late 1960s and some of the music on “City That Care Forgot” harkens back to that landmark album. But this is the best music I’ve heard the Doc record—period. There are cuts on the album where Eric Clapton adds some searing guitar breaks as a counterpoint that accents and emphasizes Doc’s cool, deliberate anger. New Orleans Trumpeter Terence Blanchard adds some great work on a couple of tracks, and Ani DiFranco sings backup on the title track, a song that also pulls no punches.
Another song I gotta highlight is “Say Whut?” Check out some of the lyrics:
They tell me “forgive,” they tell me “forget”
Ain’t nobody charged for the murders yet
Half of the story ain’t never been told
All these “drowning victims” full of bullet holes
Say whut, say whut whut?
Blackwater rollin’ like they’re in Iraq
Shootin’ women and children in the back
Puttin’ in the I-10 guess it wasn’t enough
All down Claiborne dead bodies all lined up
Say whut, say whut whut?
Doc also tears into the local power structure in New Orleans for how it uses Black culture as a tourist attraction, but then comes down on the masses for the “crime” of having a traditional “second line” funeral (a jazz funeral which celebrates the life of the deceased). The song is titled “My People Need a Second Line,” and it starts off as a mournful ballad that brings tears to your eyes. Then, near the end, Doc brings in New Orleans second-liners James “12” Andrews on trumpet and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and they bust into a full-on second-line celebration. While this raucous music is blasting, Doc comes up in the background and gives the powers hell for their attacking second-line funerals.
Now, Doc (his real name is Mac Rebennack) is no revolutionary, which is evident on this album. Much of the anger voiced by Doc and others is confined within electoral politics. This stands in stark contrast to what even some of these songs pose as systematic problems. There’s an undercurrent of wondering ‘how can they treat Americans this way?’ on a couple of songs, for instance, on “We Gettin’ There,” Doc sings “This ain’t the Sudan or Lebanon, It’s New Orleans if you care.” While the anger expressed about the treatment of the masses in New Orleans is righteous, the masses in Sudan and Lebanon are oppressed by the same system and are our brothers and sisters, people we have more in common with than we do with our rulers. On “Promises, Promises,” Doc and Willie Nelson sing the chorus “the truth will set you free,” which sounds good to a lot of people, but this has two sides to it: we need to know the truth about what’s happening to the people in New Orleans, but on the other side, it’s going to take a powerful struggle for the people to set themselves free, with leadership from their vanguard party. That said, this album is a powerful voice speaking bitterness about the ongoing crimes being brought down on the masses in New Orleans. Props to Dr. John and The Lower 911 and all those who contributed to this album!
Revolution #165, May 24, 2009
Enough is enough!
We received the following article from a reader:
Julian’s body on the front lawn – handcuffed after being shot twice in the chest, his family yelled at to get back in the house while Julian struggled for his last breaths.
Julian was 20 years old, just married a week, with a baby on the way.
After 5 months of “wait-for-the-investigation,” after hiding the identity of the murdering cop and letting him loose back on the streets of Anaheim in December, after statements from the city attorney that the actual problem is people who are angry about this murder… the Orange County District Attorney has pronounced the murder of Julian Alexander “justified.” The murdering cop, Kevin Flanagan, won’t be charged, won’t do a second of jail time, won’t even be put on trial.
The statement given from the DA’s office is a cold-blooded open declaration that police have the legal right to kill Black people for looking angry.
There were no witnesses at the moment Julian was killed on October 29, 2008. The testimony from Julian’s killer was accepted as fact. The DA’s office publicly announced the murder was justified because the killer said he was being threatened with a stick, and the proof of the threat is that Julian’s “face looked angry.” And straight-up, any “reasonable police officer in that circumstance would likely shoot the person….”
“A reasonable police officer in that circumstance likely would shoot the person who’s coming at him with that stick, as though he’s going to slug him with it.” (District Attorney Tony Rackauckas)
“His face looked angry, brow dropped, facial muscles tight, corners of his mouth were down, and he appeared to have a tight jaw.” (Senior Deputy District Attorney David Brent)
Images flash from fifty years ago of 14-year-old Emmett Till dragged out of the house, tortured beyond recognition and dumped in the river for whistling at a white woman - his bragging murderers allowed to go free… from a hundred years ago of “upstanding white citizens” posing in smiling pictures in front of mangled Black bodies hung from nooses….
For generations Black parents schooled their children to survive in a country of lynch-mob violence: not to act too proud, not to laugh too loud, not to look white people in the eye, not to look angry. Whatever expression Julian had on his face, this “explanation” from the DA, this description to justify murder, is a continuation of that terror.
This is a terror that today is carried out daily by the police. It is a terror that is needed by capitalism in order to keep this society, with all its oppressive and exploitative production and social relations, intact. It is part of viciously holding vast numbers of Black people at the bottom of society, keeping white people thinking they have an interest in this system, and overall preventing any kind of fundamental challenge to the workings of the system. It is a terror that precisely can only be done away with by a revolution that overthrows the whole system, rips power away from the rulers (in particular their ability to use armies and police forces against the people), and establishes a new revolutionary state power.
The DA said, “Our decision here… is strictly whether or not the police officer committed a crime….” The Anaheim police said right up front – in a press conference by the Chief of Police the day Julian was killed – that Julian Alexander “was innocent of anything that the officer suspected was going on in that neighborhood.” In other words, it is not a crime for the police to wantonly and randomly kill an innocent Black person standing in his front yard.
In fact, in the last ten years, out of dozens of shootings by police in Orange County, (at least 50 between 1999 and 2004 alone according to the OC Weekly) only one cop has ever been charged by the Orange County DA’s office - an off-duty ICE agent who in 2005 shot a 20-year-old Arab youth point-blank in the head. That ICE agent was acquitted in January.
A new report from the Department of Justice shows that throughout the country, in a period of three years from 2003 to 2005, at least 2,002 people were killed by local police when they were being arrested. Each year the police killed more people than the year before. More than half of those killed were Black and Latino. More than half were under 35 years old. More than half had not – even by the words of the police – committed a violent offense.
On the OC Weekly blog there was one comment:
This shit is a fucking outrage! The bay is plastered all over with images of Oscar Grant. The community of Anaheim can’t sleep on this brutality…
The protests and resistance in Oakland have been a powerful and much-needed response to the murder of Oscar Grant, changing the direction things have developed, shaking people up, and inspiring many more throughout the country. At every step of the way in Oakland the authorities have tried to cover up, cover over, accept the police version of events, tell people to wait for the investigation… but the determined resistance of the people has shined a light on the reality of the situation, and even forced the city to press charges against the murdering cop. The recent Stolen Lives march was led by family members of many others killed by police, and these families refused to back down in the face of a huge force of Oakland police in riot gear trying to prevent them from marching.
This is the kind of determination and courage that has been needed and is still needed in response to the murder of Julian Alexander. The decision not to prosecute the murdering cop should not be accepted by anyone. This terrorizing by the police has to be broken by people standing up, refusing to sit silent in the face of murder after murder after murder. Enough is enough! We need resistance that can be part of a new revolutionary movement fighting to change the world.