Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #166, May 31, 2009
The following information is from worldcantwait.org
It’s up to the people to act. Torture memos released last month showed that torture is widespread, sustained, and systemic, not an “aberration” but an integral part of the global war on 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.” Now Obama has announced he will block the release of 2,000 photos documenting detainee abuse in U.S. facilities.
Torture is immoral and resistance to this IS what is needed.
LOS ANGELES 3:30 pm Demand release of torture photos & prosecution of war criminals as Obama speaks @ Beverly Hilton. Meet @ Wilshire & Whittier. 213.984.8571 email@example.com
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 gathering at Grand Central Station, 5 pm; march to Union League Club. Warcriminalswatch.org 866-973-4463
ATLANTA 5 pm - 7 pm Protest of torture. Statue @ Little 5 Points MARTA Station, 53 Peachtree St. SW. firstname.lastname@example.org 866 370-5404
BENTON HARBOR MI George Bush speaking at Lake Michigan College. 4 pm flyer college; 5 pm protest on Napier Road. email@example.com
BOSTON Harvard Square, Cambridge MA 2 - 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
CLEVELAND 6 pm Gather @ Coventry Peace Park, Cleveland Heights for protest. 7 pm discussion, videos @ Revolution Books, 2804 Mayfield Road, Cleveland Heights. firstname.lastname@example.org 216-932-2543
GREENSBORO NC Greensboro Stands Up to Torture. 4:30 - 6 pm 4200 block of W. Wendover Ave near the intersection of Big Tree Way, east of the I-40 interchange. email@example.com 336-558-8066
HONOLULU March and Rally Against Torture. Gather at the State Capitol at 3:30 pm; march begins at 4pm and goes through the central downtown business district before ending with a rally at the Federal Building. Wear orange! Bring signs, drums and noisemakers. firstname.lastname@example.org
HOUSTON Freeze Against Torture. 3 pm Meet at the corner of Pressler & Fannin; 4 pm corner of Westheimer & Post Oak; 5:30 pm @ Montrose Bridge. Freeway blogging. Houston@worldcantwait.org.
LOS ANGELES 6 pm Demand release of torture photos & prosecution of war criminals. Westwood Federal Building, Wilshire & Veteran Blvds. 213.984.8571 • email@example.com
PHILADELPHIA 5 pm Protest @ Philadelphia Inquirer for giving a
regular column to torture professor John Yoo. Waterboarding demonstration.
400 N. Broad Street. firstname.lastname@example.org 215-888-7563
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, June 13. Seattle@worldcantwait.org
SF BAY AREA 1 pm. Protest of torture memo author Jay Bybee, now federal judge on 9th District Court. Protest to demand prosecution of Bybee, other war criminals. James L. Browning Courthouse at Mission & 7th (the Ninth Circuit Court sits there) San Francisco.
SF BAY AREA Saturday, May 30 The Bay Area has five Bush war criminals (Yoo, Bybee, Haynes, Rice, and Pelosi). Details TBA
Revolution #166, May 31, 2009
It’s spring 2009, students were finishing final exams and graduating, looking at the life ahead of them. Young people are filling their summers with activities and friends.
At around the same time on May 4, U.S. airstrikes massacred 147 people in Afghanistan, including teenagers. What were their hopes and dreams, what do their lives count for? Do WE have a responsibility to THEM? And if so, what is it?
At the same time we have now read memos that show that this government, from its very highest levels, held detainees and legally justified their torture; that they were, and some are still, being held indefinitely not knowing why, or when, or if, they will be tried, kept in solitary confinement, interrogated for up to 20 hours a day, brutally tortured or even killed. And now, we have also been told by Barack Obama that extensive photographs documenting this torture are going to be suppressed because if people saw them it might “inflame” the opinion of Americans, and people around the world, and endanger the troops in Iraq. Do WE have a responsibility to society, to humanity, to oppose this?
Obama has in the past few weeks, even as he is SAYING that he opposes and forbids torture, been DOING things that in fact make it legitimate; this includes censoring these photos that show how widespread and truly ugly it was; the constant lie that those responsible have been held accountable; and his active work to prevent anyone who committed these crimes from being prosecuted. Creating the new “framework” within which these things can be maintained as a tool to be used “when America needs it.”
What does it mean for something to be legitimized? It means that it is not only accepted as “the way things are,” but it is codified into law as “the way things are supposed to be.”
Even while Cheney is out there criticizing Obama and continuing to argue for the more unvarnished “anything goes” approach, Obama’s policy is in actual fact not fundamentally any different than that of the Bush regime. As Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor and former U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Council under Bush, wrote in the New Republic, “President Obama has not changed much of substance from the late Bush practices, and the changes he has made, including changes in presentation, are designed to fortify the bulk of the Bush program for the long-run. Viewed this way, President Obama is in the process of strengthening the presidency to fight terrorism.” (May 18, 2009)
Pause for a minute and think about this. If you voted for Obama or supported Obama because you felt this would represent a real departure from all that, because you wanted to feel good about America, because you felt that you were a part of something for the first time in your life, something that really could bring about change, that mobilized this generation to do “something.” Well, this is the content of that something, this is the change we are getting. This is really just re-branding the Bush program.
If you would argue that this is better than having to swallow what the likes of Cheney, Bush, or McCain put out and promote, and that Obama has to do some of these things in order to be President, isn’t it time to start questioning what kind of framework is that, and what kind of government requires such terms, rather than finding yourself justifying all of the things you are against?
Obama said in his speech on May 20 that “Now, this generation faces a great test in the specter of terrorism. Unlike the Civil War or World War II, we cannot count on a surrender ceremony to bring this journey to an end. Right now, in distant training camps and in crowded cities, there are people plotting to take American lives.”
In a certain sense what this generation does about the War on Terror will in fact be “a great test”—but not in the way that HE means. What Obama means is how “we” will go forward with military commissions and preventative detentions. What he means is how the U.S. will act in its interests to further dominate over and exploit the Middle East, as part of entrenching its position as the sole superpower in the world. What he means is how the U.S. will regain its veil of legitimacy for the American people and the people of the world, in the course of going forward with this program of imperialism. When he says “we” he is trying to enlist us in the war for these interests. We must reject that, for those are the interests of empire, and that empire stands on a platform of bones.
But this will be “a great test” for us in whether or not we take meaningful political action that will contribute to stopping and reversing this course. To quote Revolution newspaper: “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.” To be against this and talk about how much you hate it, this is important, but this is not enough. Silence plus torture, equals complicity.
Complicity is when a group of guys stand by and allow their friend or friends to drug and rape a woman, and they know that it’s going on but they choose not to know, they don’t confront it, they justify it in a hundred wrong ways, or they give a faint half hearted objection and convince themselves there’s nothing they can do.
Complicity is like the story in the novel The Kite Runner where the lead character Amir, a young boy who watches as his best friend is raped in an alley, rather than stop and risk losing the race he is involved in. He is just a little boy, but because of how he has been taught and how this has been built up, he will not give up the personal and material gains of winning the race for the sake of the humanity of his friend and himself.
To be complicit means that YOU have allowed something to go on. To lose your humanity means that you lose any real sense of right and wrong, and any real grasp of your relationship to the rest of society and the world. It means that future generations will look back, and make a negative example of us, they will say “never again.”
When I was a recent college graduate in 2004, organizing on a university campus, a handful of us were putting on orange jumpsuits and black hoods to expose the reality of torture, bringing out the facts and the reality, and struggling with students to act. We had come to understand some basic things about the situation and refused to turn away from it. It was not the popular thing to do, but we felt it was really necessary. At that time we grappled with the fact that people were looking at the Bush regime and thinking of Hitler, that there was a danger of Americans becoming complicit in the crimes of their government, and we have since had to look at the reality that overwhelmingly people have not come out and acted to stop this even while so many came to hate Bush and what he represented.
Now, many are getting behind the same system and what is in essential respects the same program but with the new face of Obama. There have been times when a few thousand walked out, resisted, or spoke out, and this has been significant, but it has not been enough. For those of us who have acted and do know, it’s on us to go out and challenge others, not to look around and say that so many students are apathetic or passive, so what can we do but go off in our corner and retreat to something that will be more appealing, and end up with something far less meaningful in relationship to the world.
It is simply a fact that we are a generation now coming of age in an era of open torture and open-ended war, an era of doing away with fundamental legal rights. This is not just a moral question. Whether we resist this, has everything to do with what kind of future we will get.
When you are coming up, there’s something that goes on universally. Whether you’re a young person here in the belly of the imperialist beast, or a young person in an oppressed country, there are moments where you step back from the day-to-day experience of life to see something bigger than yourself. You ponder, why are things the way they are? Restless and full of anguish, you feel as if you’re “choking”on the air around you, you wonder does the world really have to be this way? For some people, you fight this thought, you hold it back, ignore it, swat it away. For others you welcome it, and for most, you only have a fleeting moment once or twice in your short lifetime to really look at the world and look at your life and wonder why, and dream of how it could be different. This is one of those times where we have to step back and look honestly at what’s happening on this planet and what our role and relationship is to it.
In a way this is only the beginning, because when you look out on the world as it actually is, what you see is a worthless system of exploitation and oppression here and all over the planet. A lopsided world where some have the choice to be a lawyer or a doctor and others “have the choice” to go off and fight U.S. wars or work at McDonalds or in the underground economy, and others still can “choose” between working in a factory for pennies or becoming a sex slave.
A system that offers those choices is a system that requires your resistance—and your active grappling with the whole question of revolution, and a digging into the truth about socialism and communism. To that end, there is another challenge: to get with the revolutionary movement this summer, a movement that’s out to emancipate all humanity.
The question is posed with great urgency: will we look back and see that these generations acquiesced, that we accepted the carrying out of horrible crimes for the sake of the privilege both real and perceived, of being an “American.” Will this continue on for years, perhaps decades with new heights of destruction and inhumanity? Or will we start thinking about humanity, and what is good and what is required, not for me as an individual above all else, but for the people of the world. Will we resist?
World Can’t Wait is calling for protest on May 28 demanding prosecution of war criminals and the release of the torture photos. This is a time for everyone to look honestly and deeply at the reality in the world and their relationship to it. This is a time to act.
Revolution #166, May 31, 2009
This brings me to the next point, which is how—without, in fact, falling into reductionism and reification—it is a very important phenomenon in all of social life, and particularly in social struggle, that each class will try to remake the world in its image. Especially in every revolution, but in every major social transformation or social movement, different class forces seek to seize the reins and impose their solutions, in accordance with how they see the problems. More specifically, it is important to understand how bourgeois and other reactionary class forces seek to do this, especially in the context of any major social upheaval and social struggle, and most especially in the context of an approaching revolution. Let's examine briefly some examples of this.
** Iran in the 1978-79 revolution, where there was a mass upheaval in which different class forces were contending, and in which, unfortunately, the representatives of the exploited and oppressed masses and, in particular, the proletariat—that is, the communists—were weak, relative to other class forces, especially because of the vicious repression that had been carried out against the communist movement under the reign of the Shah, backed by U.S. imperialism, for several decades. In the swirl and roiling of that revolution, the class forces representing the interests of the bourgeoisie—and in some aspects feudal relations—maneuvered, and didn't just maneuver but were given powerful backing, to seize the reins of that revolution and to turn it into the horror that it has since become, with the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and its existence for nearly three decades now.
More still needs to be learned about this, but enough is known to be clear that the U.S. imperialists, who initially backed the Shah, even in the face of this massive upheaval, then maneuvered, through their contacts within the existing Iranian army and in other parts of the ruling structures in that society, to prevent the revolution from ripening more fully. They moved to cut short a process through which the masses would be able to more fully test out in practice, as well as wrangling on the level of line and theory with, different programs and different forces representing different solutions. Instead, the U.S. imperialists, and elements they could work through, maneuvered things so that the forces grouped around Khomeini would, in fact, get the necessary backing to be able to seize and consolidate power. It was the calculation of the imperialists that they could better deal with that than a continuously developing revolutionary situation—a situation in which the communists, assuming that they had been able to find their bearings and more thoroughly grasp and apply a genuinely communist and revolutionary line, would have been able to win increasing numbers of the masses through that social upheaval, through the masses testing out different programs and seeing which ones really were leading in a direction that was in their fundamental interests, and which were stopping halfway, seeking to hold things back and keep things confined within an oppressive framework.
Once again, this is something that needs to be more fully explored—although in significant measure it has been explored, particularly by our Iranian communist comrades. I'm merely seeking to sketch out a basic picture here, to illustrate this extremely important point about how different class forces enter into the fray and, especially in the context of major social upheavals and more particularly with impending revolutions, seek to seize the reins and impose their solutions—and what the consequences are when different class forces are able to do this. (For further, and more specific, analysis in relation to this, see the article "30 Years after the Iranian Revolution" from A World to Win News Service, February 23, 2009.)
** The situation in South Africa in the 1980s and early 1990s. There was a tremendous revolutionary upsurge in that country in that period, particularly in the urban shantytowns but spreading also to the bantustans and among the masses of black people throughout South Africa. And at a certain point, especially with larger changes in the world, including profound changes in the Soviet Union and its erstwhile bloc—first the ascension by Gorbachev to the head of the Soviet party and state, and then the demise and dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fracturing apart of its former empire, as such—the U.S. imperialists, in league with the white supremacist ruling class in South Africa, recognized that they had not only necessity but also freedom to change the form of rule in South Africa: to abolish the apartheid system, and even to allow the majority African population to vote in elections and to choose black South Africans as the leaders of the country, beginning with Mandela.
But, once again, the result of this was that the revolutionary process was aborted. There are times, and situations, where abortions are good, and times and circumstances where they are bad. This was one that was very bad—an aborted revolutionary process. Despite what is constantly preached at us these days—including by the "liberals" and "progressives" in the ruling class, and those who follow in their wake—it is not by any means always bad (or, "at best," a "necessary evil") to abort a fetus. But it is very bad to abort a revolutionary process—and this is what happened in South Africa. And part of the whole arrangement there, worked out under the commanding influence of the U.S. ruling class, was that South Africa would remain within the framework of imperialist domination, and even of IMF (International Monetary Fund) structures and dictates, and so on. This was clear and explicit.
A number of people have analyzed this, at least partially, but the essential point is this: The whole way in which Mandela was brought to the fore by the imperialists, and by their allies within the ruling structures of South Africa, not only did not fundamentally improve the conditions of the masses of oppressed and exploited African people in that country, but in many ways this new arrangement has led to their conditions worsening, especially economically, but even socially and morally, if you will, so that now, and for the time being, a mass revolutionary upsurge and the whole sense of purpose and the whole sense of a fight for a better future, and all the uplifting elements that go along with that, have been replaced to a large and growing degree by crime, particularly among the same kinds of youth who, a couple of decades ago, would have been the backbone of a revolutionary struggle. And this has led to demoralization, to confusion, to illusions that have not only been fed and taken hold among the masses in South Africa but whose influence has been spread to oppressed people in other parts of the world.
And this was, again, a very conscious policy—a very consciously adopted series of steps on the part of the imperialists and the white elite strata in South Africa, but also on the part of certain bourgeois strata among the oppressed black people in South Africa whose aspirations did not go any further than an arrangement of this kind, because their interests, as a social group (class), were in fact largely in line with merely abolishing certain forms of formal segregation (apartheid) and the oppression that went along with that, while leaving intact the fundamental relations of oppression and exploitation—which has in fact led to even worse consequences in many ways over the nearly two decades since apartheid was abolished.
This is a profound lesson that must be deeply grasped and driven home, if masses of people, not only in South Africa but throughout the world, are really going to be able to consciously fight for their emancipation and the emancipation of humanity as a whole.
** Another illustration of this is the contrast between India and China in relation to the end of old-line colonialism and the emergence of a new (or not-so-new) society in the one country and the other. Here we are speaking of two fundamentally opposed paths: one born out of revolutionary struggle and, yes, revolutionary war, with the overall leadership of Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, resulting in the overthrow of the existing system, a rupture from imperialist domination, and embarking on a path of radically transforming society toward the objective of finally eliminating all relations of exploitation and oppression and the institutions and ideas that go along with and reinforce them; and, on the other hand, the path in India, represented by Gandhi and some others, of seeking conciliation with imperialism—seeking the end to formal colonialism but maintaining things within an oppressive framework, both in terms of the international relations in which India is enmeshed and oppressed, and in terms of the economic and social relations inside India itself, not the least being the horrendous oppression of women as well as the caste system, the outrages continually committed against the so-called "Untouchables," and so on. In the one case and the other, it is a matter of particular class forces—very different and fundamentally opposed class forces—moving to achieve certain solutions, in line with their interests and their outlook and, accordingly, how they see the problems.
** Or we could take the struggle within the Chinese Communist Party itself, especially once it came to be the leading force within the socialist state, after the seizure of power and the overthrow of imperialist domination and reactionary rule in China in 1949. Especially as this struggle, within the Chinese Communist Party, came to a head through the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR), in the decade from the mid-1960s until the death of Mao in 1976, it became clear that there were two sharply opposed viewpoints and programs representing not just individuals but social forces—that is, different class forces—which both existed within, and had positions of authority and leadership within, the Chinese Communist Party itself. This is why Mao made the pathbreaking analysis that is encapsulated in his statement, popularized during the GPCR: You are making revolution but don't know where the bourgeoisie is. It is right within the Communist Party. The capitalist roaders (within the Party) are still on the capitalist road.
This was not just a matter of bureaucrats in the Chinese party and state having grown fat or power hungry as a result of holding positions of authority—it was not essentially a matter of bureaucracy. This was a matter of different people who, yes, were intellectuals, but (going back to the insights of Marx) intellectuals who in their contrasting modes of thinking, and in the policies and programs that they developed—in their lines, in other words—represented two fundamentally opposed classes (think again of Marx's very important observations about the relations between classes and the political and literary representatives of those classes). Or, to put this another way, the question, over which there was antagonistic struggle, was: In the image of which social class should that society (and ultimately the world) be remade? In the image of the proletariat—not in a reductionist or reified sense but in the sense of its interests as a social class, which lie in ultimately resolving the contradictions of capitalism, in particular its fundamental contradiction between socialized production and private appropriation, and moving on to abolish all class distinctions and the production relations, social relations, ideas and institutions that go along with that (in short, achieving the "4 Alls")? Or should society (and ultimately the world) be remade in accordance with the viewpoint of that stratum which had taken a concentrated form within the Chinese Communist Party, which sought merely to make China a powerful country, and which was determined that the best way to do that was to institute what are objectively capitalist economic relations and to implement policies that would give further life to and reinforce all the relations that go along with capitalist economic relations, and would place China squarely within the overall framework of imperialist domination and exploitation on a world scale?
This is not a question of "power struggles" among individuals or cliques. This is a matter of different classes—or of people and groups objectively representing different classes—perceiving more or less correctly their interests as a social force, as a class, and then striving to influence and to utilize the struggle and the aspirations of the masses to change society, to shape society in accordance with those class interests. It was in the interests of this stratum which was constituted, in a real sense, of intellectuals, but intellectuals who had taken up the outlook of the bourgeoisie—once again, political and literary representatives of the bourgeoisie, as Marx spoke to this—it was in the interests of that class, it was in accordance with their aspirations as a class, to institute these capitalist relations, to bring China back within the framework of overall imperialist domination, exploitation and oppression in the world. And this was in direct opposition to those leading people within the Party—again, a group of intellectuals, broadly speaking, but intellectuals who had taken up the viewpoint and were fighting for the revolutionary interests of the proletariat, as a class—who were on the socialist road, as a transition toward the final aim of communism, worldwide. This battle—between the socialist road, and those leading forces representing that road, and on the other hand the capitalist road and those representing it—went on very intensely, even with some partial ebbs and flows, over the whole decade of the GPCR, and it resulted, unfortunately, shortly after the death of Mao in 1976, in the victory of those class forces representing the program of capitalism and imperialism, and the defeat of those representing the program of communism and the ultimate abolition of relations of exploitation and oppression.
In speaking of this battle as taking a concentrated form as the struggle between intellectuals (party leaders) representing, respectively, the socialist road and the capitalist road, I do not mean to, in any way, ignore or downgrade the importance of the role of the masses in all this—to present things as if they were mere spectators, or pawns of contending leading groups, in all this. No, one of the hallmarks of the GPCR was the degree—truly unprecedented in history—to which masses of people, literally in the hundreds of millions, were involved in this massive social upheaval, with at least tens of millions doing so with an unprecedentedly high consciousness of the terms and stakes of this struggle. But the point is, as Lenin summarized (in Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder):
Everyone knows that the masses are divided into classes;...that usually...classes are led by political parties; that political parties, as a general rule, are directed by more or less stable groups composed of the most authoritative, influential and experienced members, who are elected to the most responsible positions and are called leaders. All this is elementary. (As cited in the polemic against K. Venu. See the Appendix to the second  edition of Phony Communism Is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!, p. 204.)
Even if one is only speaking of self-proclaimed Marxists, it may be the case that Lenin was overly optimistic in asserting that "Everyone knows" this; yet the fact remains that indeed "All this is elementary." But what is more complicated—and this will remain a significant phenomenon so long as the masses are divided into classes, and until the unequal and oppressive social relations bound up with class divisions, including in particular the division between mental and manual labor, are overcome—is that leaders are generally people who, as one of their essential qualities, have a more developed ability to work with ideas (who, generally speaking, are intellectuals). This objective fact, and the gap between such intellectuals and the masses of people, particularly those who are not intellectuals, will be real and have real implications and ramifications, regardless of whether those intellectuals (leaders) themselves come from backgrounds and circumstances that are, generally speaking, those of the petite bourgeoisie, or whether they are drawn from the proletariat and other basic masses.
One of the distinguishing features of intellectuals is that—because of their particular circumstances and the nature of their role in working with ideas—as individuals (and even in a certain sense as a broader social phenomenon) they have relatively more freedom and capacity to "attach themselves" to one class or another, and even to "detach themselves" from one class and "attach themselves" to another. In other words, they can take up the world outlook and come to represent the interests of one class or another. Now, it is generally the case—and this is what Marx is speaking to in discussing the democratic intellectuals and their relation to the shopkeepers—that intellectuals spontaneously, and rather strongly, gravitate to the outlook and interests of the petite bourgeoisie, because that most corresponds to the social position and circumstances of the intelligentsia, as a general rule. But, as we know, certain intellectuals (or even groups of intellectuals) can become high functionaries, and even political leaders, of the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, some intellectuals—including intellectuals who come forward in the revolutionary ranks out of the basic masses and develop the ability to work with ideas, to formulate line and policy, on a high level—can and do take up the outlook of and become fighters for the interests of the proletariat. This generally becomes more of a social phenomenon in times of social upheaval, particularly when revolutionary currents are more powerful among the masses of people and in their influence in society overall.
But for those intellectuals who are drawn to the revolutionary cause of the proletariat, in the most fundamental sense, there is the very real challenge of consistently applying the outlook and method of dialectical materialism and not only embarking, but persevering, through all the difficulties, on the road of revolution and, in a real sense, giving over their intellectual capacities, as well as their hearts, to the cause of this revolution and its emancipatory goals. Beyond that, and more especially for those who come to occupy positions of leadership in the vanguard of the proletarian revolution, they face the challenge of not simply providing leadership to that revolution but more specifically doing so in a way that, increasingly, masses of people, particularly from the most exploited and oppressed sectors of society, are enabled to more and more consciously take part in this revolutionary struggle. To put this another way—to speak to another key dimension and profound contradiction characterizing the proletarian-communist revolution and the ways in which it must be fundamentally different from all previous revolutions in human society (and this was spoken to, more than a decade ago now, in "Strategic Questions"1): All revolutions are led by a small part of society—and in a concentrated way by a leading group which is quite small, relative to the masses of people it is ultimately leading—a leading group which will, in fact, be mainly constituted of people who are intellectuals, generally speaking, regardless of where those intellectuals come from, in terms of their "social origins." In a very important aspect, this is true of the proletarian revolution, and not simply revolutions led by people embodying the outlook and representing the interests of exploiting classes. The profound, truly world-historic challenge for the proletarian-communist revolution, and for those who lead it, is to bring about the radical leap and rupture beyond the situation—characteristic of all previous revolutions, waged ultimately in the interests of exploiting classes and led by people representing those classes—where the masses are the main fighting force in the revolution (or, to put it more bluntly, do the bulk of the sacrificing and dying in this struggle) but the fruits of this struggle and sacrifice are reaped by forces which are in reality exploiters and oppressors of the masses, where society is once again "remade in the image" of an exploiting class, even if there are certain changes with regard to the particular mode in which this takes place.
To accomplish the radical leap and rupture beyond this involves, and requires, overcoming the mental/manual contradiction as a crucial aspect of achieving the "4 Alls." But this will require a whole historical epoch and can only be achieved on a world scale; and throughout this whole transition, wherever power is seized, the dictatorship of the proletariat established and the revolution continued under this dictatorship, there will be the complex, and at times very intense, contradictions bound up with the fact that overcoming the mental/manual division, and achieving the "4 Alls," must be not only a long-term goal but something that is being concretely "worked at," at every stage of the process, even while, at least for a very long time into this transition, the mental/manual contradiction will remain a very pronounced phenomenon. Handling all this correctly, in the living process of advancing the revolution, with all its complexity, is one of the great challenges of our revolution and its ultimate aim of communism, throughout the world.
As another illustration of the basic point here—regarding the phenomenon of different classes seeking to "remake the world in their image"—we can look at the role of the Black bourgeoisie (and even sections of the Black petite bourgeoisie, but in particular the Black bourgeoisie) in the U.S., in relation to the long struggle of Black people, particularly in the period from shortly after World War 2 up until the present. There are those individuals and groups among Black people who have sought to identify that struggle as nothing more than—and to confine and shape that struggle into—a reformist struggle for, as they put it, "civil rights." In some important ways, there is a parallel here with what happened in South Africa with Mandela. These forces have sought to (mis)direct the struggle into one limited to eliminating certain formal and legal barriers of discrimination and segregation—although such barriers have been far from removed in reality, and in some ways are reinforced more than ever in the schools, in housing and employment, in health care, and in many other spheres. Now, of course, striking down formal laws and codes embodying discrimination and segregation is in the interests of the broad masses of Black people (and the broad masses of people of all nationalities). But the point is that it is in the interests of a section of the bourgeoisie among Black people—and not in the interests of the masses of people—to keep the struggle from breaking out of the bounds of reforms within the existing system. These bourgeois forces have seen that these reforms could offer them the possibility—given the ways in which they are now situated in this society and, relative to the masses of Black people, their more privileged position—to have a more favorable opportunity to improve their situation within the existing framework, to "move on up" within this framework, even in some cases to achieve high positions within this system. Now, in reality and whether or not they recognize it (some may and some may not, but the reality is) this is condemning—and so long as this is what holds sway, it will condemn—the masses of Black people, and indeed Black people as a people, as an oppressed nation within the U.S., to continue to suffer horrendous oppression.
It is not so simple as saying that these Black bourgeois forces don't care about that. The fundamental and essential point is that—to go back to Marx's formulation—this is how they see the problem and the solution. Their perspective is that eliminating these formal barriers and allowing people in their position to advance, even perhaps to achieve the pinnacle as has now happened with Obama—to become the leading functionary of the imperialist state with all of its horrors—is the best way that Black people—or at least Black people "in their image"—will be able to advance and "realize the dream." They see their own aspirations and interests as the highest expression of the general good. In a certain sense, this is true of all classes and their representatives: they see the class interests they uphold as representing the general interests, and the general good, of all. The fundamental question is whether this is true or not—and the fundamental difference is that this is true of the proletariat, as a class, in a way that it is not true, and never has been true, of any other class: conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat, from its exploited and oppressed situation, are in fact the necessary and essential conditions for the general emancipation of humanity, the abolition of all relations of exploitation and oppression, throughout the world. But—there is a certain irony in this—precisely with the elimination of certain formal barriers of discrimination and segregation, it is the case that the interests of the Black bourgeoisie, as a class, are objectively (and however they perceive it) in sharp conflict with the interests of the masses of Black people, particularly the masses crowded into and confined and brutalized in the inner cities, as well as the interests of the oppressed and exploited masses in the U.S. and throughout the world in general.
To be clear, this does not mean that the Black bourgeoisie—or at least many among that class—cannot be won to the side of revolution, as things unfold, and through a great deal of struggle; it is both possible and necessary, as a matter of strategic orientation, to win as many as possible among that class to the side of the revolution. And certainly that is true of the Black petite bourgeoisie. But what is crucial and essential to grasp—for the vanguard and for the masses who will be the backbone of the revolutionary struggle—is that forces representing the Black bourgeoisie, or even the Black petite bourgeoisie—the outlook and the interests that correspond to the social positions of those class forces—cannot be in the leading position, or the struggle will not go where it needs to go, in order to achieve the general emancipation of the oppressed and exploited masses, of all nationalities, and the ultimate emancipation of humanity as a whole, throughout the world. Only a vanguard representing and fighting for the interests of the proletariat, as a class, can lead the struggle to achieve such a general emancipation.
All these examples discussed here—which I've only been able to sketch out briefly and in broad strokes—demonstrate the fundamental truth that different class forces contend according to their understanding of the problem and the solution. And, in turn, their different understandings of the problem and solution are essentially shaped by the decisive relations in society—most fundamentally the production relations, but also the social relations and the political relations—and by the differing places and roles of different social groups, or classes, within those overall relations.
But an additional complicating factor, and problem, is that under the rule of exploiters and oppressors—and specifically today under the rule of the imperialists and bourgeois forces—the heavy weight of habit, tradition, and the spontaneity this gives rise to, all go in the direction of exerting a powerful influence in line with the interests and aspirations of the exploiting classes. This is why it requires a conscious rupture on the part of the exploited and oppressed—and on the part of those intellectuals and others who seek to represent them—in order to be able to first of all even recognize, and then to act on the recognition of, the fundamental interests that the exploited and oppressed masses have, in contrast and in conflict with those of the bourgeoisie, and even more privileged, if not strictly speaking bourgeois, strata, in terms of how the representatives of those strata are pulled to see the problems and the solutions.
1. Strategic Questions was a talk by Bob Avakian in the mid-1990s, and selections from it were published in the Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution) in issues #881 and #884-893 (November 1996 through February 1997) and in issues #1176-1178 (November 24 through December 8, 2002). These selections can also be found online at revcom.us/avakian/avakian-works.html. [back]
Revolution #166, May 31, 2009
The Deadly Illusion of “Common Ground” on Abortion
In the weeks leading up to Barack Obama’s delivery of the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, the national eye was drawn once again to the question of women’s right to abortion. Anti-abortion Catholics and Christian fundamentalists, many of whom have been at the heart of some of the most violent tactics against doctors, women and clinics, descended on the campus. They trespassed. They got arrested. They put up billboards. More than 70 bishops condemned Notre Dame’s decision.
However, on March 17, when graduation day finally arrived, Obama received a standing ovation upon entrance, a glowing introduction from the Catholic president of the university, and repeated cheers as he spoke.
In his speech, Obama called for “fair-minded words” on both sides of the abortion issue. He called on people to express their differences but not to demonize those who think differently than themselves. He called for “common ground” and pointed to where he felt this could be found, as well as some of the challenges he sees in achieving it.
To many, these were reasonable words. To many, the response to him by the overwhelming majority of the student body—together with a significant number of prominent Catholic figures—represents motion in a positive direction.
But, when Obama speaks of “common ground” on abortion, he is not standing on some neutral “middle ground”—he is accepting the terms of the anti-abortion movement and adapting aspects of a pro-choice position into that framework while gutting the heart of the abortion-rights position. In so doing, he is legitimizing and strengthening a viciously anti-woman program while both abandoning the much needed fight to expand access to abortion and birth control and giving up the moral and ideological basis on which the pro-choice position stands.
Much of what is wrong with Obama’s approach is concentrated in a few key sentences of Obama’s speech, where he speaks directly to the question of abortion:
“Maybe we won’t agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions. So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoptions more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term.”
First, and very importantly, abortion is not a “heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make.” A great many women are not conflicted at all about their abortions. Many feel relief and even joy at having their lives and their futures more fully back in their control.
This is as it should be. The simple fact is that a fetus is not a baby, it is a subordinate part of a woman’s body. A woman has no moral obligation to carry a fetus to term simply because she gets pregnant. And a woman who chooses at whatever point and for whatever reason to terminate a pregnancy, should feel fine about doing so and should be able to.
When it comes to abortion, there really is only one moral question: Will women be free to determine their own lives, including whether and when they will bear children, or will women be subjugated to patriarchal male authority and forced to breed against their will?
By denying the experience of the many women who feel positively about their abortions, Obama is undermining the legitimacy of this response and reinforcing all the many voices in society that tell women they should feel heart-wrenched for terminating a pregnancy.
As for the fact that many women do feel conflicted or even deeply guilty about getting an abortion, this doesn’t prove that abortion is a morally complex issue any more than the fact that many women feel guilty or ashamed after being raped makes rape a morally complex issue.
To understand where these feelings of guilt come from, where they do exist, it is necessary to pull back the lens from the individual woman to see the larger culture and forces shaping their responses.
Women have been told—for centuries in every major religion and almost every culture—that the most meaningful thing they will ever do is bear children. Women are conditioned—and expected—to plan their lives around when they will have children, and, once they do, to evaluate every major decision from the framework of how it will affect their children. Women who do not subordinate their own dreams and aspirations to the raising of their children are openly considered selfish and routinely demonized.
On top of this, there have been decades of relentless ideological assault on abortion that has been orchestrated from the highest levels of government and power. Women have been told that they are “murderers” if they choose to abort—by Christian fundamentalists at the doors of women’s clinics across the country, by talking heads on the major media and by blockbuster movies and TV dramas that invariably portray abortion, at “best,” as a desperate and regrettable act. Women have been told there is something wrong with them if they don’t feel guilty.
All this conditions the guilt that women feel, where that is part of their experience. But none of this means that there is anything about abortion that women should feel guilty about.
From here, Obama moves forward, stating that “common ground” can be found by working “together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions” and to “reduce unintended pregnancies.”
But, as I wrote previously, “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 have no abortion providers at all, and countless other cruel and humiliating restrictions.”
Right now, as you read, real women’s lives are being foreclosed and degraded due to lack of accessible abortion services.
As for reducing unintended pregnancies, it would be truly wonderful if all young people received frank and scientific education about their bodies, their sexuality, and how to form healthy and mutually respectful emotional and physical relationships. It would be truly wonderful if birth control were widely and easily available and its use was popularized. This would be the best and most effective way to reduce unintended pregnancies. However, this is not something that the forces behind the “pro-life” movement will agree to. The same biblical scripture that drives these forces to try to force women to carry every pregnancy to term, also drives them to oppose birth control. There is not a single “pro-life” organization that supports birth control.
At its core and from its inception the “pro-life” movement has been driven by the biblical mandate that women must leave it up to god to decide how many children they have. This mandate is rooted in the Christian mythology of “original sin” and its repercussions.
As the Bible tells it, “god” created man (Adam) first, and then made a woman (Eve) out of his rib. These two lived in innocent bliss in the “Garden of Eden” until a serpent tempted Eve and Eve tempted Adam to eat the “forbidden fruit.” For this “original sin,” Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise and ever since—so the myth goes—mankind has had an evil nature which has led to all the horrors humankind has inflicted on each other ever since.
Flowing from this—and central to the “right-to-life” movement—a special additional curse is put on women. Right there, in Genesis, the “Lord” is quoted as saying to women, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Later, the Bible articulates that women can only redeem themselves by submitting to men and bearing children: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, providing they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.” (1 Timothy 2: 13-15)
There can be no “common ground” with this view, even in the aim of preventing unwanted pregnancies. And, by seeking to find “common ground” here, Obama is just moving the ball further down the court towards enforced motherhood; he is leading pro-choice people away from the fight that needs to be waged for abortion while at the same time setting the stage for another losing battle around sex education and birth control.
What’s perhaps even more outrageous is the fact that Obama—rather than challenging the mandate embedded within the “original sin” mythology that women become obedient breeders—himself cites and legitimates this farcical and very harmful myth. Earlier in his speech, Obama offers a non-explanation as to why “common ground” is often hard to find between, among others, “the soldier and the lawyer” who “both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm” and between “the gay activist and the evangelical pastor” who “both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts.” He says, “part of the problem, of course, lies in the imperfections of men—our selfishness, our pride, our stubbornness, our acquisitiveness, our insecurities, our egos; all the cruelties large and small that those of us in the Christian tradition understand to be rooted in original sin.”
No. “Common ground” is not hard to find because we demonize those who are fighting to subjugate women, those carrying out torture and war crimes against detainees, or those who want to deny fundamental rights to gay people. “Common ground” is not difficult to find because we have big egos or are too prideful or insecure.
“Common ground” is difficult to find because those who uphold women’s right to abortion are coming from a point of view that is completely antagonistic to those who are trying to take away this right. In the same way, those who condemn torture are coming from a view that is antagonistic to justifying, covering up and continuing that torture. And those who recognize the basic rights and humanity of gay people as well as the need for real education about safe sex are coming from a view that is completely antagonistic to the biblical motivation that sees any sex outside of procreation as an abomination.
As I stated earlier, there is no such thing as a “neutral middle ground” between antagonistic positions. Even the illusion of “common ground” can only be achieved when one side capitulates to the terms of the other side. This is exactly what Obama has done.
When it comes to abortion, the “common ground” Obama is putting forward is one where everyone accepts the notion that there is something morally wrong with abortion and where the legitimacy and the very existence of women who are perfectly okay with their abortions is erased. At a time when abortion is very hard to access for a great many women and the freedom to abort is undermined by the mountain of guilt and shame that is heaped on women for even considering this option, Obama’s “common ground” is one which abandons the fight for abortion access and retreats instead to a rear-guard battle to reduce unintended pregnancies without ever even mentioning birth control.
Finally, Obama tips his hat entirely to the anti-abortion position when he says we can unite to “provide care and support for women who do carry their child to term.” Here, in one phrase he accepts the unscientific, anti-abortion rhetoric that refers to fetuses as children. Flowing from this, a woman who chooses to terminate is killing her “child.”
In many ways, the approach Obama has taken to abortion—and what he mapped out in his speech—could prove even more dangerous to women’s rights and women’s lives than the religious fascists who were gathered at the gate. This is because Obama is dragging along many women and men who ought to know better—who, if there were outright attacks on the legality of abortion very well might be up in arms, but who are being lullabied to sleep by Obama’s calm and reasonable tone as he barters away women’s fundamental rights.
It is imperative that people see this speech, and Obama’s position overall, for what it truly is. It is not a reasonable middle ground, but a step-by-step waltz into a world with fewer and fewer rights for women and less and less ground to stand on to resist. It is urgent that people bring forward a new framework: one that values the lives of women above fetuses, one that sees the positive value in women being enabled to live full social lives including by controlling their own reproduction, one that recognizes that this is good for society as a whole.
Revolution #166, May 31, 2009
Obama is sending 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to join the already existing U.S. force of 38,000. What does this growing U.S. occupation mean for the masses of people in Afghanistan?
May 4, 2009 provided a stark example when a U.S. air strike killed over 140 people in the western province of Farah.
According to the New York Times: “The bombs were so powerful that people were ripped to shreds. Survivors said they collected only pieces of bodies. Several villagers said that they could not distinguish all of the dead and that they never found some of their relatives.” (“Afghan Villagers Describe Chaos of U.S. Strikes,” New York Times, May 14, 2009)
U.S. officials claim the air strike was targeting Taliban fighters. But villagers said fighting between the U.S. and the Taliban had already stopped and that the Taliban had left before the air attack began. Families were sitting down to dinner when the bombs fell.
Villagers later told Afghani officials they had tried to get people to safety after the fighting started. The children, women and elderly men gathered in walled compounds in the village of Gerani, three miles from the fighting. When U.S. planes bombed these buildings most of the people inside were killed.
There have been mass protests in Afghanistan against the bombing. And even Hamid Karzai, the U.S. puppet president of Afghanistan, was forced to call for a halt to such U.S. air strikes. In response, Obama’s National Security Adviser, General James Jones, made it clear that the U.S. would not hamper its forces in Afghanistan by banning air strikes, saying, “We can’t fight with one hand tied behind our back.”
This is the largest single massacre of civilians since the U.S. invaded and occupied the country in 2001. But this is not the first time U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan have committed mass murder of innocent civilians from above.
In fact these kinds of air strikes against civilians have been a major feature of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
Just last August, the village of Azizabad in Herat province was hit by a U.S. air strike. And the U.S. immediately tried to cover up and justify this war crime.
In October, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) published “The Callan Report”—a summary of a report of an official investigation into the bombing of Azizabad.
The United Nations, the government of Afghanistan, and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission had all investigated the incident and concluded that 78 to 92 civilians had been killed at Azizabad and that the majority of them had been women and children. But the U.S. rejected all three investigations, claiming that no more than five to seven civilians had been killed, along with 30-35 Taliban fighters. The Callan Report reported that only 33 civilians had been killed in the bombing.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) conducted additional research into the bombing and harshly criticized the Callan Report. HRW said the report exonerated the U.S. forces who carried out the attack of any wrongdoing, even though it did not provide any basis for this conclusion. And HRW was also critical of the fact that the report suggested, again without any evidence, that Taliban forces had deliberately used civilians as “shields.” (see “US Investigation of Airstrike Deaths ‘Deeply Flawed,’” Human Rights Watch, January 15, 2009)
In January 2009, Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, said, “Unless the new Obama administration urgently addresses the US military’s airstrike practices in Afghanistan, more unnecessary civilian deaths and injuries will result.”
Now, one week after Obama’s “first 100 days” as commander in chief of U.S. imperialism, we have the biggest U.S. massacre of civilians in Afghanistan.
The Callan Report argued that the U.S. attack in Azizabad was “necessary” and “proportional”—in other words, that such “collateral damage” of civilian deaths is unavoidable in the pursuit of the Taliban.
Look at an example of what the U.S. argues is a necessary and acceptable proportion of civilian deaths:
In July 2008, a bridal party was on its way to the groom’s village in an area in the eastern province of Nangarhar. Suddenly a U.S. plane flew down low over the ravine. The British mainstream newspaper, the Guardian, described what happened next:
“The first bomb hit a large group of children who had run on ahead of the main procession. It killed most of them instantly. A few minutes later, the plane returned and dropped another bomb, right in the centre of the group. This time the victims were almost all women. Somehow the bride and two girls survived but as they scrambled down the hillside, desperately trying to get away from the plane, a third bomb caught them. Hajj Khan was one of four elderly men escorting the bride’s party that day. ‘We were walking, I was holding my grandson’s hand, then there was a loud noise and everything went white. When I opened my eyes, everybody was screaming. I was lying metres from where I had been, I was still holding my grandson’s hand but the rest of him was gone. I looked around and saw pieces of bodies everywhere. I couldn’t make out which part was which.’” (see “Afghanistan: impact of civilians killed by US/UK,” The Guardian, December 17, 2008)
Like with the May 4, 2009 massacre, relatives said it was impossible to identify the remains of their loved ones because their bodies had been blown to pieces. Forty-seven victims were buried in 28 graves.
This was the third wedding party in Afghanistan to be hit by a U.S. air strike in 2008. Only a month before, 27 people were killed when a wedding party was bombed near Kandahar.
An article by A World to Win News Service (AWTWNS) about the July 2008 U.S. massacre pointed out that in fact, American aerial attacks on wedding parties have been a hallmark of the U.S. occupation, since the U.S. imperialists consider any large gathering of Afghans inherently hostile. AWTWNS also speaks to how the Taliban and its allies, who are completely reactionary, “have also killed many civilians, not hesitating to use murder themselves from early on and lately killing large numbers of civilians as they have increasingly adopted suicide-bombing tactics, their own version of America’s terrorist and indiscriminate ‘death from above.’” (see “Afghanistan: Protests against U.S. airstrikes and home evictions,” AWTWNS, July 14, 2008)
So what is the “necessary proportionality” of civilian deaths for U.S. imperialism?
The Afghan Victims Memorial Project reported in May that since President Barack Obama took office on January 21, about 160 civilians have been killed by the U.S.-led occupation forces in Afghanistan. Of these civilian deaths, 56 were children and 15 were women, over 40 were men and another 40 or so victims, ages and genders unknown.
Human Rights Watch issued a 2008 report titled, “Troops in Contact” – Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan which said: “Individuals who commit serious violations of international humanitarian law with criminal intent can be prosecuted for war crimes before national or international courts.”
The report then goes on to say that attacks that violate the principle of proportionality are also prohibited “because they are expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, or damage to civilian objects that would be excessive compared to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the attack.” (Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts ((Protocol 1)) of June 1977, 1125, U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force December 7, 1978)
In other words, international law has established that in attacking a military target, it is a war crime to cause excessive death and injury to civilians.
The British newspaper, the Independent (“‘120 die’ as US bombs village,” May 7, 2009), reported that:
• 552 civilians in Afghanistan were killed in air strikes in 2008.
• 701 people were killed in drone (unmanned plane) attacks in three years.
• Only 14 of those killed were al-Qaeda leaders.
This kind of murderous “proportionality” of civilian deaths is also evident across the border in Pakistan, which the Obama regime is treating as part of a broader regional theater of war.
There have been 60 missile attacks by Predator (pilotless) drones since 2006. Authorities in Pakistan report that in the course of these, 701 people have been killed, 687 of them civilians. At least 152 people have died in such attacks in the first 99 days of 2009 and only two of these deaths are linked to al-Qaeda.
According to David Kilcullen, who was a counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. General David Petraeus from 2006 to 2009, “Press reports suggest that over the last three years drone strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders. But, according to Pakistani sources, they have also killed some 700 civilians. This is 50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent—hardly ‘precision.’”
What does all this say about the nature of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan? What will this mean for the masses of people in Afghanistan when even more U.S. troops are deployed to Afghanistan?
The U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan has NEVER been about “liberating Afghanistan.” And it has never been about simply capturing Osama bin Laden in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. Its focus was replacing the Taliban regime with one more suitable to U.S. interests, which included defeating Islamic fundamentalism and gaining strategic control in this highly important geo-strategic country and region. The U.S. troops in Afghanistan are a brutal occupying army that relies on terror in order to defend and expand the interests of U.S. imperialism. And the mass murders from the sky repeatedly being carried out by the U.S. in Afghanistan are horrific crimes against humanity.
Revolution #166, May 31, 2009
Thousands of people have seen videos of the cold-blooded police murder of Oscar Grant in Oakland, CA. On New Year’s morning BART police officer Johannes Mehserle fired his gun at point blank range into Oscar Grant’s back, killing him as he lay on the train platform, hands behind him. A preliminary hearing is now underway to determine whether Mehserle will be charged with murder or whether the charges against him will be lowered. Three days of testimony have already been completed and the hearing will continue on Tuesday, May 26.
This unusual preliminary examination, where the defense is calling its own witnesses, points to the maneuvering of the system and the high stakes in the case. At the vast majority of preliminary hearings in California, the district attorney is the only one to put on witnesses, and the defense only puts on witnesses at trial. But Mehserle’s attorney is using this hearing as an opportunity to put on witnesses to try and lay the groundwork to legally justify this cold-blooded murder and create broad public opinion that Mehserle is innocent.
The courtroom in Oakland was packed as outside about 150 people held a rally against the cold-blooded police murder of Oscar Grant. The following is a reporter’s notebook from the hearing so far.
The district attorney called five witnesses who had filmed what happened at the BART station that night. Karina Vargas described how the train was crammed to the gills with people “talking, laughing and having a good time.” When the train pulled into the Fruitvale station she heard a commotion near the car directly in front of hers: an angry voice, “you and you get the fuck off the train.” Others testified that another cop, Pirone, came to the train door and shouted, “I know who you are.” “Get off the train before I pull you out.” Karina saw Oscar Grant and others being lined up against the wall and she started filming. At a certain point she stopped because she thought the youth were just going to be detained or arrested. Then she heard people on the BART start yelling, “oooh” and she popped out the door and turned her camera back on. She saw Officer Pirone grab Oscar and throw him against the wall. According to the witnesses, and the videos, people on the train were yelling at the police to stop, saying that it was “police brutality” and shouting “Rodney King.” All of the people who shot videos said that when Mehserle grabbed Oscar and forced him on his stomach, and when Pirone put his knee on Oscar’s neck, that Oscar was not resisting but was cooperating. Karina noticed the red light of the taser being shined on all the youth against the wall. When she heard the shot she dropped her camera and it hung from the strap around her neck. She saw smoke (from the gun) and saw Oscar on his belly, his chest going up and down, she saw on his face that he was struggling to breathe. Terrified, she and others ran back on the train yelling, “they shot him, they just shot him.” In her video you can hear her say “I got you motherfuckers.” She said the female officer was behind her as the doors closed, banging on the window. Other passengers told her that the cop was demanding her camera.
During her testimony, the video she recorded was played. Members of Oscar Grant’s family cried quietly as the minutes of Oscar’s murder showed on the big screen, much crisper and clearer than the Youtube versions. Many in the courtroom flinched as they heard the shot.
Karina said her friends could not believe the police had fired a gun and they tried to convince her it was a taser. But when she heard Oscar had died she called her mom and her mom told her to get the video on the air. During her testimony it was revealed that BART did have a surveillance video cam that caught at least part of the events that night: something BART has previously denied. This video has not yet been shown in court.
Karina said that after Oscar was shot, that Pirone and Mehserle turned him over and it looked like they were “checking” him. The district attorney asked her if she meant they were searching him. No, she said, not searching him, but checking him to see how he was. This testimony goes directly up against the claim by Pirone that both he and Mehserle thought the youths were armed. In excerpts of police reports that have been made public, at least two BART police report that Mehserle said of Oscar, after the shooting and in the following days, “I thought he had a gun.”
Margarita Carazo, Tommy Cross, Daniel Liu and 16-year-old Jamil Dewar all told the same basic story: they recorded the police because what they saw was wrong.
Cross was so shaken by what he had seen that for weeks he could not sleep, and he could not go past the Fruitvale Station without hyperventilating. But he said that he was glad he filmed it because, without the videos, “the police might have tried to sweep it under the carpet.”
In their testimony, these witnesses painted a picture of the widespread outrage of the passengers on the train watching the brutality of the police. Their courage in filming the crime and fighting for the truth and for justice in this case is a striking and important element of this struggle.
On Wednesday Mehserle’s attorney called BART Officer Woffinden, the cop who was Mehserle’s partner on New Year’s Eve, to the stand.
Woffinden told the story of a scene in which the police were “outnumbered” by victims. He said he could hear “commotion,” yelling and screaming over the police radio call from the Fruitvale Station, and described a feeling of foreboding, that as he and Mehserle drove to Fruitvale he was uncertain and his adrenaline was pumping. He said that when he got there he saw the youth who were lined up against the wall being handled by two police, and instantly formed a “one-person skirmish line” between them and another group of 4-5 young men who kept “advancing” on him, screaming vulgarities and “racist slurs.” He said that the youth showed no respect for authority and did not stop until he threatened them with his baton. He said he was extremely scared the whole time.
This testi-lying was ripped apart when Woffinden was cross-examined by the DA. Woffinden admitted that the call to the Fruitvale Station was only about a misdemeanor battery. And when confronted with one of the videos played at slow motion, he could not point out a single frame to show his claims that he had repeated exchanges with “threatening,” cursing young men. Nor that they were “advancing” upon him as he had claimed. He said he could “not recall” and declined to expand on what he had written in his report or what he had just testified to. The video showed what people around the world have seen, that it was the officers initiating and committing assaults on compliant detainees. And the video does not show that he ever once raised his baton as he had claimed. Woffinden said that he had tried to call for backup on his radio. When the assistant district attorney asked him how many officers he thought were needed he replied “20 to 30.” But the district attorney pointed out that each BART officer has an emergency button he can push when in an intense situation. Woffinden admitted he never pushed the emergency button on his radio, and it seems, neither did any of the other six officers who were on the platform that night.
Dennis Zafiratos, the only one to report the supposed fight, testified for the defense. He said that he thought the fight involved “10-12 young black males” and a “white male” who he identified from a photo shown to him. On cross examination he admitted he didn’t like crowds and felt uneasy about how crowded the BART station was before he even got on a train that night in San Francisco, that because of people’s “unruly behavior” he waited over an hour before going downstairs onto the platform to board a train with his family.
Dennis Horowitch, the man Zafiratos identified as “fighting” with Oscar, had known Oscar in Santa Rita Jail but said on the stand “I didn’t get in no fight. I’m not going to sit here and say I have a problem with someone.” When Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains, suggested that he was afraid of repercussions to his family from the people fighting for Oscar if he testified, Horowitch retorted that he was more fearful of the police, the way he and his family had been harassed.
Oscar’s friends and others there that night say that the men only “wrestled” briefly and that the incident involved only a couple of people, not the “gang” first reported by the media. And Jamil Dewar, a friend of Oscar’s, testified that the incident lasted only a couple of minutes and he had helped to break it up before the train even pulled into the station.
Outside the courtroom, the family told the news media that the testimony showed that Woffinden and BART were lying and still trying to cover up and that this needed to be stopped. “Justice needs to be served,” said Wanda Johnson, Oscar Grant’s mother.
John Burris, the civil attorney representing Oscar Grant’s family told the media that no testimony had proved that the youth on the platform had done anything but try to “plead their case” to the BART police. He also commented that Woffinden’s statement about all the youth having “clenched fists” is a “classic police argument” to try to justify the police’s conduct. He said that Oscar Grant, detained, “contained and surrounded by officers” had done nothing to justify use of a gun nor even a taser.
Rains declared that Oscar Grant was “actively, actively actively resisting arrest.” This is the opposite of what the videos show. And it has so far not been supported by Mehserle’s own witnesses except for Alika Rogers who thought that the police were “struggling with Oscar Grant’s hands” trying to handcuff him shortly before he was killed.
But even if the police thought Oscar was resisting in some way, he was face down on the ground, being held down by officer Pirone’s knee, surrounded by Mehserle and other cops—what good reason was there to shoot him point blank in the back?
IT WAS COLD-BLOODED MURDER.
Police murder happens every day under this capitalist system. Yet it usually goes unpunished because the system needs to protect its enforcers. But this time, with at least a half dozen video recordings, a rebellion and continued outcry and protest and widespread attention many people think that Mehserle will certainly be charged and convicted for murder. But people need to ask themselves: Since when has crystal clear evidence of a cold-blooded murder by the police stopped this system from letting killer cops go free?
Remember the trial of the cops who beat Rodney King? No doubt how that “not guilty” verdict was reached is being carefully studied by Mehserle’s attorney. And no doubt the massive rebellion triggered by that “not guilty” verdict haunts those who are trying to figure out how to give the fullest backing to murderous cops—without driving all kinds of people into bitter anger and opposition.
The stakes of this case—and this particular juncture of this hearing—are very high. The defense is using this hearing to drum up public opinion in favor of Mehserle, trying to provide the legal grounds and political support for the judge to let Mehserle off the hook. At this hearing the judge can actually decide to throw this case out, or the charges against Mehserle can be significantly reduced—which would also be an outrage.
In this situation, the political struggle of the people to demand justice for Oscar Grant is extremely important and can make a great deal of difference.
The hearing continues on Tuesday when Johannes Mehserle’s lawyer will call more witnesses. Another protest is planned outside the courthouse that morning. If you can, BE THERE.
Revolution #166, May 31, 2009
Revolution Talks with Raymond Lotta
Raymond Lotta is a Maoist political economist. He is author of America in Decline and editor of And Mao Makes Five and Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism. Since 2005, he has been speaking on college campuses and in the media as part of the Set the Record Straight Project, which is taking on the distortions and misrepresentations about the first wave of socialist revolutions in the 20th century. In December 2008, he helped organize a major symposium "Rediscovering China's Cultural Revolution" held in New York City. Raymond Lotta is a contributing writer for Revolution newspaper; recent articles and interviews have also appeared in the Economic and Political Weekly (India), GlobalResearch.ca (Canada), and Agence France-Presse.
Question: Raymond, there's a lot to get into, and I thought a good place to start might be with something that's been very central to your speaking and writing: how socialism really is different and better than capitalism. Here we are in the worst economic crisis since the 1930s and it's worsening over the entire planet.
Raymond Lotta: It's an appropriate place to begin. Because we are talking about two systems: the capitalist mode of production and the state power that backs it up, and the socialist mode of production and the state power that backs it up. But only one system exists in the world today, and that's capitalism.
In its "normal" workings, capitalism rests on the exploitation of the many by the few, the domination of the entire planet by imperialism, and the subordination of all human activity to the imperatives of profit. It has organized vast and interconnected networks of production that turn human beings into mere instruments for the expansion of capital. In its "normal" workings, 25,000 children of the oppressed nations of the Third World die each and every day of preventable disease and malnutrition.
And when world capitalism lunges into crisis, the misery multiplies and the madness is magnified. We're talking about a situation now where the number of the world's hungry will, for the first time, exceed one billion; a situation in which vast swaths of humanity are rapidly losing livelihoods and shelter; in which ecological stresses are intensifying; and in which an already fragile social fabric in much of the Third World is tearing, so that basic needs like health are even more difficult to cope with, not to mention health crises and epidemics. A country like Zambia, which the IMF [International Monetary Fund] steered towards finding a "niche" in the world economy riding the raw materials boom, is now virtually flat on its back.
Too often people assume this is just the way things are, or that the best we can do is to try to adjust this framework and win some reforms and improvements. But for a good part of the 20th century, there were chunks of this planet where capitalism had been overthrown, where people not only did not have to go through this kind of misery … but where something radically new and liberating was being created.
Question: But, as you said, today there are no socialist countries. There are people, including people who consider themselves revolutionaries, who say that it is not at all clear that socialism as it was practiced in the 20th century actually worked. In particular, there is controversy over how the leadership of these revolutions went at the problems of confronting imperialism and whether they actually found the means to develop the requisite support and following in these societies.
Raymond Lotta: These are crucial questions. As the Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, points out, the first stage of the communist revolution has ended.
That stage began with the Paris Commune in 1871. Workers in Paris drove out the capitalist power, and set up a new state, if in a very embryonic form. But they failed to consolidate this power, and they were crushed after 80 days. Then things took a leap with the Russian Revolution of 1917. That revolution not only seized power, but established a proletarian state and went on to build the first socialist society and economy. But proletarian rule was overthrown in the Soviet Union in 1956, and capitalism was restored there.
But this first stage then went even further with the Chinese revolution and took a new leap with the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966 and was a successful attempt to not only defeat capitalist restoration but bring forward new things that were unprecedented even for socialism. This was the high water mark of the first stage. But finally the Cultural Revolution itself was defeated in 1976. Today, we have to go forward on the basis of correctly synthesizing the lessons of the first wave of socialist revolution.
Question: There's quite a bit to discuss. Let's start with what lessons should and should not be drawn from the experience of the Russian Revolution and the Chinese Revolution.
Raymond Lotta: One lesson that can't be lost sight of was just how epochal were the changes ushered in by these revolutions. These societies were breakthroughs in liberation. This is what the conventional wisdom blots out and rewrites as "failure" and "utopian tyranny." But the truth remains: these were the most emancipating episodes in human history—precisely because these were new economic and social systems.
Conceptually and practically this involved a breakthrough of inestimable importance: the need for and establishment of a new type of state power and the institutionalized leadership of a vanguard communist party.
Question: But this is a highly controversial point, whether a vanguard party that institutionalizes its leadership in socialist society and the kind of state system that the October and Chinese revolutions established … whether these forms were actually necessary. In fact, many people—even some people calling themselves communists—say that the party's leading role should NOT be institutionalized.
Raymond Lotta: If you want to reform capitalism, if your goal is to try to rearrange the deck of the existing order ... well, none of that is needed. Just participate in elections, or become radical opposition ... in permanent opposition. But if you want what Marx called "total revolution," and to truly transform society, then historical experience has shown these instrumentalities are essential.
The Soviet revolution was the initial breakthrough. I can't overestimate the importance and impact, and the continuing importance and impact, of that revolution. It opened a whole new world of possibility. The first two measures of the revolution were stunning. One ended Russia's involvement in World War 1. The other decree empowered peasants to seize the vast landholdings of the tsarist crown, gentry, and church. Together these signaled the beginning of titanic social change: the masses' day had come. There was a new state power.
Lenin teaches us something very basic and fundamental, though too often lost in current discourse: "the state is nothing but a machine for the suppression of one class by another." The bourgeois state is an instrument of class domination—the bourgeois-capitalist class over the rest of society. The Soviet state, like all states, was a dictatorship of one class, the proletariat led by its vanguard… it was a class dictatorship over another class, the former exploiters and counterrevolutionaries. You needed state power—the ability to suppress the exploiters—in order to carry through those measures.
But this was also a different kind of state, because it was leading the struggle to get to communism—and that means overcoming the division of society into classes and the conditions that require that one social group in society dominate another through the instrumentality of a state. In other words you are working to ultimately abolish the state. And it is a different kind of state, because it is empowering the great majority to rule. But it is a state: one class dominates another… in this case the proletariat is suppressing the old and new exploiters.
The imperialists certainly recognized that this revolution stood for something utterly different to their system of exploitation and privilege. Never for a moment did they let up in trying to strangle it and counter its influence and inspiration.
Question: This raises an important question. How did these revolutions, we're talking more specifically right now about the Russian Revolution ... how did they view this problem that world imperialism would seek to crush them?
Raymond Lotta: To begin, there is an ideological orientation. The fact is, there is a "price" of fighting for emancipation. So how do you look at that?
Just a few short months after the Bolsheviks came to power, reactionary forces representing the old order launched a counterrevolutionary assault against the regime. Britain, France, the United States, Japan, and other powers intervened with troops and military assistance in support of these reactionary forces. They wanted to destroy proletarian revolution in its infancy. This was the Civil War of 1918-21.
The role of the vanguard and the new state power were pivotal in reorganizing society and mobilizing forces to fight this civil war. The party took responsibility to coordinate military activity. It led in developing economic policies to meet social needs and to hold society together. It led in creating new social institutions. Through the instrumentality of the state and the revolutionary press and other means of communication, the party spread Marxism and the socialist vision of a new economy, new political institutions, and new values. It ignited a whole new emancipatory "discourse," if you want to use that word, in society—and this was a very powerful and positive mood-creating factor. Things were very dire during the Civil War, but there was exuberance as well.
What I am saying is that the new society was facing this international assault—and the economy was literally on the verge of collapse at times—but there is a profound lesson here. Communist leadership held strong. And it set out to solidify, expand, and mobilize a base among those who wanted to hold on to liberation with everything they had. I am talking about sections of workers, peasants, intellectuals, youth, and middle-class professionals. On other hand, there were tremendous pressures to capitulate coming from both within and outside the party. But the Civil War was won in 1921.
The Bolshevik leadership was aware that it would be difficult to hold out—and they expected the new Soviet state to be joined by other socialist states fairly soon. Lenin established the Communist International in 1919, recognizing the special responsibility of the first socialist state to promote revolution. But revolution did not spread as quickly as they had counted on.
In this setting, the new proletarian state had to make some compromises in foreign relations—after it became apparent that they would be fighting for survival in difficult conditions. I mean the world's first oil embargo was imposed on the Soviet Union. Then, after Lenin's death in 1924, there was intense struggle in the Bolshevik leadership as to whether it would be even possible to construct socialism.
But the Soviet revolution under Lenin and then Stalin did not cave in. It stood up to imperialism. It pressed forward with revolutionary transformation. If the communist leadership had not been firm in the face of imperialism and had it not led the masses to keep a firm grip on state power, it would not have been possible to stand up to imperialist attacks, pressure and sabotage, and imperialist support for counter-revolution.
Yes, this involved tremendous sacrifice and struggle. But it did not mean that everything would be lost. The point was to fight through—analyzing and transforming necessity, forging new freedom, and doing this by relying on the masses, and continuing to support the advance of the world revolution. Mistakes, and even big ones, were made. But, as I said, something new and liberating was being created.
Question: Maybe you could give some more concrete examples of the kind of breakthroughs that were made.
Raymond Lotta: The new proletarian state created the world's first multinational state based on equality of nationalities. During the Civil War, these policies were popularized and began to be implemented in some of the more remote and less developed regions of the old Russian empire—and brought new forces forward in defense of the revolution, and in taking up revolutionary transformation. The former "prisonhouse of nations" was now an example to the world's oppressed for how to combat national oppression.
The Bolshevik Revolution moved decisively to take up the liberation of women. The Soviet Union was the first European state to legalize abortion. It abolished the whole church-sanctioned system of marriage that codified male authority over women and made divorce easy to obtain.
In the mid- and late 1920s, the socialist state mobilized masses to challenge oppressive, patriarchal customs bound up with Sharia codes—that is, Islamic religious law—in some of the Central Asian regions. The state budget allocated funds for the creation of local organizations of women to combat bridal price and arranged marriages. Communists went to these areas, and local activists were brought forward. A major offensive was launched against the forced veiling of women. Women (and enlightened men) were receiving the backing of the proletarian state.
The Soviet state under Stalin in 1928-29 moved to create a new kind of economy. For the first time in modern history, social production was being carried out consciously according to a plan, shaped by social aims and goals and coordinated as a whole. This was an amazing breakthrough. In this one piece of liberated territory, a new proletarian movement had come to power and was now, under the leadership of the Communist Party, going to plan an economy to serve the people. While the world lunged into Depression in the early 1930s, in the Soviet Union, people had gained unheard-of freedom. The slogan of the first five-year plan captured this: "we are building a new world."
Again, none of this would have been possible without the leadership of the Party, not just holding firm and decisive in the face of imperialism, but mobilizing the most oppressed sections of the people as the backbone base of the new power.
And the same is true of the Chinese revolution. There was the Long March of the communist-led forces, which laid the foundations for the protracted people's war. There was the grueling war of resistance against Japanese imperialism. And then there was the civil war against the reactionary forces of the Kuomintang backed by the U.S. The Chinese Communist Party had been leading this heroic and complicated struggle—working out correct policies for alliance, developing base-level popular organization among the masses, solving problems of military strategy. And masses of people had endured tremendous sacrifices under this leadership, to win liberation.
In 1949, the struggle culminated in victory. Imagine if the party had told the masses, "okay, we led you this far ... but you're on your own now." No way! The challenges were even greater. The task was to build a new society, and the Maoist leadership was giving leadership and leading struggle to build that new socialist society. The imperialists did not give any quarter: not long after the revolution triumphed, the Korean War broke out, and U.S. troops were moving up the Korean peninsula towards revolutionary China.
END OF PART 1
Revolution #166, May 31, 2009
Language can be a tool to describe and uncover reality. And it can also be used to distort and hide reality. Perhaps the greatest qualification of the current president of the imperialist system in the U.S., Barack Obama, is his skill in that latter deceptive use of language.
Let's take one key phrase from Obama's May 21 speech on national security—"prolonged detention." Say the phrase. Sounds like a medical condition, doesn't it? As in, "I'm sorry, boys, Timmy can't play today—his prolonged detention is acting up again." Or: "Side effects may include headaches and high blood pressure. In case of prolonged detention, go to an emergency room or see your health care provider immediately."
In fact, Obama was demanding the power to lock people up in prison and deny them any access to the courts for as long as he, or anyone else in power, wanted to. But if he had said, "Today I am asking for the power to preventively imprison anyone who I think will 'pose a threat to national security' at some time in the future, and to deny them access to trials or other legal recourse…" well, that might have provoked a different response.1
Great communicator? Naw—just another political prevaricator.
There are few institutions that make a bigger deal out of claiming to objectively describe reality than the New York Times. Here, from their front-page "news analysis" of Obama's May 21 speech, is a good example of what they deem objectivity:
"In the reductionist debate in Washington, either any sacrifice must be made to win a pitiless war against radicals, or terrorism does not justify any compromise with cherished American values." The Times then goes on to commend the supposed "middle course" being pursued by Obama. Let's leave aside the ten thousand questions begged by the phrase "cherished American values," and focus instead on the Times' picture of the "reductionist debate" that supposedly is dominating the discourse. To read this, you would think that the two people dominating the airwaves have been Dick Cheney on the one side and, on the other, some fierce and uncompromising opponent of preventive imprisonment, military kangaroo courts, torture and all the other repressive measures that have gone along with the so-called War on Terror.
In fact, that very morning—as it has been for weeks now -- the debate was between Cheney and Obama, and the entire media acted as if those two positions were the ONLY acceptable terms of debate. In short, those like Cheney who would fairly openly and without apology imprison, torture, repress and kill anyone they deem a "threat"; and those who, as former Bush official Jack Goldsmith approvingly put it of Obama, would make some changes in that program but would focus those changes on "the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol and rhetoric." In the real world, the voices of those who actually oppose these measures are rarely given significant exposure; and almost never is a truly radical, let alone revolutionary, voice allowed into the arena.
The Times coverage does have one positive element. It reflects that a section of people who hated the repressive moves of Bush, and who supported Obama in the belief that he would end those policies, now not only feels betrayed but is making those feelings known, on the internet and, increasingly, more broadly in society (see article on West Hollywood press conference). The Times evidently feels that this must be spoken to, even if in a distorted and obfuscatory way. Clearly, the exposure of the lies and of manipulation by both the political representatives of this system and their stenographers in the media must be stepped up, and it must increasingly be accompanied by political action.
1. The phrase "pose a threat to national security" was in fact used by Obama to describe those who would be subject to "prolonged detention," even if there was not sufficient evidence of any actual crime to charge and try them in a court of law. And Obama said in that same speech that the duration of the "War on Terror," which serves as his rationale for requiring such extraordinary powers, will "in all probability" go on for at least ten years. [back]
Revolution #166, May 31, 2009
On May 12, Barack Obama’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, announced that the commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, was going to be ousted from his position and replaced by Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. This is a major move, taking place at a time when Obama is sending 21,000 more troops into Afghanistan to add to the 38,000 already there. (See “Afghanistan: Air Strikes, Civilian Deaths and U.S. War OF Terror” in this issue of Revolution.)
So who is this new general heading up the U.S. occupation forces in Afghanistan? A 1976 graduate from West Point, McChrystal has been a long-time high-level commander of “special operation” forces (like the Green Berets, Rangers, etc.) that carry out targeted killings and other “unconventional” missions. A 2006 Newsweek magazine article said McChrystal “is not someone the Army likes to talk about. He isn't even listed in the directory at Fort Bragg, N.C., his home base… he runs the most secretive force in the U.S. military.” At the time, McChrystal headed up Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), an “elite” unit whose existence the Pentagon refused to even acknowledge. The Newsweek article described JSOC as “part of what Vice President Dick Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to ‘work the dark side’ after 9/11. To many critics, the veep's remark back in 2001 fostered his rep as the Darth Vader of the war on terror and presaged bad things to come, like the interrogation abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay.” (“The Military: The Hidden General Exposed,” Newsweek, June 26, 2006)
Much of what McChrystal has done as “special operations” commander remain hidden from view. But some things have come out.
In the summer of 2006, Human Rights Watch issued a report about torture of detainees at three American military facilities in Iraq (“No blood, no foul,” July 22, 2006). One of them was Camp Nama, at the Baghdad International Airport, which was operated by the Joint Special Operations Command—under the direction of McChrystal (who was then a Major General). The “interrogators” at this torture camp were members of a special military-CIA task force known at various times as Task Force 20, Task Force 121, Task Force 6-26, and Task Force 145.
An American sergeant, known by the alias “Jeff,” was an interrogator at Camp Nama in 2004. He told Human Rights Watch about one typical case of torture at the camp: “He was stripped naked, put in the mud and sprayed with the hose, with very cold hoses, in February. At night it was very cold. They sprayed the cold hose and he was completely naked in the mud, you know, and everything. [Then] he was taken out of the mud and put next to an air conditioner. It was extremely cold, freezing, and he was put back in the mud and sprayed.
“This happened all night. Everybody knew about it. People walked in, the sergeant major and so forth, everybody knew what was going on, and I was just one of them, kind of walking back and forth seeing [that] this is how they do things.”
Interrogators like Jeff filled out an "authorization" form detailing what particular torture they used on prisoners—indicating, as Human Rights Watch noted, “that the use of these tactics was approved up the chain of command.”
From the Human Rights Watch report: "Jeff said that he did see Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. Joint Special Operations forces in Iraq, visiting the Nama facility on several occasions. 'I saw him a couple of times. I know what he looks like.'"
“Jeff also said that the commanding officer at Nama would sometimes tell the interrogators that the White House or Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld had been briefed on intelligence gathered by the team, especially intelligence about Zarqawi:
“[They'd say:] ‘Rumsfeld was informed, such and such a report is on Rumsfeld's desk this morning, read by Secdef [Secretary of Defense]’…it's a big morale booster for people working 14 hour days. Hey, we got to the White House!'"
Jeff told Human Rights Watch that someone asked the colonel directly in charge of Camp Nama whether the International Red Cross or some other agency would be coming to the prison to observe, as required by international law. Human Rights Watch reported, “Jeff explained that the colonel told them that he ‘had this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there's no way that the Red Cross could get in.’ Jeff did not question the colonel further on how these assurances were given to those in command in Camp Nama. He explained that they were told: ‘they just don't have access, and they won't have access, and they never will. This facility was completely closed off to anybody investigating. Even Army investigators.’”
A New York Times article on Camp Nama, appearing several months before the release of the Human Rights Watch report, also revealed some of what was going on there: “American soldiers made one of the former Iraqi government's torture chambers into their own interrogation cell. They named it the Black Room. In the windowless, jet-black garage-size room, some soldiers beat prisoners with rifle butts, yelled and spit in their faces and, in a nearby area, used detainees for target practice in a game of jailer paintball.” (“In Secret Unit’s ‘Black Room,’ a Grim Portrait of U.S. Abuse,” March 19, 2006)
The Times noted, “Placards posted by soldiers at the detention area advised, ‘NO BLOOD, NO FOUL.’ The slogan, as one Defense Department official explained, reflected an adage adopted by Task Force 6-26: ‘If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it.’ According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges.”
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has been looking into JSOC’s activities as an assassination squad. In a recent interview with Gulf News (based in the United Arab Emirates), Hersh said about what JSOC was doing during the Bush years: “There's a special unit that does high-value targeting of men that we believe are known to be involved in anti-American activities, or are believed to be planning such activities.
“In Cheney's view this isn't murder, but carrying out the ‘war on terror.’ And in the view of me and my friends, including people in government, this is crazy. The vice president is committing a crime. You can't authorise the murder of people. And it's not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's in a lot of other countries, in the Middle East and in South Asia and North Africa and even Central America.
“In the early days, many of the names were cleared through Cheney's office. One of his aides, John Hanna, went on TV and acknowledged that the programme exists, and said killing these people is not murder but an act of war that is justified legally.” (“You can’t authorize murder: Hersh,” May 12, 2009, gulfnews.com)
Speaking at University of Minnesota on May 11, Hersh said the JSOC was essentially “an executive assassination wing.” And as Hersh noted, Stanley McChrystal, who as head of JSOC worked closely with Cheney, has just been named the commander in chief of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
The U.S. special operations forces have carried out many of the raids and bombings of villages in Afghanistan—in the name of going after Taliban leaders and fighters—that have resulted in massacres of civilians and destruction of homes. Investigative reporter Gareth Porter points out, “Many of the airstrikes and commando raids that have caused large-scale civilian deaths have involved Special Operations forces operating separately from the NATO command. Special Operations forces under McChrystal’s command also engaged in raiding homes in search of Taliban suspects, angering villagers in Herat province to the point where they took up arms against the U.S. forces, according to a May 2007 story by Carlotta Gall and David E. Sanger of the New York Times.” (“McChrystal Choice Suggests Special Ops Strikes to Continue,” May 12, 2009, Inter-Press Service)
People who think that Obama is waging a “good war” in Afghanistan need to ask themselves: What does it mean when this president appoints the former head of the murderous “special operations” forces—responsible for torture, assassinations, and massacres of civilians—as the overall commander of this war?
Revolution #166, May 31, 2009
On April 2, a jury in Denver rendered its verdict in the case of Ward Churchill. The jury agreed with former University of Colorado (CU) professor Ward Churchill—and the many distinguished scholars in his field of Native American studies who testified on his behalf—that he was fired in July 2007, not for faulty scholarship but in retaliation for a controversial essay he wrote after 9/11. The essence of the case from the very beginning was the political persecution by a major university of a controversial professor, scholar, and activist—that's what the jury confirmed.
The jury also awarded Churchill $1 in damages. A juror who spoke to the press later explained that award: "David Lane (Churchill's attorney) kept saying this wasn't about the money, and in the end, we took his word for that."
The jury's verdict was a significant setback for forces hell-bent on suppressing and stifling dissent and critical thinking on campuses. (see "Debate Sharpens Over Ward Churchill Verdict," Revolution, 4/19/09). But the battle to defeat the political persecution of Ward Churchill is far from over.
There has been no move by the court to order the University to give Churchill back his job. On May 18 attorneys for Churchill filed a motion for an expedited/speedy hearing on the arguments. Within days attorneys for the University filed their own brief with the court, saying Churchill "deserves neither reinstatement nor money."
A letter signed by over 150 professors and attorneys from around the country was sent to Judge Larry Naves in April calling on him to order CU to reinstate Ward Churchill to his position of full professor. The letter argues that "Reinstatement is the usual, or 'preferred,' remedy in cases such as this. As federal courts of appeal have noted, When a person loses his job, it is at best disingenuous to say that money damages can suffice to make that person whole.... We also note that reinstatement is an effective deterrent in preventing employer retaliation against employees who exercise their constitutional rights."
And the letter cites a resolution by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) that "We believe the disputes over Ward Churchill's publications should have been allowed to work themselves out in traditional scholarly venues, not referred to disciplinary hearings. We believe Churchill should be reinstated to his faculty position at the University of Colorado." This resolution echoes the testimony at trial of several experts in the field of Native American studies, who praised Churchill's scholarship and were highly critical of the methods used and conclusions drawn by the committee that investigated the complaints brought by the University against Churchill's work.
The University's response attempts to completely reverse the meaning of the jury's verdict. It ignores their principal finding—that Churchill's firing was illegal—and claims the $1 damage award represents a statement by the jury that Churchill suffered no damage as a result of his termination! The brief says, "the jury did not award Professor Churchill a single penny for reputational injury or emotional distress, which can only be read as the jurors' unanimous conclusion that Professor Churchill destroyed his own reputation through his academic misconduct." They also argue the court should not go against "the jury's implied finding that Professor Churchill suffered no actual damages."
This interpretation not only defies common sense, it was explicitly refuted by a juror in statements she made about their deliberations right after the verdict. She said only one juror resisted giving Churchill a damage award of over $100,000 for loss of his salary; and in the end, they relied on Churchill's lawyer who said, as Professor Churchill himself did, that this case wasn't about the money.
The brief also uses statements by David Lane, Churchill's attorney, to argue he should not be reinstated. Lane has warned recently that the University will face another lawsuit if it tries to punish Churchill by putting him in a basement office, or strips him of class time. CU's lawyers used Lane's comments to argue "Reinstatement under these circumstances places the university in the no-win position of either facing another lawsuit or effectively immunizing Professor Churchill from complying with the standards of professional scholarship."
From the moment the verdict was announced, representatives of CU have ignored the jury's conclusion that except for Churchill's "first Amendment-protected" essay, he would not have been fired. Expressing the same sentiments voiced by the politically powerful reactionary forces behind the whole witch hunt against Professor Churchill that began at the start of 2005, CU spokespeople have continued to claim that Churchill's alleged academic misconduct makes him unfit to teach. Hank Brown, the former CU President who fired Churchill, said that it would be a "travesty of justice" if Churchill got his job back. Brown is a right wing former U.S. Senator involved with ACTA1 , an organization in the forefront of the campaign targeting Churchill and his scholarship, in order to give legitimacy to their overall assault targeting critical thinking and dissent in academia. [For more on the trial and verdict, see Revolution #162]
Churchill's lawyers have asked the judge in their recent brief for a one-day hearing in June to determine on an "expedited basis" whether Churchill will get his job back at the Boulder campus. Their motion states they would like to know by Wednesday of this week when in June the hearing can be held. Churchill wants to return to teaching by the fall semester, which begins August 24.
As might be expected, the administration's position has plenty of supporters among the faculty and students on the campus, who do not want Churchill to come back. But there are many others who will welcome his return. As education professor Margaret LeCompte said in an April 10 New York Times piece, "He is a well-respected teacher, even by students who disagree with him—the kind of a person who should be at a university, where a dialogue of controversial ideas can be held in a safe environment." The jury's verdict in this case has been a setback to very powerful right wing forces in this country out to put an end to such "dialogue of controversial ideas"; and to the very existence of such a safe environment. It is these reactionary purposes, and not any supposed concern for preserving academic standards, that motivate CU's continued resistance to reinstating Professor Churchill. People within academia and beyond need to support this fight to reinstate Professor Churchill, as a part of the greater battle to defend the university as a place where the unfettered search for the truth, intellectual ferment and dissent is growing, and increasingly impacting society as a whole.
1. American Council of Trustees and Alumni [back]
Revolution #166, May 31, 2009
City of West Hollywood and World Can't Wait Hold Joint Press Conference:
May 21—The large orange banner hung down from near the ceiling in the lobby of West Hollywood, California, City Hall read: "No Torture." The City of West Hollywood, a community between Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, had taken a stand. And in that lobby, an important press conference was held: "A Call to President Barack Obama urging him to release torture-related photos and prosecute war criminals, ex-top officials of the Bush Administration." The press conference was called by the City of West Hollywood and The World Can't Wait.
City Council Member and long-time defender of human rights, John J. Duran said, "President Obama must do what is right for our country's future and shed light on the last eight years of the Bush administration's half-truths, abuse of power and human rights both abroad and here at home. We will never be able to put this behind us if the truth is not fully revealed and if we don't atone for the way our country behaved." He was joined by: Debra Sweet, national director of The World Can't Wait, the MC for the event; Mark Rapkin, a Los Angeles attorney who represented a prisoner unjustly locked up at Guantánamo and has continued to speak out against the continuing torture and imprisonment at that prison; actor John Heard; director and writer Paul Haggis, whose films include Crash and In the Valley of Elah; and actor and director Mark Ruffalo.
The press conference could not have been more timely. Hours before, President Obama and ex-Vice President Dick Cheney had spoken on Guantánamo and torture. Cheney shamelessly embraced the crimes committed by him and others in the Bush regime and lied about the extent of the U.S. torture network. Obama refused to pursue those torturers and war criminals, including some presently holding government positions. And Obama is trying to block release of 2,000 photos showing torture by U.S. personnel, which were due to be released on May 28. The press conference was part of actions organized by The World Can't Wait and others around the U.S. in May to demand that the war criminals be prosecuted.
Despite the timeliness of the topic and the significant and well-known people involved, the press conference was largely boycotted by the mainstream press.
The following are from the remarks by the participants of the press conference:
The City of West Hollywood was the first city in Southern California to oppose the War in Iraq, the first city in Southern California to call for the impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney for war crimes, and now the first city in Southern California to highlight this issue of torture and to demand that President Obama do what's right and just and release the photographs. I have a quote that I just wanted to start this press conference off with.
"If any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any prisoner, I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring such exemplary and severe punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it would not be disproportionate to his guilt at such a time and in such a cause, for by such conduct they bring upon us shame, disgrace, and ruin to themselves and to our country." That's President George Washington, first president of the United States, who really set the tone for our country and our nation's traditions and history, that even in times of war, we would not sacrifice our values and our principles that make us the greatest nation upon the earth.
He believed, as I think I believe and many of the people you're going to hear from today, that it's not just enough to claim victory in war, but to make sure you adhere to the principles and justice that you fought for in the first place. John Adams wrote this shortly thereafter. "I know of no policy, God is my witness, but this: Piety, humanity, and honesty are the best policy. Blasphemy, cruelty and villainy have prevailed and they will prevail again. But they won't prevail in America because I find that the more they are employed, the less that they succeed."
That's what we're calling on President Obama to do: Honesty. Honesty is the first step for an international healing. Produce the photographs. Let's take inventory of what the truth is, and then admit to ourselves and to our fellows across the globe the exact nature of the wrongdoing that occurred and make amends to the international community.
Do you know how important it is when a banner against torture is hanging in a public city hall in this country, at a time when torture has de facto become a policy ultimately justified and carried out by our government? Until the people repudiate it across the country, starting from West Hollywood, we're going to have to deal with living in a torture state. That's why I'm very happy to be introducing several people here today to speak out strongly against torture and to join Councilman Duran's call that we have the photographs released and that we prosecute the people responsible for war crimes…
This is the humanity that exists among the people who are being tortured and this is the humanity we lose if we are only going along with the debate this morning in Washington in terms of Dick Cheney saying there's nothing, really, that should not be done if it keeps America safe, because to him, American lives are more important than anyone else's. The necessity of us representing a message from the people of this country, that American lives are not more important than anyone else's. That in fact we care about humanity, and we have to settle this in a political debate among people living in this country that is very hot right now. That is why, again, people speaking out is absolutely essential. I was able to look at both of the speeches this morning and I can say that we couldn't have picked a better day to be speaking out. Because on the one hand, Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, said, "We hear from some quarters nothing but feigned outrage based on a false narrative. In my long experience in Washington few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists." This is what you get from the Bush regime: Cheney, who does not even think he's out of power, and maybe he isn't out of power, providing a powerful narrative of his own, rewriting history and defending the illegitimate occupation and this alleged "war on terror," that has done nothing but institutionalize torture in our name.
And then President Obama, actually speaking before Cheney, because Cheney had to have the last word, saying among other things, that the photographs would have revealed, if they ever are released, and we're demanding that they be released, would have revealed some acts that have already been disposed of by disciplining the people who carried them out, a few individuals. No! This abuse of detainees is systematic and widespread. Hundreds of detainees that we can document have died in detention, not to mention the abuse heaped on their humanity. This is not a situation that we as people living in this country can accept if we're going to maintain our own humanity. A government that does this is not legitimate.
This is a big question, and this is why The World Can't Wait is holding protests next Thursday, May 28, on the date the Obama administration has been mandated to release these photos. This battle is not over. We're going to be in the streets and airwaves challenging the people in this country to take a stand to demand prosecution of the war criminals and to further bring out all the evidence so we can see it because we know Cheney is arguing for torture based on everything else he and the Bush administration stood for. It is our responsibility to end it.
Mohammed Kahn is in Guantánamo. He was sent to that lethal [place] when he was 17 years old. His father's in Gitmo, Guantánamo, but they have not seen each other. Mohammed has lived in isolation for over two years. Six months ago he inflicted several slashes across his inner arm and a vein in his hand. He bangs his head against cell walls and smears his cell wall with his own excrement. He exhibits signs of serious mental trauma. More recently he began smearing excrement again on his walls. He didn't clean it up. And instead of mental health professionals coming to assist him, he was met by ten large guards in riot uniforms who came and beat him up severely. These are called the IRF troops. They sprayed him with tear gas. He later began smashing his head again. He began bleeding at his head. He screams and mumbles incoherently.
The military authorities at Guantánamo, and I am talking about what happened just a few months ago, that is going on today in Guantánamo. In Bagram, Afghanistan at the Air Force base, conditions are worse there than they are at Guantánamo. The authorities do not help Mohammed. He has no fresh air. He has no sunlight. He has no social interaction. He has no contact with his father. They strip him and remove his thin sleeping mat and make him sleep in his cell three days with his excrement. Gitmo has had over 800 prisoners pass through. And every prisoner there, everyone has a face, and everyone has a story to tell. Rod Stewart said, "Every picture tells a story." These photos that are in jeopardy of not being released tell us a story. They need to be released so that the story can be told.
How did this happen, to Mohammed and others? It began with a group of the highest government officials conspiring, from 2002 to 2003, instituting torture as a policy, to mislead the nation into a war they wanted to fight, and tortured people in an attempt to extract confessions that would justify that war. Torture and cruel and degrading treatment became the norm. there are similar stories of detainees being routinely beaten, doused with cold water and slammed head first into cells, stripped of clothing, bombarded with loud music, exposed to cold temperatures, deprived of sleep and solid food for days on end. They would stand for days, their arms shackled above them, wearing only diapers.
When torture took place, President Bush called it "enhanced interrogation" or "an alternative set of procedures." But the law calls it torture under any other name. Ted Koppel recently said, "calling torture enhanced interrogation is like calling rape enhanced seduction." Today in Guantánamo, prisoners live in solitary confinement. That is the norm for the majority of detainees. This is the norm even for those that have never been deemed to be an enemy combatant, who have been released to go back to their home country and get the hell out of Guantánamo. They still rot there, many of them in solitary confinement. Confinement in a small cell, a concrete cell, for at least twenty hours a day. They have virtually no human contact, or mental stimulation. The men eat alone. No windows that face the outside. Lights kept on 24-7, which causes sleep deprivation. Prisoners live in constant fear of physical attacks. At Guantánamo, there are many, many hunger strikes and forced feedings by tubes. People are fed against their will, in violation of the rule of law and standards of humane treatment. Men are restrained in chairs, thick tubes forced down their stomachs, their noses and their throats and food pumped into their stomachs.
After World War II, the United States prosecuted Japanese people for waterboarding and otherwise torturing both American and British soldiers. We convicted those people. Why did we do it? Why did we prosecute? Because we knew then as we should know today that prosecuting illegal torture is necessary to assert the rule of law, to show that government officials are not above the law, to secure justice for the victims and survivors of torture and war crimes, as well as to prevent future government officials from repeating the same despicable, immoral and ill-advised decisions to violate our laws.
We know that there are photographs that reveal detainees being abused. The Pentagon has already agreed just one month ago, to release those photos, but recently President Obama has reversed that decision and is attempting to prevent the public and potential prosecutors from viewing these graphic images that show abuse was widespread and systemic. Just today on television, for those who saw President Obama give a great speech, he said, and I quote, "Individuals who violated standards of behavior in these photos have been investigated and held accountable." And I say to all of you today, that is not the truth, that the people who are to be held accountable have not been brought to justice and we need to seek a way to prosecute those people and bring them to justice. That is our law. That is our way of living here. It is only right that people like Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft and even governmental lawyers who condoned the use of torture be brought to justice. Obama's refusal is inconsistent with his own pledge to hold himself as president to a new standard of openness. Because President Obama wants to further suppress the photographs because he says they will inflame anti-American opinion and put our troops in greater danger. This argument has been repeatedly rejected by the courts. He says he wants to balance security with civil rights. I agree. We all agree on that. But I submit to you that the balance has tilted too much to the wrong side.
I read a quote yesterday that says, "To give the government the power to suppress information because it might anger an unidentified set of people in an unspecified part of the world and ultimately to endanger an ill-defined group of U.S. personnel would be to invest the government with a virtually unlimited censorial power. And by investing it with such power, we would effectively be affording the greatest protection from disclosure of records that protect the worst kind of government misconduct."
Some say that President Obama will end torture, so why deal with the past? I say, don't believe that torture will end. Because already our president has said, through his lawyers' court filings, through his choice of a CIA director, who has at the Senate confirmation hearings, supported the use of the "ticking bomb" scenario. These are concerns that the public should have over whether torture will come to an end under Obama. Finally, we are a nation that lives under the rule of law. Laws are to be enforced not just when it is convenient to do so. Prosecutions require evidence, and the photos are the best evidence of what happened.
These are poems from Guantánamo. Since 2002, at least 775 men have been held in the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. According to Department of Defense data as few as half of these men are even accused of committing any hostile act against the United States or any of its allies. In hundreds of cases even the circumstances of their original detainment is questionable. This collection gives voice to the men at Guantánamo, only because of the tireless efforts of attorneys like Michael who submitted each line to Pentagon scrutiny. Poems from Guantánamo brings together 22 poems by 17 detainees, most still in Guantánamo, in legal limbo. In the words of Audre Lorde, poetry "forms the quality of light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change." These verses, some originally written in toothpaste, others scratched onto foam drinking cups using pebbles and furtively handed to attorneys. These are the most basic form of art.
"Death Poem" by Jumah Al Dossari:
Take my blood
Take my death shroud and the remnants of my body
Take the photographs of my corpse at the grave, lonely
Send them to the world, to the judges and to the people of conscience
send them to the principled men and the fair-minded
let them bear the guilty burden before the world of this innocent soul
let them bear the burden before their children and before history
of this wasted sinless soul, of this soul that has suffered at the hands of the "protector of peace."
Jumah Al Dossari is a 33-year-old Bahraini who has been held at Guantánamo Bay for five years. He's been in solitary confinement since the end of 2003, if you can imagine. And according to the United States, he's tried to kill himself 12 times.
I wanted to read the names of these guys that they're trying now to disbar. They're the ones that were trying to legalize torture and now they're giving it this fancy name, I forget what it is—"enhanced interrogation," right. Which would be the equivalent of my mother asking me where I'd been. There are twelve names. They're starting to call them the "dirty dozen." John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Douglas Feith, my favorite. John Ashcroft, Steven Bradbury, Alberto Gonzales, Michael Chertoff, Alice Fisher, William Haynes II, Michael Mukasey, Timothy Flanigan, David Addington. These are the guys who don't seem to know when they're torturing people.
I'm stunned to be speaking out against torture in America. I just don't understand that. I became an American so proudly in 2000. I was never so proud as the day when I became an American. I had lived here for many years with a green card, and that day was very, very emotional for me. And if you had told me then that I would be standing in front of you wearing a button that says, "No Torture," I would tell you, that's not going to be the case. And if it was the case, we'd be talking about China, we'd be talking about someplace else. We'd be moralizing. We'd be standing here wagging our finger, saying, "How dare you?" And of course you should have to show evidence, and what do you mean, you're hiding the evidence of torture.
Now, go forward a few years, and we're protesting against the Bush administration doing this. And I'm ashamed still, because it's my government whether I elected him or not. Go forward a little further. We just enthusiastically elected Barack Obama. Now, I'm standing here with the same button. These promises need to be kept. We need to stop torturing people. We need to stop with these euphemisms that we're starting to accept. Torture is torture. This is something that debases us, to hell with everybody else. It debases us as Americans. It shames us. And they're going to hide these pictures? Because they might upset someone? We need to see these pictures, Mr. President, and we need to see them now!
This is not the time to walk away This is not the time to turn the page on this dark chapter of American history. This is the time to shed some very bright light into the dark corners of Abu Ghraib, the CIA secret rendition sites, Guantánamo Bay and, lord know, how many other hideous and dark-filled places where bold-faced torture was carried out in the name of decent American people. War crimes, crimes against peace, religious persecution, torture, that is what America is most known for in the world at this moment. Each day that we and you, President Obama, refuse to face what has been done, and bring those responsible to justice, the more those images of torture become our identity; each day that we try to move away from these crimes the more burdened by them we become. Torture is a crime. The people who carried out that crime are called criminals.
What does this mean to us? The people who carried out that crime, the people who that crime was carried out in the name of? What does it mean to our humanness, our humanity? What does it mean to you, America? What is it doing to your pride, your Christian values? Are we so low in decency that we should pretend that none of this has happened? Is that what you're asking from us? That is what the brave leader of the free world would have us think and believe at this moment? Let's just walk away and maybe it will just go away? The blood has been spilt. The only decent thing left for us to do is to face what we have done, own up to it and punish those responsible for it. That is how you make it right. That is what is promising about democracy.
Today we all find clearly it's up to us. Here we are, no longer guessing that these things have happened. We see and hear about them every single day. There's Dick Cheney running around to anyone who will listen to him about how right he was to torture people. There are these pundits parsing words and apologizing for these heinous acts, trying to justify or minimize or hide the fact that what has been done is classic torture handed down to us from Pol Pot and the Spanish Inquisition. Forget moving on, my friends, forget turning the page. Listen up. There are war criminals in our midst and it is time to pay the price for the crimes regardless of their political party or their race. Torture is a crime. They did it then and now we know it.
Come on, America, what do we stand for? Are we a nation of barbarians? Do we truly have no soul? Do we have no sense of right or wrong? Are we really torturers? Is that who we are? Is that how this great nation is going to go down? As a two-bit dictatorship? Does it mean so little to us that we should walk away and ignore these crimes? Do we have so little faith in ourselves that we leave it to a handful of leaders to decide if we can handle the truth at this oh-so-dark moment in our history? Are we not men and women capable of thought and rationale? Do we not work our hearts out every day to support this great experiment? Have we not suffered enough the outrage of these past eight years of misery and shame? Are we so shocked and awed that we have lost our humanity? Do our leaders think so little of us that we cannot handle a full accounting of the shameful things that have been done in our name? What do they take us for, sheep? Slaves? Imbeciles?
Get in line, America. We have been torturing hundreds if not thousands of people for nearly a decade. Demand the truth and full disclosure. You mean something to the world. You stand for something, to those people who lived under torturous regimes. They looked to you for hope. They want to believe that you are decent. Prosecute our wrongs today and let them see we are a democracy, not an empire. Show them that we are better than those who have gone down in history connected with such ugliness and willful compliance. Don't allow that orange uniform and black hood to be our new flag. Investigate and prosecute those who have brought us so low. And redeem yourself, America.
Revolution #166, May 31, 2009
Staging an intervention at Notre Dame:
We received the following correspondence from a reader:
On Sunday, May 17, a group of supporters of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, including Revolution correspondent Sunsara Taylor, entered the scene at Notre Dame University—aiming to bring a new voice into the fray that had been all-too-absent in the weeks leading up to Obama's speech at the school's graduation. For many weeks, various anti-abortion activists had descended on the Catholic campus in protest of the President's upcoming appearance (due to his support of the legal right to abortion) as well as his receipt of an honorary degree from the school. This campus had become a national concentration point in the battle over abortion (and secondarily, stem cell research) to the point where dozens of Catholic bishops had petitioned or protested, including Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago who announced publicly that he would not attend the ceremony and called the President's appearance an "extreme embarrassment." Going into graduation, the coverage around this and the "two sides" that were being aired were basically people who were "pro-life" but celebrated Obama's appearance despite his position on abortion (one student against abortion said, "if you have the opportunity to see the sitting President talk in your lifetime, that's an opportunity you should take") and on the other side people who were also against abortion and against his appearance. Nowhere was there a voice that was taking on abortion and actually defending it.
Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, was one of the leading forces behind the anti-abortionists. At his website, stopobamanotredame.com, Terry described the mission of these protests as aiming to stop Obama from speaking and to gain the resignation of Father John Jenkins, the President of Notre Dame. He also talked about aiming to have "politically tarred Obama with the blood of babies," to "create such peaceful havoc that no other Catholic University commits this treachery" and to "recruit and train new warriors to defend Life and Truth in 'on the job' training." Terry was arrested on campus in the weeks leading into graduation, pushing a stroller with fake bloodied baby in it. People brought signs onto the campus that equated abortion with rape, said that abortion is worse than torture or slavery, and compared the period of legalized abortion to the Nazi Holocaust. A number of other people, including the former Republican Presidential candidate Alan Keyes, had also been arrested for demonstrating on college grounds. An airplane had been flying overhead for weeks, with various banners attached to the back with supposed pictures of aborted fetuses, and slogans including "Abortion is terror." Another sign asked, "What about the REAL war, 3600 American babies die every year from abortion..."
It is a stunning indictment of the state of the women's movement that these forces had basically gone uncontested for many weeks. A handful of students and others had set up outside the campus gates at various points, holding up signs in support of the graduating seniors and basically challenging the various brands of hardcore Catholics and biblical literalists to leave the campus alone. Some of them were pro-choice, but this is not what they were expressing, and when we arrived we found them very defensive about this, not wanting to talk about abortion and putting their overwhelming emphasis on supporting Obama.
On the morning of graduation, relative to the hundreds of anti-abortion protestors at the main gate to the school, we were a small minority, but grounded in the fact that we were speaking for millions of women, we raised our colorful banner, "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!" and marched onto the scene chanting about how without this basic right, women could never be free. We took nearly everyone by complete surprise especially with the boldness of our message. We took a spot near the entrance and continued our chants; our main goal was not to get into any kind of political stunts but to make our message known, and to bring a pole of opposition and emancipation into that mix. Another of our chants was "Today we make a declaration/Women need emancipation/Not the Bible's subjugation/Yes abortion, for liberation!"
In that situation, with that message, as well as the confidence and clarity we brought to that, we most definitely could not be missed. There was something new that had to be reckoned with, and much of the media (both local and national, and even international) responded to that. Cameras were clicking away and Sunsara Taylor gave a number of interviews which became a notable part of the media coverage. She was quoted in USA Today and elsewhere, and there were images on CNN, the NBC Nightly News, MSNBC, and the New York Times website of our signs and tee-shirts reading "Abortion on demand and without apology," "Women are not incubators!" and "Abortion is not murder!" The fact that another voice was in much of the major media coverage was an important accomplishment, helping to bring much-needed oxygen to what had been a suffocating debate.
The anti-abortion people sometimes lost it (or lost whatever they had left of "it"), shouting at us that yes in fact, women are incubators and made to breed for men. When one of the women with us was agitating about how without the freedom to make basic decisions about their own lives, women are no more than slaves, a religious lunatic on a bullhorn alluded to the Genesis story about the Garden of Eden and how that was a time when women had free will--women's choices caused the downfall of mankind, he told us, and he demanded to know if she again wanted to be personally responsible for the downfall of humanity?
This polarization, it must be said, brought out some of the best from the pro-choice (and mostly pro-Obama) students who had shown up. It gave rise to a process where they took some time, and were looking around at and interacting with the anti-abortion forces, and then they were also checking us out, and through the course of that, people got more clear and more bold and some became willing to join in abortion rights chants which they might not have when they arrived. There was an air of liberation in the middle of this dark-ages swamp, and as we took a break, some of the students got up and were chanting in peoples' faces "Keep it legal, Keep it safe!" One older Black woman who had shown up after her visit to the airport to welcome Obama, said she was against abortion. And then she looked around and said, these people say they're pro-life but I'm sure they don't care about capital punishment. Aren't the people on death row human beings? We talked with her about how this has never been about being "pro-life," it's about a view on women and wanting to take women back to "their rightful place". She brought a lot of energy to our contingent, and even took her bra off and started waving it as she chanted about women's emancipation.
It's unquestionable that our presence made a significant impact on the character of the day—at a time when most pro-choice people are being sold on Obama's "common ground," we planted another pole, one of firm and essential opposition, and began to draw people forward around this. The question now is carrying forward that pole, rallying more to it, and fighting even more determinedly against this dark-ages movement, as well as re-opening the debate on, and forging further ground toward, women's full emancipation.
Revolution #166, May 31, 2009
Three years ago Fong Lee was shot in the back and killed by the police in Minneapolis. A distributor of the newspaper in Minneapolis sent me the following summary of this important story. It has been covered on the front page in the mainstream press in Minneapolis-St. Paul and also on Michael Moore's website. A notable element: The lawyer for the youth's family has uncovered heavy circumstantial evidence that the police used a "throw down gun" to try to cover up this outright murder—which is part of why many people who ordinarily might turn a blind eye are now closely following these unfolding events.
A blatant Minneapolis police execution of a Hmong youth, Fong Lee, has become a big problem for the Minneapolis police department, and the city of Minneapolis. Three years ago (July 22, 2006) a "rookie" "go-getter" cop shot Fong Lee 8 times, 4 times in the back, and then when the youth was down, another 4 times, killing him. Two days later the cop was back at work, taken off leave by the Minneapolis pig chief Tim Dolan. A so-called "internal investigation" and almost a year later a grand jury exonerated the executioner, Jason Andersen.
A grand jury cleared Andersen of any wrong doing June 28, 2007, and Andersen was awarded the Medal of Valor, the Minneapolis cop department's second highest award July 28, 2008, for his "heroic actions to bravely engage the suspect with little regard for his own safety."
Fong Lee was riding his bike with his friends near a school playground, when Andersen and his partner decided to follow them. The cops have not given a reason why they decided to follow the kids. The cops ran into Fong Lee's bike, knocking him over. The cops' version is that Fong Lee just dropped his bike and took off running, but other witnesses say that the cops hit Fong Lee's bike. The two cops also claim that once after they were following the youths they saw the kids exchange something between themselves. The executioner said that he saw a gun; his partner (Craig Benz) said that he thought it was drugs. Both the drugs and gun stories have been used in news stories. Part of the chase was caught on several videos. The family and their lawyers believe that the video taken from the police car was expunged of footage contradicting the 2 cops' version. An expert witness for Lee's family said that Fong Lee did not have a gun in his hand in the video. The city of Minneapolis is currently trying to prevent the words of the police spokesperson, Sgt Garcia, from being used in the civil case because the Sargent actually admitted that he saw no gun in the video.
Chief Dolan said 2 days after the murder that Fong Lee had a criminal record, was a gang banger and that the gun had his fingerprints on it. At this news conference Dolan described it as a "clean kill." Other cops have said that they told Dolan before he spoke that the gun had no DNA, fingerprints or any identifying material on it. Fong Lee's right hand and arm were bloody from his wounds. He was right-handed but the gun was found nearest his left hand, and Andersen has said that he did not move the gun. The pig chief's post mortem criminalization of Fong Lee is a cowardly lie.
The gun that the cops are claiming Fong Lee had was reported by the police themselves to have been stolen in a burglary, that the cops had found the weapon, and at the time of the execution it was supposed to be in police lockup. The owner of the weapon said that the cops had told him that they would return it after the trial of the persons accused of a burglary, but that long after that trial the cops had not returned it. Ten days after Fong Lee was executed, another cop filed a supplementary police report claiming that there was a mix up in the serial number of the gun in the burglary.
With the recent controversy prominent in the local media which was caused by the imminent civil suit trial brought by the Lee family, Chief Dolan finally returned from vacation April 7 and made a brief statement that no gun was thrown down and that the pigs will be vindicated. He has said nothing further about his former claim of fingerprints or Fong Lee being a criminal.
In one of several other related stories discussed in recent media covered stories, April 7, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reported that John Wuchko has filed a police brutality lawsuit against the Minneapolis Pig Department because he was severely beaten when his car was stopped on May 30, 2003 by Minneapolis cop Charles (Chip) Storlie. In November 2007, a Minneapolis police department undercover cop (Duy Ngo) won a $4.5 Million settlement against the Minneapolis Pig Department—Storlie shot Ngo 6 times in a drug bust in February 2003. Wuchko was never charged for anything related to the traffic incident that resulted in his severe beating. He filed an excessive force allegation with the city's Civilian Police Review Authority. The allegations were sustained, and the department disciplined Storlie by placing a letter of reprimand in his file.
Revolution #166, May 31, 2009
Letter from a reader
The following correspondence has been translated from the Spanish original.
On the evening of February 7, several readers of Revolution Newspaper, voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, met outside of the Million Dollar Theater to promote the newspaper; the Venezuelan music group, Los Guaraguao, was scheduled to play. This group is known internationally since 1973 for its controversial lyrics, lyrics that express injustices and suffering in the countryside and in the city that the Latin-American people still live through; their most popular song is “Casas de carton” (Cardboard Houses), as it clearly describes the conditions of extreme poverty in which our oppressed Latino brothers and sisters have been forced to live.
This is why we thought it was a magnificent opportunity to attend such an activity, to come in contact with people from various Latin-American regions that through these musical expressions stand in solidarity with the social discontent that stems from a worldwide system based on oppression and accumulation of capital for a few, a system that has corrupted every corner of our planet.
Getting there at 5:30 p.m., one could already feel in the air the vibrant presence of our revolutionary team, in the lines to purchase tickets and to get in, also a table up in front of the theater reinforced with Revolution Newspaper, the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, flyers for the International Women’s Day march in support of the women in Iran and Afghanistan, against the woman-hating oppression of the Islamic republic of Iran and the U.S. empire, and the flyers that denounce the constant police brutality that in its most recent case, unleashed rebellion and resistance in Oakland around the MURDER of Oscar Grant at the hands of police.
The voices of our comrades were heard among the crowd with the phrases: “We need revolution,” “we have the political leadership and the leader for a revolution,” “Obama is not the solution nor the hope for a better world”; we caused commotion amongst people that overwhelmingly welcomed us with acceptance and interest and at the same time with astonishment because many did not know of the existence of the Party; we also found many sympathetic readers of the paper who appreciate the role it plays. As we interacted with the people, they expressed questions and comments such as: “Are you guys influenced by Karl Marx?,” “Is this the same socialism that existed in Russia and China?,” “The revolution is a thing of the past that we have already lived through,” “Who is the leader of the Party?”
In response to these concerns, we pointed out that we have the leadership of a communist party guided by Chairman Bob Avakian, who has made significant contributions to the communist movement, based on a profound study and analysis of the work of Karl Marx and the great achievements in the revolutions of Russia and China and also examining the errors. Based on this, he has given life to a new vision and synthesis on how to make URGENT REVOLUTION in our time and in a country like the United States, not to mention, this new vision will create a base for an international revolutionary movement.
From a personal standpoint, I’d like to say that as a human being from a country that the empire considers part of the third world, I have been a victim and a witness, for as long as I have lived, to the various injustices that stem from having lived and accepted a system which only benefits the exploiting class. Whatever cardinal point on the planet I emigrate to, it will always be the same; one cannot flee from this system. But I have come to understand that for humans to live with dignity we have to eliminate the problem at its root, and the problem is the SYSTEM. I am tired of being suffocated in dreams restrained by this damned system, and I am fed up with being OPPRESSED.
I have been reading Revolution newspaper and have attended the liberating meetings organized by Libros Revolución for a while now. I have conscientiously and voluntarily decided to go out on the streets, in the company of other readers in support of the Party, to promote the newspaper, it being a very important revolutionary tool for the emancipation of humanity, and of course, also expand this movement’s horizons for the liberation of humanity, and in this way, contribute to the acceleration of the REVOLUTION we so desperately need. I urge you, as a reader of Revolution newspaper, to contribute to the Party; every form of support is crucial to and strengthens our liberation and the liberation of our sisters and brothers throughout the world.