Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #167, June 7, 2009
Night of the Living Dead
Two major speeches were given on May 21, 2009. One was by Barack Obama. He defended his move to suppress thousands of photos that, according to retired Major General Antonio Taguba, depict “torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.” And Obama broke startling new ground, going even beyond what the Bush Regime formally implemented. He demanded the legal power to imprison, for as long as he wishes, without trial, people “who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.”
Obama’s speech was followed by an extraordinary rebuttal. No, not by an opponent of torture. Not even by someone representing the millions who had supported Obama and were now angry at his adoption of much of the essence of the Bush program. Instead, the rebuttal came from a widely despised ex-Vice President who was given the national stage to give a fire-and-brimstone speech upholding the crimes of the Bush Regime.
What does it mean that these are the terms of the “debate” as framed in the mainstream media, and “legitimate” politics? And what are the implications, and challenges, for those who do not accept torture being carried out in their name?
First, what are we really talking about here? Speaking at a press conference called by World Can’t Wait and others at the West Hollywood, CA City Hall, attorney Michael Rapkin described the conditions under which his former client, Mohammed Kahn, was sent to Guantánamo when he was 17 years old, and has been in isolation for two years:
“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—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.”
That is going on today. Now multiply that by thousands. Go beyond Guantánamo, to Abu Ghraib, to Bagram prison in Afghanistan that by all accounts is worse than even Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, to the secret CIA hell-hole prisons around the world—to the 98 people (at minimum) who have died in these hellholes at American hands. These are stories that must be brought to the light of day, crimes that must be prosecuted, and criminals, up to the top of the chain of command, who must be brought to justice. And this must halt.
Obama has said he will not prosecute those who gave the orders for such crimes against humanity, and he is covering up these abuses by: suppressing 2000 plus photos documenting torture; blocking a lawsuit by people who were “renditioned” (kidnapped by the CIA and sent to other countries for torture); reviving the so-called trials conducted under the Military Commissions Act, and even—now—demanding the right to imprison people, formally, and indefinitely, without trials.
And yet Cheney and still-powerful forces in the U.S. ruling class are lashing out with real vengeance at Obama. The level of contempt Cheney and those he represents have for Obama was reflected in the fact that Cheney—who after all holds no elected office—basically complained Obama had spent too long making his speech, and should just shut up and let Cheney speak (“It’s pretty clear the president served in the Senate, not the House of Representatives, because in the House we have the five minute rule”).
What is going on here? Obama has taken over the essence of the Bush program, while changing the wrapping. In a piece in the New Republic Jack Goldsmith, who took over the position of head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under Bush (and overall supports Bush’s agenda), walks through one by one how this is true: from Guantánamo, to assassinations, to spying on Americans, to torture, Obama’s policies follow very closely along the lines set under Bush. Goldsmith sums up, and it is worth listening carefully to this: “The new administration has copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit. Almost all of the Obama changes have been at the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric. This does not mean that the Obama changes are unimportant. Packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric, it turns out, are vitally important to the legitimacy of terrorism policies.”
If Obama has taken over the essence of the Bush program and just changed the wrapping, why is Cheney—representing powerful sections of the ruling class—on such a ferocious counterattack?
First, Cheney represents a section of the ruling class—the neo-conservatives—who basically stand for a very overt, unbridled and aggressive assertion of U.S. military power, and domestic policies to serve that. In his speech, Cheney blasted Obama for releasing the torture memos—legal rulings by top White House lawyers authorizing torture. Cheney railed that “when they [the terrorists] see the American government caught up in arguments about interrogations, or whether foreign terrorists have constitutional rights, they don’t stand back in awe of our legal system and wonder whether they had misjudged us all along. Instead the terrorists see just what they were hoping for—our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted. In short, they see weakness and opportunity.”
Cheney is fighting very hard to embed the open exercise of torture, and the whole modus operandi of the Bush Regime’s “war on terror” permanently into U.S. policy and indeed the U.S. legal structure. This is part of the reason why Cheney and those in his camp are making the point in public that the Democrats have been in on and are basically continuing on that course, even if the Democrats are trying to coat those policies with a layer of invocations of constitutionality and “rule of law.” In his speech, Cheney said, “Some members of Congress are notorious for demanding they be briefed into the most sensitive intelligence programs. They support them in private, and then head for the hills at the first sign of controversy.” And he pointedly noted that “President Obama has reserved unto himself the right to order the use of enhanced interrogation should he deem it appropriate.”
Second, Cheney is positioning the section of the ruling class that he represents—the neo-conservatives—to take advantage of any major setback that the U.S. now might encounter. The forces that cohered around and were represented by the Bush Regime, especially the neo-conservatives and Christian Fascists, may be out of the Oval Office for now, but they remain unrepentant, and powerful. Cheney’s attacks, practically accusing Obama of aiding “the terrorists,” come in an atmosphere of other attacks on Obama from openly fascist forces like Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh insists on calling Obama a “socialist” (which he is not), which serves to paint Obama as illegitimate and beyond the pale of acceptable politics. Along with this, Fox News and others orchestrated and whipped up the “tea party” demonstrations, which used the symbolism of the American revolution and “overthrowing tyranny.” And, these forces still hold many powerful positions in government, including in the CIA.
And these forces are especially entrenched in top levels of the U.S. military. An article entitled “Jesus Killed Mohammad” in the May issue of Harpers paints a picture of the U.S. military in Iraq openly flaunting Christian fascism (the title of the article comes from a message painted on a military vehicle driven by U.S. troops through Iraq), and how dominant these forces are in the military. GQ magazine recently released photos of quotes from the Bible, combined with bizarre photoshopped images that stamped triumphalist Biblical images over the military reports Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld provided to Bush for his military briefings.
These forces have never accepted any oppositional forces, even within the U.S. ruling class, as legitimate. And they still don’t. Cheney is preparing these forces to figuratively—and literally—“keep their powder dry.” So while there is great similarity in the Bush and Obama policies, Cheney still wants the open gangster style bullying in the driver’s seat—and is rallying forces for that. As part of signaling to their followers to keep the “powder dry,” people like Newt Gingrich have in the past—and people like Glen Beck are today—openly invoking the specter of civil war. (For a strategic perspective on these and related questions, we urge readers to study The Coming Civil War and Repolarization for Revolution in the Present Era, by Bob Avakian, at revcom.us)
Speaking of Obama’s preventative detention—holding people without trial, indefinitely—a civil liberties activist told the New York Times, “We’ve known this is on the horizon for many years, but we were able to hold it off with George Bush. The idea that we might find ourselves fighting with the Obama administration over these powers is really stunning.”
What is going on here?
Leading up to the last election, ruling class commentator Andrew Sullivan, a political conservative who broke with Bush, argued that the basic agenda for the U.S. was set, regardless of who became president. That the Iraq occupation “has a momentum that will propel the occupation into the next decade.” That all presidential candidates are “committed to an open-ended deployment in Afghanistan and an unbending alliance with Israel.” But, he argued, Obama was the best “face” for both ongoing war, and domestic repression. Sullivan wrote, “ If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close.” And, in the event the U.S. rulers felt “forced to impose more restrictions on travel, communications, and civil liberties,” that Bush (and by implication a new president associated with him) “would be unable to command the trust, let alone the support, of half the country in such a time.”
Substantial sections of the U.S. ruling class did adopt the approach of bringing in Obama to restore the domestic and international credibility of the United States. But, whatever face is put on the situation, basic underlying challenges confront the U.S. empire—which is mired down in occupation and War in the Mid East and Central Asia, and hit with a historic economic crisis.
And Obama was quite consciously supported by sections of the ruling class in part as a vehicle through which to channel the discontent and anger of broad sections of people, seething, but largely passive, into the electoral arena. These forces saw the promotion of Obama, and the approach and style he brings, as an opportunity to bring many who had begun to question the whole set-up back into the fold.
On the day Obama and Cheney gave their speeches, Charles Krauthammer, a prominent neoconservative columnist, wrote a piece that reveals much: “The genius of democracy is that the rotation of power forces the opposition to come to its senses when it takes over. When the new guys, brought to power by popular will, then adopt the policies of the old guys, a national consensus is forged and a new legitimacy established.
“That’s happening before our eyes. The Bush policies in the war on terror won’t have to await vindication by historians. Obama is doing it day by day. His denials mean nothing. Look at his deeds.” (“Obama in Bush Clothing,” May 21, Washington Post).
This, from the mouth of a ruling class operative, is something those who demand justice, and real change, need to listen to and confront.
For a framework to understand the real and sharp differences, as well as the fundamental similarity between Obama and Cheney in this “debate” over torture and other questions, it is illuminating to refer back to the “pyramid” metaphor invoked by Bob Avakian:
“At the top of this pyramid are the people that rule this society and in particular you’ve got those that are represented by the Democratic Party on the one hand and the Republican Party on the other hand. And there is struggle between them. This is very obvious, right. Think back to the 2000 election: that was the most boring election in recent memory, and all of a sudden it turned into an extremely intense and interesting thing, not because of what they said and did while they were campaigning, but because of the way the election came out (or didn’t come out). So then you could see that there is very sharp struggle among them.
“And if you look at this kind of pyramid thing, on the top of this pyramid is the ruling class and its different political representatives, which (even though it may be a bit oversimplified) we can look at as the Democrats on one side and the Republicans on the other. And for decades now these people who are grouped around Bush and the kind of people that they represent have been working and preparing a whole thing in society—a whole infrastructure you might call it—a whole structure within the society itself that could move this society in a whole different way towards a fascistic kind of thing when things come to that.” (“The Pyramid of Power: And the Struggle to Turn This Whole Thing Upside Down,” by Bob Avakian, available at revcom.us).
Later in this same piece, Avakian makes the following point: “On the other hand, here are the Democrats at the top of this pyramid (on the so-called “left”). Who are the people that they try to appeal to—not that the Democrats represent their interests, but who are the people that the Democrats try to appeal to at the base, on the other side of this pyramid, so to speak? All the people who stand for progressive kinds of things, all the people who are oppressed in this society. For the Democrats, a big part of their role is to keep all those people confined within the bourgeois, the mainstream, electoral process...and to get them back into it when they have drifted away from—or broken out of—that framework. Because those people at the base are always alienated and angry at what happens with the elections, for the reason I was talking about earlier: they are always betrayed by the Democratic Party, which talks about ‘the little man’ and poor people and the people who are discriminated against, and so on. And at times they’ll even use the word oppression. But then they just sell out these people every time—because they don’t represent their interests. They represent the interests of the system and of its ruling class. But they have a certain role of always trying to get people who are oppressed, alienated and angry back into the elections.”
This is the role Barack Obama is playing. By nature of the fact that this is Obama imposing draconian repression and declaring torture will go unpunished (and, by default, reserving the right to do it again), a “bi-partisan consensus” is also being imposed, resetting the terms of what is supposed to be allowable discourse further and further to the right.
In a sense, the “Cheney vs. Obama” debate, while representing some real differences, also works to provide cover for Obama, who, it can be endlessly argued, is just a little bit better than Cheney—meanwhile the whole agenda of war and repression rolls on and deepens.
What does all this mean, now?
It means people must be honest with themselves. If torture, Guantánamo, endless war for empire, and shredding of civil liberties were wrong under Bush, covering these things up, and continuing them, is still wrong under Obama!
It means some serious soul-searching about what kind of world you want to live in. It is not in the fundamental interests of the vast majority of people in this country to enter into a devil’s bargain of trading your ability to live high on the imperialist food chain in return for terror and repression against people all over the world, as well as seriously diminished rights for people within the U.S. You understood that this was fucked up under Bush; it is not better under Obama.
And it means that there are storms still brewing; that the sights of millions cannot be confined in this situation to how best to “work within” a system to patch it up. Instead, people can come to see that there is something far better that is possible—both in the sense that a different system with a far more radical vision of freedom is possible; and that the very faultlines that find expression in the rantings of a Cheney and the attempted deceptions of an Obama could also open up the possibilities for millions of people to actively consider a whole different system, and the revolution that could bring it into being, as things develop—and for thousands more to take this vision and orientation up today.
And all this speaks to the need for more and more determined political opposition to the whole direction this country is on—and politically breaking out of the straightjacket of the terms of the Obama—Cheney “debate.”
To those who say we should “give Obama a chance”—the question is: a chance to do what? Obama has no problem with this system that causes so much misery and oppression, death and destruction, for so many people throughout the world—he is anxious to take over as head of this system. His problem is that this system is in serious crisis and faces all kinds of heavy challenges. For those who really want an end to oppression, injustice and unjust war, our problem is this system. Our challenge is to make revolution to get rid of this system and emancipate all of humanity from its horrors.
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP,USA
Revolution #167, June 7, 2009
[Editors’ note: The following is the fifth excerpt from the text of a talk by Bob Avakian, earlier this year, which is being serialized in Revolution, beginning with issue #163. Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 appeared in issues #163, #164, #165, and #166. Part 5 includes the section of the talk titled “The Decisive Importance of Leadership, Leadership Concentrated as Line,” which has two subsections: “Lines and social bases—a dialectical relation” and “What is communist leadership?” The text of the talk has been edited and footnotes have been added for publication. The entire talk can be found online at revcom.us/avakian/ruminations/BA-ruminations-en.html]
All this underlines the crucial importance of line—and leadership—in relation to the question of what kind of change is going to happen, what kind of transformation of society. It is certain that there will be change. There is always change, of one kind or another, and there has been and will again be major change in the world and in human society. Society, like all material reality, cannot and does not stay as it is. It goes through changes, including at certain points major, even qualitative, changes. But the question of line and leadership is decisive in determining ultimately what kind of change, what kind of transformation of society and fundamentally what kind of revolution is going to be possible, even if and when the masses do rise up and demand and fight for radical change.
In this connection, it is important to re-emphasize a point that we’ve touched on before, which is the relation, the dialectical materialist relation, between lines and social bases. That is, on the one hand lines reflect certain social bases. Or to put it another way, they represent certain classes. This is a point I’ve been touching on through the various examples I have discussed here, and in other ways so far in this talk. Lines are a concentration of the fundamental interests and aspirations of different classes; different lines represent different class forces. Again, especially in bourgeois society but even in socialist society, the one class interest which cannot be represented, at least in any full way, spontaneously is that of the proletariat, which in an overall sense represents the interests of the exploited and oppressed masses in general. All other class interests, and the lines representing them, can—under the domination of the bourgeoisie and its ideology and with the whole history of exploiting class rule and the influence of the ideology of exploiting classes—have a lot of spontaneity going with them. But it requires a conscious rupture with spontaneity in order for a line to be brought forward, and in order for masses to recognize and take up a line, that actually represents their fundamental interests as exploited and oppressed classes and masses of people.
So, on the one hand, lines reflect different and opposing social bases or classes. And in a fundamental and essential sense—though not in a straight line, and not all at once—different lines bring forward different social bases. The reason I am giving emphasis to "not in a straight line, and not all at once" can be seen by looking again at the example of the Iranian revolution. One of the decisive things about a revolutionary upheaval—and this is shown, by negative example, in the Iranian revolution—is that the more that it develops, and is not cut short by some sort of an "arrangement at the top," the more the masses are able to become aware of and test out different lines and the programs that are associated with them—different interests and aspirations that are concentrated in these lines and programs. (In other words, in talking about lines I’m speaking of worldviews and programs for social change—or to oppose social change—which correspond to those worldviews.) In a real social upheaval, and especially one that develops to revolutionary dimensions, the people directly involved, and those more broadly who are significantly affected, become increasingly aware of and test out different lines and programs, and over time masses of people more and more gravitate toward those lines and programs that they come to see as basically in line with not only their deeper interests but also their more immediately and acutely felt needs and which, at the same time, offer a realistic means of radically changing things when radical change is what growing numbers of the masses come to see as necessary.
This is directly related to Mao’s very correct and much ignored—and, even among some alleged communists, often maligned—insistence that the correctness or incorrectness of the ideological and political line of a communist vanguard is decisive: whether in its outlook and its program and strategy it really represents the interests of the proletariat and other exploited and oppressed masses, and a means for radically transforming society through revolution to begin uprooting exploitation and oppression, together with the same struggle throughout the world; or whether it represents, in one form or another, the reinforcement (or at most a slight adjustment within) those relations of exploitation and oppression. That, in essential terms, is what is meant by the principle that the correctness or incorrectness of the ideological and political line is decisive. As we know, revolutions are very complex processes, and there is no possibility of radically transforming society in the actual interests of the masses of oppressed and exploited people without the leadership of a force which has—and which continually fights to maintain and develop and apply—a correct ideological and political line. This is in fact decisive, no matter how much derision may be poured down on this fundamental concept.
There is a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion about the question of communist leadership, confusion which is bound up to a large degree with misconceptions about—and in some ways opposition to—the principles and objectives of communist revolution itself. Leadership—and in particular communist leadership—is, as I have been speaking to, concentrated in line. This does not simply mean line as theoretical abstractions, although such abstractions, especially insofar as they do correctly reflect reality and its motion and development, are extremely important. But in an all-around sense, it is a matter of leadership as expressed in the ability to continually make essentially correct theoretical abstractions; to formulate, to wield, and to lead others to take up and act on—and to themselves take initiative in wielding—the outlook and method, and the strategy, program, and policies, necessary to radically transform the world through revolution toward the final aim of communism; and through this process to continually enable others one is leading to themselves increasingly develop their ability to do all this. This is the essence of communist leadership.
It is not a matter of being physically present among this or that group of the masses. I have read reports which recount how people say: "How do we know Avakian really is everything you say he is, why can't we talk to him—how can we tell if he's really all that, if we're not able to see him, or if he's not right out here in our midst?" Among other things, this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what communist leadership is and of the practical realities as well as the strategic orientation involved in building a movement for revolution. We are aiming to build a revolutionary movement of millions, toward the goal of actually taking hold of the reins of society and radically transforming it, when the conditions for that have come into being. As much as it is genuinely a great thing to be able to talk to masses, and to learn from them as well as to struggle with them, is it really conceivable that a leader (or any number of leaders, for that matter) of such a revolutionary process, and of the party leading that revolution, could mingle among and talk personally with all those millions of people who must ultimately make up the ranks of the revolution? If we were just thinking in terms of small little circles, and we were not really thinking about transforming society and ultimately the world as a whole, well then, OK, maybe it would be a realistic thing to demand that the small numbers of people who would then be involved be able to have personal contact ("face time") with the leader of that. In that case, however, who cares—it wouldn't have anything to do with what we are supposed to be, and really must be, all about: making revolution and advancing toward the final goal of communism throughout the world. If we are really thinking about millions of people being involved—and, yes, being led—and at the same time learning from those millions of people, and synthesizing all this in a scientific way, in the service of the kind of revolution that is actually needed, then we have to understand that communist leadership means something radically different from notions of direct, one-to-one contact between leadership and all the masses of people who must be involved in that.
The following (an excerpt from the talk last year, "Out Into the World—As a Vanguard of the Future," which was recently published in Revolution) touches on important aspects of this:
"First, the purpose of my writings and talks, and indeed of everything I do as a communist leader, is to apply the outlook and method of dialectical materialism to continue developing a scientific understanding of the world and to provide leadership in radically transforming it toward the goal of revolution and the final aim of communism.
"In this connection, while I should, and do, hold myself to a very high standard in terms of intellectual integrity and rigor, and while I respect those who apply the same standards in the realm of academic work, my purpose and approach is not the same as academic scholars who do not play the role of communist leaders. My responsibility, in my particular leadership role, involves (although it is not limited to) addressing the most fundamental contradictions and the most pressing problems in relation to actually making revolution and advancing toward the final goal of communism, and giving leadership to others in doing so. One aspect of this is to continually make, and popularize, an analysis and assessment of the ever changing 'political terrain'—the objective conditions and the role of different political and social forces in relation to those objective conditions. Another key dimension of this is to speak to the questions on the minds of proletarians and other basic masses, as well as people of other strata, particularly with regard to things that may weigh on them and pose obstacles in relation to their seeing both the necessity and the possibility of communist revolution, and acting on that understanding—questions which most academics largely ignore and which many are frankly ignorant of. In a larger sense, with regard to theory and intellectual work, my particular role is not only to strive myself to meet the pressing and profound needs in the realm of developing theory, line and strategic orientation, to serve the goal of revolution and the ultimate aim of communism, but also to inspire—and, yes, to provoke—others in this regard and more generally in terms of taking initiative in working with ideas and wrangling in the realm of theory, broadly speaking; to help provide a continually deepening foundation and developing framework for those seeking to apply the outlook and method of communism to engage in theoretical and analytical work, covering a broad range of fields; and to challenge others, beyond the ranks of communists, to seriously engage with such a communist method and approach and the theory and analysis that results from the application of that method and approach." ("On The Role Of Communist Leadership And Some Basic Questions Of Orientation, Approach And Method," in Revolution #156, February 15, 2009, emphasis in original)
Revolution #167, June 7, 2009
Thursday, May 28:
|Grand Central May 28. Photo: Special to Revolution|
Throughout May—especially on May 28, when Barack Obama had originally promised to release 2,000 photos of U.S. torture—protests took place around the country called by World Can’t Wait and others. There were protests in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia and Honolulu. In Benton Harbor, Michigan, where Bush was speaking, the local mainstream press quoted a protester saying, “We feel George Bush is a war criminal and he ought to be prosecuted,” and that the protesters were “trying to impress upon President Obama that he can’t just sweep the facts of torture that have taken place in America’s name under the rug.”
In Los Angeles, when Barack Obama spoke on May 27, he was met with protesters who got major coverage in the L.A. mainstream media. The LA Times quoted Dennis Loo, a professor of sociology at Cal Poly Pomona and a member of the national steering committee for World Can’t Wait, saying, “In terms of national security and state policy, Obama and Bush are one in the same.” And, “In fact, Obama is extending the war in Afghanistan and into Pakistan. A lot of people feel betrayed because they expected something different from him.”
At many protests, like at New York Grand Central Station, people wore orange jumpsuits and black hoods, and displayed photos of U.S. torture. A “Museum of Torture” in San Francisco brought to light the horrific forms of torture that were legalized and legitimized by the torture memos. In Philadelphia, protesters did a waterboard demonstration outside the Philadelphia Inquirer where architect of torture John Yoo now has a guest column every week. In New York, protesters marched from Grand Central to the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP) 35th Anniversary Gala and Award Dinner where John Negroponte, who helped orchestrate the United States-backed Contra campaign of terror against the Sandinista government and peasants in Nicaragua, was scheduled to give the George F. Kennan Award for Distinguished Public Service to war criminal General Petraeus.
(reports from worldcantwait.org contributed to this report)
Revolution #167, June 7, 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 #167, June 7, 2009
Justice For Oscar Grant!
As of the printing of this article there have been five days of testimony, stretching out over two weeks, at the preliminary hearing of Johannes Mehserle, the cop caught on video shooting Oscar Grant in the back as Grant lay on a train platform.
On Wednesday, June 3, the pre-trial hearing for killer-cop Johannes Mehserle reconvenes at the Alameda County Courthouse.
These are the plans so far. For updates call Revolution Books: 510-848-1196
Wednesday, June 3rd, 8 am
The day the Judge makes the decision on the charges:
4 pm SPEAKOUT! PROTEST!
Fruitvale Area: Fruitvale Bart Plaza
The fact that Mehserle faces murder charges at all is a very rare instance where the resistance of the masses—those on the train who dared to film police brutality and the killing as it occurred, and then, after these videos began to be shown, the protests and rebellion—forced the system to charge a police officer with murder. Everyone needs to watch closely and....continue to act to demand that this murderer be tried, and convicted.
In this preliminary hearing the judge will decide whether the legal case against Mehserle will go forward as a murder case or on lesser charges—or whether the charges will be dropped entirely. This is an unusual preliminary hearing. In most preliminary hearings, the defendant’s attorney does not call witnesses because that allows the prosecution to see the key elements of the defense’s case. But in this case, the attorney for Mehserle is presenting a number of witnesses to make a legal argument to the judge that the charges should be reduced, or even dropped, as well as trying to influence public opinion.
But even in this unusual hearing, for those with eyes to see, what has unfolded confirms what people have already seen in the videos, that in the early hours of January 1, BART police dragged, pushed, hit, tackled, and pointed Tasers at young men, some of whom were being detained against a wall. And that one of these young men, 22-year-old Oscar Grant, in the space of a few violent minutes, was beaten and surrounded by cops, then suddenly pushed on his belly, and shot at close range by Mehserle.
The defense is trying to concoct a story that turns the truth upside down. Mehserle’s lawyer has so far called four cops who were on the platform that night as witnesses. Their job is to convince the judge that Johannes Mehserle should not be charged with murder. The problem they face is that there were many people who were on the train who felt that they were witnessing police brutality and some of them had cameras which they switched on to record the incident. So now Mehserle’s attorney must try to flip the script and say that it was the seven cops on the platform who were the victims of a “near riot” by young Black men. And that the hundreds of people on the train were accomplices, part of an angry mob that was “advancing” on the supposedly beleaguered cops, and that it was in this “chaos“ that poor Johannes Mehserle had “motor-skill confusion“ and mistakenly unholstered and fired his gun when he only meant to use a Taser.
And Mehersle’s attorneys are using the extended proceedings to feed their story to the mainstream media, in an attempt to override the cold-blooded murder that millions of people saw on the videos. They want to instill in people the complete lie that the real problem on the BART platform that night was out of control Black youth, and the beleaguered cops were doing the best they could.
Marysol Domenici, one of the seven cops on the platform that night, took the witness stand and claimed that she was never more scared in all her life than the minutes on that platform. She says she went to aid her partner who had lined up some people against a wall. She said she ran down the side of the long train, and that 30-40 people were “coming off the train” behind her, “advancing” on her, yelling things, as she ran.
On cross-examination this scenario was shown to be nothing but lies. The prosecutor played the video from the overhead BART surveillance cam. (Originally BART claimed they had no video of the platform that night; later they admitted they did but claimed that it didn’t “show anything.”) What the video did show was Domenici as she went down the platform alongside the train, but although it showed the open doors of the long 19-car train, it didn’t show a single person coming out of the train “advancing” on her.
Domenici, however, kept insisting that she was being accurate, that the situation was “similar to a riot” and that the noise, even as she first came on the platform, was loud. The prosecutor again played video of the beginning of the incident, before BART cop Tony Pirone started pulling people off the train—there was no one screaming, all that could be heard is people on the train talking and someone even giggling. The truth, which is shown and heard on video, is that the noise only became loud after the police started brutalizing the youth. In fact, in one video one of the BART cops, Pirone, is the only person you hear yelling or cursing: “sit the fuck down!”
Domenici claimed that the youth were “threatening” her and the other officers, that there were “so many threats.” But the truth is these were cops on a rampage, within a system that criminalizes youth and Black youth in particular. What had really been the intolerable thing in her eyes, what clearly enraged her, was that the young men were questioning why they were being detained and people on the BART train were yelling in protest of police brutality. She said Oscar “popped up” after Pirone “handled” Michael Greer. This was after Pirone had done what he called “a hair-pull take-down,” when he dragged Greer off the train and slammed him to the floor by his hair. Domenici said that Oscar didn’t like what was happening and kept saying “it’s fucked up” and she told him several times, “just stay out of it.”
Although her testimony was the opposite of what was on video, what did come across loud and clear was the pig mentality of the police on the platform. Domenici said she knew someone had been shot when she heard a “pop” and she smelled gunpowder after the shot. She didn’t know who had been shot but she knew right away that it wasn’t an officer because of the look on another officer’s face. In other words, no sadness.
She said that it was then she started thinking of shooting her own gun, “Oh, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, if I have to, I‘m going to have to kill somebody.” The whole courtroom sat stunned, and the judge interrupted, “Who were you going to shoot first?” Domenici didn’t answer but said instead, “They were coming at us. Everyone was coming off the train. I was thinking that if I have to go to lethal force I will go to lethal force. We needed more police presence. All I know is we needed mutual aid.”
For all her claims of fear and danger she never called for backup, nor did she or any other cop on the platform press the emergency button on their radios. When asked how many officers she thought would have been needed for “officer safety,” she said 100.
These statements reveal the cold logic of police think. Domenici spelled this out even further near the end of her testimony. She spoke in a loud voice, flat-out blaming Oscar for his own death, saying, “If they stayed sitting down nothing would have happened. They would have been cited and released.” She said she “kept telling” Oscar to “stay out of it” but he didn’t, that if he had “just sat down he would have been fine.”
There was no “riot” and no chaos except what the police did to the people. But in their eyes it is not acceptable to even question what the police do, and Oscar deserved to be killed, simply because he protested his friends being brutalized. The district attorney asked if she had any regrets. “No,” she said.
Right after the hearing Oscar’s mother Wanda Johnson spoke to the media as supporters of the struggle gathered around. She said that the testimony proved that Domenici and the others had “no regard for human life, my son’s life. She testified that she was going to kill somebody!” She went on to say that the cops were protecting each other, as they continued to lie on the witness stand, and said, “I want the truth.”
After the hearing even the blasé, cynical mainstream journalists were taken aback by Domenici’s lying, cold-blooded testimony and they compared notes to make sure they had gotten her words right when she stated that she was thinking of going for her gun. Yet the next day the news media overwhelmingly ran out the cop’s story: the SF Chronicle, the most widely read newspaper in the Bay Area, printed the headline: “Mehserle’s defense says Grant was resisting.”
The hearing will end soon, and the judge does not have to announce his decision immediately, but may take some time. He could rule that Johannes Mehserle will be charged with first degree murder, second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or even involuntary manslaughter which carries a sentence of only 3-4 years in prison. He could even let Mehserle off without any charges.
As the court weighs whether or not to go forward with murder charges against Mehserle or to reduce or drop the charges and let this murderer go free, the political actions of people matter a great deal. In most cases where the police murder a young Black man, the whole thing is swept under the rug, the youth is blamed for his own death, and the police get off. Mehserle would not have been charged with murder in the first place had it not been for the courageous struggle for justice waged up to now. In this closely watched case, where millions have been shocked by the police murder of Oscar Grant, where Oakland has been rocked by powerful protests, and where there remains deep outrage and anger, it makes a big difference—for the battle for justice for Oscar, and for the larger struggle to build a revolutionary movement—that people protest and speak out, both during this hearing and when the judge announces his decision.
Revolution #167, June 7, 2009
In today’s world, without the science of evolution there would be no science. Written for both the scientifically-minded as well as those who are not familiar with science at all, this book details the facts of the science of evolution. In one engrossing volume Ardea Skybreak looks at the diversity and complexity of life on this planet and how all life, including humans, evolved. She examines the many different lines of mutually reinforcing evidence that support and confirm the biological theory of evolution. At the same time, Skybreak dissects the myth of Creationism and the lies behind the thinly-veiled religiosity of Intelligent Design. There’s urgency in this book. It comes at a time when evolution—and the very definition of science—is under concerted attack by religious fundamentalists, with backing from the highest levels of government. The reader will come away with a deepened appreciation of the beauty and wonders of nature, as well as an understanding of the basic scientific facts of evolution and a clear sense of why science and a scientific method make it possible to determine what’s real—and why knowing what’s real profoundly matters.
PRAISE FOR THE BOOK
“There are many fine books on evolution and creationism, but this one stands out because it is so well written, concise, and comprehensive. It is accessible to the general reader and uncompromising in its logic and accuracy in presenting scientific concepts. If you find that your textbook’s presentation of evolution is inadequate, give your students Ardea Skybreak’s book and watch their understanding grow.”
— Kevin Padian
“This book will be of tremendous benefit to many, especially those in the teaching profession where there are frequent opportunities to defend science against the ridiculous assertions by religious zealots and fundamentalists.”
— Richard Leakey
“The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism...Knowing What’s Real and Why It Matters, by Ardea Skybreak is an excellent book. It clearly explains the overwhelming evidence for evolution and why it is scientific fact, while exploding the nonsense that the creation fantasy tries to present as it masquerades as science. In discussing evolution’s history, mechanisms, and evidence, from the origin of life to mechanisms of speciation to evolution of pesticide resistance in insects, Ardea Skybreak does an excellent job of educating and inspiring an interest in nature, science and evolution.”
— David Seaborg, Evolutionary Biologist
“...very easy to read and understand...Information such as this is desperately needed especially here in the ‘Bible Belt’ South, where religious fundamentalism and creationism hit hardest.”
— From a high school student in Georgia
“I’m thoroughly enjoying and immensely intrigued by Ardea Skybreak’s articles on evolution...I’ve never really understood the depth and complexity of the struggle the creationists and their reactionary/conservative agents in the gov. are waging against evolution, despite the fact that the scientific community is unified on the question of evolution vs. biblical creation theory–standing on the side of evolution–and since the basic facts of evolution are scientifically based, something the creationists can’t boast of...
“One of the most adverse psychological effects of prison existence has to be the tendency for captives to seek to discover the meaning for their oppression through religion and relying on ‘faith to get through this ordeal.’...I believe that by attacking the most basic tenet of the Bible, that ‘God created man,’ and proving scientifically that man/woman evolved from the ‘chemical soup’ that was once our earth, without the aid or ‘intelligent design’ of ANY god or other supernatural being, maybe some of these captives can be won to depend on their/our own conscious activism, rather than some god, to achieve real redress and eventually liberation—in the broadest definition of the word.”
— From a prisoner
“I need your help with this debate that is raging over here...a few brothers and myself are taking religion head on...Check what this prison chaplain does, he brings two boxes of this book called Darwin Under the Microscope...brothers are reading passages of this book during this debate and all this book is doing is attempting to discredit the science of evolution.
“I read a few passages out of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin in this debate, however, I know brothers are finding The Origin of Species book hard to grasp–so this is why I’m asking you to send me the complete series of the ‘Science of Evolution’ cause Ardea Skybreak breaks it all down in a way that I know brothers will be able to grasp to the fullest.
“A lot of these bible bangers who have been misled think this debate is about ‘winning or losing.’ I tell them this debate is about struggling for truth...”
— From a prisoner
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Revolution #167, June 7, 2009
On May 23, a new Prime Minister was elected and took office in Nepal. With the support of 21 out of 24 political parties, Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal–United Marxist Leninist (UML) took the position of Prime Minister and is forming a new government to replace the government of Prime Minister Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal), Chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (UCPN[M])1 who resigned as Prime Minister on May 4. This change in government is occurring amidst a constitutional crisis in Nepal centered around the dismissal of Nepal Army Chief of Staff Katawal by Prachanda, and Katawal’s refusal to be dismissed.
Prime Minister Prachanda had sacked General Katawal for continual and deliberately provocative insubordination to the civilian government, in defiance of the interim constitution and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that brought the 10-year-old People’s War to an end in 2006. But President Ram Baran Yadav, closely allied with the Nepal Congress Party, overrode Prachanda’s decision and backed Katawal’s refusal to accept being dismissed from his post as Chief of Staff. Other political parties, in particular the UML who had served as coalition partners in the government headed up by Prachanda, reversed course and sided with General Katawal. The Nepal Congress Party, the pro-India party which is not participating in the government, has been accused by Prachanda of being a major force behind the undermining of the decision to dismiss Katawal. In the face of these developments, Prachanda resigned as Prime Minister. (See Revolution #164 for more background on the current crisis.)
While the particular incident that precipitated this crisis was the failure of the President of Nepal, Yadav, and other parties to back Prime Minister Prachanda in his dismissal of General Katawal in a clear violation of the norms of the current constitution, underlying this whole situation are questions of who has the legitimate right to rule in Nepal—the forces led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) [CPN(M)] who waged a powerful revolutionary People’s War which opened up a path for a new kind of system with a different state power to back it up, or the forces of the old state and the class forces it represents. This is the decisive question of the hour.
Despite the fact that the CPN(M) won the largest number of seats in the Constituent Assembly, and was broadly recognized as the victor in the elections of April 2008, the reactionary pro-imperialist forces inside and outside of Nepal have not viewed the Maoists as a legitimate force to head up their government. These same political parties served in the government under the monarchy and during the whole course of the People’s War were the upholders of the reactionary state and worked together with the monarchy to suppress the revolutionary struggle led by the CPN(M) and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for many years. Finally when that struggle led to a situation where the old dominant forces ruling Nepali society could no longer rule in the old way, and many of the broader strata joined in the struggle to end the rule of the monarchy, some of these political parties joined in the popular upsurge to be included in a post-monarchy republic. Parties like the UML have tried to portray themselves as legitimate forces for progress and change, while attempting to portray the CPN(M) and fighters of the PLA as forces who had to be reined in and controlled.
Ever since the elections resulted in a new government headed up by Prachanda as Prime Minister, there has been contention over who will control the Nepal Army, and what to do with the two armies: the Royal Nepalese Army (now called simply the Nepal Army) and the PLA. These two armies were locked in battle during the whole period of the People’s War: the RNA was renowned for its vicious suppression of the people, while the PLA was seen as a force for liberation by millions of Nepali masses. Which army should have the legitimacy to be at the center of a new state in Nepal? Clearly from a revolutionary perspective it is the PLA and the forces it has led, and not the NA. However, according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement the two armies were to be integrated into a single Nepal Army, answerable to the authority of the civilian government. What this has meant in reality is that the forces of the PLA were confined to cantonments, while the RNA changed its name to NA but has not changed its fundamental character, nor who it answers to.
On what terms this integration would take place has been the subject of much contention between the different class forces inside Nepal represented by the different political parties making up the government. And the “international community” represented by India, the United States, and Britain, as well as other major powers, have inserted themselves aggressively. They have made their views known in various ways, including directly putting pressure on the CPN(M) to toe the line, raising a hue and cry that the CPN(M) wants to control the state, and casting the PLA as an illegitimate force which has to be brought into line. In the midst of the crisis about the dismissal of Katawal, delegations from these different countries visited Prachanda, and while the exact content of those discussions is not known, it is clear from the statements made by Prachanda when he resigned as Prime Minister that there was pressure coming from India and others to essentially call the shots and force him to back down on the dismissal of Katawal. Ask yourself, what legitimate role could these forces have in dictating the resolution of this situation?
To underscore their objectives, right in the middle of this recent crisis the U.S. State Department decided that the UCPN(M) would remain on its official list of terrorist organizations (the Terrorist Exclusion List). This is clearly intended to give backing to those forces who are working to smash the PLA and the revolution, and to justify any actions that might be taken by the NA against the forces of the revolution.
The very fact that the Nepali Congress party, the UML, and other parties who are now supporting the UML-led government sided with the monarchist pro-imperialist General Katawal in his refusal to obey the government reveals that these forces have no intention of allowing any fundamental change to take place through the current structures of state that are ruling over Nepal. They have now formed a government that is posed against everything the masses of Nepal have fought for, not even abiding by their own constitution and rules. Their resistance to the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to integrate the PLA into the NA makes their intentions extremely clear: if they can’t tolerate having PLA fighters integrated into the NA, then what is their program for the PLA? It could only be the total disintegration of the PLA and suppression of the masses who the PLA has fought on behalf of. The totally unacceptable result of this would be to leave the people with no force to defend the gains of the revolution and no ability to carry the revolution forward.
Since Prachanda resigned as Prime Minister, the UCPN(M) has refused to join in a government headed up by the UML and other parties who have engineered this crisis. They have remained in the Constituent Assembly but have insisted that the first order of business should be to reverse the decision of President Yadav to allow General Katawal to continue at his post. At the same time, there have been mass mobilizations in support of the UCPN(M) in the streets of Kathmandu. Exactly how long this will go on, and if the demands will be focused on carrying forward the goals of new democracy, is unclear. All the events in this recent crisis have only served to reveal the fundamental antagonism between the interests of the people, including the need to carry forward the struggle for a completely different state and new social system, on the one hand, and on the other, the forces of the old order, who are determined to keep things from changing in any fundamental way.
The situation remains very unstable—full of danger for the revolution but also providing a basis to lead the masses out of the stranglehold they have been trapped in. The forces of the old order are concerned that the government they have now installed will not be seen as legitimate by the people, without the participation of the UCPN(M). Articles in bourgeois publications like the Economist, and studies from the International Crisis Group (a pro-imperialist think tank based in Brussels), indicate that there are worries that the hands of forces outside of Nepal, in particular India, manipulating this current crisis have been too blatant. All these forces fear the masses’ dissatisfaction with the newly installed government, and they fear the impulse from the people for carrying forward the revolutionary transformations that they have fought and sacrificed for. But it should be clear that, whatever moves the imperialists and the forces of the old order may take, they will be acting on and carrying out their class interests—and will continue to do so.
Leadership is needed to seize this moment, and work to resolve this crisis on a revolutionary basis, not one that is bound by the current bourgeois constitutional framework that only reinforces the old order. As we said in our article, On Developments in Nepal and the Stakes for the Communist Movement, (Revolution #160):
“This means above all a reaffirmation of the basic principles and goals of communism, which in Nepal means carrying forward—through revolutionary means and not by attempting to rely on, and promote, gradualist illusions and reformist schemes—the struggle to complete the new democratic revolution as the first step toward socialism and the final aim of communism.”
1 The party adopted its present name earlier this year when the CPN(M) merged with the Unity Center [Masal] from which it had originally split. Masal had opposed the concept of Maoism and the People’s War.
* * * * *
Available for download at revcom.us
introduces letters recently made public which contain a sharp polemical exchange between these two parties over questions of fundamental ideological and political line. All of this provides both a historical and present context for evaluating this recent turn of events and a political framework for evaluating the measures taken by all sides in the current crisis. The issues of two-line struggle that are gone into in great depth in these letters are of cardinal importance now— focusing up the life and death stakes for the future of the revolution in Nepal, and the larger struggle for genuine communism in the world today. We urge our readers to dig deeply into these materials, to take a serious approach and get involved in this extremely important struggle over line in relation to a revolution whose very life hangs in the balance.
Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
January 29, 2009 Letter from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
November 4, 2008 Letter from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
March, 2008 Letter from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
October 2005 Letter from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
July 1, 2006 Letter from the Central Committee, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) to the Central Committee, Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
Appendices to October 2005 Letter from the RCP,USA to the CPN(M)
“The Creative Development of MLM, Not of Revisionism”, excerpt from a talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
“Some Further Thinking on: The Socialist State as a New Kind of State”, excerpt from a talk given by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, to a group of Party members and supporters in 2005.
Article from Revolution #160, March 28, 2009.
On Developments in Nepal and the Stakes for the Communist Movement: Letters to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, 2005-2008 (With a Reply from the CPN(M), 2006)
Revolution #167, June 7, 2009
Revolution Talks with Raymond Lotta
Controversies and Lessons, Part Two
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: Some people might agree that you need a vanguard party to seize power, or even to defend it in the initial stages of the revolution. But they argue that there are contradictions with a vanguard party in power that lead it to use that power arbitrarily over and against people, and that this whole structure of a powerful new state with institutionalized leadership leads to passivity among the masses.
Raymond Lotta: Yes, there are real contradictions bound up with the instrumentalities of proletarian rule, the vanguard party and the new state. But these are fundamentally contradictions bound up with making and sustaining revolution. You are dealing with socialist society not as you would like it ideally to be but with all its real-world contradictions. And you are making and defending revolution in a world not as you would like it ideally to be but a world in which imperialism is still dominant and the counter-revolutionaries still fight and plot to regain power.
Question: You’re not starting with a "clean slate."
Raymond Lotta: Yes. And there are the "birthmarks" of the old society. These include the force of tradition which supports the unequal and oppressive social relations that have to be overcome, and there is still the fact that society is—and will be, even as the new power works to break this down—divided between those who mainly work with ideas, and those who have not been trained to do so, and mainly work with their backs and hands.
These contradictions are reflected, and in many ways concentrated, in the party-state structures. But we have also learned more about how to confront these challenges, including how to revolutionize these structures themselves as part of carrying the revolution forward.
There is in fact a "learning curve" of proletarian revolution: from the Paris Commune, which was not able to suppress counterrevolutionary forces, in large part because it did not have organized leadership; to Lenin’s summation of the need for a vanguard party and to establish a new state to reorganize and transform society, and the theory and practice of the Russian Revolution; and from the Bolshevik Revolution through the Chinese Revolution and Mao’s theory of continuing the revolution. And now Bob Avakian is going further—building on this experience, rupturing with what was secondarily wrong, and bringing forward deeper understanding.
Revolution means continuing to change and bring forward new things, in accordance with deeper, newer, and more correct understanding. But this takes place on a foundation. To accept at face value the slanders that pass for common wisdom in bourgeois society is unconscionable for a revolutionary; and it is crucially important to struggle against those who succumb to those slanders and squander the lessons that have been won.
Was it worth going for power and using a new state power to construct a new society? Yes. These states both enabled the masses to subdue the forces trying to bring back exploitation and to construct new societies which were, for the first time in history, oriented toward, as Bob Avakian has put it, "dealing with the material reality and the conditions of the masses of people as the priority, as the focus and as the foundation."1 But as I said, there has been a learning curve in all this.
Question: Could you talk more about this "learning curve."
Raymond Lotta: Well, our Party has done a lot of analysis of the whole course of the revolution in the Soviet Union—its tremendous achievements, as well as its serious and even grievous errors—which I’m not going to repeat here.2 In short, though, by the mid-1950s it had become clear that something was seriously wrong in the Soviet Union. Mao led a deep study of this experience, focusing on questions of line, method and policy.
Mao discovered that the danger of the revolution being reversed, the danger of the communist party being turned into an instrument of a new, exploiting class, in short, the problem of capitalist restoration...he discovered that this stems from something much deeper than bureaucracy or not enough democracy.
This has to do with the very nature of socialism. On the one hand, socialism is a great leap—beyond exploitation and the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, it is a society in transition from capitalism to communism. It contains those "birthmarks" like the division between mental and manual labor. There is still a lingering hierarchy of specialization. While exploitation has been overcome, there are still inequalities in pay and income. While production is oriented towards meeting social need, it is still necessary to use money and prices to carry on exchange and measure and compare efficiency. There remain, as I mentioned earlier, tremendous gaps between town and country and agriculture and industry.
And these inequalities, what Mao came to call "bourgeois right" in a broad sense, are also reflected in policy and law. For example, the socialist state has to establish a wage system that takes account of the different skills levels of people and different pay levels.
Getting to communism requires overcoming these economic, social, ideological relations. But this can’t be done overnight. It’s a historical process of restricting and transforming these relations to the greatest degree possible. And there is struggle over how—and even whether—to do that at any given time. Mao summed up that this was actually a struggle between the socialist road and the capitalist road. That is, between the line and policies at any given time which would continue the advance of society to communism, and those which would not only retard that advance but also pave the way for a return to capitalism. The truth of this insight has been borne out today, when China is of course a major capitalist power...even if it has maintained the name and some of the trappings of socialism.
Mao also analyzed that these birthmarks—or bourgeois right—formed the soil out of which new bourgeois elements would emerge. He analyzed that the key core of the bourgeoisie would be concentrated in the leadership of the communist party—those who could take society down the capitalist road. And he developed a pathbreaking new form of revolutionary struggle to struggle against that: the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Question: But a lot of people say the problem is that power corrupts, and a leading party like the Communist Party just invites corruption and bureaucratization. So the logic leads to the need to end the institutionalized leadership of the communist party.
Raymond Lotta: These are not simply bureaucrats or corrupt officials; these are not wayward communists just looking to feather their own nests. They are capitalist roaders. They are fighting in the realm of ideas and policies and orientation—over issues of line generally focused up on the direction that society will take. And they are organizing and mobilizing social forces. The capitalist roaders…they too are responding to those features, aspects, and relations of socialist society that have not been fully transformed...the kinds of things I have been talking about. They aim to transform things back towards capitalism. And you need state power to fight them, even as the capitalist roaders are organizing within the structures of proletarian rule.
Question: Maybe you could give an example.
Raymond Lotta: Take agriculture. The struggle between the two lines and the two roads in agriculture was very sharp in the Chinese Communist Party. Basically, after the revolution triumphed in 1949, one wing of the Party wanted to indefinitely extend and consolidate the policies of new democracy.3 These forces wanted to maintain private ownership as the main production relation in agriculture. Mao and the revolutionary headquarters saw the need and the basis to build socialism in the countryside as soon as land reform had been completed in the early 1950s.
A lot of people don’t realize that these two wings of the party, these two contending lines—one representing the socialist road and the other the capitalist road—had their supporters and defenders, and that actually there was a complex pattern of one side taking initiatives and the other reacting and moving to counter initiatives and policies. This was a concentrated expression of the class struggle in society—though in an overall sense the proletarian line was in command in Chinese society.
Question: You were focusing on agricultural policy...
Raymond Lotta: Yes, there was struggle over whether it was possible and desirable to do things collectively, to organize economically and socially, for the common good—which was what Mao argued for—or whether, as the capitalist roaders argued, you had to rely on family household farming and the pursuit of self-interest.
The capitalist roaders maintained that if social conditions got more polarized between the more efficient and less efficient, those earning more income and those earning less… well that’s the "price of progress." Mao felt agricultural policy had to guard against new social gaps emerging in the countryside, and that it was extremely important to bring farming into the orbit of the socialist plan, with industry at all levels supporting agriculture.
In a poor country like China, there was a great need to mechanize farming. There was also a need to continue the revolution and develop collectivized agriculture. The capitalist roaders in the early 1950s fought for the view that there could be no collectivization in China’s countryside before farming became much more mechanized. They downplayed the role of political and ideological consciousness and saw the task as simply being one of expanding production and building up the productive forces. For them, the way to mechanize agriculture was to focus on already advanced areas and to concentrate resources there—which would widen differences in the countryside.
Mao looked at this challenge differently, from the standpoint of advancing along the socialist road for agriculture. Mao argued that collectivization could precede mechanization and actually lay the basis for mechanization. In other words, by forging new social relations between peasants that enabled them to solve production and technical problems cooperatively… by establishing collective forms that forged broader social connections… and by promoting a revolutionary politics that unleashed the conscious activism of the masses and put before the masses the big political and ideological questions confronting society—such changes in organization and consciousness would be a spur to mechanization and create a favorable social framework for it.
In 1958, there was a breakthrough in the socialist road in agriculture. The people’s communes, involving mass activism and experimentation at the grass roots, were formed. The communes were economic-social units that coordinated production activities, provided health and education, organized major projects of land reclamation and irrigation, and that allowed the masses to develop collective solutions to tasks like childcare. The communes also functioned as political organs of power in the countryside. The masses were assuming responsibilities of governance, administration, and military training. Mao’s approach to agriculture also included great efforts to spread industrial, technical, and cultural resources to rural areas. The capitalist roaders attacked all this as "inefficient," "utopian," and "dangerous" to the stability of the country.
Question: The capitalist roaders were not just articulating a program for agriculture.
Raymond Lotta: The new bourgeois forces who emerged after the seizure of power in 1949 had their headquarters in the Chinese Communist Party and had their program for development. From their standpoint, the revolution basically ended in 1949. The task as they conceived it was not to forge a socialist society as a transition to communism and as part of the advance of the world revolution. Rather, their goal was to build China into a modern, prosperous, and industrialized power that would find its place and seek advantage on the world stage. They saw the planned economy and the political institutions of society simply as instrumentalities to put China on a "fast track" towards fulfilling that vision. In the early 1960s, they were fighting to make profitability a key criterion for allocating funds to different regions. They pushed policies to build up an educational system that would turn out new elites. And by the mid-1960s, they were positioning to seize power.
Mao launched the Cultural Revolution in 1966 to prevent a capitalist takeover by these forces. Mao had summed up the experience of capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union. He had assessed that earlier efforts in China to beat back these capitalist roaders were inadequate. He described the Cultural Revolution as a means to arouse the masses to "expose our dark aspects openly, in an all-round way and from below." The Cultural Revolution was a momentous upheaval, truly a revolution, to overthrow the capitalist roaders and seize back those portions of power that they had taken hold of—in government, education, culture, public health, industrial management, and so on.
Never in history has there been political mobilization and ferment on this societal scale. The radical youth played a catalytic role, criticizing bourgeois and conservative authority at all levels. The colleges shut down and students fanned out to the countryside and to factories. There were street rallies, demonstrations, and mass criticism sessions. In Shanghai in 1967, workers mounted an intense struggle to overthrow the capitalist roaders in power and to develop new institutions of governance.
But Mao said that while the target of the Cultural Revolution was the capitalist roaders, the goal was to change world outlook—how the masses understand society and the world, their transformative role, and issues of ideology and morality.
The masses were learning how to distinguish between the proletarian and bourgeois lines. Tens and hundreds of millions were debating and struggling over decisive questions concerning the direction of society and the world revolution. This complex struggle required visionary and scientific leadership—and through this process, the vanguard party itself was revolutionized.
In that incredible decade of 1966-76, an unprecedented mass upsurge succeeded in putting a halter on the attempts by the capitalist roaders to take power. But after Mao died, the forces of capitalist restoration were able to stage a reactionary coup. This was a terrible setback for the world revolution and world humanity, but it also underscored the truth of Mao’s analysis of the danger of capitalist restoration.
Question: But the argument is made that too much authority was concentrated in the party, and the party made itself more vulnerable to takeover. It’s claimed that the masses were too much "on the outside" of these line struggles, and that if the party had been put to the test of competitive elections, that would have created more favorable ground for dealing with these issues.
Raymond Lotta: There is a lot of mistaken thinking wrapped up in this idea of too much authority vested in the vanguard party.
First of all, socialist society is still a society divided into classes. We have talked about those birthmarks of capitalist society, including the gap between mental and manual labor. And so leaders concentrate the outlook and interests of the main contending classes, and will have disproportionate influence. Again, you have to understand where the danger of capitalist restoration comes from and the mass forms of struggle and the scale of transformation needed to continue the revolution. If the vanguard of the proletariat gives up its leading position in society, this only opens the field wider to bourgeois forces—who will be exerting their disproportionate influence and organizing to take society down the capitalist road.
The proletarian revolution is about radically changing the world in order to uproot and abolish all exploitation and oppression. It is going up against the force and influence of the past, and the strength and influence of the world imperialist system. Without vanguard leadership, you have no chance of marshaling all positive factors in society...no chance of mobilizing and relying on the masses with the strength of a state behind them to continue to transform society, and to keep on the socialist road...no chance of raising the political and ideological consciousness of the masses, as happened during the Cultural Revolution.
These are some of the key reasons that you need institutionalized vanguard leadership—and why Mao was correct in fighting for that principle, even as the party needed serious "shaking up" through the Cultural Revolution.
Question: What about democracy, though?
Raymond Lotta: I want to emphasize two aspects of this. First, the socialist state guaranteed the rights of the masses. In China, during the Cultural Revolution, there was democracy for the masses on an unprecedented scale. Nowhere before or since did the masses not only have formal rights of free speech and press, etc., but actually use them on such a scale to examine and debate all aspects of political life. One well-known example is the widespread use of what were called "big-character posters" in the schools, factories, and other institutions where constant debate and struggle took place by posting large wall posters on every available surface. It was forbidden to tear down a big-character poster, and every institution was required to make materials—paper, paint, and brushes—freely available.
The ability of the masses to hold meetings to criticize top party leaders, the freewheeling debates large and small...all of this was democracy on a scale not even imaginable in even the "most democratic" of capitalist states. The Cultural Revolution institutionalized what were called the "four bigs"—big character posters, big debates, big contending, and big blooming (of ideas). And if you think this was just cosmetic formality, the new capitalist rulers of China who came to power in 1976 understood that this was in the service of arousing and motivating the masses; they vilified and banned these practices.
But there is another aspect of democracy under the dictatorship of the proletariat that’s important. Forms were being developed, especially through the Cultural Revolution, through which the masses were increasingly able to take greater responsibility for the direction of society—like the revolutionary committees, which were new institutions of power. These involved combinations of representatives of the masses; from different professional, technical, intellectual-cultural strata (depending on the particular base-level institutions in question, like hospitals or schools); and party cadre. Through these organs of power, meaningful decision-making responsibility was being put in the hands of the masses.
Compare this to the electoral ritual of bourgeois democracy, where the masses are asked to choose between this and that representative of the ruling class, and through which the agendas of different fractions of the ruling class are legitimized.
1. Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008, p. 31. [back]
2. See, for example, Conquer the World? The International Proletariat Must and Will, a talk by Bob Avakian in early fall, 1981, published in Revolution magazine No. 50, available online at revcom.us/bob_avakian/conquerworld; "The End of a Stage, The Beginning of a New Stage," a talk by Bob Avakian, published in Revolution magazine, Fall 1990; and "Socialism is Much Better Than Capitalism and Communism Will Be A Far Better World" a speech by Raymond Lotta, available online at revcom.us/strs. [back]
3. New democracy is the revolution in the oppressed nations led by the proletariat that aims to drive out imperialism and overthrow the big bourgeoisie and landlord classes; upon victory, a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, involving particular class alliances, is constituted and the advance to the socialist stage begins. William Hinton’s The Great Reversal and Through a Glass Darkly contain useful accounts of the two lines in agriculture and describe the "initiative-counterinitiative" dynamic of the two wings within the Chinese Communist Party. [back]
Revolution #167, June 7, 2009
June 4, 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the violent suppression of protests of youth in Tiananmen Square and workers in other parts of Beijing by China’s new capitalist rulers. Demonstrations had been growing for weeks. While the student protestors were to a large extent influenced by Western capitalist ideas of democracy, the students galvanized dissatisfaction in society, and the protests became a focus for millions of people in China who were sick and tired of corruption in high places, growing income inequalities, inflation, promotion of crude self-interest, and many other injustices in Chinese society, and there were radical and pro-Mao currents within these protests.
These injustices had returned to China after socialism was overthrown in 1976, after the death of Mao Tsetung. Though the Chinese regime maintains the label of “socialism” and “communism,” China is a capitalist society. These rulers are the “capitalist roaders” whom Mao had warned against and whom the Cultural Revolution was directed against.
The U.S. and other imperialist governments put on a show of condemning the massacre. But they know “one of their own kind” when they see one: the twenty years since the 1989 massacre saw massive inflows of Western capital into China, as China emerged as the major sweatshop for world capitalism. When China was a genuine socialist society, there was neither exploitation of the people, nor repression aimed at the people. Only another socialist revolution will save China.
Online at Revolution, read a 1999 interview with Li Minqi, who was a student participant in the 1989 Tiananmen protests. This interview, “The Tiananmen Square Rebellion: An Inside Story”, offers a special perspective on the course and impact of these events of May-June 1989.
Available at revcom.us
Revolution #167, June 7, 2009
As We Go to Press:
As we go to press, the news has broken that Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country to openly and publicly perform late-term abortions, was assassinated while attending Sunday services in Wichita, Kansas. His wife, Jeanne Tiller, was in the choir at the time of the murder.
Dr. Tiller was a courageous, caring doctor who risked his life every day to make it possible for women to have late-term abortions. He had every understanding of what risks he was taking in doing so. He survived a previous assassination attempt in 1993 when he was shot in both arms by Shelly Shannon, a so-called “pro-life” activist. Dr. Tiller returned to work the next day. Over three plus decades of providing abortions, his church was picketed and he was harassed at home. His clinic was bombed. He was hounded by a grand jury investigation, and faced criminal prosecution. In March of this year a Wichita jury took just 45 minutes to acquit Dr. Tiller of charges that he performed 19 illegal late-term abortions in 2003.
In the face of all this, Dr. Tiller never bent in his commitment to the right of any woman, in any circumstance, to choose whether or not to have an abortion. In 1993, Dr. Tiller said in a statement: “It is not unplanned pregnancy, it is unwanted motherhood that shipwrecks people’s lives. Make no mistake, this battle is about self-determination by women of the direction and course of their lives and their family’s lives. Abortion is about women’s hopes and dreams. Abortion is a matter of survival for women.”
Debra Sweet, Director of World Can’t Wait, told Revolution that Dr. Tiller was “someone who women could go to in very stressful circumstances, and not find him judgmental.” And she said, “This is a huge blow. Nobody’s doing what he was doing. I’ve known people from all over the country who have gone to him, and doctors from all over the country refer to him because there is no one else. This was the place women could go, as a last resort, even into the third trimester. This is the single most important doctor doing abortions in the country. His view was that he was saving women’s lives by doing this, and he continued doing it even knowing that his own life was at risk.”
At a pro-choice rally in 2001 in Wichita, Emily Lyons—a nurse who was seriously injured in an anti-abortion bombing of a Birmingham abortion clinic in 1998—spoke about the inspiration she got from Dr. Tiller: “Not only have I been in a war, but gone to hell and come back,” she told the rally. “There are heroes in every war,” she continued, “and Dr. Tiller is one of mine. Many would not have the courage to do what he has accomplished.”
Mary Lou Greenberg, of the Revolutionary Communist Party, met Dr. Tiller when she helped organize the Wichita protests to defend his clinic and abortion rights in 1995 and again in 2001. She described him as “a very gentle person, who was determined to assist women, and very warm in his manner.” She told Revolution about the impact of seeing the walls of his clinic, lined with framed letters of appreciation, from women of all ages and circumstances. She remembers one, which read, “Thank you for giving me back my life.”
Dr. Tiller’s defiance, his caring spirit, his commitment to a woman’s right to an abortion, and his sacrifice must serve as a challenge to all those who would not see women reduced to enslavement as forced child-breeders. Revolution will have more to say about the murder of Dr. Tiller and the battle for abortion rights in future issues. But today, we mourn with outrage the loss of this heroic, compassionate abortion doctor.
People should attend vigils, protests, and other events that are being planned to remember George Tiller and speak out against his murder.
Revolution #167, June 7, 2009
On May 26, the California Supreme Court ruled 6 to 1 to uphold Proposition 8, which took away a basic right from millions of people by banning gay marriage. Immediately, there were outpourings of outrage and protest. Thousands of people in over 100 places around the country—in dozens of California cities and in 30 other states-—took to the streets against the gay marriage ban, in actions called by Day of Decision (DayOfDecision.org). In San Francisco, about 175 people were arrested for blocking an intersection near the Supreme Court building. Later, protesters blocked Market Street, the main downtown thoroughfare, for an hour during rush hour. In Los Angeles, thousands marched down Sunset Boulevard, and there were protests in other parts of L.A. and all over southern California. In New York City, over 1,000 people marched from the site of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, which marked the birth of the gay rights movement, to Union Square.
|San Francisco Rally. Photo: Special to Revolution|
|Los Angeles Rally. Photo: Special to Revolution|
Revolution #167, June 7, 2009
We received the following from the A World to Win News Service:
25 May 2009. A World to Win News Service. The Indian Supreme Court ordered Binayak Sen freed on bail 25 May. Lower courts had denied him bail and the high court had refused to hear an earlier petition, but support for the doctor has been building up in India and globally. Recently a former Supreme Court judge wrote an open letter saying that the case against him should be dismissed. At the same time, there have been fears for the 57-year-old Sen’s life, because of a heart ailment that Ilina Sen, his wife, warned could be used by the state authorities to kill him.
A graduate of one of India’s leading medical schools, Sen has been working in the state of Chhattisgarh since 1981. He and Ilina Sen run an NGO that trains rural health workers in adivasi (tribal) and poor peasant areas, organizes rural clinics and promotes campaigns against alcohol abuse and violence against women. These and other public health programs Sen has been associated with have reduced the deaths of children due to diarrhea and dehydration, helping to bring down the overall infant mortality rate in the state. All this has made him one of India’s most prominent public health specialists.
He earned the wrath of the Chhattisgarh authorities because of his political advocacy for adivasis and his vocal opposition to the Salwa Judum, a state-backed militia formed to fight the Maoist-led revolutionary movement among them.
His 2007 arrest came shortly after he exposed a massacre of tribal people. At that time he was charged with sedition and waging war against the state, allegedly by passing along letters from an accused Maoist he had treated in prison. As the former Supreme Court judge pointed out, at his trial, which has now gone on for more than a year, the state has failed to produce any evidence against him.
Sen considers himself an advocate of non-violence. His supporters report that on 17 May, state authorities bulldozed the Vanvasi Chtna Ashram, also run by Ghandian non-violence advocates, in revenge for its opposition to the Salwa Judum. The group had exposed the phony “encounter” killing of 12 people in late March and subsequently filed a court case against the Chhattisgarh government.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
Revolution #167, June 7, 2009
We received the following from the A World to Win News Service:
May 25, 2009. A World to Win News Service. For more than 26 years the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) waged the struggle for a Tamil homeland in the northern and eastern part of Sri Lanka. The Tigers once held a third of the island and administered it as if it were a mini-state. The roots of their struggle reside in the national oppression of the Tamil minority at the hands of the Sinhala ruling class. Thousands of Tamils were killed in pogroms in 1956, 1958, 1977 and 1983 by Sinhalese nationalist elements. These oppressive conditions have understandably led to resistance.
The last months of the war were particularly cruel for the Tamil masses. Reportedly 7,000 people have been killed since January. Thousands more were critically wounded, according to United Nations reports. The number of civilians trapped in the “no fire zones” (NFZs) in the northern part of the country was estimated at several hundred thousand. The Sri Lankan Government used the propaganda of “the war on terror” as a fig leaf to dismantle any semblance of rights in the country. Unspeakable crimes were committed against the Tamil people, from rape and death squads to “white van abductions”. Working on the principle that every Tamil is a terrorist unless he or she can prove otherwise, civilian areas, hospitals and shelters were being bombed and shelled with heavy artillery. As the Sri Lankan army advanced, the government kept journalists and other potential witnesses out of the NFZs so that no one could report the atrocities it committed.
The more than 250,000 Tamils who escaped the war zone are now forced to live in 13 camps under military control. They lack freedom of movement, adequate food, water and healthcare. Many wounded are without medical attention. According to an article by Arundhati Roy, due to their long years living under the LTTE, the government says the Tamils will have to be “re-educated” in the camps, an ominous phrase indeed.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told CNN after visiting Manik Farm: “I have travelled around the world and visited similar places, but this is by far the most appalling scene I have seen.” Manik Farm is one of the most presentable of Sri Lanka’s squalid and dangerous internment camps for Tamil civilians. The UN chief promised international action to investigate the shelling of civilian populations during the fighting. The Sri Lankan government has not made any concessions to Ban’s call for unhindered access to the camps by international aid organizations and that screening of displaced persons be expedited so that families can be reunited.
Ban’s meaningless phrases are like a balm on an ugly situation, a massacre that was totally foreseeable. The world stood quietly by as events in Sri Lanka unfolded. The U.S. and the UK, so quick to call for UN sanctions against Zimbabwe and Iran when that suited their purposes, have done little in this case besides declare that this is “not the moment” for an IMF loan to Sri Lanka. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called what has happened a “humanitarian crisis” (not like the “war crimes” she has accused the Palestinians of committing when a handful of Israeli civilians were killed). She said she was “disappointed” by the Sri Lankan government.
For many years the U.S. and the rest of the international community were somewhat ambivalent about the civil war going on in Sri Lanka, viewing it as an internal struggle between two armies. They thought that some compromises could be made between the two sides and in that way the war could come to an end. After September 11, 2001, the U.S. delegitimized the Tamil Tigers, putting them on their terrorist list, which in effect declared their struggle illegal. From then on, the Sri Lanka government had freedom to plan and carry out the crushing defeat of the LTTE and the massacre of Tamils. For instance, near the end of the war, when the Tigers said they would lay down their arms, the Sri Lanka government refused to accept this offer and kept up the offensive. This and many other acts (for example, treatment of Tamils in the internment camps) go against the Geneva Convention, according to international legal experts, yet the Sri Lankan government seems to have been acting on the cues of the big powers.
The U.S. does have an underlying need for stability in the world and some particular interests in that region as a whole, especially the Indian Ocean and therefore Sri Lanka and its harbor at Trincomalee on the eastern coast (south of where the fighting was). In a March/April 2009 Foreign Affairs article, Robert Kaplan identifies some geopolitical concerns for the U.S. in the South Asia region: the struggle for influence over the southern tier of the former Soviet Union, the growing presence of India and China in the Indian Ocean, the importance of the ocean’s trade routes, the strategic significance of the adjacent energy-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia and the danger of a decline of U.S. influence in the region. The article notes that Sri Lanka is located at the confluence of the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, and that China is constructing a refueling station for its warships there. The U.S. also feared that the political unrest among Tamils in Sri Lanka would destabilize the Indian government with its own Tamil population and thus affect the U.S.-India strategic partnership.
For several years, government efforts to rout the Tigers were stalemated, reflected in a series of truces. In 2007 Sri Lanka sought and purchased weapons from a variety of countries, including the U.S., U.K., India, Pakistan, Russia and especially China. The U.S., Canada and European governments cracked down on Tamils abroad to prevent overseas fund-raising for the Tigers. Joint Indian-Sri Lankan naval patrols drastically reduced arms supplies reaching the rebels. India also provided the government with crucial intelligence. All this enabled the government to step up its offensive in early 2008, with predictable results.
China has cultivated ties with Sri Lanka for decades and became its biggest arms supplier in the 1990s when for a time during the civil war India and the Western governments had stopped selling weapons. Since 2007 China significantly increased its arms sales. According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, Sri Lanka signed a 37.6 million dollar deal. In another deal it bought radar equipment. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in 2008 China gave Sri Lanka six F7 jet fighters—without charge. China has also encouraged Pakistan to sell weapons and train Sri Lankan pilots to fly the Chinese planes. Also last year, China’s aid to Sri Lanka jumped to 1 billion dollars. According to Asia Times, among the string of docking bases (in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Myanmar) developed as deep sea ports for refueling, China is developing the Hambantota port project in Sri Lanka.
The Tamil diaspora around the world has condemned the atrocities of the Sri Lankan army as news of the deaths of their loved ones becomes known to them. For several weeks hundreds of Tamils in the UK maintained a non-stop 24-hour vigil in the area around Parliament, which was also the scene of demonstrations of tens of thousands and repeated clashes with riot police.
The Sri Lankan government is gleefully celebrating its victory, while the governments in the international community are clucking their tongues in an expression of hypocrisy and satisfaction.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
Revolution #167, June 7, 2009
Revolution received the following letter from a reader on celebrating Darwin Day and digging into Ardea Skybreak's book, The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism, Knowing What's Real And Why It Matters:
Recently I was traveling through some different cities and had an opportunity to check out a variety of programs put on by museums, churches, universities and community groups on the occasion of Darwin Day 2009, the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. These events were highly significant; they celebrated this historic scientific achievement and upheld it in the face of the continuing creationist onslaught against the theory of evolution.
A recent Gallup Poll showed that only 39% of Americans believe in evolution—a disturbing statistic. Given this objective situation, these programs were urgently needed. I learned a lot from these programs and, based on questions they raised, I felt a need to dig deeper into the science of evolution as presented by Ardea Skybreak in The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism, Knowing What's Real And Why It Matters.
Just to begin, I would like to give a feel for the tremendous breadth of the presentations that I either attended or read about.
The campus celebrations of Darwin were marked by a sense of urgency and necessity to get science to the people. An exciting variety of professors spoke to their deep appreciation for Darwin, and what he means for science today. Check out this array of speakers: naturalists, geologists, historians, biochemists, oncologists, biologists, epigeneticists, linguists, anthropologists, paleontologists, pharmacologists, and geneticists. This showed me the meaning of Skybreak's statement that without the science of evolution, there would be no science.
Topics included current research that is based on and validates the theory of evolution; Darwin's legacy and continuing relevance; advances in the study of genomes; the impact of the science of evolution on studying culture and the impact of culture on human evolution; and presentations on how to teach evolution and prepare for controversy.
Some of the museum presentations focused on the historical Darwin and how his theory brought forward and energized the progressive defense of science, which had to take on backward, conservative religious and political thinking. Some speakers spoke about later battles that had to be fought against the twisting of this science into "Social Darwinism" and into the idea of eugenics. (For more on "Social Darwinism," see Skybreak, p. 171.)
One exciting development was the celebration of "Evolution Weekend" in the religious community. I noticed that several clergy wrote their sermons in advance and had them posted on the web. One church invited a local museum director to speak. Another church invited the general public to come "hear Darwin speak" on Evolution Sunday. (OK, it was an actor.)
From the various presentations, I realized that a number of questions now presented themselves for further study and thinking. I decided to dig into Skybreak's book to get clarity on these scientific and epistemological questions.
At one campus presentation, my interest was piqued by one speaker who had a quarrel with the "modern synthesis" among Darwinians because he thought this "synthesis" failed to understand Darwin's prescience regarding today's developments in the science of evolution. Skybreak defines the "modern synthesis" as:
The combination of Darwin's theory of natural selection with the discovery of the basic principles and mechanisms of genetic inheritance. Developed in the first half of the 20th century, the "modern synthesis" both confirmed and extended basic Darwinism, providing a more complete and comprehensive understanding of the underlying dynamics of evolutionary change. (Glossary, p. 310)
Scientists soon learned that evolution through natural selection required the understanding of genetics to know the mechanism that carried out the process of evolution, further developing Darwin's science of evolution. This is exciting, living science, which is continuing to develop; e.g., studies of DNA, the relation of genes to disease, or mapping of the genome of humans and other animals. Just think of what the understanding of DNA means to science today, to take one example of these developments!
In several events celebrating Darwin's 200th birthday, one question that came up in various ways was "Are humans still evolving?" Also, what is likely to be the future of the human species and this planet, and what is the relation of biological evolution to cultural/social development?
As Skybreak's book explains, the term "evolution" does not mean inevitable, pre-ordained "progress;" it simply means change over time. Given that understanding, several of the scientific presentations tried to deal with the question of the future evolution of human beings and our existence on this planet. With some there was a sort of tug of war between seeing "pure" natural selection as how humans evolve vs. the importance of culture as a stronger factor that will determine the future. And some presenters seemed to be conflicted about the role of culture or societal practice as it will affect evolution.
Within the context of emphatically upholding evolution, some speakers spoke to the fact that Darwin's theory of natural selection has to be further developed to explain what will happen in the future because human beings, with our consciousness, have been able to transform both nature and society. Some examples of how we have changed nature are the development of agriculture, domestication of animals, and the eradication or treatment of diseases so life can be extended. Of course, we have also caused great damage to the natural world through creating such things as pollution and climate change.
Evidence was presented that shows that our environment definitely affects genetic changes. One scientist used slides to compare the chromosome structure of identical twins at age six, and again at age 60. The genetic structures of each twin at six years were perfectly matched, but when the twins reached maturity, their chromosomes were very different—proving how one's environment plays a large role in the changes within human genes.
A psychologist gave a speech about evolution of the brain, underscoring the argument that evolution does not inevitably lead to advance/progress. For example, the brain's memory retrieval can't measure up to a computer. He felt that evolutionary change by natural selection will not make human memory more computer-like because it would require too many radical changes. He pointed out that evolution takes place on the basis of what already exists—descent through modification. He noted that evolution will probably be more determined by culture as it has so far created written language, and now computers, to make up for the deficiencies of our brains.
So, are humans still evolving? I was somewhat tempted to say "of course, that's what Darwin's theory of natural selection is all about." But I realized that I had to dig into this more deeply, as Skybreak does.
In the chapter, "The Evolution of Human Beings," Skybreak continually emphasizes what is unique about human beings and the two key leaps in hominid evolution: 1) development of bipedalism, which led to greater mobility and the freeing up of the hands; and 2) being born in a very undeveloped state with a great increase in brain size after birth and the development with that of the capacity to learn and change things (see Skybreak, pp. 148-9). Based on these two key leaps, humans have emerged as the first species with the capacity to transform themselves and their environment primarily through cultural and social innovations, rather than relying on biological evolution (see Skybreak, p. 154).
Skybreak develops the point that since the branching off of the Homo sapiens species, there has been very little evolutionary change for over 100,000 years of human existence (see Skybreak, p. 155). In fact, humans' ability to change their environment is a much more rapid process than the much slower process of evolution. The vast majority of human development over the last 100,000 years has been cultural—the ability to learn, to teach and to change things—with very little biological modification.
And she makes the point that "...what happens to our species in the future (including when and how our own species will pass from the scene) will be, at least to a significant degree, up to us." (Skybreak, p. 146).
Skybreak points out that while it is theoretically possible for humans to spin off a new species, this is very unlikely—because the conditions of reproductive isolation in which a new species could develop are virtually impossible in today's interconnected world. But she ends on the point that, while, like all others, our species will one day go extinct, what is unique about the human species is that "...between now and then we will no doubt consciously transform ourselves and the world around us in ways which we can barely yet imagine." (Skybreak, p. 175)
Churches have been celebrating Evolution Weekend (it used to be just Evolution Sunday) since 2004, and the number of clergy signing on has increased every year. As of February 2009 a letter from American rabbis had 452 signatories, the Unitarian Universalist Clergy letter had 196 signatories and the American Christian Clergy letter had 11,866 signatories! These clergy letters upholding evolution were started in direct response to the onslaught against science and evolution by fundamentalist groups. This "letter" project was started by progressive clergy who stated firmly that there was no conflict between religion and belief in the theory of evolution. The letter from Unitarian Universalist Clergy is very sharp in stating:
We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as "one theory among others" is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.
All the sermons from Evolution Weekend that I was able to either hear or read dealt with evolution as a proven fact, while at the same time promoting the idea that there is no conflict between religion and science. These sermons quoted scientific and philosophical arguments to make a connection between evolution and a progressive moral agenda, and they expressed the view that human beings' awe and wonder at the unknown is addressed by both science and religion. These sermons showed me the desire of many religious people to uphold science in the face of the creationist advance (although unlike the clergy letters, these particular sermons did not make a point of specifically opposing the creationist agenda of anti-scientific thinking).
These sermons also got me thinking more about how the question of science and religion is posed by progressive religious believers. In her book, Skybreak speaks to this:
Forward-looking religious people these days are often particularly interested in reconciling two things which they consider to be very important to human lives: a belief in a higher power...(a "supernatural" god) and an acknowledgement and appreciation of modern science, including biological evolution. They want both. They feel they need both (Skybreak, p. 190).
Not surprisingly, I found this to be reflected in all the sermons that I heard or read.
One pastor talked about how life forms "sought out greater complexity" and that this is how God chose to create; and the pastor extended this theory to the concept that the spirit of God has been the guiding hand behind the historical development of human systems.
Another pastor linked developments over billions of years in the natural world with the evolution of God, even claiming that religion with its monotheistic concept (the idea that there is only one god) first came up with the "unified field theory of reality."
Another sermon linked natural selection with the survival of groups whose individuals love and care for others as opposed to groups composed of selfish individuals. He defended this by quoting a "scientific" paper.
One pastor said that faith is a different way of approaching reality but deals with the same reality that science deals with.
So this poses the question that goes to the heart of the matter: What approach to reality is required to achieve a true understanding of the natural world? Only science and the scientific method, and not a belief in the supernatural (which literally means "above" or "outside" the natural world), can discover natural explanations for natural phenomena. (see Skybreak, Glossary, p. 314) Trying to make religion and science compatible is eclectics—combining two contradictory things into one. Using this method to explain this "compatibility" of religion and science undermines the ability to see the world as it really is and to thereby change it.
Teleology, the philosophical idea that things move toward a point of inevitability or perfection, was reflected in the way that many religious sermons upheld evolution. This thinking proposes that natural selection is a process of perfecting organisms, and that evolution means that development moves from a lower level toward a higher level. This idea is pretty easy to combine with a belief in God because God is supposedly a realm of perfection that humans are always trying to achieve but never will. Skybreak refutes this wrong understanding of evolution with the insight that there's no driving force in evolution that inevitably would lead to humans as the "pinnacle of evolutionary 'progress.'" (see Skybreak, p. 146)
Sometimes secular people also view the evolutionary development of simpler to more complex forms of life, or the development of history and changing morality, as a teleological progression.
But natural selection is not a conscious process that is working toward some perfection of any species or toward a more modern or moral society. But this does not mean that it all happens just "by accident." To quote Skybreak:
For instance, evolution by natural selection involves a combination and interplay of both random and non-random factors: first of all, random ("chance") factors such as mutations, recombinations and genetic drift, lead to a continual reshuffling of the deck of cards which makes up the total genetic variation in a population and which serves as the raw material of evolutionary change; but, then, on the basis of that randomly produced variation, natural selection proceeds to very much non-randomly sort out some of the resulting features of organisms in relation to the demands and challenges of a given external environment. (emphasis in original) (Skybreak, p. 91)
Focusing only on the less random process of adaptation, it can sometimes be made to seem that there is a purpose and forward progress toward perfectibility, but this is not the case. In the evolution of humans, to give just one example, the development of bipedalism was a great advantage but at the same time, it gave hominids a spine that doesn't support our bodies well, leading to lots of lower back pain. And we should not forget that there have been five mass extinctions in earth's history in which most of the species of life on earth disappeared.
So, if teleology is wrong, is there no purpose to life? Skybreak is very clear on this:
There is no particular special purpose to our existence in the grand scheme of things—except what we make of it. Whether we're even here or not doesn't really matter (at least not consciously) to anything on this planet except ourselves;... But so what? Does that mean we don't matter? Does it mean that we might as well kill each other off because there's no god out there to care what we do one way or the other? Does it mean that our lives have absolutely no purpose? Of course not! Our lives are precious and we do matter a great deal...to each other! We should decide to "do the right thing"—and act with each other with some integrity and in ways that are "moral and ethical"—not because we're afraid we'll get written up by some warden-like god if we don't, but because what we do directly affects the quality of human life. And, of course, our lives can and do have purpose,...because we humans can choose to imbue our lives with purpose! (emphasis in original) (Skybreak, pp. 155-156).
I find Skybreak's challenge to religious believers and non-believers inspiring:
Nothing in our human "tool-kit" is more important than a thoroughgoing materialist scientific method for uncovering the actual truth of things—a method consistently applied—a method which itself is the product of evolution, and revolution, in human development, including in our modes of thinking. To forward-looking religious believers and non-believers alike I say: why not make a pact to go wherever scientific methods for uncovering the truth of things may take us, even if what we uncover ends up posing some serious and uncomfortable challenges to some old assumptions and cherished traditions? (emphasis in original) (Skybreak, p. 193).
* * *
One brave man, 150 years ago, persisted in letting careful observation of the real world take him whichever way it would lead him, despite the prevailing ignorance and religious dogma that tried to tie him to the past. He discovered a truth that laid a basis for science to understand much more deeply the dynamics of change in the real world, and for humanity to banish "god" and other forms of ignorance and superstition. My own appreciation of Darwin and his scientific breakthrough certainly deepened through these Darwin Day celebrations. I also came to appreciate Skybreak's book on a much deeper level.
Revolution #167, June 7, 2009
We received the following correspondence from a reader:
I've just been watching videos on the web from a conference that drew together scientists from many realms to discuss some of the biggest scientific questions of the day. There were many different and fascinating topics discussed at this symposium. And it made me think about a lot of questions about the importance of a scientific method and approach—and I wanted to share some of what I learned with readers of Revolution.
The conference was the "Origins Symposium"—held April 3-6th at Arizona State University. There were public lectures in front of thousands of people, panels and dialogues—and an assembly with a thousand high school students from Phoenix who engaged with Nobel prize winners.
The symposium brought together world famous scientists who have played a big part in efforts to popularize science—like physicist Brian Greene who is also a prime force behind the World Science Festival that takes place in New York City in June, Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, and the main organizer of this conference Lawrence Kraus—a theoretical physicist who along with others at "Origins" has been involved in the "Beyond Belief" conferences held each year. (see Revolution #75 http://www.revcom.us/a/075/beyondbelief-en.html)
The topics were some of the most interesting things that we as humanity are still trying to understand about our world and universe: how did the universe begin and what do we know and not know about it, what is physics learning about the nature of matter and the fundamental forces at work in the universe, is our universe just one of a series of "multiverses", how did life arise and evolve, what are the chances and evidence there may be life on other planets, and what is the origin of human uniqueness and consciousness? And there were stimulating conversations on science and society.
The panels and discussion opened up avenues into what science is learning, but also gave a sense of what science actually is and how it works—demystifying it even as challenging people to learn more about some complex things.
It's not only exciting and mind-blowing to venture into all of this—it's also important. I want to encourage people to watch the "Origins" videos online. Your mind may get blown and opened up as mine did (http://origins.asu.edu/symposium/video/).
The symposium organizers clearly hold a deep desire to open up scientific understanding to the broadest masses of people and to be part of transforming the situation where so many people don't know about, are turned away from, or even hostile to science. In the panel "Science, Society and the Merchants of Light," Brian Greene spoke about the need to engage people with the "big, wonderful ideas of science." He talked about encountering so many kids whose eyes light up and say with amazement, "that is Science?" when he tells them about the latest discoveries in cosmology or particle theory.
A central reference for the symposium—was responding to the attacks on science and the efforts to undermine and even destroy the scientific method that have come from powerful and highly placed fundamentalist forces in this society and in the world. Anthony Grayling, Professor of Philosophy from the University of London, contrasted how science and fundamentalist religion come at the world. Grayling said science is a "way of doing things, a way of thinking and of finding out and of testing it." He contrasted a scientific mindset—which is "prepared to not understand things yet, prepared to be open-minded, prepared to recognize that solving a problem may very well generate a number of new problems" and excited about that prospect, vs. a religious mindset that wants neat, easy answers, is uncomfortable with uncertainty and uses that as an excuse to stop thinking about it.
In the discussions, there were some interesting things said about the Bush years and Obama in terms of science. A number of participants mentioned that with Obama, things have turned a corner and are now "headed in the right direction."
Under Bush global warming research was suppressed, evolution attacked and the scientific method undermined. In certain respects, Obama has departed from Bush—appointing actual scientists to oversee certain panels in contrast to Bush's promotion of religious fundamentalists, pledging to expand funding for science, etc. Obama has promised that "scientific integrity will be restored." But more profoundly, just as on the question of abortion, Obama is seeking to bring together lunatic religious fundamentalist morality with reality-based science around a "common ground." And two antagonistic forces can only find common ground with one side capitulating to the other.
As one example, according to a recent email from the organization "Defend Science" (www.defendscience.org), while claiming to lift the restrictions Bush placed on federal funding of stem cell research, Obama does not plan to challenge a congressional amendment which curtails the development of new needed stem cell lines. According to the N.Y. Times, the Dickey-Wicker amendment, "specifically bans the use of tax dollars to create human embryos—a practice that is routine in private fertility clinics—or for research in which embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury." Melody Barnes, Obama's chief domestic advisor, told the NY Times Obama "has not taken a position on the ban and does not intend to," adding that Obama "recognizes the divisiveness of the issue" and the "range of beliefs on this."
This amendment protecting literally a clump of human cells in opposition to research which can provide new scientific insights and potentially help tens of millions of people with a range of diseases, puts fundamentalist morality over the needs of humanity.
The well known astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson challenged the overall positive feeling about things under Obama at the symposium when he said, "I'm cynical in a fundamental way here…after several tours of duty in Washington D.C. learning how the sausage gets made. I have come to conclude that this stated resurging interest in science does not derive from any deep, romantic sense and longing to understand our place in the universe. In my judgment…it comes about because enough people are coming to learn that innovations in science and technology are the foundations of tomorrow's economy. And we're watching our economy fall while the economies of other nations who have made these investments rise. And so, in the end, since nobody in a capitalist system wants to die poor, at some point science and technology ends up reigning supreme. I wish it was for more lofty reasons than just not wanting to die poor, but I'll take it if I can get it."
There's much more to say on this topic of what is and isn't changing under Obama, and how Obama can only continue to chain science to the service of the capitalist system and also seek to merge it with faith, which means severely constraining it and undermining the actual method of science. But it's a subject for another time.
|MR. BRIAN GREENE: It's interesting, you began by asking, how have we done, and we have done really well. And you think back to Newton, he was trying to figure out the motion of everyday objects, from throwing a ball, to the motion of the moon, and he did a really good job, and he did such a good job, that it took us a long time before we were able to make the next dramatic steps, but we have. We have been able to understand how molecules work, how atoms work, subatomic particles, we have been able to go the other direction, figure out how neutron stars, black holes, entire galaxies, and the whole universe, we really have a fairly good understanding of our huge range of physical scales. That is a tremendous achievement, but it also sets up a challenge. We are now investigating realms that are so far from everyday experience that it really requires us to be a bridge from very unfamiliar territory, molecules, atoms, and particles, and the strange features of the quantum world and black holes and so on, we need to be the bridge so that the general public recognizes how important these studies are, and how exciting it is, the wonder of science, the inspiration that you can get from the ability of this thing inside our heads to go so far beyond and really grasp the universe in a very deep way. So it has been a great time, 350 years, but the success also sets up a great challenge.|
One of the Origin's webcast was a dialogue between physicists Lawrence Krauss and Brian Greene. Greene is one of the scientists working on string theory. The theory says basically, inside the particles of matter we know about—the electrons, protons and sub atomic particles, etc.—there may be smaller vibrating filaments whose vibrations give rise to various properties of matter which are "played" like notes from a plucked string. Greene said that string theory seeks to unify the theories of general relativity—which explains the universe on the very large scale— and quantum mechanics—which explains the very small. So far, these two theories can't be resolved, and string theory seeks to do so.
Greene said that he doesn't "believe in" string theory, but that right now even though it is still untested and purely theoretical, it still remains the best hope for making sense of the breadth of what is known. Greene made the point that unlike the "theory" of evolution, which has been proven over and over again by evidence from many directions, string theory should really be called string "hypothesis," because it has not yet been backed up by actual evidence or even tested in the real world yet. Greene said that he's not in the game to prove one thing right or wrong, but to take things one step further.
Krauss commented that people think scientists are wedded to their ideas—but scientists want to be proven wrong if they are wrong—because then the opportunity to learn something new arises. And one point made by several physicists was that you deal with reality, whatever it turns up—and "nature surprises us." This approach to the truth—to knowing it and not fearing it, and to actually welcoming new things, unexpected things and new directions—because they give one the opportunity to learn more deeply—is something I felt was very important to learn from and popularize.
In the main the "Origins Symposium" was a fascinating look at what is science learning and a vehicle for developing more understanding. It also raises the possibility to me of what science could be. It made me imagine what could happen in a world where the masses of people have made revolution and have state power and are using that state power to uproot inequalities and oppression and to open up all kinds of new realms of thinking in the arts, intellectual thought and science. Where the commanding premise in society as a whole is to search for and engage with reality, with what's actually true. Where people are not prevented from learning about science in the natural world and human society, but instead encouraged and given the means to learn all this, and on that basis transform the world in all kinds of unexpected ways.
Revolution #167, June 7, 2009
Cheers & Jeers
We received the following from a reader:
Krystian Zimerman, who music critics have proclaimed one of the finest pianists in the world, created a major furor on April 26 at the Disney Hall in Los Angeles. As described by the LA Times music critic Mark Swed:
"Before playing the final work on his recital, Karol Szymanowski's 'Variations on a Polish Folk Theme,' Zimerman sat silently at the piano for a moment, almost began to play, but then turned to the audience. In a quiet but angry voice that did not project well, he indicated that he could no longer play in a country whose military wants to control the whole world.
"'Get your hands off of my country,' he said. He also made reference to the U.S. military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"About 30 or 40 people in the audience walked out, some shouting obscenities. "Yes," he answered, "some people when they hear the word military start marching.
"Others remained but booed or yelled for him to shut up and play the piano. But many more cheered." ("Disney Hall Piano Concert Gets Political" LA Times, April 27, 2009)
What we should especially uphold about Zimerman's statement is that it comes in the time of Obama when many critics of the Bush Administration have chosen to keep their mouths shut even as Obama continues with many of the same imperialist policies as Bush. Zimerman did not, causing the LA Times to write in an editorial: "For those who hoped that America's standing in the world would immediately rebound when the Bush administration rode into the sunset, Sunday night's furor at Disney Hall must have been a disappointment." A disappointment only for those who live with the delusion that the world should love being dominated by the U.S. The rest of us cheer Krystian Zimerman's courage to use his stature as a great pianist and his stage to raise his voice against the U.S. empire.
A Revolution reader
Revolution #167, June 7, 2009
We received the following letter from a reader:
5/22/09 - I met Hal Perry a few years ago when I was doing outreach at the Berkeley Public library for Bob Avakian’s memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond – My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist. He was with a friend who was researching the Bay Area high school basketball Tournament of Champions. I knew about the TOC through reading Avakian’s memoir and this chance connection led to a political relationship and friendship.
Hal Perry died on April 30, 2009 in the S.F. Bay Area and I’ve been thinking about what a difference he made with his life and what can be learned from it. There are two main things that stand out. The first was his important role in breaking the color barrier in sports, particularly college basketball with the USF Dons. The second was his deep-seated outrage against oppression and his desire to see a better world. He really liked what Avakian had to say, seeing him as an important revolutionary leader, someone who spoke the truth, who stood for the oppressed and who really needed to be known by many more people. He was one of the first people to sign the statement, "Dangerous times demand courageous voices. Bob Avakian is such a voice," for Engage: A Committee to Project and Protect the Voice of Bob Avakian.
I had a lot of respect for Hal and liked him a lot. He had a sparkle to his personality. He was known as someone who liked to talk a lot, prompting his family when he was young to think he would grow up to be either a preacher or a lawyer. He enjoyed being around people and was always ready to tell a story. He liked to joke around and laugh. He was not afraid to speak up for what was right, whether it was popular or not. His memorial was filled with family, friends, college teammates and people who knew him as an attorney. They talked about how they knew him, his endearing qualities, and the impact he had on their lives.
We often talked about politics, the outrage of the oppression of Black people, the need and possibility for revolution and what Bob Avakian had to say about these questions. While there were many things he agreed with, he disagreed about religion and Obama. Hal had a wealth of life experiences and an understanding that Black people’s oppression is deeply entrenched in the workings of this system. When he was a boy in the '30s, Black people were still getting lynched in the South. His young adult life intersected with and was influenced by the tumultuous and exciting period of resistance and political awakening of the Civil Rights movement, the Black liberation movement and the '60s.
Hal Perry was a young adult when Black people began to fight against their oppression and break barriers in all arenas of society. Born in Illinois in 1933, he moved as a teenager to Ukiah, an all-white small town 100 miles north of San Francisco, becoming the only Black family in town. Hal was multi-talented in sports and music, playing basketball, football, baseball, track and field, singing in the school choir and playing several instruments. He was very popular and he became the first African-American class president from 8th-12th grade.
Although he had many friends, he confided that during those teenage years he never went on a date. There were no Black girls in town and it would have been unheard of to ask a white girl out. He later went to a high school reunion where one of the women told him that she would have liked to go out with him, but felt she could not. When it came to breaking racial barriers, dating a white girl would have been unacceptable and perhaps even dangerous.
Even though he lettered in several sports and had been voted Student Body president in his senior year, he never thought he would go to college. This changed after he once visited U.C. Berkeley with his high school band and saw two Black college football players, which convinced him that he, too, could go to college.
He became most well-known as an athlete on the USF Dons basketball team, the first team to win the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) back-to-back championships from 1955-56. They made history as the first major college basketball team with three African-American starters: Perry, K.C. Jones and Bill Russell. At the time there were only 50 African-Americans at USF out of 3,000 students. Phil Woolpert, the Dons coach was unusual in offering them scholarships when other coaches refused to recruit any Blacks. Russell and Jones were starters and Perry a reserve. But after the Dons lost to UCLA 47-40, a white player who was a starter, selflessly suggested they’d be a better team with Perry as a starter. An unspoken rule was that college teams should have at most only two Blacks out of five starters. Woolpert was warned by other coaches in the California Basketball Association (predecessor of the West Coast Conference) to not have an all-Black starting five. The coach later revealed that he had gotten a lot of hate mail for having the Black starters. An article in Sporting News 1/15/96 called this "a risky move anywhere in 1954."
Hal was a gifted athlete. He was the team captain from 1955-56. A former teammate said, "It was like he was on roller skates sometimes. He was always clapping and jumping up and down and on defense, he was like a mosquito. He bothered everybody." (S.F. Chronicle 5/6/09). In 1953, K.C. Jones’ appendix burst in the locker room before a game. Hal got put into the game and sank two buckets from almost center court. After Hal was made a starter, the Dons never lost another game for two years on a record-breaking 55 game winning streak.
The team also had two African Americans reserves (also on scholarships) who were often the first off the bench. Hal said Woolpert went through hell and some people wanted to fire him, but didn’t because the team was winning. Woolpert chose the players because he wanted the best players on his team and race wasn’t a criteria. He was derisively referred to by some as "Abe Saperstein," owner of the Harlem Globetrotters, a Black professional basketball team with very talented players who were excluded from the NBA for years due to the racist color line. They were known for playing basketball in a very entertaining and humorous way, clowning and often defeating all-white teams they played. For more on this, listen to Bob Avakian’s talk on the NBA (www.bobavakian.net).
The Dons team members, Black and white, got along well according to Hal and other players. "When they played in Oklahoma in 1955, it was only a year after the Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education prohibiting segregation in the schools. Listening to "They sold Postcards at the Hangings," from the Revolution DVD brought back memories for Hal who said, "When Emmett Till was murdered for whistling at a white woman in 1955, we were devastated and felt the same concern. As young Black men, we didn’t know whether they would come after us, or not, for playing basketball in the south.. When we played in Oklahoma, the fans called us "N....,’s" and yelled, "Get those n...’s, off the court!." They threw nickels and quarters at us while we were playing and called us Globetrotters..."
In Oklahoma all the city’s hotels refused to let the Black players stay there, so Hal led a players only meeting to discuss what to do. The white and Black players decided they were all going to stay together, so they stayed in the University of Oklahoma dorms. After they won the game, they celebrated by themselves. Hal said, "The attitude of the fans and the white society overall was that we shouldn’t be playing in the first place. Not only were we playing, but we beat everyone we played against. Our slogan was, ‘Show up and get beat.’ When the other teams lost, their fans finally became very quiet. We were undefeated from 1955-1956."
Another example of their camaraderie came out in a game against the UCLA Bruins in 1955. In a story attributed to Bill Russell, both teams stayed in the same hotel and were in the same dining room for a pre-game meal. The Bruins ate in silence, probably because the coaches wanted them to concentrate on the upcoming game. When the USF squad came in they were "laughing, joking, goofing around and generally being obnoxious," (from Bill Russell by Murray R. Nelson). This unnerved the Bruins to see that the Dons "... seemed totally unconcerned about the game" and "...UCLA was beaten 70-53 before they took the floor."
This team had extraordinarily talented and creative players. A S.F. Chronicle article said they were, "... a team that changed basketball and the country. The Dons opened up the college game by thriving on defense, playing above the rim and scoring off the fast break. More significantly, the Dons were pioneers in integrating the game -- they were the first team to win a national title with African Americans playing central roles." (Bruce Adams 4/3/05 "A Turning Point in college basketball")
Prior to the Dons, basketball was a lot slower and the action was mostly horizontal with a lot of passing and shooting. Before Bill Russell, players usually kept both feet on the ground (rather than jumping) when they shot the ball. Russell had a very effective play where he would block a shot, aim the ball at K.C. Jones (a guard), who would then start a fast break and score.
If other players shot the ball somewhat close to the basket, Russell would make sure it went in. Russell had an incredible backwards dunk, dominated the court and had a very long reach with his arms, enabling him to block a lot of shots. This made it very difficult for other teams to score, which forced them to come up with a strategy of playing around the perimeter of the court. Sometimes players on the opposing team would be awestruck or intimidated by Russell’s playing, causing them to lose confidence that they could defeat the Dons. Russell has commented that he actually couldn’t block all of the opposing teams’ shots, but he made them think he could. After the Dons, the game’s tempo was sped up and became more vertical with dunking and high jumps, which led the way to the way college basketball is played today.
After USF, Jones and Russell became NBA stars and Basketball Hall of Famers. Hal became an Oakland civil rights attorney, who once defended people connected with the Black Panthers.
Hal Perry contributed several statements to Engage, the following is an excerpt:
On "The NBA: Marketing The Minstrel Show and Serving the Big Gangsters," "That’s right, he’s good, that’s fantastic, ooh boy, that’s a powerful statement... I really appreciated hearing this talk. Everything he’s saying about sports, I lived through it... I couldn’t believe how deeply and accurately Bob Avakian described everything. Anyone who listens to this talk is put in a better position to understand what really went on. It’s unbelievable how it describes what happened to Black players. It is so excellent and incredible, I can’t begin to express everything I think about it and I need to listen to it again. If you took a group of high school kids and had them sit down and listen to this, they’d never be the same again."
For the full statement, go to www.engagewithbobavakian.org.