Revolution #168, June 21, 2009

Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA

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Revolution #168, June 21, 2009


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The Outrageous Murder of Dr. George Tiller and the Real Truth About “Late-Term” Abortions

by Mary Lou Greenberg

(This article is revised from the article "The Truth About 'Late-Term' Abortions," which originally appeared online at revcom.us on June 7, 2009.)

When Dr. George Tiller was murdered by an anti-abortion assassin on May 31, it was a huge loss to women everywhere and to everyone who values women’s freedom.

The terrible news of Dr. Tiller’s murder brought back a flood of memories of when I visited his Wichita clinic. The walls of the waiting room were filled with moving letters of appreciation framed with care and telling many stories. A woman’s anguish in learning of her fetus’ sure-death condition and the comforting compassion of Dr. Tiller; the desperation of another at an unplanned pregnancy and gratitude for the non-judgmental care at his clinic; the loneliness of feeling abandoned and fearful for the future. I will always remember the words of one: “Thank you for giving me back my life.”

At Dr. Tiller’s funeral in Wichita, and at commemorations in other cities, people held signs with his photograph that said: “HERO.” And indeed he was.

Dr. Tiller began providing abortion care in 1973, as soon as it was legal in Kansas. He was a dedicated physician who helped tens of thousands of women and their families. He had a fearless sense of purpose. And he was not deterred—even in the face of constant picketers of his clinic and home, vandalism, baseless lawsuits and political/legal trials, death threats, and physical attacks.

Dr. Tiller was known for wearing a button with his motto, “Trust Women.” He gave compassionate care to thousands of women, and mentored colleagues and medical students, and was a source of last resort for women with fetal/maternal complications in his Wichita, Kansas clinic. His tremendous courage was grounded on the understanding that women must have the right to safe abortions, that safe abortion is a fundamental component of women’s healthcare—and that without this right, women’s lives are ruined.

What does it say about the nature of this society, of this system, that such a compassionate, caring and courageous person is hounded, constantly under attack, vilified and then finally murdered? What does it say about a system that not only unleashes, but gives leadership to, the most reactionary, anti-women, Christian fascist forces that target doctors like Dr. Tiller; that publicize “hit lists”; that promote widespread ignorance and religious reactionary fervor—that created the atmosphere in which Dr. Tiller was murdered? And what does it say about a system where, when such a hero is gunned down in cold blood—that the officials of government do not step forward to defend him, speak out against this outrage, ensure that his important work continue,and that his killer be brought to justice? This is a system that has at its very foundation the oppression of women.

Obama, the “pro-choice” president, says we should find “common ground” with those who attack the right to abortion, arguing that we need to reduce the number of abortions. But as “A Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity” (Revolution #158) points out, we cannot find “common ground” with the Christian fascists, who are backed and unleashed by powerful forces in the ruling class. Such “compromise” can only mean giving moral legitimacy and political initiative to the movement that wants to force women to bear children against their will. (See excerpts on page 4 and go to revcom.us for the whole Declaration.)

A Fetus is Not a Baby

Very broadly in society, even among people who were outraged and appalled by Dr. Tiller’s murder, there is confusion about abortion in general, and particularly about late term abortions. I want to speak to that. It is not enough to be appalled by this despicable murder that has taken such a precious resource and irreplaceable person from us. To build a movement—so desperately needed today—as unwavering in its support for abortion on demand and without apology as Dr. Tiller was unwavering in his determination to support women who need it—we must be firmly grounded in the science and the morality of abortion at every stage of pregnancy.

Dr. Tiller was a compassionate, skilled doctor who did abortions at every stage of pregnancy, but he was best known for helping women who were in the second (from about 13 to about 24 weeks) or third trimester of pregnancy. Women came to him from all across the country and from many other countries because he was one of the very few physicians who knew how to and did abortions into the third trimester (allowed, with strict qualifications, by Kansas law). Dr. Tiller persisted—insisted, rather—in doing this despite decades of vicious harassment, including being shot in both arms in a failed assassination attempt in 1993, because he knew women needed these services that they could not get elsewhere and that he was the last hope for many in desperate circumstances.

First, the reality of abortion is that close to 90 percent are done in the first trimester of pregnancy. But it is important to understand why abortion at any stage must be available to women, why it is morally right to support that, and why it is not “partial-birth” abortion, much less “baby killing.”

Pregnancy is a process which takes some time. As stated plainly in an earlier article, “What is an Abortion and Why Women Must Have the Right to Choose,” by A.S.K. in Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution) Issue #1265, Jan. 23, 2005, “it is not some mysterious event guided by outside forces. It is part of the normal processes of the woman’s body.... The egg changes and develops into a fetus and keeps on changing for nine months, only because the woman’s physiology (the way her body works) is making these changes happen.” This is why the woman—not the man, not the church or the government or anyone else—must have the choice whether or not to continue her pregnancy and the means to realize that choice.

To briefly summarize, the fetus develops from literally a clump of cells (the embryo) that may develop a few days after fertilization. Three weeks into the pregnancy, the whole embryo is still only about 2 mm (2 millimeters) long, or about the size of the letter “o.” (See Revolution #166, “A Fetus is Not a Baby”.) By the third month of pregnancy, the embryo, now called a fetus, starts to look a little more “human,” but inside, its internal organs, muscles, skeleton and nervous system are still very undeveloped. The whole thing is still only about an inch long.

Again, it is during these first three months, or first trimester, of pregnancy, that almost 90 percent of abortions are done.

Another 10 percent of abortions are done from 13 to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Even at the end of this period, the fetus is still very undeveloped and unable to survive outside the woman’s uterus without special medical measures. Only a little more than 1 percent of all abortions are done at 21 weeks or more, late in the second trimester and third trimester of pregnancy.

But even at this stage of its development, a fetus only has the potential to become a human being. Until it is born, it has no life of its own separate from the life of the woman whose body it is a part of. It does not float in a disembodied bubble (as the antiabortionists would have you believe from the pictures they hold up outside clinics), but is totally dependent on the woman’s bodily processes at every stage until it is born—for example, it gets oxygen from the woman’s blood and takes in nourishment and passes waste through her biologic functions—and cannot survive apart from her. And this is true until a woman gives birth, and a baby takes its first breath, at which point it becomes a human being.

No matter how tiny the fertilized egg or how developed the fetus, so long as it is in the woman’s uterus, it is a part of her body, dependent on and subordinate to the woman’s life. It is not a human being until it is born and takes its first breath, becoming a separate human being.

The Stories Behind Late Term Abortions

There is no question that earlier abortions are less complicated and easier on the woman. So why would women wait?

First, there are no abortion providers in 87 percent of all U.S. counties. Not surprisingly, most of the women needing second or third trimester procedures live in more rural areas, are generally younger and less educated and tend to be poorer than women who get early abortions. (Source: Ann Rose, “Mercy Abortions: What Dr. Tiller Did,” posted on Daily Kos, June 2, 2009)

At an abortion speakout during a recent Hampshire College reproductive freedom conference, I heard many women from different backgrounds get up and painfully detail the difficulties they had in getting an abortion—from restrictive laws to the time it took to borrow enough money ($400 on average for a first trimester procedure), a situation that pushed them farther into pregnancy, requiring a more complicated (and more costly) procedure.

After Mississippi passed a law in 1992 requiring that a woman seeking an abortion receive in person information about the fetus and “alternatives” to abortion and then wait at least 24 hours before getting an abortion, second trimester abortions increased by 53 percent among women who depended on Mississippi providers. (Study published in Family Planning Perspectives, vol 32, #1, Jan/Feb 2000.)

In one study by the Guttmacher Institute, in July 2008, 58 percent of women getting abortions said they would have liked to have gotten them earlier. And nearly 60 percent who were delayed in obtaining an abortion, said it was because of the time it took to make arrangements and get the money together.

Women in urban areas with fewer restrictions on abortion also need late term abortions for a variety of reasons. Merle Hoffman, founder and president of Choices Women’s Medical Center in NYC told me of a very young patient who was just over 24 weeks, the legal cutoff point for abortions in New York State. “She had terrible problems with abuse at home, but we could not do the abortion at Choices,” Hoffman said. “I called George Tiller and asked him if I paid for her to get to Kansas, would he do the abortion free of charge. I sent her and he did the abortion—that was the level of his commitment.”

Susan Hill, another abortion provider and President of the National Women’s Health Foundation, told Kate Harding, in an article posted at Salon.com that she “always sent the really tragic cases to Tiller.” These included “women who had been diagnosed with cancer who needed abortions to qualify for chemotherapy, women who learned late in their pregnancies that their wanted fetuses had fatal illnesses, and rape victims so young they didn’t realize they were pregnant for months.”

Or, consider the situation of an eleven-year-old who doesn’t realize she is pregnant until late in her term. “We sent him 11-year-olds, 12-year-olds who were way too far along for anybody [else] to see,” Hill said. “Eleven-year-olds don’t tell anybody. Sometimes they don’t even know they’ve had a period.”

Many of the women seeking third trimester procedures do so because of serious fetal anomalies—major and terrible deformities in the fetus that compromise critical organ functions and often cause the death of the fetus or of the newborn. These aren’t apparent until later in pregnancy and also often involve potentially dangerous complications for the woman.

Since Dr. Tiller’s murder, some of these stories have been posted on internet blogs, like “Kansas Stories” about women who traveled to Wichita after getting horrible news about the condition of their fetus too late to have a termination in their own state. The first-person stories tell of couples happily planning for the birth of a baby only to be shattered by the news that something is terribly wrong, and rather than endanger the woman’s health or cause suffering to a newborn with no or little chance of surviving, they sought out Dr. Tiller.

Women with similar experiences testified in Washington, D.C. when Congress began considering the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban that would outlaw what some doctors considered the safest and least traumatic later abortion procedure, medically termed D & X, for dilation and extraction. (“Partial-birth abortion” is a coldly calculated made-up name that has no medical basis; there is no such thing as a “partial birth abortion.” Or a “partial birth,” for that matter. A fetus is either aborted or a baby is born.)

They told of their agony and why the government or courts had no right to interfere with decisions between a woman and her doctor as to the best thing to do or best way to end the pregnancy. (The ban was passed and later upheld by the Supreme Court in a case involving Dr. Leroy Carhart, one of two remaining doctors who do later abortions, who flew to Dr. Tiller’s clinic the day after Tiller was murdered to make sure women who had appointments would be taken care of.)

And in any event, a fetus is not a baby until it is born, and becomes a living, viable human being. Women who do not have the right to choose whether or not to take their pregnancy to term at any stage, for any reason, women who have been denied the right and ability to decide themselves if and when to bear children, who do not have even that measure of control over their own bodies, have been reduced to a position that is tantamount to slavery.

• • •

The heart of the matter is women’s freedom, and their ability to contribute to society as half of humanity. What is being fought out here, with abortion providers literally on the front lines, is the profound moral question of whether or not women will be forced to breed against their will or be able to play an active role in all of society as fully emancipated human beings.

Dr. Tiller was a hero. What is needed now more than ever is for everyone who wants to see an end to the days when women seeking to end a pregnancy are denounced and shamed, and the health care providers who make it possible for women to do so must fear for their lives, to stand firmly on science and the deep morality of defending women’s freedom, and struggle without hesitation for abortion on demand and without apology.

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Revolution #168, June 21, 2009


Current Issue  |   Previous Issues  |   Bob Avakian  |   RCP  |   Topics  |   Contact Us

BOB AVAKIAN Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party—Interview on Michael Slate Radio Show

ON COMMUNISM, LEADERSHIP, STALIN, and the EXPERIENCE OF SOCIALIST SOCIETY

Note: The following is the text of excerpts of an interview with Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, USA, which aired on  Michael Slate’s “Beneath the Surface” show on KPFK radio in Los Angeles, on January 25, 2005. This interview consists of two parts published together here: Part 1, on leadership—vanguards and individual leaders; and Part 2, Stalin and the experience of the Soviet Union and socialist society. In publishing this here, some editing has been done, particularly for clarity—including the addition in a few places of brief explanatory passages within brackets.

MICHAEL SLATE:   [Introduction] About another future being possible, there’s a big question that comes up. Isn’t it dangerous to invest so much into an individual leader for any movement that actually is talking about freeing all of humanity—to invest so much into an individual leader? And then the other question that comes up, related to that, is one that I think—too often I think the left, and particularly the left that has supported socialism as it has existed in both the Soviet Union and China, I think, is very timid about speaking of this—and that’s the question of Stalin. And I know every time I talk about the future and socialism, I get lots of very thoughtful emails from folks asking me about Stalin and what I thought about what happened under Stalin. And I thought this is a really good way to get into this, to actually lay out some thinking, some very, I think, unique and provocative thinking. So that’s what I asked Chairman Avakian were those two questions, and that’s what you’re gonna hear now. This is Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party.

Part 1: On Leadership—Vanguards and Individual Leaders

Michael Slate:  Well, let’s move into this question about the world and what it could be. And it’s interesting, on the one hand, you get the sense that people are really wanting another world. On the other hand, you also get a sense immediately when the question of communism comes up, or the question of Maoism comes up, you get people talking about immediately equating that with totalitarianism and raising, in opposition to that, this thing of: well, we want democracy. And I think one of the things, one of the big questions that it begins with, is actually a question about leadership, both about a vanguard but also about individual leaders. And it’s come out in relation to you in particular, but it’s also come out in general when people talk about: isn’t it dangerous to invest so much in one leader, isn’t that a very dangerous thing for creating a new world?

Bob Avakian:  Well, it depends on what you mean by investing so much in one leader. If you recognize that, as happens, leaders do emerge who play an outstanding role—who represent a concentration of understanding of the way the world is, and how it can and should be changed, on a higher level than others around them at a given time—then that can be a very positive thing. To have something like that and to recognize it can be a very positive thing. And it requires people to rally to that and defend it at the same time as it requires them to come forward and play their own role in this struggle. So it depends on what you mean by “relying on.” If you mean putting everything in the hands of a few people, and everybody else passively follows them or just leaves all the thinking to them—or uncritically follows them or doesn’t try to wrestle with the same kind of problems that they’re trying to wrestle with—yes, that’s not a good thing.

So there’s a unity there as well as a contradiction between, on the one hand, someone who does come forward who has an advanced understanding and does concentrate, as I said, on a higher level than others, a certain understanding of how the world is and how it could be changed; and on the other hand, the role of a lot of other people, and growing numbers of people, in taking up the same approach to changing the world—the same communist outlook and methodology—and making the biggest contribution they can to it. And the more that both those things go on, the further we’re going to be ahead. So, yes, it would be a problem if you do it in the sense that’s more like what the bourgeoisie does: find a few great people and put everything in their hands. That’s actually ironically more the bourgeois way of doing things, even though they deny that they have “cult of the personality.” We’ve been through all this Reagan [bleep]. 1    But also they’re defending an old way of life and they have a lot of the advantages that go with being the entrenched system, the entrenched ruling class. And they can bring forward a lot of people to administer their system, relatively competently, for their needs.

But we’re trying to go up against the whole way the world is and make innovations and breakthroughs in order to do that, that have to be on a world-historic level because that’s what we’re up against. And we do have unevenness. Because we’re not the ones who have been on the top of the struggle for a while, and chasing the imperialists to a few corners and running them out of the world altogether—we’re not at that stage yet. We represent the forces that are rising but haven’t yet gotten the upper hand—let’s put it that way. So it’s more difficult for us to have as many people who have as advanced an understanding and can lead as will be possible for us to do further along in the struggle, when we’ve overcome more of these oppressive divisions in society.

And you can’t just start the discussion about this in the middle. You have to go back to the beginning or down to the foundation of it. Why do you need leaders in the first place? Why is there unevenness within a movement or within a party—why is there uneven development? Why are some people more advanced than others? Why is there, yes, a very significant gap between an organized conscious vanguard of people and broader masses of people? Is this because the people who are in that organized vanguard went out to create this gap? Or in fact is their mere existence as a vanguard a reflection of this gap, an expression of this gap? [If you’re thinking about] 90 percent of the people or more in the world, many of them, frankly, can’t even read and write because of the workings of this system and what it denies to them. But even those who can, most of them are weighed down by the daily struggle for survival and bombarded with the ideology of the ruling class to where on their own, spontaneously, they may rebel, they may see important aspects of the truth about the world and about society and about what’s wrong with it, but they can’t come to a  systematic, comprehensive understanding that enables them to get past all the obstacles that lie in the way of really changing that.

At any given time within a society like this, given its tremendous gap between most people who are in that kind of situation and a small number who have access to and who work with ideas and wrangle in the realm of theory and all that, it’s going to be among the latter group that you’re first going to get people who come to this understanding, who break through and sort of get a penetrating insight into how this society and the world actually works and what’s the motion and development through history of that, where is it all tending and where does it need to go and how can it get there. That’s why you have this gap.

I mean, I was talking the other day with people about the movie Contact where, you know, this character played by Matthew McConaughey says to the Jodie Foster character, who’s sort of an atheist, “Well, what makes you think you know so much? Ninety-five percent of the people in the world believe in god—what makes you so smart?” Well, she happens to be right—there is no god. Because she’s been able to be in a position where she’s been able to study and learn about reality and wrestle with questions of theory and philosophy and science and come to that understanding. The 95 percent of the people who believe in religion—most of them haven’t been able to do that. Some have and go to religion for other reasons, but most of them have never even had the opportunity to do that. So is that her fault, or something wrong with her? Or is that a reflection of what’s wrong with the world?

And this really is the same with the leadership, with the vanguard party or with individual leaders. They are people who—we were talking earlier about some of my experiences—well, part of it was being in a situation where there was lots of intellectual ferment and being in a position—and frankly having the opportunity and even the luxury, coming from a middle class family—to be able to have the time to get into all these kinds of things and debate them and not be dragged down by all the weight of society on you. This is partly what youth are able to do, anyway. But then there’s a class differentiation. And if you’re from the bottom of society and everything is weighing on you the way it does, it’s difficult to break through that. Some people do. Like I was talking with someone the other day who’s an intellectual who comes out of very desperate circumstances and I asked him, “How did you get to be that?” He said, “Well, just one year, I couldn’t get any work, I couldn’t do anything. I read every book I could get my hands on.” So that happens, but it’s pretty rare. You’ll find it in prison. A few people in prison, for their sanity or whatever, start reading, they start writing, and they start investigating and studying lots of things. And they become “self-made intellectuals.” But let’s face it, most people in prison are going to be ground down by what goes on there and are not going to be able to do that.

Well, whether you come from prison or whether you come from the circumstances of this person who was literally living on the street a lot of the time, or from my circumstances, wherever you come from, if you come to a certain understanding and you see not only that the world needs to be changed but there are forces in society who could bring about that change and need that change, then you go to them with the understanding that you’ve developed and you bring them forward. But there is going to be unevenness, and where you have people who do have this understanding, they shouldn’t be shame-faced about it or defensive about it or not wanting to exert influence on other people. They should not have an arrogant attitude. They should recognize they have a tremendous amount to learn from people who are going through the hell of this society every day, but also they have important things to bring to people. And there should be that dialectical process, that back-and-forth process, so that you’re bringing forward masses of people who are the ones who are eventually going to bring this change, but you’re also, at any given time, cherishing and defending the leadership you have that has emerged that does have this advanced understanding and can link it with the practical conditions of the masses of people and with their own desire to find a way out of the world that they’re chained in, and can bring them forward on that basis.

I see this more in that kind of way, and wherever in the world and whenever we get leaders who do have a developed capacity—going back to what you were saying at the very beginning of our conversation about someone commenting about how I combine theory and an understanding of how to bring this to masses of people. Well, I want to be able to do that even better, but I think objectively there is some important truth to that. And where that emerges, then that’s a very valuable and precious thing for the struggle, and that should be recognized and it should be defended—because it’s not easy for something like that to be brought forward by the whole mass upsurge of the people, which is really where I came from, as do other people who do come to this kind of position. And you combine that with studying theory—but without that impulse from the masses of people that we’ve been talking about, I wouldn’t have even wanted to take up that theory or seen the need to or been inclined to.

So it’s that whole back and forth that’s important. And where you do have these leaders, you should recognize it, you should recognize how important it is, how much the enemy wants to destroy that. They have people who study this and they don’t wait until you have a massive influence. They don’t want to sit around and find out how well you’re going to do. As soon as they see anything emerging like that, they’re going to start developing their tactics for how to crush that and eliminate it.

On the other hand, precisely the role of people like that is to bring forward growing numbers of people, including among those who can be and have to be the driving force for this whole revolution. That’s the whole orientation and objective that I’m pursuing—is together with and through our party as a whole and leading the party to do this, to bring forward that base of people and to bring forward people broadly and to build a broad united front with that basic proletarian force as the driving thrust within all that, to make this revolution. And then to begin transforming society to where individuals increasingly don’t have such a—what you might call disproportionate influence—that their importance isn’t out of proportion to that of others in the society. But in order to get to that, we have to first of all get rid of this system and its oppressive divisions, including this whole mental/manual contradiction that is what I’ve really been talking about: those few who work with ideas and work with their minds, and the many who work with their backs and their hands if they can work at all. You can’t get rid of that contradiction by wishing it away or pretending it doesn’t exist.

It’s that contradiction, in large part, that gives rise to the need for leaders and for a vanguard, and then the contradiction goes forward and becomes: how does that vanguard lead the masses of people to move society forward to eventually eliminate that contradiction and the need for that vanguard? And all along the way, yes, that vanguard can turn into its opposite and leaders can turn into their opposite. That’s the contradictory nature of what we’re doing. You can’t do this without a vanguard, and yet it can be turned into its opposite; and we have to struggle to resolve that in a forward moving way to get to where leaders and vanguards, in the sense we’re talking about them, are no longer necessary and will go out of existence and be replaced by the more collective process of the masses of people without those kinds of distinctions of mental labor and manual labor and the role of particular individuals being such a heavy one, so to speak.

Part 2: On Stalin and the Experience of Socialist Society

MICHAEL SLATE: I think that’s really important. And one thing, you know—the question that’s actually behind a lot of this stuff about leaders and communism, I mean the big question that’s always sort of in the room, and in a way it’s the first thing that comes up is: OK, you’ve had some experience around this stuff—Stalin. And I know that’s a big, big question, but it’s also something that—I think you know—look, a lot of listeners on KPFK, for instance, that’s the big question mark. Immediately they go right to that: Stalin, totalitarianism.

BOB AVAKIAN: Well, that is a big question. I mean, I think you know, as there is these days with Mao, even with Stalin, there’s a lot of distortion. Stalin did lead the development of the first socialist country in the world against some very difficult odds. And a lot of times when people talk about…especially in American society, you’re sort of conditioned to think of everything through the prism of the way this society is now, and not to even know about, let alone to really think about, the implications of things like the fact that Stalin came to leadership after a period in which there was a revolution and a civil war [in Russia] which left the country in a shambles because it came out of the context of World War 1 to begin with. And the economy was broken down; there was a question of could they do anything in terms of rebuilding the economy—and in particular could they do it along socialist lines, or did they basically have to give up that idea once there was not a revolution in large parts of the world besides Russia? And Stalin was the one that came forward and led people in actually building the socialist economy without any prior experience and in very difficult circumstances, where increasingly they were facing a threat of attack—which did come from Germany [in 1941]. This is something which a lot of people, even people who consider themselves educated, don’t know, or forget about—or don’t realize the full implications of the fact that they lost 20 million or more people in World War 2 in the Soviet Union. I mean that was out of a population of less than 200 million at that time. So think about that—you’re losing more than a tenth of the population. Think about what that would mean in the U.S. and what the effect of that would be. And that was looming before them and over them for much of the time that Stalin was leading the Soviet Union [from the mid-1920s, on].

And you combine that with the fact that it was a backward country where 80 percent of the people were peasants. It had been less than 100 years since they’d been freed from literal serfdom. That happened at the same time as the Civil War in the U.S. It was one of two major changes in the world going on at that time—the abolition of slavery in the U.S. and the abolition of serfdom in Russia, where the serfs were virtually if not literally owned by the landlords. That happened only in the 1860s, and they weren’t very far from that [at the time of the Russian revolution]. And there was tremendous backwardness in the country; even though there was an empire run by the Tsar [absolute monarch], the country itself was largely backward.

So you had all of these things—obstacles that Stalin had to go up against, with no prior experience—and yet great achievements were brought about. They industrialized the country, but also in terms of the health care, the living standard of the people, the role of the working class in remaking industry and changing the relations—all that kind of stuff. And [great changes in the conditions of] the peasantry in the countryside. And the abolition of tremendous and horrendous forms of oppression of women in the Soviet Union. You can imagine in a society that was still heavily steeped in feudalism, with a lot of religious fundamentalism and absolutism in different forms throughout the society—and [there were] tremendous advances for women. All that’s on the positive side—and is usually blotted out and ignored. And it is more contradictory than that—even the positive stuff is more contradictory. But it’s important to situate this in the realities of what they were up against and also the realities of what was positively accomplished.

And then there were some real weaknesses on Stalin’s part that increased the more the difficulties became acute—and the more in particular they could see that war was looming, particularly in the form of an attack from Nazi Germany once Hitler came to power in 1933, and beyond—in Germany during that decade of the 1930s. So Stalin made a lot of errors partly because of difficulties of circumstances, but also partly because of his methodology. Mao once jokingly, or half-jokingly, said about Stalin that he was raised—you know, educated—in a religious seminary; he never really shed that outlook completely. And that translated into his being sort of mechanical, wooden—a tendency to be wooden, to see things in absolute terms. This was sort of the way the absolutist religion was at that time. And yes, certain influences of patriarchy and things like that, that came from that whole tradition. And although he [Stalin] shed a lot of that, Mao’s point was that a lot of it remained in how he approached problems.

As Mao also put it, Stalin tended in significant ways—and in growing ways as the threat to the Soviet Union grew in the ‘30s especially—to mix up two different kinds of contradictions, as Mao identified them: those among the people, making up more than 90 percent of the society; and those between the people and the enemy, the old overthrown exploiters and actually active, conscious counter-revolutionaries who were sabotaging and trying to destroy the economy, and some of them were even collaborating with the Germans, but in one way or another, in one form or another, [people who] were trying to bring back the old capitalist society. Stalin tended to mix those things up, and that increasingly became a problem the more acute the dangers in the Soviet Union became.

And I think there was also a thing where Stalin —and this has been a broader problem in our movement that we’re struggling to root out—you start becoming convinced, or you become convinced, that you represent the wave of the future and everything that opposes you—which goes along with mixing up these two different kind of contradictions, to try to get at specific or particular aspects of this—everything that opposes you, criticizes you, dissents from what you’re doing can be too readily dismissed and too readily cast into the camp of people who are bound to take things back to capitalism. Now some people that are going to criticize you when you’re building socialism do want to go back to capitalism, but many people don’t actually want to, and even [though] sometimes their ideas would objectively lead that way, but that’s not where they’re consciously coming from. And these things have to be sorted out—not just by a few leaders, but by the masses of people. They have to be thrashed out, they have to be struggled out. And there have to be increasingly developed the forms for people to struggle out what is really in the interests of the broad masses of people, what is the way forward to uproot these centuries-long chains of oppression in various forms, and what is the way to remake the world and join with people throughout the world in the revolutionary struggle to get beyond all this, get to a whole new era of human history. People have to thrash those things out. And there was a tendency, a very marked tendency in Stalin—but it’s not limited to him—to [think like] “We know the way” and anybody who opposes us not only might be wrong—which they might be, or they might be right—but is trying to take this a whole different way [back to capitalism].

And I think that there was a tendency [like that], which increasingly set in, and the more necessity impinged on them in terms of the dangers, and the more that Stalin felt that they had to go through a breakneck pace to industrialize and arm themselves in a heavy way to be able to deal with this military threat, the more there wasn’t any air to breathe or room allowed for experimentation, for criticism, for dissent, for people trying to strike out in different directions and see how that could all be part of the process, and for the masses to get involved in struggling out what really is the way forward out of all this. And not just THE WAY (with a capital T, capital W), as if there’s only one way, but many different pathways which all ultimately have to be directed toward, or have to find their way toward and be led toward the goal you have, but [people] may find a lot of different pathways there. I don’t think that you can advance through those processes that I’m talking about by one straight, narrow highway. I think that was an understanding that Stalin didn’t have or increasingly lost sight of.

It’s a real challenge: How do you have a society in which you have a lot of ferment and you have a lot of dissent, and you have people proposing and struggling for different things, and yet you do find the way to keep that all—put your arms around that in the sense of an embrace, not in the sense of suffocating it—but reach out broadly and get your arms around all that, so you can lead all of it to go forward without suffocating it, and without constricting it, and so that the masses of people get involved in actually thrashing these things out and determining what’s the way forward? So there’s a lot of that, that was missing in Stalin. It was too much like: “This is the way forward—we know it, we’re going to go 1-2-3, and anybody who opposes that, or has any other idea, can only be working for the enemy.”

And that increasingly became the problem, as I said, when…as the necessity increasingly—and it has a lot to do with necessity. I mean, when the Soviet Union was invaded—you know they talk all about World War 2, but they don’t talk very much about [the fact that] when the Soviet Union was invaded a lot of their industry was destroyed—whatever the Nazis could get their hands on, was taken [by the Nazis] or destroyed. And in the Russian winter people were going without heat because they were under siege. People were eating wallpaper off the walls in Moscow to try to survive the siege, which lasted a year or whatever. And people divorce all that—you can’t divorce the errors that were made from those circumstances, on the one hand. On the other hand, you can’t just use those circumstances as a way to dismiss all the methodological questions that have to be summed up much more deeply and critically in order to see how—yes, in circumstances in the future where we’re going to face similar kinds of necessity—we can do much better with it, and yet not be crushed and defeated.

MICHAEL SLATE: You know, it’s interesting because I think the answer you’re giving is refreshing and actually another way—it really does put it in proper context and perspective. I think actually, though, the thing that a lot of people still come down to—it’s come down to people saying: Look, you can talk about methodological errors, you can talk about all this stuff, but you’re still talking about—it ended up, it wasn’t just errors, it ended up in people being killed, people being shunted off to gulags and dying and disappearing. And they portray this as not—they portray it as a reign of terror. Now, granted, a lot of this stuff comes from people like Solzhenitsyn who actually was—they always conveniently forget to say that he was actually advocating and fighting to bring back the Tsar until the day he died. But this is still a question that comes up—it’s like: Look, there were deaths here, there was this reign of terror that was unleashed, not just a squashing of dissent, but a reign of terror.

BOB AVAKIAN: Well, when I talk about methodological errors, I don’t mean to talk about this as if it’s detached from what happens to real people. When you are leading anything—and especially a society, and having a major impact in the world—when you make errors, especially serious errors, people suffer for it. That’s part of what’s involved in taking responsibility for something like this. And so I’m acutely aware that people suffered. When you mix up the two kinds of contradictions and you repress people who are just raising disagreements or dissenting—even if their dissent is really off base and it really would cause problems if you were to implement their policies—then when you mix that up and mishandle that and your methodology leads you to do that, which is the point I was making, then yes, people do suffer real consequences.

Now, I think it’s still necessary to study more and sort out more what [are] the slanders, fabrications, and distortions that come from people like Solzhenitsyn—the Solzhenitsyns and the imperialists who promote them and that whole viewpoint—and then what was the reality of what happened. And it’s complicated to do this. I know someone who studies these things who told me that now that they have Putin in there [heading up the Russian government], and now that they’ve dropped the mask of socialism altogether, and the Soviet Union is no longer in existence, well, now we’re supposed to believe that everything that these people claim to dig out of the archives from the old Soviet Union is the gospel truth. Before when they were KGB agents, everything they said was a lie. Somehow now they’re “disinterested” people and everything they say about the past—which they’re interested in discrediting themselves to a significant degree—somehow that’s the gospel truth and shouldn’t be questioned or looked at critically. So we need a more critical approach than that, and it is difficult to sort out, but we need to sort out more what actually did happen.2

I mean, I’ve read things like Arno Mayer’s book,  The Furies, about the use of terror and repression in the French Revolution as well as the Russian Revolution, and his figures on the number of people who were sent to “gulags” [in the Soviet Union when it was led by Stalin] was a lot lower than what’s usually cited. And I don’t know if that’s the whole picture, but it’s certainly part of what we need to be learning from. And there needs to be more digging into this. But I will say that there were people who were wrongly repressed, that there wasn’t the kind of vigorous—especially after the mid-’30s—there was some earlier, but even then, not enough, but especially after the mid-’30s there wasn’t the kind of vigorous ferment in society and struggle over the road forward and clashing of different ideas and opinions [that there should have been].

But look, it’s not so simple as just everything that comes from a section of the masses of people is always right. If that were the case, we’d be way ahead of where we are in the world right now. Things are contradictory and complicated. A big condemnation of the Soviet Union is its role in the Spanish Civil War [in the latter part of the 1930s]. We wrote a whole article studying this in the magazine  Revolution a number of years ago—actually about 20 years ago now. 3 And a lot of people think that the problem with the Soviet Union—or the [Spanish] Communist Party, following the Soviet Union—in Spain was that they were too centralized. Well, that wasn’t the essential problem. The essential problem was that their line was one of subordinating the struggle in Spain to the Soviet Union’s attempts to make deals with—come to agreements with—France and Britain, in particular, against Germany, against the Nazis, because of the threat they [Stalin and the Soviet leadership] were perceiving. You actually did need a lot of centralization in that army [the Republican army in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s] in order to effectively fight [the fascist Spanish General] Franco and all the backing that he had. And a lot of the anarchists’ programs [during the Spanish Civil War] were programs that would have actually undermined the necessary struggle. And they actually reflected the interests of a lot of small artisans and petit bourgeois forces—as we analyzed in that [ Revolution magazine] article—or they did represent sections of workers whose programs would have pitted their interests against the larger interests of the working class and the people who were part of the Republican struggle as a whole.

So it’s not always—this came up in the Chinese Revolution, for example. It’s described in Fanshen [a book by William Hinton, about how the Chinese revolution unfolded—and involved and affected people—in the Chinese countryside]. There were the poor peasants who were the poorest of the poor in the countryside and landless to a large degree. They wanted to expropriate everything that [was owned by] everybody above them, even the relatively not-well-off, lower sections of the middle peasantry, as it was defined. And there had to be struggle against that [“poor peasant line”], because had their program been implemented, they would have very quickly found themselves back in the same situation, perhaps with a slight reshuffling of who was where in the polarization, but they wouldn’t have been able to break out of the overall poverty, because that required going at it a completely different way—of moving through cooperative labor to cooperative ownership and then larger collective ownership of the land and a whole program like that, and not just eating up whatever was at hand at a given time—which would have—there wasn’t very much to eat up. You would have just been redistributing poverty, at best. And a lot of the forces that they wanted to expropriate were people you should have been aligned with and working together with, as you moved from individual ownership to cooperative labor to cooperative ownership, and then larger collectives of ownership of peasants as a way out of the poverty of the countryside. And it was the Communist Party that understood this and struggled against this “poor peasant line.” And sometimes it was a pretty sharp struggle. You could say: “Well, look at the Communist Party, it’s betraying the poor peasants.” It wasn’t actually. It was actually fighting for their interests in a way that spontaneously some of them weren’t seeing and were acting against. And the same thing happened in the Soviet Union at times or in the Spanish Civil War.

So it’s complex. Just because a section of the masses, for example, might rebel against the government doesn’t mean the government is wrong in every situation. It depends on what the program of these different forces is. Now, if a section of the masses rebels against the government that is a socialist government, the government and the leaders of the society should struggle very hard to have that resolved non-antagonistically, as a contradiction among the people. But it’s not always possible to completely do that. And this is what makes for the complexities of things.

If certain interests are being insisted upon by a section of the masses that would actually undermine the overall interests of the proletariat, then you can’t go along with that. Say you raise the wages of a section of the working class, but the effect of that is to actually undermine the accumulation [necessary] for expanding the socialist economy as a whole—which, over a little longer period, would raise the standard of living of the working class and masses of people much more broadly. Well, you have to fight against that line [of insisting on a wage increase for a section of the people] because maybe that wage increase, while it might be a good trade union demand under capitalism, is actually working against the advance of socialism and even the interests of the workers who are raising it, in a more fundamental sense.

The point I’m trying to make here is: this is complex, and the point of orientation has to be to look at the larger interests of the formerly exploited and oppressed masses of people, who are now becoming the masters of the socialist society, and wage a struggle for them to raise their sights to that larger picture and even to the world as a whole and the world revolution. For example, people in China made sacrifices to support the Vietnamese [in their war of resistance against U.S. imperialism, for a decade during the 1960s and 1970s]. They raised rice to get to the Vietnamese because a lot of the [Vietnamese] rice production was being destroyed by the bombing and the [overall] war that the U.S. was carrying out in Vietnam. Well, that was a struggle [among the Chinese people] because people were coming out of generations of not just poverty but starvation in China, and they had the Great Leap Forward [in China in the late 1950s] and they were still recovering from some of the problems that arose in that. And they did recover quickly—which is the first time in the history of that country that very quickly, after there was some real privation and even starvation, they quickly solved the problem, and for the first time in the early ’60s, or by the mid-’60s, China had essentially solved its food problem—meaning people were getting basic food stuffs to be able to live on—which hadn’t happened before in the history of that country. And this was only 15 years after the revolution succeeded essentially.

So sometimes you have to actually struggle against the demands that come from a section of the masses of people—even though you can see why those demands come and it’s speaking to a real need of theirs—because if you actually accede to that, you’re going to undermine the basis for raising the whole level of the people. And in that case [Vietnam, and Chinese aid for the Vietnamese war of resistance] you will undermine the basis of support of an important struggle in another country or part of the world.

So these are the kinds of things we need to dig into more deeply. I’m just trying to say that people who fall into these notions that, “Well, they put down this rebellion, or whatever,” sometimes are not looking at it from the point of view of the larger relations in the society and what it would have meant to accede to a certain demand from a section of the masses, even if they had real grievances. And that goes back to my point that when you’re talking about sections of the masses of people, and not overthrown exploiters or conscious counter-revolutionaries, you should seek to resolve that non-antagonistically—as Mao put it, as a contradiction among the people—but sometimes in the short run that’s not always possible. Because wherever in a socialist society there are grievances—here’s what makes it complicated: Stalin was wrong the way he dealt with a lot of things; he did treat contradictions among the people many times as contradictions with the enemy, but the complication is that the enemy does get in there. You know, the masses have grievances, and then the enemy fans those grievances to try to undermine the whole thing. And it becomes very complex because these two different contradictions—those among the people, and those between the people and the enemy—get mixed in together and meshed together and it’s hard to sort them out sometimes.

So I think there’s a lot to learn in terms of how we can do better, but what I’m struggling for is an orientation of really looking at the problems the way they actually present themselves in all their complexity and from the point of view of advancing to where this all needs to go—and not from the narrow trade unionist point of view, which is frankly how a lot of your anarcho-syndicalist and Trotskyite and other criticisms of the Soviet Union under Stalin’s leadership come at it, from that kind of a trade unionist or anarcho-syndicalist point of view, which is not really the point of view of how we’re going to move—transform the whole society and raise the whole level of everybody up and eliminate the chains on people to get to a whole different kind of world—but is more narrow and economist, as Lenin called it. More like: how does the particular section of the people improve their living and working conditions right now? And yes, we should do that in an overall sense, but there are times when that can come into a contradiction, even acute contradiction, with raising the whole level up.

 

1 Ronald Reagan, the U.S. president from 1981 to 1989, was infamous for openly threatening nuclear war, backing death squad regimes in Central America, promoting outright racism, and other outrages. Reagan’s death in June 2004 (half a year before the interview with Bob Avakian on Michael Slate’s radio show was aired) was the occasion for a flood of official ceremonies and commemorations, remembrances by top political figures (Democrats and Republicans alike), and major tributes in the mainstream media, all extolling this blood-soaked representative of the U.S. empire as a “beloved” leader who “restored greatness” to America. [back]

2 The Set the Record Straight project, which is inspired by the writings of Bob Avakian, has been carrying out educational and outreach activities “to take on the distortions, misrepresentations, and supporting scholarship that hold such sway in academia about the first wave of socialist revolutions, in the Soviet Union in 1917-1956 and China in 1949-1976.” To learn more about the project and access its resource material, go online to thisiscommunism.org.[back]

3 “The Line of the Comintern on the Civil War in Spain,” Revolution magazine, June 1981, pp. 32-70.[back]

 

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Revolution #168, June 21, 2009


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Every week, Revolution covers the sharpest questions in the world. Revolution brings to light the system’s hidden abuses, while at the same time revealing the true causes of the events that everyone is talking about.

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Every week, through its exposures and analysis, Revolution demonstrates the utter worthlessness of the system we live under.  At the heart of Revolution is the vision, work and leadership of Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the RCP,USA.  Avakian  has stepped up to fulfill a great need in the world. He has brought forward qualitative developments and radical breakthroughs in communist method and theory—including in the realms of philosophy, internationalism, the dynamics of socialist society, and revolutionary strategy. And Bob Avakian is leading a party that is working to lead a revolution in the USA.  As a recent open letter in Revolution put it, “...it is extremely difficult to understand how anyone consciously involved in the struggle for communism would not grasp how Chairman Avakian’s continuing leadership immeasurably increases the chance of there being a communist revolution in the USA during our lifetimes, and therefore how the role he is playing is also in that sense an extremely positive factor for the world revolution as a whole.”  So as a key part of its mission, Revolution features Bob Avakian’s work in its pages and reports on the work to build a movement around his leadership.

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Like the scaffolding that goes up at a construction site before a building emerges, the movement built around Revolution newspaper both shapes and prepares for the emergence of a revolutionary movement. It hastens, and gives direction to—including through exposure that compels people to act—bringing forward that revolutionary movement. It shapes the development of events and people’s understanding of those events today AND prepares a whole section of people to bring forward and lead what must be a revolutionary people in their millions at a time when the system goes into even more serious crisis. Revolution is the life blood of this growing revolutionary movement—and making strides in building a network around this paper is an urgent necessity.

Late last year, we launched the “Revolution Initiative” (Revolution #147, November 16, 2008, see “Revolution Announces...A Bold Initiative,” at revcom.us) to radically expand the reach of the paper and to raise its quality. Since then, the work of many people has succeeded in raising substantial funds to continue to put out Revolution, to acquire and begin to equip additional production space, and to begin to facilitate the involvement of new volunteers. But this is not sufficient.

Building on the first stage of our fund drive, there is particular importance to a concentrated effort to greatly expand the network of regular financial sustainers of Revolution newspaper in the coming weeks. Sustainers must come from all quarters—from the neighborhoods to the universities to all scenes of ferment and debate. This expanded network of sustainers will provide a reliable source of income essential to getting beyond a phase of needing to continually raise funds just to cover basic expenses, making it possible to direct resources to expanding the content and distribution of Revolution. Critical to this expansion is radically revamping our web site—and expanding our reach in every corner of society as well as around the world. And, very importantly, this network of sustainers will be a strategic component of building organization around this newspaper—and FOR revolution. If you have become a regular online reader at revcom.us, send in regular donations. Checks and money orders should be sent to RCP Publications, P.O. Box 3486, Chicago, IL 60654 or donate on line. (PayPal coming soon.) If you are already contributing generously on a regular basis, now is the time to reach out and draw more people into the revolutionary movement in the form of becoming contributors and sustainers of Revolution.

A coherent, expanded sustainer network will also be a foundation for ongoing mass fundraising outreach in many communities, neighborhoods, schools, and movements—from grassroots yard sales to major fundraising events. The upcoming July 4th weekend is a perfect time to organize fundraising activities for Revolution. While the system promotes drunken, USA chauvinist celebrations of a nation that has brought bloodshed, oppression, and exploitation to every corner of the world… organize fundraising picnics over the weekend of July 4 that challenge people to imagine a world without everything America stands for and must do to maintain its world dominance. These can range from big public citywide happenings (some of which could break into the mainstream news) to backyard neighborhood events. Build for this by enlarging and taking around the center spread in issue #165 (“What the U.S. Spreads Around the World,” May 24, 2009)—and prepare to enlarge the center spread in our next issue, which will be very hard-hitting—and lofty in its vision. And, in the process, raise a lot of money, and enlist new volunteers in the Revolution Initiative.

Let’s take out this great need! Many people give money to efforts to reform and patch up this system or to make “America live up to its founding ideal” (which, let us remember, included slavery). In the next weeks, let’s intensify our efforts and challenge people to contribute to making change that is truly meaningful. Let the struggle unfold over what difference it could make to putting an end to the horror that millions over the globe are living every day, to emancipating all humanity, if they contribute, financially and in many other ways, to the Revolution Initiative. Build a real movement for revolution in this country. Challenge people to think about—and then act upon—the difference it will make if increasing numbers of people who are seriously concerned about the direction of this society and America’s role in the world come to know the Revolutionary Communist Party and its Chairman, Bob Avakian.

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Revolution #168, June 21, 2009


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Justice for Oscar Grant:

Murdering Cop to Face Murder Charges… The Struggle Continues

Six months after the killing of Oscar Grant, on June 4, Judge C. Don Clay ruled, after a preliminary hearing, that former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) cop Johannes Mehserle will go to trial for murder. This ruling sets the stage, and new stakes, for the battle for justice for Oscar Grant. And the twists and turns of this case as it heads into trial need to be closely watched. People need to continue to speak out, resist and bring the truth about this murder, part of a nationwide epidemic of police murder, to the world.

In recent decades thousands of people have been killed by police. Men, women and children. The Department of Justice keeps a list of some of these, about 350 per year, all under the heading of “justifiable homicide.” The San Francisco Chronicle did some research and could find only 6 cases in the last 15 years where cops had been charged with murder for a killing committed while on duty. Of these six cases involving 13 police, most of the cops were acquitted, and none were convicted of murder. (“Ex-BART cop accused of murder in rare group,” 2/15/09.) In the case of Amadou Diallo, for example, the four cops who fired at him 41 times were acquitted of all charges.

In the majority of killings, the matter never even makes it into court. When a cop kills someone the stock phrase, of “he was going for his waistband” written in a report is often enough to rubber stamp the killing of an innocent civilian as “justifiable homicide,” and resolve an investigation.

Each police murder is a horrific event: the youngster shot in the back, a mentally ill woman shot while she waved a vegetable peeler (Cau Bich Tran, killed by the San Jose Police Department in 2003), the beatings, the chokeholds, and the electrocution-executions by cops wielding so-called “non-lethal” Taser guns.

Oscar Grant’s murder, seen from 5 different angles on video, was horrifying and quick.  Oscar Grant and his friends had been celebrating New Year’s Eve, taking public transportation home because it was the “safe” thing to do. When their train pulled into the Fruitvale station the BART cops detained Oscar and his friends, on reports of a fight. The cops were cursing, waving Tasers around, pushing, beating and threatening them. Johannes Mehserle pushed Oscar to his stomach and shot him point blank in the back. The whole rampage lasted only several minutes.

Police murder happens every day. But THIS was a murder that many people protested in many different ways. First, at least 5 of the people on the packed train on New Year’s Eve saw the police cursing and shoving Oscar Grant and his friends and pulled out their cameras or cell phones to record the brutality. Three videos, surfacing one after another, played on TV and went viral on the Internet. People in Oakland and around the world began to demand justice for Oscar Grant. A memorial was set up outside the station where he was killed. Oscar’s family spoke out at his funeral where hundreds were in attendance. The politicians and preachers urged calm. But on January 7 Johannes Mehserle quit the BART police, and had still not even been arrested. And on that night there was a rebellion involving hundreds of people in downtown Oakland that lasted into the night.

As Revolution reported, “decades of pent-up anger at police brutality and outright murder, like the killing of Oscar—exploded onto the streets in righteous rebellion.” (Police Murder Sparks Rebellion in Oakland: People Demand Justice for Oscar Grant!, January 18, 2009)

The next night, a smaller crowd of 100 took the streets of downtown, with police helicopters once again hovering over the downtown area for hours, and there were more arrests. On Friday there were walkouts at Oakland High and other schools. On Monday a rowdy evening protest marched through downtown San Francisco, and there were more arrests. Amidst not only the aftershocks and echoes of the rebellion, but the unleashing of broad mass protests including people from different walks of life for justice for Oscar Grant, Johannes Mehserle was finally arrested in Nevada where he had fled, and he was initially charged with murder.

Of the six cops who were on the platform with Mehserle on January 1st, none have been fired from BART. And in their testimony at the hearing, these pigs said they had “no regrets” about their actions that night. One of them, Marysol Domenici stunned the courtroom as she described how she herself was mentally preparing to kill someone right after Oscar had been shot. And now Domenici and Jon Woffinden have, according to KGO News, been awarded a new assignment: tactical defense trainers for the whole department. The same cops who were part of a 2 1/2 minute rampage that ended in murder are now being assigned to train other officers in how it is done!

When people rose up in Oakland, they were going up against all that. People were acting with a basic understanding: “no more—enough is enough.”  The slogans “we are all Oscar Grant” and “the whole damn system is guilty” resonated powerfully on the streets and throughout Oakland—and still do. This rebellion, although it involved only hundreds of people, was seen as being something with deep roots, something that could re-erupt again. And spread.

The system wants to sweep the murder of Oscar under the rug, and let its cops go free.  But they also know that the spirit of those first days after Oscar’s murder, and the protests that followed still burns beneath the surface. The powers-that-be went into immediate overdrive to denounce the rebellion. The media called the people who took part “thugs” and targeted Revolution Books for upholding the rebellion. David, a teenage member of the Revolution Club was hit with felony charges, as were three others: including a journalist and a City College student. After the night of January 7, almost every protest against police brutality has been surrounded by hundreds of riot cops.

In March, when four cops were killed in Oakland the system immediately seized on this incident to unleash a counter-offensive to discredit people’s righteous anger and resistance against the murder of Oscar Grant and the larger epidemic it’s part of. A huge funeral was attended by 15,000 police, televised live in the Bay Area with eulogies for the “four fallen heroes” delivered by politicians. Barack Obama sent a letter expressing his sympathy, saying “We will always carry them in our hearts, and their legacy of service will inspire us as we work together toward a better Oakland, a better world.” No words of sympathy from Obama for Oscar Grant, though.

And California Attorney General Jerry Brown made fascist and pointed statements, calling the masses “urban terrorists.” And he targeted revolutionary activists when he promised to keep “in check” the  “ideological opponents” who are “so fixed in their belief that the police are the problem.”

All this is why it is so important to defend those who were arrested on January 7 and are still facing charges.  David, a member of the Bay Area Revolution Club, is one of four (and the only juvenile) charged with felonies.  As a flyer for the Revolution Club put it, calling for people to attend a legal hearing in David’s case on Monday, June 15: “These same authorities and system, which continually carry out these violent outrages against oppressed people, are particularly singling out someone who brought to those involved in the righteous rebellion a clear understanding of the cause of these outrages—the system itself, and the way in which its oppressive nature is enforced, through brutality and murder—and the fact that the solution lies in building a revolutionary movement with the final goal of fully sweeping away this monstrous system.”

By charging David, as well as the others, with felonies in this case, the system is attacking everyone who is refusing to remain silent in the face of the murder of Oscar—and beyond that, everyone who dreams of a radically different world.  Defending those facing charges is a crucial part of the overall battle for justice for Oscar Grant.

There will be twists and turns ahead in the struggle for justice for Oscar Grant. Mehserle is far from being convicted. In light of this, it is important to note that in ruling that Mehserle should stand trial for murder, Judge Clay said he agreed with the defense that the case came down to Mehserle’s “state of mind” when he shot his weapon, and said that to determine this, Mehserle would have to testify. Clay also said that while he thought they exaggerated, he did believe the officers’ claim that they thought Oscar Grant posed a threat—to the cops. In short, in binding Mehserle over for a murder trial, Judge Clay outlined key legal avenues that the defense could take which could lead to Mehserle being acquitted at trial.

Because of the struggle waged so far, there is a possibility of something happening that almost never happens under this system—that in this case, there could be some justice for a young Black man murdered by the police, and a murdering cop could go to jail on murder charges.  There will be twists and turns and new things that people will have to learn and do—even to get justice for the murder of Oscar, let alone to put an end to the system and bring a radically different world into being.

As we wrote earlier in Revolution, “Powerful resistance can change the equation in society where too many people accept the unacceptable. It can give heart to those put under a constant death sentence by this verdict. It can call forth many more people to join in taking this on. And it can be a powerful force in building a revolutionary movement aimed at getting rid of this murderous system.” (“People Demand Justice for Oscar Grant!,” 1/19/09).

We Are All Oscar Grant! The Whole Damn System Is Guilty!

Fight The Power, And Transform The People, For Revolution.

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Revolution #168, June 21, 2009


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Obama in Cairo:

A Speech of Lies To Enforce a SYSTEM of Oppression

by Toby O'Ryan

The following is an excerpt from a longer article. Other sections from that article will be serialized in coming issues of Revolution.

As you read this, the U.S. is either waging, bankrolling, or threatening war all across the Middle East and South Asia. Hundreds of millions of people in the Arab countries and South Asia bitterly oppose these wars. They connect these American-led wars to a whole matrix of political, economic and cultural domination by the imperialists. And they are right to do so.

On June 5 Barack Obama, the chief representative of the imperialist system in the U.S. and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces waging those wars, gave a speech in Egypt, at Cairo University. Obama’s mission was NOT, as we shall see, to change these basic relations. He did not even announce the end of any of these wars.

Instead, Obama aimed to recast people’s understanding of the terms of all this, to use his background and ability to “package” it to provide a “different narrative.” It was an attempt—a major attempt—to change how people understand history, how they view the world today and how they see the possibilities and avenues for change.

It is important to understand the actual policies set forth in this speech, and we will address some of those. But it is at least equally important to dig deeply into the historical and analytical framework in which Obama cast those policies, and that will be our principal focus.

“The Muslim World”

Obama introduced his speech as an attempt to “seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect...” He continually quoted the Q’uran, as well as the Bible, and referred to various myths—for instance, a purported meeting between Moses, Jesus and Mohammed—as if they were true. Unlike the Bush regime, many of whose key operatives used imagery openly evocative of the Christian Crusades against the Arab world, Obama demonstrated his command of Islamic imagery and made a show of respect for Islamic religion.

Many of the sharpest conflicts today do find expression in the form of conflicts between forces espousing Islamic fundamentalism, which have a base in both the impoverished and dislocated masses of the Middle East and South Asia, as well as elsewhere, and the United States in particular. By “showing respect for Islam,” Obama hopes to cut a section of the potential base of those movements out from under them.

But the notion of a “Muslim world” serves actually to conceal a fundamental and important truth: there are deeper, material factors and contradictions than religion driving the development of societies. What’s going on in the Middle East is not at base a religious conflict or a “clash of civilizations.” It is a matter of billions of people—entire nations, peoples and regions of the world—subordinated to and forced to live under the yoke of an imperialist system, with the fundamental character of that system obscured by all manner of fanciful notions and myths.  The U.S. does not subjugate these countries because of their religion—it dominates them in order to ensure the workings of U.S. capitalism and, in close relation to that, the U.S. geopolitical domination of the world. It ensnares these countries in a whole network of economic relations in which their subordinate economic position is constantly reproduced. Conversely, liberation cannot be achieved through an “Islamic revolution”; such a revolution, among other things, will not and cannot rupture out of this oppressed and subordinate position to the imperialist order, nor will it alter the fundamental relations of exploitation within these societies.

The societies in the Middle East and South Asia, like societies everywhere on the planet, are divided into classes. Within these particular societies, there are ruling cliques of “comprador capitalists” which fundamentally represent the interests of the U.S., or other imperialist powers, and carry out or defend brutal super-exploitation of the masses in the service of those interests. This super-exploitation and plunder has caused extreme misery and tremendous social dislocation. In many cases, these cliques use Islam as a way to legitimize their rule. The rulers of Saudi Arabia, to take one notable but hardly unique example, serve as one of the main conduits of American economic and political domination of the region. Their ideology that frames the legal system and form of rule, and that legitimates that rule, is an extreme brand of repressive Islam. But that has never been a problem for the U.S. In fact, the U.S. has throughout history built up and reinforced these sorts of forces against revolutionary communists and (more or less) secular nationalists.

In other cases, these ruling forces take on a more “modern” guise (even as they still utilize Islam). At the same time, there are other exploiting classes—landlords who exploit peasants, capitalists who exploit proletarians—who, for one reason or another, have not been “dealt into” the system of imperialist plunder to their satisfaction. These class forces these days also often take on the ideology of Islam, and portray the oppression of the masses, and of the plunder and domination of these nations as a whole, as a case of religious oppression; they accuse the puppets who run the country of betraying Islam and capitulating to the infidels. There are also forces in these countries which take up more modern forms of thought associated with the “Enlightenment”—forces which want a certain break with traditional social relations and would like to see “more room” for science, non-religious literature, etc. and greater freedom for women. Absent a strong revolutionary communist pole, these forces on the one hand generally do not fundamentally break with or challenge Islam and on the other cast their opposition within the constraints of bourgeois democracy—that is, democracy “in the image of” (and designed to reinforce the domination of) the capitalist class.

Meanwhile, at the base of society there are hundreds of millions of peasants and proletarians in these nations, subjected to bitter and grinding exploitation, and living lives foreshortened by hunger, war, disease, ignorance and oppression and who also provide the great wealth sucked from these countries by imperialism and the local exploiters. It is a major problem in the world today that, despite the valiant and even heroic efforts of communists in some of these countries, the masses in this part of the world are almost entirely under the political and ideological sway of one of these two poles, and many of the most exploited—along with some of the disaffected middle strata who have no place in society, no way to contribute or flourish—have gravitated toward Islamic fundamentalism. This is poisonous. Islamic fundamentalism masks the basic character of the problem, which is a) the domination of these societies by imperialism, b) the continued pervasiveness of feudal and semi-feudal oppression within these societies, and c) the mutual entwinement and reinforcement of these two oppressive forces. And it leads away from the solution—a truly emancipating revolution to liberate these societies from imperialism and to move toward socialism, and ultimately communism. Instead, Islamic fundamentalism, where it has come to power, has produced societies no less repressive and exploitative than what they replace.

From the point of view of the real interests of the masses, the casting of this fundamental antagonism in religious terms leads to disastrous results. It reflects an aspect of the surface reality, but it actually obscures, distorts and leads away from understanding the essential underlying forces and dynamics which have led to this horrendous situation. Revolutionaries have no choice but to devote major efforts to rupturing the masses from this outlook; this can’t be finessed, and nobody should want to finesse it. And the importance of doing it is, perversely enough, underlined by the fact that Obama’s entire speech—literally from beginning to end—is framed in, draws on, and reinforces these very terms and this very framework of understanding.

Crude Stereotype or Dead-On Characterization?

After paying homage to “Islamic civilization” for a while, Obama moves to a central point of his speech: “America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words—within our borders, and around the world.”

This may not be a very original lie, but it is still an astoundingly bald-faced one and one all too little remarked upon by those commenting on this speech.

To begin with, Obama did not mention exactly which blood that America has shed in its many many wars has NOT been in the service of a “self-interested” empire.

Was it the blood shed by the Native peoples of this country, who were pitilessly killed by America in wars that decimated, uprooted and often obliterated all traces of one people after another? These genocidal wars often paved the way to “hero” status and even the White House for those who prosecuted them—even today a laudatory biography of one of the most brutal and blood-thirsty genocidal general/presidents, Andrew Jackson, is on the best-seller charts.

Was it the blood shed by Mexicans, when the U.S. waged war against Mexico and stole much of its land—a war carried out for the principal purpose of expanding slavery?

Was it the blood shed in the war conducted to colonize the people of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century—a war in which America slaughtered somewhere between 200,000 and 1.4 million (!) Filipino people, out of a population at the time of 7 million?

Was it the blood that soaked the fields of Vietnam, when the U.S. murdered between two and three million people? Or the blood flowing in the deserts and cities of Iraq, where American military power over the past two decades has caused the death of over a million people and the maiming, torture, immiseration and suffering of millions more? How about the scores of U.S. invasions and military actions in Central and South America, stretching over decades, with its death toll in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands—all designed to prop up a pitiless and brutal U.S. domination of those nations?

Or perhaps it is Afghanistan, where the U.S. first bankrolled and armed Islamic fundamentalists who fought the rival of the U.S., the Soviet Union, and where today its 40,000 troops specialize in the mass murder of civilians from the sky?1

Even the much-vaunted “good war,” World War 2—which, note well, Obama immediately went on from Cairo to celebrate and call attention to through his cynical, photo-op visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp and his participation in the “D-Day ceremonies”—was nothing but a strategic move by the United States to expand its domination of the entire globe, defeating the challenge from its German and Japanese rivals (after first letting Germany bleed the then-socialist Soviet Union) and absorbing what had been the empires of its allies France and England into a new, U.S.-dominated neo-colonial order. Where, in all the rivers of blood that have been shed by U.S. arms over the past two centuries and more, is the blood that was NOT in the service of empire?

Is calling America a “self-interested empire” a “crude stereotype”? No. As the above list makes clear (and that list is far from exhaustive), it is merely a basic and undeniable truth essential to understanding the world we live in, what needs to be transformed in that world, and how to do it. America IS an empire—or, more scientifically, an imperialist system that requires the super-exploitation and domination of whole parts of the world for its existence. Unfortunately, even many who see or know about these crimes—or at least some of them—do not see, or refuse to see, the mechanism at the heart of the machine, the driving dynamic that reproduces these crimes generation after generation. And this weakness in people’s understanding is something that Obama—with his fresh packaging and his new face—attempts to play on.

Obama put out his profound lie about America at a pivotal part of his speech—right before he goes into the key “specific issues that...we must finally confront together.” But depending on how you understand what America in its essence is all about—what it has been about in all its wars and throughout its history, and what drives it forward—you will look at these “specific issues” very differently, and you will “confront” them in a very different way.

1. Spokespeople for U.S. imperialism routinely denounce Islamic fundamentalism—what they all leave out in their denunciations is the central role played by the U.S. in originally financing and backing these movements in order to crush communist and secular nationalist movements in those countries.  This is also involved, quiet as it’s kept, in the rise of Khomeini in Iran (See “30 Years After the Iranian Revolution” from A World To Win News Service, February 23, 2009.) In addition, during the 1980s, these forces were used as pawns by the U.S. to contend with the no-longer-socialist Soviet Union. [back]

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Revolution #168, June 21, 2009


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The Ascendancy of Obama...
and the Continued Need for Resistance and Liberation:
A Dialogue Between
Cornel West and Carl Dix

TUESDAY, July 14, 7:00 pm

CORNEL WEST is one of America’s most provocative public intellectuals and has been a champion for racial justice since childhood. His writing, speaking, and teaching weave together the traditions of the Black Baptist Church, progressive politics, and jazz. The New York Times has praised his “ferocious moral vision.” Dr. West currently teaches at Princeton University.

CARL DIX is a longtime revolutionary activist and a spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. Carl was one of the Fort Lewis 6 — six GI’s who refused orders to go to Vietnam in 1970. Carl served two years in Leavenworth Military Penitentiary for this stand.

Proceeds of this event will benefit Revolution Books in New York City and the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, which provides subsidized subscriptions to Revolution newspaper and other revolutionary literature to prisoners.

Harlem Stage at Aaron Davis Hall
150 Convent Avenue at West 135th Street.
1 train to 137th St at Broadway or
A, B, C, D to 125th St at St. Nicholas.
Tickets: $20—$10 with student ID
Premium Tickets: $100.
Group rates also available.
For tickets: 212-281-9240  ext. 6
online www.harlemstage.org
For more information or to volunteer,
call Revolution Books at 212-691-3345
Email cornelcarldialogue@gmail.com
Revolution Books is located at:  146 W. 26th St.,
New York, NY 10001. Information about Revolution Books is available at: www.revolutionbooksnyc.org
Information about  the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund is available at: www.prisonersrevolutionaryliteraturefund.org.

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Revolution #168, June 21, 2009


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Excerpts from:

A Declaration: For Women's Liberation And The Emancipation Of All Humanity

This year, on March 8, International Women’s Day, Revolution published “A Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity.” The cowardly murder of Dr. George Tiller by a woman-hating Christian fascist fanatic has highlighted again the extremely serious nature of the attack on women and the attempts to nail them ever deeper into their oppressed position in society. The following excerpts from this Declaration are particularly relevant to the moment. To read (and distribute) the entire declaration go to revcom.us or get hard copies from your local Revolution Books or by writing RCP Publications, P.O. Box 3486, Chicago, IL 60654.

At a time when many proclaim that finding “common ground” with religious fundamentalists is necessary, or even desirable, this declaration does not accept and will not compromise with women’s enslavement. This declaration has no patience for those who tell us to “be realistic” when what they mean is to tinker around within the horrible confines of the world as it is. This declaration calls out the moral and ideological bankruptcy of those who claim the mantle of women’s advance but mean only “getting in” on the world as it is—waging what can only be a losing and perverse battle for the “right” of women to have an equal share in running an empire, exploiting others, or even down to the humiliating level of owning and marketing their own bodies as sexual commodities.

When so few will dare, this declaration is calling for something unseen in generations: an uncompromising outpouring of women and men the world over who refuse to see women oppressed, beaten, imprisoned, insulted, raped, abused, harassed, exploited, murdered, spat upon, thrown acid at, groped, shamed and systematically diminished.

This declaration calls for a revolution—a revolution that takes the full emancipation of women as a cornerstone. A revolution that unleashes the fury of women as a mighty force, and that grasps how central this question is to uprooting and abolishing all exploitation, oppression and degrading social relations, and the ideas that go along with them, among human beings as a whole, all over the world.

This declaration is a communist declaration, summoning a revolutionary movement of emancipators of humanity.

* * * * *

There is no longer the need for women’s role in society to be dictated by their biological role in childbearing. There is no longer the need for humanity to be hemmed in by patriarchal traditions and oppressive religious morality. Today, this is as insane, as it is cruel, as it is utterly unnecessary.

For the first time in human history, it is possible not only to dream about, but to bring into being, a world that is no longer marked by the subjugation of half of humanity. Today it is possible to break the chains that bind women as well as to dig up and overcome the very divisions into classes and the corresponding traditions that entrench and enforce women’s oppression.

Capitalism, with its development of technology, transportation, communication and massive means of socialized production, has created the material basis for all of humanity to live in collective abundance—if these means of production are wrenched out of the hands of the capitalist ruling class and put in the service of humanity, and if all the relations between people and all traditional ideas are also radically transformed.

This requires revolution. That is, the overthrow of this system and the capitalist-imperialist class that embodies and runs it—and the establishment of anew revolutionary state power.

* * * * *

At a time when the basic right to control when and whether to bear a child hangs by a thread, when abortion and even birth control are under fire, the “feminist” movement can rarely even bring itself to utter the word abortion and concedes, wrongly and outrageously, that there is something morally wrong with it. Such “feminists” have forgotten, or turned away from, the essential truth that women who have been denied the right and ability to decide themselves if and when to bear children, who do not have even that measure of control over their own bodies, have been reduced to a position that is tantamount to slavery.

* * * * *

The declaration also goes into great depth on the rise of the women’s liberation movement in the 60’s and early 70’s, analyzing its great strengths and achievements, as well as its weaknesses.  It goes on to analyze what has happened since:

Very quickly, and really coalescing under the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, a backlash was unleashed against everything positive that had been accomplished. Many who had once aspired to remake the whole world began adjusting their dreams downward. Throughout society and around the world the initiative was reversed. For the rulers of the U.S., the reassertion of the “traditional family” and “family values” became an indispensable part of not only reasserting patriarchy but also stitching back together the reactionary fabric of society that had been significantly frayed.

Christian fascists were given powerful backing by ruling class forces and unleashed—under this banner of “family values”—to hound and harass women who sought abortions. They have gone so far as to blow up clinics and even murder doctors. They have pushed the shame and ignorance of “abstinence only” into the public schools, and have assaulted the teaching of the scientific fact of evolution. They have worked to strip away the rights won by gay people and to re-legitimize bigoted homophobia. Perversely, this assertion of religion and patriarchy even became a way of bringing many who were deeply disaffected and still bitterly oppressed into their reactionary fold.

In the face of this backlash—together with the ebbing of revolutionary movements and of the orientation of fighting for change through mass independent political action of the people—the stream of bourgeois feminism came to be identified as the only outlet for those concerned about the unequal and oppressed status of women, even as this bourgeois feminism more and more tied and subordinated itself to the ruling class, and the Democratic Party in particular.

This absorption of the “official women’s movement” into the Democratic Party, and its utter subordination to the confines of electoral politics, has done incalculable damage. For over two decades now this “feminist movement” has encouraged and influenced progressive people to accommodate to a dynamic where yesterday’s outrage becomes today’s “compromise position” and tomorrow’s limits of what can be imagined. The defensiveness and cravenness of this “movement” in the face of the Christian fascists in particular—its refusal to really battle them on the morality of abortion, to take one concentrated example—has contributed to the disorientation of two generations of young women, and men as well.

These developments in the 1980s—and in particular this reactionary backlash against women, worldwide—led to the situation described 20 years ago by the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, Bob Avakian, which in many ways rings out even more powerfully today:

“The whole question of the position and role of women in society is more and more acutely posing itself in today’s extreme circumstances… It is not conceivable that all this will find any resolution other than in the most radical terms… The question yet to be determined is: will it be a radical reactionary or a radical revolutionary resolution, will it mean the reinforcing of the chains of enslavement or the shattering of the most decisive links in those chains and the opening up of the possibility of realizing the complete elimination of all forms of such enslavement?” (Bullets, From the Writings, Speeches, And Interviews of Bob Avakian, RCP Publications, 1985, p. 183.) Text Box:  

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Revolution #168, June 21, 2009


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From "Democracy: More Than Ever We Can and Must Do Better Than That"

by Bob Avakian

The following excerpts are from a polemic written by Bob Avakian, addressing an essay entitled "On Proletarian Democracy" by K. Venu, leader of the Central Reorganisation Committee, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). Both Avakian's work and Venu's essay were originally published in A World To Win magazine in 1992. The CRC went out of existence shortly after that; but Venu's arguments have continued to be recycled and refurbished, even among the ranks of those claiming to be Maoist. In many ways, though completed in December of 1991, Avakian's piece is perhaps even more relevant—­and, if anything, more important—today than ever. It was later published as part of the second edition of Phony Communism Is Dead...Long Live Real Communism (having originally been written as a companion piece to that work).

This essay on K. Venu is part of Bob Avakian's whole body of work on this question, which includes, among others, Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy (RCP Publications, 2008), "Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism" (revcom.us, 2004), and Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That? (Banner Press, 1986).

If the Vanguard Doesn't Lead, Who Will?

With this in mind, let’s return to the formulation in the CRC document’s “new orientation”: “This socialist system, in which the socialized economic base and the proletarian democratic political system are complementary aspects, must survive on its own becoming a social system acceptable to and practised by the whole people, under the leadership of the proletariat”. Here it must be asked: what is meant by this “whole people”? Does it include or exclude the overthrown exploiters? And what about newborn exploiters, arising from within socialist society itself? And what about degenerated elements from among the working people themselves, since no reasonable person can deny that in socialist society there will be such? Once it is allowed that dictatorship must be exercised over these groups, then we are back to the fact that “a social system acceptable to and practised by the whole people” cannot come about right away or in a short time—without protracted and at times very acute class struggle and in fact the thorough transformation of the economic base and the superstructure of society and moreover the whole world.

What, in this context, can “survive on its own” mean? Does it mean that if the “whole people” decide they do not want this system, it must be abandoned until a time in the future when, perhaps, this “whole people” will decide that after all they do want this system again—at least for a while. The absurdity of such a concept—which is related to the absurdity of this Khrushchev-like notion of a classless “whole people”—should be readily apparent.

Oh, but it is said that this “whole people” must practise this “socialist” system “under the leadership of the proletariat”. But here this CRC document runs into a logical contradiction of its own making. According to its own logic, it can legitimately be asked: who gave the proletariat “the right” to assert its leadership? From the point of view of this “whole people”, why is that not just as bad as the dreaded “dictatorship of the party”? But, even if this proletarian leadership were to be accepted, how would this leadership be actually exercised—institutionally or “extra-institutionally”—what would be the means and mechanisms for this that would not actually land you back in the same old situation where the vanguard of the proletariat plays the leading role?

In fact, once again the very logic of this document will lead to the conclusion that there should not be any vanguard, at least not a proletarian vanguard. And, further, it will also lead to the conclusion that no one, no social classes or forces, should be excluded from “the whole people”; for who gave any one group “the right” to set itself up as the judge of who can be included among “the whole people”. There is, of course, an answer to this, but it cannot be provided with the bourgeois-democratic outlook that runs through this CRC document.

At this point the CRC document seems to allow that the leadership of a vanguard party will be necessary to carry out the overthrow of the old state power, the smashing of the old state machinery and then “the establishment of the new political system”. (par. 10.4) And further, “The vanguard party of the proletariat will have to play the leading role until the new political system starts functioning effectively, by completing the process of the socialisation of the means of production and then consolidating the power in the hands of the new ruling classes under the leadership of the proletariat. Once this is achieved the communist party must give up its monopoly control of the revolutionary transformation and allow the system to function on its own. Under the proletarian democratic system, the effectiveness of the new system will be accepted or rejected by the people through an open democratic process in which the whole people will be freely involved through their own political organisations or otherwise.” (ibid)

Once again, the document is embroiled in all kinds of logical contradictions of its own making.

First, on the question of violently overthrowing the old system and the role of the vanguard party in this, as was pointed out in the beginning of this critique, in drawing some general conclusions concerning the CRC document: this document’s position on the so-called dictatorship of the party is inescapably linked to a position that a violent overthrow, especially one led by a vanguard party, is also wrong—elitist and coercive not only against the bourgeoisie but also against masses of people who may not, at the start at least, agree with the vanguard party about the need to carry out this violent overthrow. Shouldn’t this question (of whether or not to overthrow the old system) be put to a vote of the “whole people”? Or perhaps it should be put to a vote of the “whole people” minus the old ruling class and those (openly) siding with it?—but then, again, you would run into the vexing problem of who would decide, who would have “the right” to decide, who exactly should be included and excluded from the ranks of the “whole people”. Before long, this kind of formal democratic preoccupation would overwhelm any orientation toward overthrowing the system!

This might seem like a caricature of the CRC document’s position, but it is not. It is not accidental that Khrushchev’s line on “the state of the whole people” was part of a package that also included “the peaceful transition to socialism”. And the parallel also exists with regard to the line and logic put forward in this CRC document. If this line and logic is persisted in, it won’t be long before some version of “peaceful transition” is also more or less openly adopted.

Returning to the question of when and according to what criteria it should be determined that the party should no longer play an institutionalized leading role in the new society, we run into another of the by-now-familiar logical contradictions in the CRC document. Who is to determine when “the new political system starts functioning effectively” and specifically when the consolidation of “power in the hands of the new ruling classes under the leadership of the proletariat” has been sufficiently achieved that the party must give up this role? Is it the party that decides this? But that is a contradiction in itself—how can the party decide for the masses that they no longer need the party’s institutionalized leading role? Or, if this is not decided by the party, then by whom and by what means is this decided—do the people vote on it? But then who decides when it is time to have such a vote, who organizes such a vote, sets the rules for it, etc., etc.? The silliness of these questions is a reflection of the underlying idealism of the whole line set forth in this CRC document.

Turning to the economic aspect, in no socialist country to date has there existed anything close to complete socialization of ownership, certainly not in the sense spoken of by Marx in The Critique of the Gotha Programme (where he conceived of all ownership being ownership by society as a whole). And experience suggests that it is likely to involve a long period before such complete socialization can be achieved. In both the Soviet Union and in China when they were socialist, the fact that things had not yet advanced to the stage where all means of production were owned by the whole people was identified as a major reason why commodities and with them the law of value continued to play a significant, if not overall regulating, role in the economy. In China, collective ownership by groups of peasants was still the most widespread form of ownership, with the relatively small production teams still the main economic accounting unit. Mao, and Chang Chun-chiao following him, identified this as a significant and long-term contradiction, very much bound up with the existence of classes and class struggle and the continual engendering of the bourgeoisie under socialism. So, to say that the party should step down from its institutionalized vanguard role when the process of socialization is completed, without addressing crucial questions like this, is another, more serious, reflection of the idealism of this CRC document.

The fact is that, exactly because of profound contradictions such as this and their reflection in the superstructure, the party will have to continue to play the leading role for a long period—in fact throughout the entire historical period of socialist transition, which is marked by such contradictions. And to actually play this role in the correct way—in the correct relationship to the masses—this leading role must be institutionalized. As pointed out before, if this is not the case, then, owing to the actual contradictions still in force, some other group must and will dominate decision-making, but it will be bourgeois cliques of one kind or another.

The Bourgeois Electoral Model vs. Leading the Masses to Remake the World

Yes, it is true, the party must not rely on its position of authority, it must rely on the masses; but that does not mean it should degenerate into acting like any old social-democratic party, tailing the masses and reducing its role to the framework and confines of bourgeois-democratic politicking for votes, abdicating its responsibility to act as a vanguard and actually lead the masses in revolution.

That the CRC document’s vision of the functioning of the “proletarian democratic system” is in reality not qualitatively different from a classical bourgeois-democratic system should be clear by now. Its “model”, where the communist party’s “right to govern” is “strictly based on the electoral support gained by its platform just like any other platform”, would, at best, translate into a situation where rival power centers, coalesced around different platforms, would compete for the votes of the masses. The result of this (again, at best) would be some sort of “coalition” government, in which “socialists” and “communists” of various kinds would be involved together with representatives of various other, more openly bourgeois and petit-bourgeois, “democratic” trends, and in which the fundamental interests of the masses would be “compromised away” and no radical transformation of society would be carried out (and any attempt at this would be quickly and ruthlessly suppressed by this “coalition” government). Hasn’t there been enough—indeed far too much!—experience, all over the world, to graphically illustrate this?1

The notion that somehow this kind of electoral process will result in the expression of the “political will” of the masses can only elicit a cynical snort of laughter from anyone who is at all familiar with this kind of electoral process and who is not suffering from “political amnesia”; it is a notion that could be believed only by people who take bourgeois democracy more seriously than the bourgeoisie itself does—who have not learned, or have “unlearned”, that such democracy, with its electoral process, is an instrument that serves the exercise of dictatorship by the bourgeoisie over the masses. This does not mean that there is no legitimate role for elections in socialist society, but such a role must be based on the recognition that the formal process of elections cannot represent the highest or most essential expression of the “political will” of the masses; that elections can only be a subordinate part of the overall process through which that “political will” is expressed; that elections, like everything else in class society, will be conditioned and shaped by the fundamental class relations; and that in socialist society elections must reflect and serve the exercise of political power by the proletariat, with the leading role of its party.

In contrast to this, the following characterization of the role of elections in bourgeois society applies as well to the (bourgeois) democratic electoral process the CRC document envisions for its version of “socialist” society and its “proletarian democratic system”:

“This very electoral process itself tends to cover over the basic class relations—and class antagonisms—in society, and serves to give formal, institutionalized expression to the political participation of atomized individuals in the perpetuation of the status quo. This process not only reduces people to isolated individuals but at the same time reduces them to a passive position politically and defines the essence of politics as such atomized passivity—as each person, individually, in isolation from everyone else, giving his/her approval to this or that option, all of which options have been formulated and presented by an active power standing above these atomized masses of ‘citizens’.” (Avakian, Democracy, p. 70, emphasis in original)

Throughout the CRC document we find many references to the “political will” of the people or of the proletariat. But nowhere in this document is there the understanding—in fact this understanding has been repudiated—that there is no way of realizing, and more than that no way of even determining, the “political will” of the proletariat and the masses except through the leading role of the party—through its practice of the mass line and its application of a communist ideological and political line overall.

In fact, as we have seen, the CRC document consistently poses the vanguard role of the party against the conscious activism of the masses. This is unmistakably clear in its claim that, once the standing army has been abolished and replaced by the arming of the whole people, and once the party and its “vanguard role” have been reduced to a matter of the party competing for electoral votes on the basis of its platform (“just like any other platform”), then “unlike in the hitherto practised forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat, in the new political structure, the people wielding the real power in their own hands, also with the arms in their hands, will be playing a very active role in the whole political life of the society, thereby being the best guarantee against restoration and also ensuring the best conditions for seizing back power if restoration takes place”. (par. 10.9, emphasis added)

This is a most amazing statement! How, for example, could people familiar with the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution argue that the masses in China were not “playing a very active role in the whole political life of the society”—both in general and specifically in combating revisionism and capitalist restoration? If we contrast the Cultural Revolution with the recent (bourgeois) “democratic upsurges” in China, we can say, without the slightest hesitation, that the conscious activism, the class-conscious revolutionary initiative, of the masses of Chinese people was expressed “a million times more” in the Cultural Revolution. And this has everything to do with the fact that in the Cultural Revolution the masses had the leadership of a communist vanguard, while the recent struggle has not had that leadership.2 In this recent struggle there were positive factors and progressive, even revolutionary, forces taking part—there were open expressions of respect for Mao and support for Mao’s line, there were contrasts explicitly drawn between Mao and his revolutionary followers on the one hand and the corrupt revisionist rulers of today on the other hand. But, with all that, in an overall sense, the forces and lines that occupied the leading position within the mass upsurge represented the interests of the bourgeoisie.

Here it is worth repeating the following on the role of the Leninist party and its relation to the masses, which applies after the seizure of power and throughout the socialist transition period as much as it does to the struggle for the seizure of power:

“Lenin forged and applied these principles by leaping beyond what had previously been worked out by Marx or Engels and further by rupturing with conventional wisdom and practice in the Marxist movement, but he did so from the foundation of basic Marxist principle, by adhering to its basic methodology and entirely consistent with its revolutionary, critical spirit. To raise in opposition to these principles the experience of the Paris Commune, which was defeated—in part, if only secondarily, because of the lack of a Leninist-type party—or the Second International, which degenerated into an outright instrument of imperialism, is thinking turned inside-out and facing backwards, to put it mildly. To argue that the degeneration of the Russian Revolution can be traced to the very nature and role of the Leninist party itself is first of all contrary to the facts and an evasion of the fundamental problems besides. Lenin’s argument in What Is To Be Done?—that the more highly organized and centralized the party was, the more it was a real vanguard organization of revolutionaries, the greater would be the role and initiative of the masses in revolutionary struggle—was powerfully demonstrated in the Russian Revolution itself and has been in all proletarian revolutions. Nowhere has such a revolution been made without such a party and nowhere has the lack of such a party contributed to unleashing the initiative of masses of the oppressed in conscious revolutionary struggle. And,...to argue that a vanguard, Leninist party may degenerate, may turn into an oppressive apparatus over the masses, and therefore it is better not to have such a party, only amounts to arguing that there should be no revolution in the first place; this will not eliminate the contradictions that make such a party necessary, the material and ideological conditions that must be transformed, with the leadership of such a party, in order to abolish class distinctions and therewith, finally, the need for a vanguard party.” (Avakian, For a Harvest of Dragons, Chicago: RCP Publications, 1983, p. 84, emphasis in original)

Conclusion: Rising to the Challenge or Repudiating Revolution

At this point, the main theses and arguments of this CRC document have been dealt with, and the question that once again poses itself is: where will this line lead those who persist in following it? By the end of this CRC document, where it broaches “Some Further Questions”, the larger implications of its line and methodology are becoming evident. In particular there is an orientation of applying the whole notion of combating “class reductionism” and focusing on the “non-class aspects” of a whole number of significant social questions. Thus it is clear that a retreat from the basic principles and methods of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is underway all along the line.

And this retreat is expressed not only in important political positions but also in terms of major questions of ideological line. Near the end of the CRC document, in the course of a discussion on the proper attitude toward the mistakes as well as the contributions of leaders of the international proletariat, we find the following statement: “Even during the rich experiences of Chinese revolution only Mao’s contributions were counted for the enrichment of Marxism.” (par. 12.2)

In response to this, it must be emphasized that it is not a question of Mao as an individual, or of his authority as a leader in some abstract—or formal—sense; and it is not that Mao never made mistakes or that his mistakes should not be summed up. The point is that Mao’s ideological and political line represents a scientific concentration of rich experience, both in China and internationally—it represents the application of communist theory to this experience and the development of communist ideology to a new stage. Not to grasp this—or, more to the point, to retreat from a recognition of this—in the name of not one-sidedly focusing on the contributions of leading authorities, is once more eclectics. In opposition to materialist dialectics, it is idealism and metaphysics which breaks the link between practice and theory as a concentration of practice. It is relativist, and opens the flood-gates to the general relativist argument that one idea is as good as another. This is another significant expression of the overall petit-bourgeois outlook that has been adopted in this CRC document.

What has happened here is something very similar to what Lenin describes in “The Collapse of the Second International”: a major turn in world events has led to disorientation and near-panic, to the scrambling to discard principles which suddenly seem to be a burden rather than a boon in carrying out an orientation of bowing to the spontaneity of the masses and in particular bowing to petit-bourgeois prejudices and democratic illusions, trailing in the wake of the bourgeoisie. Before, “the man in the street” could perhaps be persuaded, particularly about the Soviet Union: “but that is not real communism”. Now that same “man in the street” looks at statues of Lenin coming down in the Soviet Union and is reinforced in the “spontaneous” (bourgeois-propagated) view that “communism was never any good, even in the land of the first communist revolution”.

This kind of tailing after backward forces and sentiments is strongly exhibited again at the end of the CRC document. In the concluding paragraph we are told:

“When the people of the former socialist countries put the communist strategy of monopoly power for the party during the whole transitional phase of socialism on the dock of history, communists cannot remain satisfied with the consolation that this is the result of backward thinking among the people. On the contrary, these experiences again and again indicate the Marxist teaching that the people alone are the creators of history.” (par. 14.2)

First of all, it is a grand(iose) exaggeration to say that “the people” in these countries have put the principle of the institutionalized leading role of the Communist Party “on the dock of history”. With regard to China, for example—and this is hardly an insignificant example—it is far from the case that the masses uniformly hold the position that the CRC document ascribes to them: it is clear that there are many who have a very real sense of the qualitative difference between the Communist Party of Mao and the corrupted “Communist Party” under Deng and who have a deep respect for the former and nothing but contempt for the latter—and this is especially so if we are talking about the masses of workers and peasants.

As for the Soviet Union, while there are a number of people (older workers in particular) who have a general sense that there are significant differences between the country under Stalin’s leadership and the situation since (and who strongly prefer the former to the latter, for a number of reasons), it is safe to say that in the Soviet Union (and in other “former socialist countries” that have been part of the Soviet bloc) very few people have ever even heard a systematic presentation of the Maoist analysis of the process of capitalist restoration and of the nature of the ruling classes in the revisionist countries and of the conflicts among various factions within those ruling classes. It is precisely this scientific analysis that is required, but rather than make a materialist analysis of what has gone on in these countries—including a class analysis of the various forces and lines involved—the CRC document makes a philosophical principle out of worshipping the confusion and backwardness of sections of the people in relation to events there: “these experiences again and again indicate the Marxist teaching that the people alone are the creators of history”.

This is the same thing as if, at the outbreak of World War 1, when a wave of national chauvinism swept through Russia, Lenin had heralded the chauvinist sentiments and demonstrations of masses of Russian people as a living testament to “the Marxist teaching that the people alone are the creators of history”! In fact, the logic of the CRC document here amounts to saying that whatever the masses—and in particular the intermediate or even backward masses, those most strongly influenced by the outlook and propaganda of the bourgeoisie—think at any given time is an expression of the real and highest interests of the masses. This is closely akin to the revisionist formula Lenin strongly criticized: what is desirable is whatever is possible, and what is possible is whatever is happening at the given time. This is not an orientation toward or a method for leading the masses to break with the shackles—including very importantly the mental shackles—of the old order and to create a new world through revolutionary struggle. It is a recipe for miserably tailing the masses and leading them around in a circle, following their own back-sides, without ever breaking free of those shackles.

Real and profound questions have been given concentrated expression in relation to the recent events in the (former) revisionist countries. The answer lies in going deeper, making even firmer one’s grounding in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and on that basis fearlessly, and with a ruthlessly scientific approach, examining the historical experience of the international communist movement. But, once again, in this CRC document we see a different response—outright repudiation of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, of “basic concepts we had held aloft so far”....

With this document, “On Proletarian Democracy”, its authors have retreated into the position that in fact it is not possible or desirable to cross the narrow horizon of bourgeois right—even of formal, bourgeois, democracy. Their answer to the question—can’t we do better than that?—is No. Despite any declarations, or intentions, on their part about upholding the final goal of communism, they have retreated to the “classical theme” of not only the undisguised bourgeoisie but bourgeois socialists singing the same old tired song—they have joined the chorus of those who proclaim, ever more loudly these days, that we cannot and must not move beyond the stage in human history where society remains divided into classes and is marked by social antagonisms.

Whether they intend it or not, their position would condemn the masses to a situation where they could not rise up and overthrow the old order, could not exercise dictatorship over the exploiting classes and could not carry forward the revolution under this dictatorship toward the final goal of communism. It would leave the masses under the domination of an economic system of capitalist exploitation and a corresponding bourgeois political system where, as Marx put it, they have the opportunity to choose, every so many years, which set of exploiters will rule over and oppress them. That is the logic of repudiating the historical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat in socialist society and the actual lessons communists must draw from it, and replacing this with demands for an illusory democracy that is impossible and undesirable under the conditions of socialism, and is unnecessary—and in a profound sense impossible as well—with the achievement of communist society, worldwide.

It is not my intent or purpose here to attempt to examine all the links between the complete full-blown opportunist line represented by this CRC document on the dictatorship of the proletariat and other erroneous tendencies that have characterized the CRC. My focus has been on exposing this full-blown opportunist line itself, which represents a concentration of an incorrect outlook, method, and political line. As expressed in the beginning of this critique of the CRC document, it is my hope that this critique will contribute to the comrades of the CRC themselves undertaking a thorough criticism and repudiation of this document, and in the process re-examining other positions taken by the CRC to see where and in what ways these positions have shared at least aspects of this incorrect outlook, method, and political line.

1. Among the debacles suffered by socialist and communist parties that have fallen into bourgeois parliamentarism and/or focused their efforts on involvement in governments of “coalition” with various bourgeois forces, perhaps the most dramatic and tragic is the experience of the Indonesian Communist Party in the mid-1960s. This involved the massacre of hundreds of thousands of communists (and other Indonesian people), the decimation of a powerful communist party, at the hands of the reactionaries. Leading up to this, the Indonesian Party had increasingly made the focus of its work parliamentary and other forms of legal struggle; it had increasingly relied on its parliamentary successes and its positions in a coalition government (headed by the bourgeois nationalist Sukarno); and it was consequently unprepared for the counterrevolutionary coup d’etat carried out by the Indonesian military (led by Suharto) with not only the backing and back-stage direction but also the active participation of the U.S. CIA. (see “Historical Document: Self-Criticism by the Indonesian Communist Party, 1966”, in Revolution, No. 55, Winter/Spring 1987)

Although the Sukarno government did not, of course, represent the dictatorship of the proletariat, still there is an analogy between the situation of the Indonesian Communist Party in that “nationalist” government and the position that a communist party would be in if it tried to implement the line advocated by the CRC document on how a party should operate under the dictatorship of the proletariat. As noted, such a party would in effect find itself in a “coalition” government in which the party would not be able to exercise sole leadership—in fact, it would not really be able to exercise leadership at all. The party, and the revolutionary masses generally, would be extremely vulnerable to a reactionary coup d’etat (and massacres that would accompany it). Here, once more, it is crucial to recognize that, even leaving out the overthrown ruling class, the “whole people”, under the conditions of socialist society, means many different classes—including newborn bourgeois forces—and “the arming of the whole people” would in reality mean the development of many different armed camps among the people, including armed forces effectively under the command of bourgeois counterrevolutionary leadership. [back]

2. Further, it should be noted that the great unleashing of the masses in the GPCR was possible, too, because it took place under the dictatorship of the proletariat, while the 1989 events were suppressed by a bourgeois state, a bourgeois dictatorship. [back]

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Revolution #168, June 21, 2009


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“In one year of being locked up, I read more books than I had in my whole life”

Prisons as Universities of Revolution

by Joe Veale

Dear Friends,

They said we were “the bottom of the barrel” of those in the prison system. Out on the yard the debate is heated and intense—as a dozen or so prisoners listen, intently. One prisoner argues that: “...there always have and always will be rich and poor. The rich and powerful will always rule over the poor and powerless...the best that can be done about this situation is what Robin Hood did!” (i.e take from the rich, give to the poor).

I shot back: “...things not changing, being fixed in time and space, just continuously repeating themselves—is a metaphysical view of history and does not conform to facts! You need to study dialectical and historical materialism so that you can understand and see how human history develops and changes—and why it is no longer necessary to live the way you are arguing for!”

Down in the “hole,” the “stripped cells,” the entire tier is quiet listening to a 19-year-old and myself (who was 23 at the time)—as we put Plato’s Republic to a critical analysis. Discussing, dissecting, and demonstrating how the views in the book reflect those of someone who is a defender and philosopher for slavery. We had only recently begun to study some communist theory and we were using what we had learned to break down Plato’s Republic—breakdown why philosophers like him are so loved by the defenders of the capitalist system.

At one point my 19-year-old friend breaks out in roaring laughter. When I asked why was he laughing—he explained and exclaimed: “...here we are the so-called ‘worst of the worst’ (this was said and meant in every sense by those who held us)—they’ve put us in the most extreme conditions in this prison in an attempt to break us down and beat us down—and here we are not only discussing but critiquing Plato—showing how he and Socrates did not represent the interest of the people but the interest of a slave system!”

Now everyone on the tier joined in with laughter at the sharp irony he was pointing to.

This was an important part of my introduction to prison in the early 1970s. There was a lot of revolutionary literature circulating in prison. And there was a lot of revolutionary activity, discussions and debates, sometimes in the most unexpected moments of being locked up.

At times this got expressed in mass revolutionary outburst—uniting Black, Latino, and whites—in what 21-year-old L.D. Barkley described as: “...the sound before the fury of all those who are oppressed...” in Attica Prison, upstate NY in 1971. At other times in mass uprisings in segregation units—for example at San Quentin prison in California in defense of the life of George Jackson, a revolutionary leader, also in 1971.

Things like all the above went on almost regularly in U.S. prisons from the late 1960s to the mid ’70s.

This was also expressed in the numerous revolutionary organizations—including “collectives” that based themselves on communist principles—that were springing up throughout the U.S. prison system.

All kinds of prisoners were studying and discussing revolutionary theory. Some of the “normal” routine of prison life was being transformed—in important ways the prisons were being turned into “universities of revolution.”

The grapevine was full of news of where the revolutionary current was strong and where it was weak. If you got sent to a prison where it was weak you tried to make it strong. If you were sent to a place where it was strong...you did what you could to make it stronger.

I remember writing a friend and telling her that in one year of being locked up, I had read more books than I had in my whole life. For example, during that time, I first read The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State by Frederick Engels and a whole new world opened up to me. It was an entirely new way of understanding human history. At the same time it made more sense than anything I had ever read or heard.

Before reading this my thinking was similar to that of my friend who argued that we had to take a Robin Hood approach to revolution.

I could not get enough of this “stuff.” These kinds of books. Anytime we would discover a place that would send “free” books—we would swamp them with requests.

That’s how we began to receive Peking Review from Mao Tsetung’s socialist China at that time. It was printed in English and would arrive each week. We were very excited about this. It spurred us to study more: just what is socialism? What are the implications of it being a transition between capitalism and communism?

We would discuss these things. We would study and discuss why Mao and the revolutionaries with him were saying that one must continue the revolution under socialism, under the dictatorship of the proletariat or it will be reversed.

He spoke about how this understanding, this orientation, this analysis would lead to adopting policies that would aim to overcome—further transform—further revolutionize—the conditions that make socialism a transition between capitalism and communism.

The other thing that some of us would follow and study closely is the communist movement that was in its early phase of development in this country. Sometimes we would have six or more different newspapers and the Peking Review spread out on my bunk.

I would read them all and we would attempt to compare and contrast—trying to determine which group was coming from the same place as Mao—which group was really communist and really revolutionary.

I can still vividly remember sitting in my cell with a close comrade. We were studying some of Mao’s and Lenin’s philosophical writing on dialectical materialism.

I had recently received from RCP Publications a pamphlet titled: Revolutionary Work in a Non-Revolutionary Situation by Bob Avakian. I had all this literature spread out on my bunk.

At this point in our political development we were convinced for there to be a revolution in this country we needed a party and that party had to be led by a leader who could apply dialectical materialism and communist theory on the same level as Mao.

I had begun to seek out any and all writings, speeches, or talks by Avakian that I could get my hands on. Trying to determine if he met this criteria that we had set.

This was a life changing experience. I decided right then and there—the first thing I had to do when I got out was to find and hook up with the RCP. That’s what I announced to all my comrades in prison—and that’s what I did.

I share this with you because I want everyone who is hearing this to give generously to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund.

I want you to understand the transformative power of the Revolutionary Press. I want you to understand the transformative potential of the body of work and the communist leader we have in Bob Avakian—someone who has a critical scientific approach to studying human history and to the communist revolution we need.

That’s why I call on all who are within earshot of this letter to donate generously, give all you can, and a bit more, to PRLF—so others can have the same opportunity I had—sisters and brothers who are locked in the hellholes of this rotten system to get their hands on literature to link up with the revolutionary movement.

I am always inspired to read letters from prisoners in the pages of Revolution newspaper and feel connected to these voices in a million ways. PRLF is crucial to get the hope of revolution behind those walls. I am fully confident many prisoners, like me, will find creative ways to contribute to revolution now and when they get out.

Joe Veale

Give Generously to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund

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Revolution #168, June 21, 2009


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From A World to Win News Service

Obama in Cairo: Praising Islam to keep the people of the Mid East down

June 8, 2009. A World to Win News Service.

"The streets surrounding the university and across the city were largely quiet and empty on Thursday. Many workers in this Egyptian capital on the Nile had been told to stay home. The sidewalks were closed to ordinary people but lined by hundreds of soldiers—some dressed in black, others in white—who had been standing in place for hours before Mr. Obama arrived." (The New York Times, June 5) The Great Father had come from Washington to lecture some of America's subject peoples.

The whole framework of Barack Obama's carefully crafted speech at Al-Azhar University in Cairo June 4 was meant to keep people's eyes focused on the surface of things. "We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Moslems around the world," he said. But is the basic problem a misunderstanding about religion and values, that people don't get that "America and Islam...share common principles," or is it deeply grounded in the material world and its economic, social and political relations—oppression, inequality and injustice?

These are the facts: control over the "Greater Middle East" stretching from North Africa to Afghanistan is a central requirement for consolidating American global hegemony in the world. All the countries in this vast region are dominated by foreign capital and their economic development subordinated to the interests of the imperialist powers. The regimes that rule over the people largely reflect these interests and where they don't, war is often waged or threatened. These foreign interests and powers have allied with reactionary local ruling classes to impose lives of frustration at best and misery for the vast majority of the people.

Obama stands at the head of the country that's the boss of the imperialist system and its local allies standing on the people's backs. That, for instance, is why the Egyptian police had to empty the streets when he came to a country whose despised American-dependent despot ("a stalwart ally," Obama called him) has ruled by emergency rule and torture for decades and is now preparing to turn over the palace keys to his son. And Obama thinks that the reason so many of the region's people hate the U.S. is because they think in "stereotypes"?

He said, "I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. But the same principle must apply to Moslem perceptions of America. Just as Moslems do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire." The truth is just the opposite—America is a "self-interested empire" and the enforcer of untold suffering, and that suffering is a very major component—if not the whole explanation—for the rise of today's anti-Western Islamic fundamentalism. In a nutshell, Obama praised Islam as a religion but defended (and is working to intensify) the oppressive imperialist relationships without which Islamic fundamentalism would have far much less attraction.
People's ideology—how they see and understand the world—is very important in its own right, and an active factor in shaping the world situation. It matters very much—it's a serious obstacle to the liberation of the world's people—that Islamic fundamentalism has been able to grab the banner of opposition to foreign oppression. Once again it has to be pointed out that in supporting Islamic fundamentalist forces for its own interests—against the rival Soviet Union, to weaken secular forces among the Palestinians and in other ways undermine movements for national liberation—the U.S and its allies greatly contributed to the rise of a movement that has now become a problem for them. Even now, framing Middle Eastern "tensions" in religious terms is advantageous for both the imperialists and their Islamic fundamentalist opponents.

Further, even while changing the tone of the Bush days and suspending the rhetoric of a Christian crusade against Islam, Obama followed in his predecessor's footsteps in moving toward putting religion at the heart of public affairs. His speech was full of references to "our God," "God's vision," what "God intended" and the need to "be conscious of God." Even his mandatory mention of women's rights was "holy Bible-" and "holy Koran-" (not to mention Torah-) compatible. (He made the argument, dear to apologists for patriarchal religions East and West, that women can continue to play "traditional roles" in society—presumably as wives, daughters and mothers—and still be fully equal human beings.)

Some people want to see this speech as a sign that the U.S. has gotten over 9/11 and the "war on terror" is history. It's true that Obama can reach out to allies and seek to calm the waters in a way that Bush could not. Maybe that's why he replaced "terrorists," Bush's favorite epithet for enemies, with "extremists." But any changes he may represent are simply modified answers to the same problem: how to best serve the same world-grabbing, soul-crushing imperialist system. And just as Obama has brought more continuity than rupture with Bush administration domestic policies justified by the "war on terror"—from the treatment of "enemy combatant" prisoners and his protection of those responsible for torture to the persistence police-state "security" measures—these changes in rhetoric do not amount to a change in basic stance.

Like Bush, Obama emphasized that "It is my first duty as President to protect the American people," citing "the events of 9/11" as if they had happened without context, as if it were not the U.S. that had been invading, occupying and otherwise controlling countries, imposing its will and humiliating whole peoples for more than a century, including in the Middle East. Nowhere was Obama more like Bush than when he claimed that his country "did not go by choice, we went by necessity" in invading Afghanistan.

"Let us be clear: Al-Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people that day," he said. That may be so, but when the U.S. leader goes on to say, "the Holy Koran teaches us that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind," referring to those American dead, we can only conclude that the villagers murdered by American aircraft in the Western Afghanistan May 4 (140 according to the Afghan government, in only the latest among many such incidents) were not human beings at all in Obama's eyes. When he says, "we will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women and children," while his government backs Israel's doing just that in Gaza, we can only conclude that the ordinary people of countries the U.S. wants to control are all guilty until proven otherwise.

The same applies to Pakistan, where thanks to the impact of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and the horrors of U.S.-imposed regimes on Pakistan, 2.5 million people are currently displaced in fighting between the American-directed government and fundamentalists. As for Iraq, all the families left decimated—first by the U.S.-led invasion and then by the sectarian fighting promoted by the occupiers' divide-and-rule policies and reactionary alliances—are supposed to be grateful to the U.S. After all, Obama says, maybe the U.S. should have paid more attention to the need for "diplomacy and international consensus," but "the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein." Where, Mr. Obama, did your country and its allies ever apply "the principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings" that you claim that your religion and Islam share?
But Obama was not simply preaching hypocrisy for its own sake. He was clear on the political goals he intended to advance. "As somebody who ordered an additional 17,000 troops into Afghanistan," he told columnist Thomas L. Friedman before this speech, "you would be hard pressed to suggest that what we are doing is not backed by hard power. I discount a lot of that criticism. What I do believe is that if we are engaged in speaking directly to the Arab street, and they are persuaded that we are operating in a straightforward manner, then, at the margins, both they and their leadership are more inclined and able to work with us." (International Herald Tribune, June 4)

The phrase about "their leadership" being more "able to work with us" is a key indication of what this speech is about. Again and again he appealed to the pragmatism of Arab rulers: because I'm not Bush but an American president with an Islamic name, I represent the best chance you'll ever get, so you better take it. This is the meaning of his admonitions to "stop pointing fingers" and harping on past injustices committed by the U.S., and his call to "say openly the things...that are too often only said behind closed doors." Chief among these is that "privately many Moslems recognize that Israel will not go away" (because the U.S.'s "bond" with Israel as a "Jewish homeland" is "unbreakable"). So Arab rulers had better give up pretending otherwise, take whatever the U.S. will give them and just tell the people that licking American boots is nourishing.

Obama's proposal for a two-state solution to the Palestinian "source of tension" was at center stage in Cairo. This reflects the centrality of Israel for American domination of the region and the centrality of Israel's oppression of Palestinians in the hearts of the region's people. Strikingly, this was the only topic on which Obama promised something concrete: that he would "personally pursue this outcome" [two states].

"Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build," Obama declared, with the implicit threat that it's now or never. What is the content of this offer? A Palestinian state cut into tiny, discontinuous pieces, in a sliver of historic Palestine and a small portion of the lands that remained Palestinian before the 1967 Israeli invasion. A country with no economy of its own, no real army, in the shadow of one of the world's best-armed militaries, and therefore no possible real sovereignty. A variation on what Palestinians already have: a West Bank surrounded by a wall, whose government survives by the grace of the U.S. and Israel, and whose police have the right to use their guns only against other Palestinians, and a Gaza not currently occupied but repeatedly invaded, with its land and sea borders and air space under Israeli military control and not a soul allowed to enter or leave unless Tel Aviv says so—as a collective punishment for electing Hamas.

As Ali Abunimah warned in The Electronic Intifada he co-founded June 5, Obama "may have more determination than his predecessor, but he remains committed to an unworkable two-state 'vision' aimed not at restoring Palestinian rights, but preserving Israel as an enclave of Israeli Jewish privilege. It is a dead end." Yet, Abunimah remarks, "Some people are prepared to give Obama a pass for all this because he is at last talking tough on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank," referring to this passage in the speech—the one many people will remember: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."
Indeed, although Bush spoke the same words as Obama, and made the same personal commitment, he made a secret agreement with Israel authorizing them to ignore them. Now Obama's administration says it has repudiated that deal. On the eve of the Cairo speech, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton stated that there would no longer be any exceptions for "natural growth" (a doctrine authorizing the building of a new housing unit every time a settler family has a child). These might seem like the toughest words any U.S. president has ever had for Israel.

But no new settlements and land appropriations wouldn't change much in practical terms. About 72 percent of the West Bank is already considered "Israeli state lands... The settlements, the infrastructure serving them and the security system necessary to protect them have carved the Occupied Territories into dozens of isolated, impoverished enclaves. Palestinians are forbidden to travel between these enclaves without military permission, thus turning their own towns and villages into prisons." (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, quoted by Stuart Littlewood, The Palestine Chronicle, May 4). What Obama is offering is actually less than previous U.S. positions (going back to Reagan) and UN resolutions demanding that Israel pull back to its 1967 borders—which Obama is now saying it will never have to do. He has implicitly guaranteed the permanence of the almost half a million settlers in annexed East Jerusalem and the 121 other Jewish settlements on the West Bank officially recognized by Israel but illegal under international law.

Israel might or might not accept Obama's demands. Either way, Obama has made it clear that the U.S. will never turn off the billions in yearly economic and military aid that keep the Zionist state alive and subsidize settler families. Ideologically, it might be difficult for the Israeli government to take measures even against all of the 102 so-called "illegal" settlements. Members of an ultra-Orthodox settlement near Nablus (established in 1975, under Israeli army protection) rioted June 1 to protest government plans to dismantle a few tiny and largely uninhabited outposts. The armed masked men turned their violence not against the Israeli authorities but against Palestinian workers they happened to come across on a nearby road. Two Palestinians were hospitalized and four others injured. The people who did this believe that God promised them every last inch of the West Bank. They are not likely to listen to calls for even symbolic compromises. Their numbers are a minority in Israel, but they are increasingly the backbone of the Zionist armed forces and the current government.

The truth is that the most important thing, in Obama's calculations, is to be seen as talking tough to Israel. This is his calling card, his attempt to appeal to what he calls the "Arab street," and far too many Arabs and other people who should know better reacted by saying that Obama's speech was good but that the Israelis will never listen. The fact is that it might even be better for what Obama has in mind if the Zionists don't. If some daylight seems to appear between the U.S. and Israel, this might best suit American imperialist interests, since pulling the plug on the U.S.'s Zionist gendarme is not even a question.
It's worth analyzing why Obama is pursuing this mini-state idea right now, even after the Bush attempts to bring it about came to nothing.

Oxford University professor Hussein Agha and Robert Malley (former U.S. President Bill Clinton's Special Assistant for Arab-Israeli Affairs and now with the International Crisis Group) discussed this in an authoritative article published on the eve of Obama's Middle Eastern trip: "Today, the idea of Palestinian statehood is alive, but mainly outside of Palestine. Establishing a state has become a matter of utmost priority for Europeans, who see it as crucial to stabilizing the region and curbing the growth of extremism; for Americans, who hail it as a centerpiece of efforts to contain Iran as well as radical Islamists and to forge a coalition between so-called moderate Arab states and Israel; and even for a large number of Israelis who have come to believe it is the sole effective answer to the threat to Israel's existence posed by Arab demographics. Those might all be good reasons, though none is of particular relevance to Palestinians... [It] might give American diplomacy a further, notable lift... A state packaged by Bush is one thing. Wrapped up by Obama, it would be something else altogether." (New York Review of Books, June 11)
These writers have the advantage of speaking for the ears of imperialist rulers and not the people, and they have put it plainly. Obama's declaration that Palestinians need "a state of their own" will not radically change what he piously called their "intolerable situation." As long as Israel exists, as long as there is a state that by definition can be Jewish only by denying the rights of the people who used to live there and the Palestinians who still do, any Palestinian "mini-state" can only be another circle of hell for the Palestinian people. What the mini-state proposal can do is to serve, even if only "at the margins," as Obama put it, U.S. efforts to produce a regional realignment, including blunting the Islamic fundamentalist thrust against the empire's interests.

Without analyzing the complex range of possibilities between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic of Iran, one of the far too many issues addressed in the Cairo speech to be discussed here, the least that can be said is this: Obama warned "when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point"—Iran would not be allowed to develop them. Why not? Not to "prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East," as he claimed, since Israel already has hundreds of nuclear warheads and missiles given to them by the U.S. to deliver them. Not to "seek a world in which no nations have nuclear weapons," which remains a vague "commitment" on Obama's part—the U.S. imperialists are unlikely to ever give up their nukes. They're the only ones who have ever used them and openly base their military doctrine on their first use to defend their empire. The real point is that the U.S. will not allow Iran to challenge the "balance of power" in the Middle East in which Israel, as the U.S.'s most reliable junior partner and gendarme, holds the ability to wipe out everyone else.

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.

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Revolution #168, June 21, 2009


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June 4, 2009—20th Anniversary

The Tiananmen Square Rebellion: An Inside Story

June 4, 2009 marked 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. The following are excerpts from a 1999 interview with Li Minqi in the Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution newspaper). Li Minqi, who was involved as a student activist, brings a unique perspective to the massacre carried out by the Chinese government against workers and students in Beijing. We urge all our readers to read the whole interview, “The Tiananmen Square Rebellion: An Inside Story,” online at revcom.us.

Li Minqi: I was a student at Beijing University studying economics in 1989... At that point in time the Chinese regime was trying to pursue a kind of capitalist development. On the ideological front, Marxism-Leninism was regularly being replaced by the dominance of bourgeois ideology. So that dominance of bourgeois ideology also happened among the university students.

I was part of that. I accepted pro-West, pro-capitalist ideology. I believed in Western-style democracy and Western-style capitalism. I entered the movement with that kind of consciousness when it broke out on April 15, 1989.
*****
Li Minqi: ...I think probably the most important form was for the workers in each factory to come organized by their work unit... They came out more or less spontaneously. For example, when they heard the news that the army was going to enter the city, they spontaneously went into the streets to stop the army.

RW: This was a very challenging situation.

Li Minqi: ...Anyone with a sane mind could see that the conflict between the government and the movement was already fundamentally unsolvable: it must be solved either with the defeat of the government or with the defeat of the democratic movement. But nevertheless the student leadership created the illusion that without mass mobilization you could still achieve the goals of the movement in a “peaceful and rational” way; success or not, you had to stay on this “peaceful and rational” course. Moreover, they created the illusion that this problem could be solved within the legal framework. So, for example, between May 20—this is crucial for the final phase—and June 4, the student leadership did not do anything effectively to bring out their own forces.

RW: Why did [the government leader] Deng Xiaoping react as brutally as he did to this movement?

Li Minqi: I was not surprised. When the ruling class’s rule over the country was actually threatened, it would resort to any possible means.
*****
Li Minqi: In the movement, I already sensed that something was wrong. The student leadership did not dare to mobilize the workers, did not dare take steps to organize to take political power, and that resulted in the failure of the movement. So I began to rethink what I had believed, what I had taken for granted—Western ideology and Western-style democracy. I began to think maybe some alternative ideas are needed. And the most obvious alternative idea is Marxism.Text Box:  

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Revolution #168, June 21, 2009


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Resources, Readings, and Cultural Works on Abortion

At Revolution Newspaper

At World Can't Wait:

Other Online Resources:

Books & Movies (some available at your nearest Revolution Books, or online):

 

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Revolution #168, June 21, 2009


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From A World to Win News Service

Youth upsurge in Iran

June 15, 2009. A World to Win News Service. The disputed results of the Iranian presidential election have given rise to unprecedented developments and confronted the Islamic Republic with a serious crisis both in the power structure and in society. The announcement that President Mamhoud Ahmadinejad had overwhelmingly won re-election shocked and surprised millions who had not voted for him. Angry young men and women began pouring into the streets immediately. Since then there have been clashes between the security forces and young women and men in cities all over the country. In addition to the giant protests in Tehran, many others have taken place in cities and towns all over Iran and numerous universities, including Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabriz, Rasht, Ghazvin and Hamedan.

On June 15, many hundreds of thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Tehran. Some participants said there were a million people; at any rate, observers agree that it was the biggest protest since the 1979 revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed regime of the Shah and the biggest public event of any kind since the 1980s. Shooting from a compound of the regime’s Basij militia killed least eight demonstrators, according to initial reports.

The "reformist" candidates called for this demonstration, but the Interior Ministry refused to issue permission for it. The acting head of the security forces, Ahmad Reza Radan, warned that no unlawful demonstration would be tolerated. Candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi warned that if a permit were not issued, he would stage a sit-in at the grave of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. People were burning to join with others to express their anger and discontent, not only because of this election but also because all they have gone through under this regime. They did not let the question of permission stop them and defied the authorities, who tried to prevent crowds from assembling by cutting off telephone text messages and filtering Web sites. In some areas of Tehran mobile phone service was cut off completely.

The security forces were particularly ruthless in responding to the demonstrations on June 13, after the official results were announced, and the following day. Two-man motorcycle teams – one driving, the other wielding a club – and Robocop-clad riot police equipped with electrified batons attacked the crowds. They fired plastic bullets and tear gas, and ganged up to beat those young men and women they captured. Even the presence of the TV cameras and foreign journalists did not deter the security forces. People fought back, sometimes successfully. They also attacked government-owned cars and buses, and banks. Shops and private vehicles were mainly left alone. In the middle of the night of June 14, police and Basij militia members attacked and ransacked dormitories at Tehran University and the Technical Universities of Isfahan and Shiraz. Many students were beaten and some arrested.

The most common slogan in the first few days of protests was "Mousavi get my vote back," but the predominant slogans at the June 15 Tehran demonstration and in many of the university actions, including in Tabriz and Ghazvin, were "Death to the deceitful government" and "Down with the dictator." On this occasion many people tried to impose the slogan "Allah is great," heard especially the night before when people in Tehran climbed up to their roofs to protest (an action recalling the 1979 revolution that ended up bringing Khomeini to power), but this was not well taken by the majority of the crowd and soon died away. The people had good reason to avoid it, since this is in fact the slogan and outlook of the Islamic Republic currently ruling over them. After initially trying to call off the rally, the candidates Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi and "reformist" ex-president Mohammad Khatami finally joined it, as they explained, to prevent it from becoming violent. The security forces stood back rather than attack such a huge crowd frontally. Most of the demonstration was relatively peaceful, but toward the end there was shooting from a Basij compound.

These mass protests waged by angry youth brought back memories and discussion of the days of the 1979 revolution that they did not experience and often knew little about.

The mood and atmosphere among the people and especially the youth is remarkably high. They are determined to fight back. Their hatred for Ahmadinejad and the "Supreme Leader" Ali Khamenei and what they have gone through especially in the last four years seems to be unbearable for them. They were hoping to change this situation by voting Ahmadinejad out, but this did not work. Many of those who voted did not really believe in system or that Mousavi could bring about any change, but they wanted Ahmadinejad out. Now they are outraged not only because they believe that the election results were rigged but also because the regime seemed to do so blatantly and with disdain for public opinion. People feel that they have been insulted, betrayed, cheated and used. This anger has much deeper roots than the electoral crisis that brought it to the surface. The Islamic dictatorship has trampled the most basic rights of the people and especially women and youth, making life hell for them. In addition millions of people are undergoing economic and other kinds of hardship, with little or no hope for the future.

Many of the protestors were not yet born when Mousavi was the prime minister in the 1980s or are too young to remember the massacres of the communists and other revolutionaries under his government (before Iran adopted a presidential system). Nevertheless many had a sense that he would not and could bring about any fundamental change. Many are aware that their votes ultimately do not decide anything. They know that the four candidates were approved by the regime's Guardian Council, which vets candidates to make sure that they will be appropriate servants for the Islamic regime. But many people hoped that at least they could remove Ahmadinejad, and that this would create a situation in which the harsh repression would be relaxed to some extent.

Why do so many people in Iran consider the election rigged, since Ahmadinejad clearly had mass appeal among the traditional supporters of the conservative factions of the regime and was able to celebrate his "victory" surrounded by many tens of thousands of supporters? Several factors suggest electoral fraud. But fraud or not, this election was particularly unpredictable because of the significant proportion of the electorate that generally boycotts or ignores the elections since they see no point in voting or no difference between the different regime factions and candidates. Many just don't believe in the Islamic Republic at all. Then there are about 30-40 percent of the people in the middle – not firm on boycotting and not in favor of Islamic Republic either. They might swing to a boycott, or they might swing to those who promise change. Such people are often drawn into an election if they believe it offers even minimal hope. So some pollsters predicted that if the majority of this section participated, the main "reformist" candidate Mousavi could win in the first round. In the last presidential election in 2005, the participation of this section was very low. Ahmadinejad won in the second round and even then there were numerous reports of fraud and cheating.

Another reason for popular distrust in the announced results is the way they were announced. For the first time the Interior Ministry did not announce the results on a regional basis but rather gave figures for approximately every five million votes as they were supposedly counted. The ratio of the votes for all four candidates remained similar all through these announcements. (Ahmadinejad around 64-66 percent; Mousavi around 29-33 percent; the other two candidates Mohsen Rezaie around 2 percent and Karoubi less than 1 percent.) Such a homogenous breakdown in every five million votes as they are cast is highly unlikely in any country of the world, let alone Iran with its regional variations in ethnicity, religion, culture and support for the regime or different regime factions. When the Interior Ministry finally released the results by region June 15, after an unexplained delay, the figures did not correspond to the pattern in the last election. Along with this there is very widespread disbelief in the media, whose heads are appointed directly by the Supreme Leader, and distrust of Khamenei himself.

This crisis represents the confluence of two contradictions, the underlying antagonism of interests between the people and the reactionaries in power, and the cracks within the power structure that are now sharper than at any point since its foundation. These two contradictions overlap and create both opportunity and danger for the people and all the regime factions. The cracks within the regime have never before been so wide as to endanger its stability. There is no doubt that masses have correctly recognized a favorable situation to express their hatred for the regime and its symbols Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. They have every right to protest and fight against a reactionary regime.

At the same time there is no doubt that leading figures in these events such as Mousavi, Karoubi and Khatami will try to use and channel the people's rage and protest to strengthen their position in their fight with the conservative faction of the regime. They want a situation where they can trade off the people's struggle for their own political advantage, and they will try their best to call off the people's struggle when it no longer suits their interests. They do not want to risk the overall stability of this regime they have built on the corpses of thousands of revolutionaries and the oppression and suppression of the entire sections of the people. They would prefer no change at all to that kind of fundamental change, but that's not what the people want.

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.

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Revolution #168, June 21, 2009


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Iranian Maoists: "You wanted a fight? Let’s fight!"

June 15, 2009. A World to Win News Service. Following is a leaflet issued June 15 by the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist). The title is a challenge to the regime.

Rebellion, revolutionary situation, an explosion of the hatred felt by millions of people throughout the country: it doesn't matter what you call the recent events. What matters is that we have entered a new period. Many bridges have been broken and in many spheres there is no return to the past. The young women and men fighting courageously in the streets reflect the discontent and anger of three generations. Faces are bloody, bodies bruised, but nobody is talking about retreat or surrender. Armed-to-the-teeth mercenaries and herds of lumpen are wandering the streets but nobody pays any attention to them. Parents accompany their children in the streets. The initial shock and demoralization is rapidly disappearing.

In the mind of millions, the Islamic Republic of Iran's disgrace in the election farce has discredited the "possibility of change and the rectification of the regime from within" far more rapidly and effectively than any political debate and reasoning. The leading faction took a serious gamble with this. And now many of the rebellious youth are thinking about ways for effectively getting rid of the regime.

There was a clear example of this yesterday in the students' response to Zahra Rahnavard [married to Mir-Hossein Mousavi] who had gone to [Tehran] university to calm them down: "We didn't come to battle for the presidency of Mousavi, we have come to defeat the coup and smash the dictators' set-up."

This faction is trying to put its own chains on people's minds by trying to popularize the slogan "Allah is great" and adopting the color green [symbol of Islam]. They seek to channel the people’s energy and imagination towards the cesspool of their own negotiations with the "Leader" and the ruling faction. This situation places an urgent task on the shoulders of all courageous and conscious youth, women and workers: that they participate in the street battles with slogans and leaflets and help widen and deepen the perspectives and aspirations of the masses of people to the maximum. This is the precondition for continuing to avoid the wrong roads different factions of the ruling class are trying to get the people to take. The slogans of the rebellion should go beyond those limited and common slogans that are aiming at dictators—Ahmadinejad and Khamenei—and their infamy, and add other appropriate slogans:

We are women and men of war. You wanted a fight? Let's fight!

We don't want an Islamic monarchy!

We don't want an Islamic republic!

We don't want Islamic rule!

Cannons, tanks and basiji [militia] scare us no more!

The only way to liberation is perseverance and persistence!

Poverty, corruption, unemployment = Islamic republic!

We don't want the forced veil!

The sharp edge of the uprising targets the criminal gang of Ahmadinejad and the main directors of the scene behind him (a section of big capitalists, heads of the army and intelligence services, and a section of the Shiite clergy). But it is a big mistake if we limit the whole of the system to today’s putschists. All the factions of this state system, including the "reformists," have spent 30 years in crime and theft.  The fact that the wolves are now at each other's throats in no way changes the anti-people nature of these factions. But the rift within the Islamic Republic is unprecedented. It has disturbed the internal coherence of the regime and weakened the regime in the face of the people. Ahmadinejad  & Company's show of force is a sign of desperation.

People should take maximum advantage of the weakening of the state and deal it effective blows. Women, youth, workers and teachers must win demands and rights with their own hands. For example, women can end the forced veil in practice, and by forming cells and taking charge of leading the struggles of women for liberation. Leftist students can and must form a coordinating headquarters for communication at the national level in order to dispatch the news of struggle and their own directives and slogans and popularize them widely. We cannot let Mousavi and the reformist faction become the headquarters of the struggle of the masses. If this faction becomes the "representative" of the people it would be a very heavy blow to the present liberating wave. We need our own revolutionary headquarters. Such an active headquarters, even if small, can become the foundation of a nationwide student organization. The workers of various factories from Ahvaz to Haft Tapeh, Karaj, Arak and Tabriz can rapidly form initial cells of a workers' organization and become the general voice of the people against the Islamic Republic. By putting forward correct slogans and demands, they can become the real voice of the people and divert people's thinking from "either Mousavi or Ahmadinejad" and explain that "Mousavi or Ahmadinejad" is exactly the IRI we have been experiencing for the last 30 years.

The previous generation of communists and liberation militants can play an important role in these two tasks: first they have the task of raising people's sights from the narrow horizons of the reformists, and second, turning the initial links that are developing in the streets and in the heat of struggle into longer-term links in cells and various networks. There is no doubt that the active core and fighting force of this advanced and revolutionary political project should be made up of young students and workers in universities, neighborhoods and factories.

People must know that Mousavi, Khatami, Rafsanjani and in general the whole ''reformist'' faction of the regime are negotiating behind the scenes with the "Leader" and the heads of the military and intelligence services in order to prevent the collapse of the whole IRI structure in the face of the people's wrath. People must know that there are behind-the-scenes dealings between the heads of the IRI and regional and world powers (such as China, the EU, Turkey and the U.S.), with the aim of bringing a peaceful end to "the events." The U.S.'s main concern is to open negotiations with the IRI in order to solve its problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In his key speech in Egypt—where he even praised the Islamic veil—Barack Obama emphasized that he has no problem with an Islamic republic. At present the U.S. is not in favor of "disrupting" the structure of IRI rule.

One important and decisive conclusion can be drawn from all this: people have come to understand their power. This power needs organization. People's awareness is advancing rapidly. Their understanding can and must grow towards and reach the perspective of the overthrow of the IRI and making a real revolution, concentrating the suppressed dreams and longings of the majority of the people of Iran.

In his speech in Vali Asr Square, Ahmadinejad called the rising masses "scum" and said that "the clean river of the people" will push them aside! This kind of talk means that the fight is seriously on and if we want to carry it through to the end we need to prepare. The regime and its various factions have their own political centers for deciding policy, developing slogans and manipulating people. The people need their own centers to analyze the political situation and devise policies for raising consciousness and continuing our own struggle.

The regime has its general staff and headquarters for military action and intelligence in order to suppress the masses. The people should have their own headquarters for the coordination, solidarity and organization of our own forces.

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.

 

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Revolution #168, June 21, 2009


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From a reader

Taking Revolution and Communism to the LA Times Book Festival

The Los Angeles Times Book Festival is the largest book festival in the country.  The two-day event is held every year at the end of April at the UCLA campus and attracts as many as 100,000 people looking for books, as well as attending dozens of panel discussions and readings by some of today’s best-known authors and journalists.    

A bunch of us went to staff the Libros Revolución bookstore booth this year.  Others set up a table on a major walkway leading from the parking area into the festival.  And we had small teams that worked the lines of people waiting to get into the panel discussions. 

“The positive attractive force of our line . . .”

One very striking thing was what’s been described as “the positive attractive force” of the Party’s revolutionary communist line.  We made a big push to get out the issue of Revolution with the dramatic cover, “A Revolution in Ideas...For a Radically New World,” and featuring  "An Open Letter to the Revolutionary Communists and Everyone Seriously Thinking About Revolution: On the Role and Importance of Bob Avakian".  Some grabbed it up right away, like the Black woman who said she wanted to read something that isn’t mainstream, and a revolutionary communist paper definitely isn’t!  Others would pass by, then they’d do a double-take and come back to get the paper.  Large numbers of copies were sold at the end of the festival as people were streaming out – they’d seen it before and hadn’t gotten it, but bought it before they left.

We were also focusing on promoting books by Avakian.  While the vast majority of the crowd were unfamiliar with him and had never seen Revolution newspaper – something we need to radically change – there were people who had read or heard things from Avakian in the past or had gotten the paper at some point, and a number of them sought us out to talk because they’d been challenged by what they’d read. It revealed the potential for a whole different political and ideological climate if we do make Avakian’s work and the newspaper much more of a mass question in society. 

For example, we met a man who bought his first book by Avakian off of an ad in the New York Review of Books and second off of an ad in The Nation and who asked, “So what do you do when everything Avakian says make complete sense, but you don’t know how to get off the fence?” We showed him the pamphlet Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation pamphlet and said, “If you knew there was a way to get there, would that help?”  He said, “So this is about how you would make a revolution?” and ended up buying that and a copy of Avakian’s book, Away With All Gods!  Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World and saying he’d try to make it to the programs at Libros Revolución. 

A high school senior who had borrowed Avakian’s memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond, My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, from the library came by the booth with a friend.  He recognized the giant poster with the enlargement of the book’s cover and told his friend enthusiastically, “I read that – it’s a good book!”  He also bought a copy of Away With All Gods! 

There were also more than a few people who had heard Avakian on the weekly KPFK radio show that Revolution writer Michael Slate does, including portions of the interview that Slate did with Avakian several years ago.  One guy said he likes Slate and Avakian, but that they lose him at a certain point – he calls himself a “free thinker” and doesn’t feel there should be any “isms,” that when you have a government and leadership, they eventually become repressive.  We took this on, including digging into the underlying conditions of society that make leaders and leadership necessary, and he left with a CD of part of Slate’s interview where Avakian talks about Stalin and the whole question of leadership, saying he’d listen to it and continue the conversation.  Another person had met us at one of the book festivals several years ago.

Then there were those who were not familiar with Avakian or Revolution but were drawn by the materials we were carrying.  Away With All Gods! in particular struck a chord.  One woman ran into the book when she saw the poster for it, saying she had to get that book.  A Chinese student read the blurb for the book and started laughing and shouting, “This is great!”  We talked with a guy who had just bought Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great and after digging into some of the differences between Hitchens’ pro-America views and Avakian’s revolutionary perspective, his girlfriend got him a copy of Away With All Gods! so they could read them both.

We definitely made religion a topic of discussion and debate, and we talked to people whose views on it are changing.  A middle-aged Latina bought the Spanish edition of Away with All Gods!, saying that she was a bible school teacher and adding with a smile, “But I have my doubts!”  A 22-year old white woman is the daughter of an evangelical preacher and recently told her folks that she doesn’t believe in god – she said that her atheist anarchist boyfriend has been questioning her beliefs, and getting her to think.  A Roman Catholic woman who doesn’t like the state of affairs wondered where our morality comes from.  We dug into question of communist morality, including the necessity to move beyond all the oppressive class and social relations in society and all the ideas reflecting these divisions.  She said the problem was forcing people to not believe in god, and we talked about how we don’t think people can be forced to believe anything, but that in socialist society we would promote an understanding of reality and the role of people in changing that, not some supernatural force outside of ourselves.

A group of Black women got copies of the issue of Revolution with the “Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity.”  One said she sees all the horrors that face women here and around the world, “but what can we do about it?”  She bought the Declaration to understand the roots of women’s oppression in the development of surplus and private property.  She was intrigued by Avakian’s point that after the revolution, women who rebel against the continuing vestiges of the oppression of women will not be suppressed, but instead brought forward to play a crucial role in pushing the revolution further, all the way.

And we found a number of people who are seriously considering the question of revolution, and specifically wrestling with the question of what that would look like, what a new society would look like, and especially whether communist revolution is what’s needed.  For example, a young Nicaraguan college student stopped by the booth because she really wanted to know more about revolution and communism.  She had picked out two CDs of talks by Avakian, saying she wants to learn as much as she can.  We talked further and she ended up buying a trial subscription to the newspaper and the DVD of Avakian’s talk, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About.

Contradictory Moods and Attitudes

The festival always attracts large numbers of people who are very disturbed about the state of the world and deeply concerned with some of the biggest political and ideological questions of the day – exactly the kinds of people we need to be reaching out to and wrangling with over our revolutionary communist analysis and the possibilities of bringing a whole different world into being.  But people’s attitudes and understanding were tremendously contradictory.

For example, we met a number of people who are angry about the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, sickened by the worsening poverty and homelessness around the world, and repulsed by the smug “let’s just take care of America” attitudes that they see around them.  The table had four big enlargements of centerfolds from past issues of Revolution on the history of Black people, the global food crisis, 21st century slavery, and the “It’s Capitalism Stupid!” piece on the international financial meltdown.  Lots of people came up to read the panels or take pictures, and to get into discussion.

One woman carefully read the poster that talks about how living in the U.S. is like living in the house of Tony Soprano – how you know that you have all these privileges because of the terrible things going on in the world, but there is tremendous pressure to shut your eyes and pretend you don’t know.  She said that people just don’t want to know what we are doing around the world, that they choose to be ignorant and the media keeps them ignorant.   We showed her the DVD of Avakian’s “Revolution” talk and she wanted to know if it was appropriate to show to high school students (her husband is a high school history teacher) and they ended up buying a copy. 

But there were others who are consciously trying to not confront the real horrors that imperialism means in the world today.  Several people from World Can’t Wait wore orange jumpsuits outside a panel on the Middle East to raise the issue of torture, but most of the people waiting to get in deliberately ignored them, pretending they weren’t even there.  One man argued for Cheney’s view that torture had “prevented another 9/11” and that there was no question in his mind that American lives were more important than the lives of people around the world.  When people who heard this were challenged about what they thought of this, many shrugged their shoulders and turned away.

The contradictoriness of the crowd was particularly sharp around the question of Obama’s election.  Many people were disgusted that Obama was sending more troops to Afghanistan and escalating the use of drone planes to bomb villages in Pakistan.  A number talked angrily about the government bailouts of giant financial institutions and corporations while funds for social programs are being slashed.  And some were very disturbed about Obama cozying up to reactionary Christian Fascist forces like pastor Rick Warren in Orange County, California.  But many of these same people had voted for him and still felt this was the right thing to do because “at least he’s better than Bush.”  Some even argued that Obama has been able to defeat some of the things that they had been worried about, like a progressive democrat who said that as a result of Obama’s election, the Christian Fascist forces had essentially been defeated.  (The recent murder of Dr. George Tiller put the lie to that notion.)

But all this also seemed to be in flux.  Even among those who voted for him and were still hopeful that things would be better with his election, many expressed a sense of unease and a  foreboding feeling about the future.  A number of people also agreed that there is something fundamentally wrong with this system.  They were all over the map as to what they thought should be done about it, and most of them had questions, disagreements, even vociferous opposition to the idea that communist revolution is the answer.  Still, significant numbers of people wanted to check it out. 

The economic crisis also had a real impact.  People seemed to be buying far fewer books than in past years, with some of the other book sellers complaining that they made hardly any sales at all.  Still, we sold almost 600 copies of Revolution that weekend, 2 dozen copies of Away With All Gods! in English and Spanish, along with a number other works by Avakian, some Marxist classics, and the Science of Evolution book by Ardea Skybreak.  And more than 100 people gave us a way to contact them, saying they wanted to talk further.

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