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Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
Roots of the Iranian Uprising:
When the results of Iran's presidential election were announced on the night of June 12, barely three to four hours after the polls had closed, millions of Iranians were shocked. Incumbent—and widely hated—President Ahmadinejad was supposedly re-elected by a 63 to 33 percent margin. Millions were outraged by what they felt was a blatant theft of the election—a coup many called it—and massive street protests began almost immediately.
As many forms of protest erupted, eyewitnesses reported that anti-regime sentiments were being openly expressed by more and more people, even beyond outrage at what was widely perceived as a stolen election: "....a huge and growing part of the people no longer have trust or faith in the regime. People who had not yet voiced any response to the political situation clearly shouted, 'Death to Khamenei,' a slogan seldom if ever heard before at any protest in Iran." ("Iran—a power structure cracked but far from swept away," A World To Win News Service [AWTWNS]), 6/22/09).
Many forces are in the field, including those loyal to and looking to reform the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). And many of those in the streets look to those forces as a positive alternative to the intolerable status quo, and are raising the green banner of Islam (for more in-depth analysis of the various forces involved in the current situation in Iran, see "Uprising in Iran," by V.T. at revcom.us).
At the same time, there are also more radical forces, and big questions are being debated and struggled over. Among those involved in the protests, there is an exhilarating atmosphere of challenging things that have been accepted for years, and urgent debate over the way forward. For a revealing and very unique snapshot of this atmosphere, I highly recommend readers read—and circulate—the article "Saturday, Azadi Street, Tehran," from A World To Win New Service (6/22/09, available at revcom.us).
These heroic and just protests, which have gone on for over two weeks at this writing, have been met with vicious and escalating repression, including threats, beatings, torture and murder by the IRI. Students from Tehran University who were arrested write that their prison conditions—which included sexual assault, beatings, and withholding food and water—were "worse than Guantanamo." Journalists are being harassed, arrested, and expelled from Iran in an effort to suppress news coverage. Opposition newspapers and websites are being shut down and supporters rounded up and imprisoned, with reports that some are being tortured to force them to "confess" to being part of a "foreign plot." (Guardian UK, 6/26)
"Witnesses are telling us that the Basijis are trashing entire streets and even neighborhoods as well as individual homes, trying to stop the nightly rooftop protest chants," a Human Rights Watch representative stated. (BBC, 6/27).
Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami, a leading cleric (unrelated to former President Khatami), threatened to execute protestors in a nationally broadcast sermon on Friday, June 26, declaring they should be "dealt with without mercy," because they were opposing the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei who is supposedly anointed by God to rule and must be obeyed, making any who rebel against him "at war with God."
The widely perceived theft of the election was the immediate trigger for this outpouring of anger and mass defiance. But more fundamentally, Iran's mass uprising is being propelled by the suppressed rage of millions of Iranians at the suffocating and oppressive character of life in the IRI, life marked by what the Communist Party of Iran (MLM) calls a "society drowning in corruption, destruction, superstition, dark religious ignorance, drug addiction and prostitution." (CPIMLM) communiqué no 6: "People Beware! Mousavi is not your brother and he is not on your side!")
The roots of these conditions lie in a whole history, and present-day reality, of a world dominated by imperialism—by a system driven to maximize profit through exploitation, whose logic and political and economic relations are enforced through systemic brutality and oppression. You could spin the globe, point to any country on it, and discover a legacy of imperialist invasions, coups, puppet regimes, torture chambers, death squads, and repression to enforce those relations, and this is certainly the case with Iran. With its massive oil reserves, and strategic geopolitical location, Iran has long been in the crosshairs of imperialist powers—the British until World War 2, and then mainly the U.S.
Until 1978, imperialist domination of Iran took the form of the rule of the Shah, a tyrannical monarch who had been installed by the U.S. CIA in a coup in 1953 and remained a loyal client throughout his reign. Widely hated by Iranians, the Shah remained in power, including thanks in large measure to SAVAK, his U.S.-trained secret police.
In 1978, a revolutionary wave drawing in millions of Iranians swept across Iran. The Shah initially tried to drown the revolution in blood—murdering thousands on one day—"Bloody Friday"—in September.
Little as this is known, the coming to power of the current regime was in significant ways facilitated by the U.S. When it became clear the Shah's massacres were backfiring, the U.S. made a call that their best option, under the circumstances, was to facilitate the coming to power of the forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979. The U.S. judged these Islamic forces to be a better bet for maintaining U.S. imperialist domination of the region, than allowing the revolution to develop.
I was in Iran shortly after the revolution and again in 1980, reporting for Revolution (then the Revolutionary Worker), and I saw the Islamic Republic being consolidated with the kind of violent attacks on the regime's opponents we're witnessing today. A flowering of political activity and debate had mushroomed in the immediate aftermath of the 1979 revolution, evidenced by rallies involving tens of thousands, radical and revolutionary literature covering sidewalks, and a host of other political activities. This situation had the potential to develop into a revolutionary movement that actually broke the chains of imperialist domination.
The forces around Khomeini served, under the circumstances, the interests of imperialism. These forces were not a perfect fit for their interests, but they did violently crush radical and revolutionary political forces, and brutally repress sections of the people—like women—whose demands came up against the political, economic, social and cultural structures and traditions that enforced the old order. During my trips I saw the regime set about crushing its opponents and consolidating its power. Scenes today recall those images—pipe-wielding thugs from Iran's Hezbollah (the "party of God") attacking those who were opposed to an Islamic theocracy—from bourgeois and Islamic democrats to revolutionary communists assaulting demonstrations, then arresting and murdering thousands of communists and other opponents of the regime during the 1980s. Then, as now, women were a prime target of the violently patriarchal Islamic clerics.
Since then, repression and tight control of the state's many armed police and security organizations and extreme, religiously sanctioned punishments have been prime elements in the Islamic Republic's survival. And, as I have outlined, U.S. imperialism, including its current president Barack Obama, is responsible for the fundamental conditions that created this situation. They have no right to shed crocodile tears or express outrage over all this—it has been the workings of their system, both its exploitative nature and conscious U.S. political policies in service of that, which fundamentally created these conditions, even as the U.S. now finds these forces an obstacle and threat to their economic, political and military objectives in the region.
Today discontent and alienation over the suffocating, repressive, dead-end and obscurantist—or Dark Ages—character of Islamic rule has been rising particularly among the young, especially those in urban areas and in particular among students and women. All this has been reflected in the slogans of today's protests: death to dictatorship, freedom of thought, freedom or death, and the widespread demand for an end to press, artistic, and intellectual censorship and suppression. And it reflects huge social, political and economic changes—in the world and in Iran—Iran's urbanization (where 70 percent of the people now live), its youth (over 60 percent are under 30), and wider access to education than before—including for women.
The regime has intensified its punishment of those who get out of line. Last year in Iran there were at least 346 executions (including by hanging), the second highest number in the world according to Amnesty International. On one day alone—July 27, 2008—29 people were hung in Iran for alleged crimes including armed robbery, selling drugs, and even drinking alcohol and possessing ammunition. (Telegraph 7/27/08).
Workers', students', and women's protests are routinely attacked and suppressed. Anyone arrested or detained faces a cleric-controlled judiciary in which proceedings are often secret, where defendants have few rights or access to lawyers, and "the world learns of [detainee's] fate only if a verdict happens to be announced on state TV." (AP, 6/26).
A tremendous and powerful force that is emerging through the uprising and protests in Iran is opposition to the oppression of women, including large numbers of women in the streets. The IRI has imposed Islamic sharia law, codified legal discrimination—really apartheid—against women, reimposed a host of medieval strictures and punishments, and denied women basic rights:
The suppression of women is a cornerstone—ideologically, politically and socially—of Islamic rule. "The ideal society of the Islamic fundamentalists is based on the total subordination of women to men at every level of society. The morality of their ideal society absolutely hinges on women knowing the role assigned to them as loyal sex objects of the men they belong to and actively producing offspring for them—especially of the male variety." (Statement from March 8 Women's Organization (Iran-Afghanistan), "For An Internationalist March 8--The International Women's Day; Revolutionary Women Cry Out: Revolution Is the Way Out for Humanity," Revolution #157, February 22, 2009, http://www.revcom.us/a/157/mar8_call-en.html)
"The compulsory hijab (veil) was imposed for women in public, with even slight violations bringing severe punishment (seventy-four lashes or a year's imprisonment)… Lashing, amputation, and stoning have been applied by the courts, with the latter punishment reserved for women convicted of adultery. The courts apply lighter sentences than previously for husbands, fathers, and brothers accused of 'honor killings.' There are even regulations against public displays of affection. Under Khomeini child marriage was allowed once more, with the age of marriage reduced from eighteen to nine for girls (revised, after protests, to thirteen) and fifteen for boys. New laws encouraged polygamy and prevented women from leaving abusive husbands." ("Divided Iran on the Eve, Malise Ruthven, reviewing "Sexual Politics in Modern Iran," Janet Afary, New York Review of Books, 7/2/09)
Women found guilty of adultery or other offenses can be stoned to death—with the barbaric means for carrying out this sentence legally prescribed for maximum suffering: "Iran's Penal Code prescribes execution by stoning. It even dictates that the stones are large enough to cause pain, but not so large as to kill the victim immediately," Amnesty International reported on a day nine women and two men were awaiting stoning. "Article 102 of the Penal Code states that men should be buried up to their waists and women up to their breasts for the purpose of execution by stoning. Article 104 states, with reference to the penalty for adultery, that the stones used should "not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes; nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones." ("Iran: Death by stoning, a grotesque and unacceptable penalty," Amnesty International, 1/5/09)
Women are also discriminated against in employment, and prevented from playing their full and rightful role in society, despite constituting some 60 percent of Iran's university students: "The fact is that 30 years after the revolution, women constitute only 15% of the formal sector paid labor force (that is, those entitled to paid holidays, maternity leave, pension, and other provisions of labor law). According to the results of the 1385/2006 Iranian census, only 3.5 million Iranian women are salaried workers, compared with 23.5 million men....The most recent Iranian census (1385/2006) shows that the female share of the labor force is less than 20%, considerably below the world average of 45%." ("Where Are Iran's Women?," Valentine M. Moghadam, The Iranian Revolution at 30, The Middle East Institute—www.mideasti.org, 2/10/09)
As the March 8 Women's Organization summed up after the regime's murder of Neda Agha-Soltan during the recent uprising, "Neda became target of the hatred of medieval Islamic System who cannot even tolerate the simple participation of women in society." (Statement of June 2009)
Social developments, including the impact of the revolution and the eight-year Iran-Iraq War as well as global changes generally, have raised tensions in Iranian society between the social position, experience, and aspirations of Iran's women and the regime's Islamic strictures. Women's literacy is over 95 percent, and most families want their daughters to get an education. The situation of women in Iran is a stark concentration of the nature of the regime. But, as with all the oppression people in that country face, the roots of this are found, again, in the global system of capitalism and imperialism, and the ways in which it integrates, and works through reactionary feudal forces, traditions, and social relations in countries dominated by imperialism.
Those who see the solution to the oppression of women coming from the West would be well served to look at the kind of "women's liberation" U.S. invasion, war, and death have brought to women in the U.S. puppet state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (yes, that is the official name of the U.S.-installed puppet regime), and the U.S.-installed Iraqi regime which has adopted Islam as the basis of government.
The "Statement from March 8 Women's Organization (Iran-Afghanistan): For An Internationalist March 8—The International Women's Day; Revolutionary Women Cry Out: Revolution Is the Way Out for Humanity" posed this:
"Pause and ask yourselves: what kind of society is this (in the world) that the subordination of half of humanity to the other half is one of its pillars and moral canons? What kind of world are we living in that from one end to the other, organized (state sanctioned) women's oppression and religious ignorance are used for maintaining "social coherence"? Honor killing, stoning to death and forced marriage in parts of the world like Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Kurdistan, and India are rampant, while hidden conjugal violence in the "civilized" West kills women in silence, and yet all this is said to have resulted from the "weakening of family values," "abortion," and the "weakening of religious beliefs"—these are all too pervasive features of our world.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran is the most reactionary oppressive state that the women of Iran have experienced. But the imperialist ruling classes of the U.S. who are preparing new rounds of aggression and war in the Middle East are no better and their attempts to justify their crimes in the Middle East with hypocritical words about liberation of women is disgusting. They equally benefit from the oppression of women in the U.S. and around the world. In fact this oppression is built into their world capitalist system."
"Trade in women's flesh is accepted as another legitimate capitalist commodity to be bought and sold. Marx said capitalism generalizes prostitution. Indeed, we see that today. In Iran and Afghanistan, ruled by Islamic Republics, women are stoned to death for sleeping with the wrong man but prostitution is increasingly one of the most accessible jobs offered to women."
Some political trends in the U.S. and elsewhere argue that because of the IRI's conflicts with the U.S., it's an anti-imperialist regime. These forces echo accusations by the IRI that the source of the people's unrest is Western intrigue, and that the protests are an uprising of the privileged elite against the common people. These arguments are profoundly wrong and represent a complete misunderstanding of the nature of imperialism, the nature of the IRI, and the kind of genuinely liberatory radical change needed in Iran, and around the world.
It is true that the rise of Islamic fundamentalism poses a serious challenge to U.S. imperialist objectives. And Iran, a relatively stable and powerful Islamic Republic, has in many ways been at the epicenter of that challenge.
Today, the U.S. doesn't have the kind of tight grip on Iran that it did under the Shah, and, "due to a combination of factors, [Iran] has acquired greater maneuvering room and geopolitical reach. Chief among these factors are its extensive oil and natural gas reserves in combination with its coherent, ideologically driven, deeply rooted, and far reaching (within Iran and elements beyond, especially regionally) state institutions and structure." (See "An Assessment of the Momentum Towards War Between the United States and Iran: Causes and Potential Ramifications," available at revcom.us, for a detailed analysis.)
But the basic reality is that Iran remains a dependent and oppressed nation within the framework of, and subordinate to, world imperialism (including many imperialist countries and other reactionary powers). Take Iran's very extensive oil and natural gas industries, over which it has relative control. The IRI has been able to wield its control of these industries and the revenues they generate (an estimated $70 billion last year) to enact various welfare measures (often aimed at cultivating a loyal social base) and subsidies (particularly for food and gasoline), which together with its extensive apparatus of social, economic, and political control has enabled it to maintain a tight grip on power.
These state sectors of Iran's economy are not an expression of national liberation. They sharply illustrate Iran's subordination to the world economy and the twisted and distorted economic and social relations that it spawns. Iran's economy is still geared to producing oil for the world market (80 percent of its government revenue still comes from oil sales), so the global financial crisis and the wild swings in the world market and the price of oil have a major ripple effect in Iran. Even when oil prices and income have risen, they haven't always meant growth and rising incomes, but often inflation and greater inequality instead. Iran remains dependent on the imperialist world for the technology needed to expand and modernize its energy sector, so—in part due to U.S. sanctions—while Iran has the world's second largest natural gas and third largest oil reserves, it doesn't have the capacity to refine gasoline and produce enough natural gas for its domestic market, so it's forced to import them (making it subject to all manner of pressure by other countries and the vagaries of the market).
Because of this structural dependency on the "world market" (imperialism), the economic situation for Iranians has worsened in the last several years. Subsidies have been slashed; and inflation is now over 23 percent a year. Economic growth in 2009 will be less than half what it was in 2007. (NY Times, 6/10/09) Many factories have shut down and some 40 percent live below the poverty line. "The official rate of unemployment has been 20%; among young people this figure stands at 40%. Every year, 250,000 graduates seek to enter the work force, but only 70,000 of them find work." ("Economic War Against the People: a Surge of Crisis and of Resistance," November issue of Haghighat, Number 36, Organ of the CPIMLM).
In short, in the form of the Islamic Republic, Iran's economy is profoundly enmeshed in the global networks of world capitalism-imperialism. And the social relations that exist in that country reflect and serve that, including the powerful role of feudal and religious fundamentalist forces and traditions.
With this understanding, one can appreciate how positive it is that sections of society with some access to education and culture are rebelling against the deadly, deadening, life-crushing Islamic fundamentalist morality and world outlook. This is a good thing.
It is true that absent a strong pole representing the oppressed with nothing to lose but their chains, acting as emancipators of humanity, with a revolutionary communist leadership, these forces and their demands will get pulled under the wing of this or that reformist trend—bourgeois democracy, attempts to find a moderate Islamic solution, or bouncing back and forth between the two. But that only indicates the need for revolutionary forces to embrace all this, and to lead; to put their arms around a wide, diverse, complex, and potentially very positive spectrum of sections of society rebelling against oppression in any form.
During the current uprising, the U.S. rulers have posed as the friends of the Iranian people, supporters of their protest and struggle against repression and injustice. On June 23, President Barack Obama declared that he was "appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days," that he mourned "each and every innocent life that is lost," that the U.S. "respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran and is not interfering with Iran's affairs."
As I briefly sketched out earlier in this article, these are the words of the commander-in-chief of the world's dominant imperialist power, a power that in its quest for global hegemony directly dominated Iran for 25 bitter years under the Shah, and has tried to regain its grip on Iran ever since. Is Obama "appalled" by the fact that the U.S. fueled an eight-year war between Iran and Iraq and encouraging Saddam to use chemical weapons against Iran, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of Iranian lives (and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives)? No. Obama has never mentioned this. Obama claims to respect Iran's sovereignty, yet in 2001 and 2003 the U.S. empire he heads invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq—two countries right on Iran's borders.
Most essentially, the "solution" promised by "Western Democracy" is really the "solution" of bringing Iran more firmly under the domination of, and integrated into the networks of U.S. imperialism. But it is the very economic and social relations fundamentally dictated by imperialism that are at the heart of all the misery, poverty, brutal repression and dark-ages obscurantist oppression that the Iranian people are rising up against.
The world, and the people of Iran need, something far more liberating than either the horrors of Islamic fundamentalist rule, or the horrors U.S. imperialism brings to the world. And, as part of bringing forward another way, worldwide, it is essential to support the uprising of the Iranian people against the IRI's oppressive tyranny whatever twists and turns it goes through, and appreciating what a tremendous thing it is when millions seize on the openings created by divisions among the powers-that-be to step onto the political stage. And especially for people in the United States, it also means actively exposing and opposing the actions of our "own" rulers to shape events in Iran to further their imperialist interests.
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
[Editors’ note: The following is the sixth excerpt from the text of a talk by Bob Avakian, earlier this year, which is being serialized in Revolution, beginning with issue #163. Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 appeared in issues #163, #164, #165, #166, and #167. Part 6 is from the beginning of the section titled “The Social Basis for Revolution.” Other parts from this section will appear in future issues. The text of the talk has been edited and footnotes have been added for publication. The entire talk can be found online at revcom.us/avakian/ruminations/BA-ruminations-en.html]
This brings me to some other very important statements by Marx, which were cited in the book Ghana: End of an Illusion, by Bob Fitch and Mary Oppenheimer. This book was written more than 40 years ago, analyzing the rise and fall of Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana and the larger social and international relations bound up with this. In speaking about the partial revolution—or, in fact, reforms within the system of imperialism and exploitation that people grouped around Nkrumah were seeking to carry out in Ghana—Fitch and Oppenheimer quote Marx to contrast that experience with a “total revolution,” that is, a real revolution that involves the radical transformation of society. Fitch and Oppenheimer themselves put it this way:
“Another characteristic of a ‘total’ revolution is that the class which forms the basis of the revolutionary movement must be one which has ‘radical chains’ to break.... Marx says that it must be a class in but not of civil society.” (Fitch & Oppenheimer, Ghana: End of an Illusion, Monthly Review Press, 1966, p. 24, emphasis in original)
And then, in elaboration of this point, they quote Marx directly, emphasizing that the basis of the revolution must be a social group, or class, which represents a
“sphere of society which has a universal character because its sufferings are universal, and which does not claim a particular redress because the wrong which is done to it is not a particular wrong but wrong in general. There must be formed a sphere of society which claims no traditional status but only human status, a sphere which is not opposed to particular consequences but is totally opposed to the assumptions of the...political system.” (As cited in Fitch & Oppenheimer, p. 24)
This relates back to—it is in a sense another way of stating—what was discussed earlier in relation to Marx’s observations in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, and specifically the profound differences in how different class forces and their political and literary (or intellectual) representatives see the problems and solutions. The Black bourgeoisie in the U.S., the forces grouped around Mandela in South Africa, Gandhi in India, the forces around Khomeini in Iran, and so on, see (or saw) things not in a universal way, but in a particular way; what they advocate and strive for embodies a particular or a partial redress, or change, not a universal redress—not a sweeping, radical transformation of the existing system. They represent, in fact, a traditional status—not, as the proletariat does (as it becomes a revolutionary force, on the basis of its fundamental interests as a class) a sweeping away of tradition’s chains.
Ghana: End of an Illusion also cites Marx speaking to what he refers to as a “partial, merely political revolution.” “What is the basis,” Marx asks, of such a “partial, merely political revolution?” Marx answers as follows:
“Simply this: a fraction of a civil society emancipates itself and achieves a dominant position; a certain class undertakes, from its particular situation, a general emancipation of society. This class emancipates society as a whole, but only on condition that the whole of society is in the same situation as this class, for example, that it possesses or can acquire money or culture.” (As cited in Fitch & Oppenheimer, p. 23, emphasis in original)
Now of course, Marx’s statement here embodies irony: he doesn’t actually mean that under the leadership of such a class, and in the remaking of society in the interests and the image of this class, all of society can actually do this (put itself into the same position as this class). The essential point is that this is how these more privileged and even exploiting strata and classes see the remaking of society, even when they are driven toward that objective: they believe, and insist, that the general conditions of society should conform to their particular interests and way of approaching things—in other words, their particular status and aspirations—rather than there being a “springing into the air” and a radical transformation of society as a whole, leading to the abolition of tradition and tradition’s chains.
Also, as something of an aside but definitely related to this, there is a very interesting and in some ways humorous observation by Engels which is cited in this same book, Ghana: End of an Illusion. Speaking about the counter-revolution which drowned in blood the revolutions of 1848 in Europe, Engels wrote,
“...when you inquire into the causes of the counter revolutionary successes, there you are met on every hand with the ready-made reply that it was ‘Mister This’ or ‘Citizen That’ who betrayed the people. Which reply may be very true or not, according to the circumstances. But under no circumstances does it explain anything, not even how it came to pass that the people allowed themselves to be thus betrayed. And what poor chance stands a political party whose entire stock in trade consists in the knowledge of the solitary fact that ‘Citizen So-and-So’ is not to be trusted.” (As cited in Fitch & Oppenheimer, p. 10)
How much has this kind of “analysis,” which Engels so rightly ridiculed, been repeated since then, including right around us today!
This, in turn, calls to mind that very insightful and concentrated observation by Lenin which for very good reason we have many times cited:
“People always were and always will be the foolish victims of deceit and self-deceit” [note very well: “and self-deceit”] “in politics until they learn to discover the interests of some class behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. The supporters of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realize that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is maintained by the forces of some ruling classes.” (Lenin, “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism,” as cited in Phony Communism is Dead...Long Live Real Communism!, second  edition, p. 122, emphasis in original)
How profoundly true—and how profoundly relevant once again these days!
Indeed, this kind of approach, on which Lenin is critically commenting, is very pronounced today, especially when among the oppressed and exploited masses—and, in fact, among all strata of the people, including notably the intelligentsia—there is almost everything but a materialist understanding of things, and especially of society and its historical development. There is a glaring lack of understanding—and a crying need for people to understand—that there is a system whose basic contradictions and dynamics set the terms of things in a fundamental sense; and for people to be given, in a living and compelling way, a materialist analysis and a materialist estimate, as Lenin put it, of how this system actually works and of the role of different classes and social forces in relation to all this.
And here, speaking again about different social forces, their understanding of the problem and their aspirations towards a solution, there is a very relevant observation by Jack Belden in his book China Shakes the World, which was cited in a report by a leading comrade of our party recently:
“No social revolution, either good or bad, ever took place without the existence of a great mass of disinherited people who could furnish a new group with a base of support. In the women of China, the Communists possessed, almost ready-made, one of the greatest masses of disinherited human beings the world has ever seen. And because they found the key to the heart of these women, they also found one of the keys to victory over Chiang Kai-shek.”
This recalls the crucial analysis that is contained in the passage that was cited earlier from Marx, speaking to what is necessary in order to have a “total revolution.”
To be continued
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
July 4 weekend picnics:
"If you can conceive of a world without America—without everything America stands for and everything it does in the world—then you’ve already taken great strides and begun to get at least a glimpse of a whole new world. If you can envision a world without any imperialism, exploitation, oppression —and the whole philosophy that rationalizes it—a world without division into classes or even different nations, and all the narrow-minded, selfish, outmoded ideas that uphold this; if you can envision all this, then you have the basis for proletarian internationalism. And once you have raised your sights to all this, how could you not feel compelled to take an active part in the world historic struggle to realize it; why would you want to lower your sights to anything less?"
Chairman of the
Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
* * * *
Picnic in the park to raise funds for Revolution/Revolución newspaper
July 5, Sunday, 11:00 am - 6:00 pm
145th Street & Riverside Drive, Manhattan
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Food · Fun · Good Company and Conversation · Music
$10 suggested donation. Bring your friends. Bring your checkbook. Bring your favorite dish. For info:
Stop Thinking Like Americans! Start Thinking About Humanity! Fundraising Picnic for Revolution/Revolución newspaper
July 4, Saturday, 12 noon firing up the grill, 2:00 pm program begins
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Anti-4th of July Picnic/Pot Luck Fundraiser for Revolution/Revolución newspaper
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"Stop Thinking Like Americans" Picnic
July 4, Saturday, 4:30 pm
Volunteer Park, Park entrance is at 1247 15th Ave E.
Picnic in the area next to the Seattle Asian Art Museum.
For info: Revolution Books Seattle 206-325-7415.
Let's stop thinking like Americans, start thinking about humanity, and challenge others to imagine a world without America · Anti-July 4th Potluck Cookout
July 4, Saturday, 12 noon - 5:00 pm
Grant Park, on the Boulevard Street side
Share food and good conversation while talking about revolution to emancipate all humanity. We'll be kicking around ideas for spreading Revolution/Revolución newspaper and establishing a solid financial base for this vital resource for building a revolutionary movement. Volunteer to help, bring a dish, bring your ideas and questions. You can contact us in advance, meet up at bookstore at 11:30 am, or just look for us in the park. For info: Revolution Books Atlanta 770-861-3339.
July 5, Sunday, 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Ala Moana Park, Honolulu. Diamond Head side; mauka of Magic Island parking lot
Tens of thousands of people will be camping/picnicking in Ala Moana Park on July 5th. Revolution/Revolución newspaper supporters will hold a big "Stop Thinking Like an American" banner at the park entrance, will have a tent with a poster display, and will circulate through the park to leaflet and distribute the newspaper. For info call Revolution Books, 808-944-3106.
Fundraising Picnic to benefit Revolution/Revolución newspaper!
July 4, Saturday, 3:00 - 9:00 pm
Rockefeller Lagoon Shelter, at MLK & E. 105
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Individuals $15; Families $25; Unemployed/students $5
For tickets, to rsvp, and/or to help organize the picnic: Revolution Books 216-932-2543.
Fundraising Picnic For Revolution/Revolución newspaper
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Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
Below is an excerpt from the report of preliminary findings from a working group on "An Assessment of the Momentum Towards War Between the United States and Iran: Causes and Potential Ramifications,” which specifically analyzes the Islamic Republic of Iran. These preliminary findings were prepared in June of 2008. In addition to and intersecting with the factors described below are two additional salient developments since then that would be important to consider: 1) The impact of the global financial crisis on the oil sector of Iran; and 2) The impact of Obama’s offer on the one hand to negotiate with Iran and to even recognize "Iran's right to pursuing peaceful nuclear energy potential" while at the same time continuing the Bush administration and Israel’s theme that Iran's objective is to develop nuclear weapons and therefore giving an end of the year deadline for that to cease.
The regime has demonstrated significant resilience. One commentator listed the challenges it has endured to date—the long war with Iraq where all the major powers sided primarily with Iraq, natural catastrophes, persistent actions by the U.S. to isolate and vilify the regime etc.—and concluded that it has been able to cope with “everything short of the plague.”
Iran remains a dependent and oppressed nation within the framework of, and subordinate to, world imperialism. But within that, due to a combination of factors, it has acquired greater maneuvering room and geopolitical reach. Chief among these factors are its extensive oil and natural gas reserves in combination with its coherent, ideologically driven, deeply rooted, and far reaching (within Iran and elements beyond, especially regionally) state institutions and structure.
The regime exhibits a high degree of reactionary, ideologically driven coherence. There is a tremendous amount of centralization of power in the government, including in the “Supreme Leader” and other key institutions.1 And on the basis of harsh repression and in connection with state-Islamic welfarism and the regime’s ability to forge a base of support among sections of society, the regime has achieved relative stability up until now. But the structure and nature of this regime contains within it the seeds of severe contradictions. There is what we have called an extreme “brittleness” that portends potential splintering, including in the top ruling circles.
The social formation of Iran today is overall an amalgam of semi-feudal and capitalist relations of production within which capitalist relations are dominant but confined within and fettered by theocratic political and social structures. The majority of economic activity, especially of any significant scale, is state run and controlled. The heart of the economy and its most dynamic factor is petroleum. But the Iranian economy is marked by a bloated, inefficient state sector and actual over-reliance on oil—something which most analysts, including the neocons, consistently point out.
In short, the IRI is a “theo-hegemonic” state system, sitting atop a complex and dependent economic structure in which the state-capitalist oil sector occupies a central position.
This high degree of theocratically cohered centralization also encompasses a system of sub-institutions that are integrated and that function in a “feudal sort of way”—with their own networks of control, authority and commerce. This includes informal social networks but also a byzantine complex of “states within the state” (which have some international reach). These include the religious foundations (bonyads) that have come to dominate trade and the manufacturing sectors and that have morphed into huge holding companies. For example, one of these bonyads, the Ayatollah Khomeini Foundation, has more than 1.7 million employees.
Another institution that functions in a similar way is the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC, or Pasdaran) which was formed early after the revolution as an ideological, hardcore military arm to defend the revolution internally (the traditional armed forces were to protect the IRI from external threat). The IRGC is not only a key pillar of the armed power of the state. It has also steadily become more integrated into economic activities, developing its own commercial firms with privileged contracts in key strategic industries, including those related to defense. This has enhanced its patronage power and allowed it to cultivate its own constituencies. Which in turn has led to widespread corruption. Current and former IRGC members are stepping more and more into central political roles in the regime (described as a “silent coup” by some). The IRGC totals 125,000 men, but is estimated to effectively control over one million employees.
An important feature of this theo-hegemonic state system, and very much connected with what has been described above, are significant elements of an “Islamic welfare state.” This fits in with the IRI’s ideological agenda and also serves to undergird the regime’s legitimacy, solidifying and extending its base of support. But this is also a fetter on capitalist modernization. State-Islamic welfarism is facilitated by oil revenue but is also a drain on Iran’s oil revenue. The regime has historically subsidized essentials such as food and gasoline, but in the last year or so it has increasingly cut back (and this has had dire consequences for sections of the masses). This welfare system is an additional source of corruption within the regime. This, in conjunction with the oppressiveness of this society overall as well as the increasing downward trajectory of this Islamic welfare state’s ability to deliver on the basic needs of the masses, contributes to the growing antagonism between the masses and the regime as well as intra-ruling class conflict.
The corruption associated with the “states within the state” (like the bonyards) and the functioning of the Islamic welfare state impart another distinct feature to the IRI: a kind of “theocratic-crony capitalism.”
While the regime does have relative independence and control over an extensive oil sector and associated spheres of operation, this is again all grounded in and subordinated to the capitalist world economy. A big contradiction for the IRI is the need to modernize and attract investment, including in relation to its dynamic energy sector (This energy sector is also relatively and seriously inefficient viewed on the world scale). All sections of the Iranian ruling class recognize the need to modernize to a greater or lesser degree. But there are different approaches to privatization and modernization, and this intersects sharply with issues of ideology and the economics and politics intertwined with all of that (as sketched out above).
There is a section of the Iranian ruling class that is fighting strongly for a neo-liberal program of privatization of state-run industries. Others are strongly opposed to this. And this contradiction also intersects with questions of social base and, to some degree, with different imperialist powers with which different sectors have traditionally been allied. There has been a move towards privatization, but for reasons beyond the scope of this discussion, this has occurred on a relatively minor scale (over the last ten years, about 200 state-run enterprises have been privatized). So these are expressions both of internal contradictions and divergent programs at the top.
Politically, most mainstream analysts break up the ruling circles into three broad camps. There are the “hard-liners” represented by Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Yazdi. And many analysts put the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, in this camp. Its base is still more among the traditional and conservative classes, e.g., the very conservative Bazaari who are at the core of the bonyads, and a considerable if not the predominant section of the IRGC and basif.
Then there is what is sometimes called the moderates or “pragmatic conservatives” led and typified by Rafsanjani, who is often described as straddling between this “hardcore” and the third camp—the “reformers,” such as Khatami (president from 1997-2005). The “reformers” share with Rafsanjani, among other things, an aggressive program for neo-liberal transformation and have stood for a liberalization of society and curtailment of some of the power of the clerics. The reformers’ base is among various modern, urbanized strata including apparently some that are the product of these “peculiar institutions” of the IRI. Some analysts only speak of two camps, the conservatives and reformers, but there is something to this characterization of Rafsanjani as a “conservative pragmatist” straddling these two sections of the ruling class.
The IRI’s resilience is not simply a function of its centralized character but also its absorptive capacity. Different factions of the ruling circles have found a place within the system to operate; there is a certain “inclusiveness”. It is the “theo-hegemonic” character of the regime that is fundamentally setting the terms of the cohesiveness of the ruling elite. And it is this theo-hegemonic character that has enabled the regime, despite the contradictions and pulls and various pressures (economic, political, and military) flowing from Iran’s position in the region and the world as a whole, and intersecting with the need to hold on to power (both rule over the masses and preserving a relative functioning ruling group), that has contributed thus far to the regime’s ability to survive many challenges And yet this very coherence is also the source of extreme “brittleness,” especially with the sharpening of international as well as internal contradictions.
One way to understand the sharpness of this contradiction on the political level is that the “reform” faction argues that the regime needs to open up on a whole new level to the world, to attract capital and modernize large segments of the economy, and to limit the rule of the clerics and allow more air to breathe in Iranian society—or to risk losing it all. The “hardliners” argue the opposite—that it is necessary to tighten up, reassert even more strongly “core Islamic values”—or else there is the risk of the whole regime unraveling. The point is¼both factions are actually speaking to dynamics of the actual reality.
So, on the one hand, the regime has this absorptive and integrative capacity. On the other hand, its theocratic nature, and the power of its theocratic core, throws up political and economic barriers to modernization, deeper engagement with the world economy, and adapting institutions to profound demographic and social changes taking place in Iranian society.2 But, again, it is precisely its theocratic nature that coheres the regime. This is what makes for the “brittleness” of the IRI.
1. Briefly as background: The core of the governing institutions of the Iranian regime is anchored in powerful executive institutions that are based within the clergy (and on some bodies, religious lay people) and various factions of the ruling regime are represented within these institutions. Felayat-e-fagih (also transliterated as “Velayat-e faqih”) is the concept of religious governance that Khomeini brought into being and is the core of the governance with the selection of Supreme Leader or ruling jurist (presently Khamenei) by the clerical hierarchy (the Assembly of Experts.) This Supreme Leader has broad powers including approval/dismissal of the president, supervision over the general policies of the government, is commander and chief and has the power to declare war, appoints the judiciary and has control over radio and TV broadcasting and other public institutions. There is a Council of Guardians which is a body of 12 judges, six clerical and six lay people and it is empowered to review all legislation for its conformity to Islam as well as the Iranian Constitution and it supervises elections. There is also a president (currently Ahmadinejad), a parliament (majlis) and an Expediency Council which is designated to arbitrate between the parliament and the council of Guardians on disputed legislation and advisory to the Supreme Leader on broad policies of the state and is explicitly entrusted as the institution that is to supervise that the interest of the state rank above “all ordinances that were derived or directly commanded by Allah.” [back]
2. Major changes have taken place in Iran since the 1979 revolution. Despite losing close to a million people during the war with Iraq in the ’80s, the population of the country has actually doubled. Whereas in 1975, 46% of the population was urban, today it is close to 70%, with Tehran a major “Megapolis.” Ninety-five percent of the youth (15-25) are literate and 61% of those accepted in universities are women (2005). More than 35% of the population is under 15 with approximately 60% of the population under 24 years of age. There is widespread unemployment and 40% of the population is below the poverty line, and, as has been well reported in various presses, there has been a significant amount of unrest in relation to conditions of life, including strikes and very significant student and women’s movements, even as there has been a major wave of repression in relation to all this. Of note: Iran has one of the highest heroin addiction rates in the world and prostitution is growing significantly. Also of note is that the “brain-drain” (educated émigrés) is 150-180,000 annually. [back]
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
Response To Election Fraud Reveals Deep Schisms in Iranian Ruling Circle and Broad Based Profound Hatred of the Regime
As we go to press the world has been witnessing a week of demonstrations and rebellion in Iran, with numbers involved at times in the millions.
The uprising was triggered by what was widely perceived as a coup—what was seen by many to be the theft of the presidential election on June 12 by the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, from his main opponent, Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Within three hours of the closing of the polls, victory was declared for Ahmadinejad. Millions of those who had grown weary of the regime had been convinced to go out and vote yet one more time to “express their will” against the reactionary status quo and were shocked and outraged at the blatant manipulation.
This was too much. People began to flood into the streets in anger, and Mousavi refused to accept the result. By Friday, June 19, the head of Iran’s government, Ayatollah Khamenei, forbade further demonstrations. On Saturday, June 20, as we go to press, tens of thousands of people defied Khamenei and the government ban and fought police in the streets of the main city, Tehran.
The initial upsurge, early in the week, was met by counter-demonstrations of the loyal base of Ahmadinejad and violent attacks by the police and the Basij, a reactionary militia linked with the elite state armed forces units (the Pasdaran, or Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp [IRGC]). In the first week after the election, the Iranian authorities had acknowledged eight deaths of protestors at the hands of the Basij, including as a result of machine gun fire opened up on a demonstration on June 15. The Basij have also ransacked dormitories and buildings at Tehran University and students activists have reported that an additional seven students have been killed in Tehran and in the southern city of Shiraz, beyond the eight officially acknowledged. Hundreds of protesters as well as activists and/or leaders of the main and other reform parties have been arrested. As we go to press, there have been an additional 10 deaths confirmed by Iranian state TV and unconfirmed reports of up to 150 in the clashes with police in the afternoon of June 20.
Both main leading forces in this conflict right now—Ahmadinejad and his forces, on the one hand, and the group around Mousavi on the other—are reactionary and do not represent the interests of the masses. And this goes double for the U.S. and other imperialist powers which are attempting to maneuver within this.
But this conflict between two reactionary sections of the regime has also opened space for people to act and to raise their heads. The masses battling against the “Ahmadinejad coup” are waging a struggle that should be supported and has the potential—and necessity—to be transformed into a struggle between progressive, even revolutionary forces, and the forces of the old, reactionary order, in their various guises and manifestations. The stakes are very high.
These are the biggest demonstrations in Iran since the 1978-79 upsurge which toppled the previous regime, headed by the Shah of Iran. But the anger and determination expressed in these protests is not simply a reaction to the blatant tampering with election results. It also reflects profound and deep dissatisfaction in Iranian society with the theocratic (religious rule) regime. These sentiments are especially strong among large sections of the youth of Iran who are extremely alienated—sick to death—of the absolutist rule of the “mullahs” (Shiite Islamic clerics). All this has been brought to the surface by, and intersects with, sharpening rivalry and deep schisms within the overall reactionary ruling circles of Iran.
Mousavi does not oppose the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). He is a “reform” candidate. And a reform candidate of the likes of Mousavi was not particularly new to the Iranian terrain. In fact another such reform candidate, Khatami, was elected as president in 1997 and was president until Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005. The point of the reform movement was—and continues to be—reform of the Islamic Republic of Iran from “within.” At least up to the present, this movement has remained loyal to the guiding institutions of the clerical regime (and indeed a number of the key players associated with this reform movement are themselves high ranking clerics). And objectively this reform movement plays an important role for the regime of “roping-in” the disaffected sections of masses. As a leaflet the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) [CPI(MLM)] released before the election put it, “These elections portray the rule of the minority [the ruling classes] as the choice of the majority of people. Even regimes such as the Islamic Republic of Iran that mainly rely on the suppression and repression of the people need electoral spectacles to legitimize their rule and spread illusion among the discontented people. Elections are also a mechanism to carry out controlled contention among different factions and gangs within the ruling classes to prevent cracks in the power structure and possible resulting storms of mass rebellion....”
Khatami came into office with the overwhelming support of the ruling circles in Iran, advocating economic reform, opening up on a whole new level to the world to attract capital, seeking to change many of Iran’s international relations in the region and Europe, as well as domestic political reforms. While the early years of the Khatami presidency have been dubbed the “Tehran Spring,” and included some loosening up on some issues of censorship and some further allowances and latitude in Iranian civil society, many of the attempts to implement these reforms were blocked by other core forces in the regime. In fact, a student movement that had emerged during this “springtime” was brutally suppressed, with Khatami neither willing nor able to stop this from happening. And despite the Iranian regime at that time initially assisting the U.S. in stabilizing Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion, this cooperation by the Iranian government with the U.S. imperialists was “rewarded” by singling out Iran as a member of “the axis of evil.” Offers by Khatami of major concessions to the U.S. were also summarily rebuffed by the Bush administration. [For an in-depth discussion of all this, see “An Assessment of the Momentum Towards War Between the United States and Iran: Causes and Potential Ramifications.”]
All this actually greatly strengthened the pole in the Iranian ruling class that coalesced around Ahmadinejad. Dubbed “the new generation of hardliners” by the western media, there are powerful circles among the clergy, segments of the state capitalist sector and the leadership of such institutions as the IRGC that are behind him, and the popular base of this section of the Iranian ruling circles includes the traditional conservative classes and also large significant sections of the military and IRGC, Basij members, managers, administrators, and employees in Iran’s political/military institutions which in many cases are also major financial institutions.
While there have been conflicts and differences within the Iranian ruling circles since the consolidation of the IRI, up till this point the regime has held together via its theocratic ideological glue and the institutions built up around this. This centralization though has gone along with a certain degree of different factions of the ruling class able to find a place to operate within the system. But these developments that brought about the election of Ahmadinejad in 2005 had to a large degree continued to further isolate the reformers, icing them out from the heart of power and actually severely alienating their base among the masses from the regime overall. This alienation was reflected, for example, in the extremely low voter turnouts in the 2005 presidential elections and as recently as the 2008 parliamentary elections.
These forces represented by the electoral reformers are by no means minor players or any type of friends of the people. While having real differences with the current core forces of the regime, and while currently isolated from the heart of power, they are as essentially reactionary as the “hardliners” represented by Ahmadinejad. The main representatives of this movement are not only loyal to the main institutions of the Islamic Republic, many of the key players in this movement were actually central to the initial emergence of the Islamic regime after the revolution against the Shah. Some directly oversaw the extremely brutal suppression of progressive and revolutionary forces in the 1980s, which included massive imprisonment, torture, exile and the outright executions of thousands of people. Mousavi himself was prime minister in this very period, from 1981-1989.
But opportunity for these reformers essentially came knocking with the election of Obama. To be clear, Obama has maintained the essential strategic course of the U.S. ruling class in the Middle East, including many of Bush’s specific policies. And no major section of the U.S. bourgeoisie advocates a “live and let live” approach to the Islamic Republic of Iran. All these sections actually see Iran as a major problem for U.S. interests especially in the Middle East, but the difference lies in how to transform the regime and this has been a source of significant disagreement in the U.S. ruling class. While Obama shares the view that the IRI must be qualitatively transformed, he represents forces who agreed that the Bush tactics were not accomplishing those aims, and tactically he has made some shifts.
Obama’s approach combines containment (military and diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, and low-intensity warfare) with more flexible negotiations and various “soft power” initiatives (some economic overtures, cultural, etc.). He has also opened up the prospects of talks between the U.S. and Iran and stated that there should be allowances for nuclear energy capabilities limited to peaceful purposes. But there is no indication that he has suspended the covert military operations of U.S. Special Forces in Iran begun by Bush, and he has continued with the same exact assertion declared by the Bush regime (and Israel) that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and that such developments are unacceptable. Obama also emphasized that these talks cannot go on indefinitely and would need to come to a halt at about the end of the year. Such a statement implies moving from talking to something more draconian—from more effective embargos to military measures—if the deadline is not met. This shift (the “carrot” and the implied “stick”) in U.S. policy in relation to Iran has likely contributed to the reformist forces within Iran gaining renewed political backbone and could very likely be even an element—in conjunction with the hatred for the current regime—of the rekindled support from broad sections of Iranian society for them.
But while the “reformer” forces were in part energized by Obama’s new tactics, Obama himself has up to now played the current crisis close to his vest, offering only relatively tepid condemnations of the violence against the protesters.1 This is for several reasons. First, as Obama himself said early in the crisis, he does not necessarily think that Mousavi would dismantle the IRI, nor cease attempting to pursue things which have been forbidden by the U.S.—including nuclear weapons. Second, also frankly admitted by Obama, because of the U.S. history of domination of Iran, including its principal role in the installation and backing of the hated 25-year rule of the Shah from 1953 to 1978, there is every chance that any statement of support for the protesters by Obama would backfire. Right now, the U.S. is “maneuvering, but holding their fire”—trying to figure out what course will overall most weaken the IRI and best enable the U.S. to install a more pliant regime, and to carry out a more unfettered domination of the entire region. The fact that Khamenei in his Friday, June 19, speech aimed his main attack against Britain rather than the U.S. has been interpreted by some to mean that the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad forces were signaling to the U.S. that they were willing to make a deal if they made it through the crisis, and that it was in the U.S. interests to work against Mousavi.
One factor that Obama is trying to play on is the lack of a clear understanding that imperialism is a system—not just a set of policies. Even as almost every section of Iranian society acknowledges and despises the U.S. for its role in overthrowing Mossadegh in 1953 and installing and supporting the hated Shah—Obama’s “admission” of a U.S. “role” in that coup was very much an attempt to convince Iranian forces and masses of a new “kinder, gentler” U.S. imperialism. These masses hate what imperialism does on one level—but even many of the more progressive tend to reduce imperialism to a set of policies and do not understand it as the worldwide system that it is. This leaves them subject to the influence of the demagogy of Obama.
This is part of what fed into the reported popular sentiment among the masses going into the election that they were not voting “for” Mousavi, but “against” Ahmadinejad. Such sentiments had also been fueled by the ruling class clique challenging the status quo, by broadcasts from western imperialists and also by spontaneous sentiments that saw potential for change through these means presented to them. An unprecedented televised debate between the two main candidates, Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, only days before the election added to this. Ahmadinejad went after Mousavi’s past record as prime minister but largely focused on the corruption, graft, and private aggrandizement of Hashemi Rafsanjani (a major godfather type figure behind Mousavi) and defended his term as president based on the prestige of Iran with the non-aligned nations and accusing Mousavi of currying favor with “3 or 4 major powers.” Mousavi attacked Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy, censorship, economic record and Holocaust denial. This debate apparently played a significant role in unleashing voters in relation to both candidates and the result was a huge voter turnout of 85%.
With the perceived theft of the election there was a convergence of several different factors. On the one hand, there was the shock and response from the actual significant ruling class forces represented by the likes of Mousavi and Rafsanjani and their base. On the other hand, this intersected with a broad-based mass movement that was desperate for change and fueled by hatred for all the IRI represents. These masses saw the election as the final straw. This led to the explosion that we see unfolding before our eyes.
Mousavi’s loyalty to the Islamic regime is reflected by the promotion of green—the color used as a symbol of Islam—on banners, placards, and armbands of his supporters and calling for protesters to converge if they came under attack at the grave of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founding cleric of the IRI. Mousavi represents the interests of the class forces that see pursuing their ambitions through the machinery of the Islamic Republic, and feel thwarted at the moment by Ahmadinejad. Like Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, they want to maintain exploitation of the masses, they want to maneuver within the relations of the imperialist world-system rather than rupture from it, and they want to maintain the chokehold of Islam as a way to control the masses and legitimize their own rule. They want to do this somewhat differently, with more of the trappings of bourgeois democracy, a loosening of the grip of the clerics, et al, and with a different economic policy. As the paper “An Assessment of the Momentum Towards War Between the United States and Iran: Causes and Potential Ramifications,” available on the website of this newspaper, analyzed:
While the regime does have relative independence and control over an extensive oil sector and associated spheres of operation, this is again all grounded in and subordinated to the capitalist world economy...There is a section of the Iranian ruling class that is fighting strongly for a neo-liberal program of privatization of state-run industries. Others are strongly opposed to this. And this contradiction also intersects with questions of social base and, to some degree, with different imperialist powers with which different sectors have traditionally been allied.2
Some of them very much see not only their own future, but the future of the IRI as a viable force bound up in whether they win or not. For this reason, as we go to press, forces like Mousavi have not backed down but have continued to call for the election to be overturned, despite Khamenei’s June 19 speech.
As a leaflet put out by the CPI(MLM) at the start of this upsurge stated:
“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.”
There is the potential for revolutionary forces, even starting out small, to take advantage of the upsurge and strengthen the influence and organization for a revolutionary solution. If such forces are among the people in revolt, and if they struggle to change the terms of the revolt and divert it out of the channels of fighting just for a “reformed IRI,” then a social struggle that at the beginning and spontaneously is confined essentially within the terms of opposition, between two poles which are both, fundamentally and ultimately, reactionary (e.g., bourgeois democracy vs. fundamentalist absolutism), provides both the necessity and the possibility to transform this into a dynamic in which there is a growing pole of radical opposition, breaking out of those confines and with a revolutionary communist force able to enter into and contend within the dynamic process and grow in strength through the course of this.
It is clear that this is the biggest internal challenge to the IRI since its consolidation in 1982. Which way it goes is up for grabs. The regime could undertake even more vicious repression, with widespread murder. The forces headed by Mousavi could well attempt to call things off. And there is no doubt whatsoever that the U.S. and other powers will maneuver within this to keep the struggle of the masses within the confines of bourgeois-democratic terms and what is acceptable to imperialist interests.
On the other hand, it could also be the case that the conflict between these two reactionary forces continues to intensify. But even more important, there could also be the further development of this struggle along the lines outlined above—a struggle in which suppression against the masses does NOT succeed in “stuffing the genie back in the bottle”...a struggle full of twists and turns, outbreaks and seeming calms...a struggle in which the interests of the masses are brought to the fore through that whole complex process.
It is this latter course which all who hunger for fundamental radical change—for revolution—should not only fervently hope for, but politically support.
1 Here we can only remark in passing on the remarkable ability of Obama to maintain a straight face in condemning the taking of innocent lives in Iran—this from the main representative of an imperialist power that not only supported its puppet Shah in taking tens of thousands of innocent lives over the course of 25 years, but also fomented, encouraged and attempted to prolong the war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, in which an estimated one million people died. [back]
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
In the early 1950s, Iran was ruled by British imperialism and its puppet, Shah (King) Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company controlled Iran’s oil and reaped huge profits. Iran’s oil workers toiled for 50 cents a day and lived in polluted slums without water or electricity. Most Iranians were impoverished peasants, enslaved on the land.
A movement of millions arose that drove the hated Shah from the country. Mohammed Mossadegh, who became the prime minister, attempted to nationalize Iran’s oil. Control of Iranian oil was crucial to the Western imperialists. In 1953, the CIA and the British organized a coup that overthrew Mossadegh and returned the Shah to power, instituted a ruthless dictatorship, and crushed his opponents. Full control of Iran’s oil was returned to Western corporations.
During this period, the U.S. was the dominant power in Iran. For the people of Iran, life under U.S. domination was a nightmare. The Shah ruled through his brutal secret police, SAVAK, which the U.S. trained and organized. SAVAK imprisoned, tortured, and murdered thousands of people who dared to oppose the regime. And, according to a former CIA analyst on Iran, Jesse J. Leaf, SAVAK was trained in torture techniques by the CIA. The U.S. rulers did not even shed crocodile tears when their puppet dictator carried out these tortures and murders. The economy was totally subservient to the West, and billions of dollars were poured into making Iran into a U.S. military outpost. Meanwhile, 60 percent of Iranians were illiterate, life expectancy was only 50 years, 139 out of every 1,000 children died in their first year, and millions lived in rural poverty or sprawling urban slums.
In 1978, a wave of mass revolution built across Iran against the Shah. Backed by the U.S., the Shah tried to drown the revolution in blood—for example, in September 1978, thousands of people were killed in what is known as the “Bloody Friday” massacre. When it became clear that the Shah was losing control, the U.S. switched tactics. The Shah was pushed into exile, and the U.S. helped the reactionary Islamic fundamentalist regime led by Ayatollah Khomeini consolidate power and usher in a new nightmare for Iran’s people. The U.S. rulers assessed that their best bet—rather than allowing the revolution to develop and the possibility of more radical or revolutionary forces coming to the fore—was to work through the IRI, because Iran’s theocratic rulers had no intention or ability to fully break with imperialism. And the U.S. backed the Islamic regime’s brutal repression of revolutionaries and progressives.
The Khomeini regime was intent on promoting Islamic fundamentalism and expanding its role in the region. In November 1979, Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. All this crashed sharply with U.S. efforts to maintain its domination of the Middle East. In 1980, as part of a strategic approach to weakening the IRI, the U.S. gave Iraq’s Saddam Hussein a green light to invade Iran, and then worked to turn the Iran-Iraq War into an eight-year bloodbath. U.S. allies supplied Iraq with billions in weapons and material that Hussein turned into chemical weapons, which he used on Iranians as well as Iraqi Kurds. The U.S. also supplied Iran, and played both sides against each other to prevent either from winning. When the war ended, an estimated one million Iraqis and Iranians had been killed.
After 9/11, the U.S. launched a so-called “war on terror,” whose real goal is to tear up the existing economic and political structures in the Middle East that it saw as an impediment to radically restructuring the region in the U.S.’s strategic interests, and to crush or force into defeat the Islamic fundamentalist forces who pose obstacles to those imperialist interests—so that the U.S. rulers can more directly control and exploit the whole Middle East, as a key part of creating an unchallenged and unchallengeable global empire.
Under the Bush regime, the U.S. made all kinds of accusations against Iran to justify stepped-up threats. Bush invoked the danger of “World War 3” and other wild exaggerations and lies, including the possibility of nuclear attack. Now Obama has tactically modified this, but has not fundamentally altered the Bush strategic aims.
Go online to revcom.us for fuller background and analysis, including:
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
Obama in Cairo:
The following is the second excerpt from an article, which is being serialized in Revolution, on Barack Obama’s June 5 speech at Cairo University in Egypt. The first excerpt, appearing in issue #168, included the sections “The Muslim World” and “Crude Stereotype or Dead-On Characterization?” The full article is available online at revcom.us/a/167/ Obama_speech-en.html.
Obama then moves on to defend U.S. aggression in all its forms. He begins by invoking the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon to justify U.S. aggression in the region.
To be clear, the 9/11 attacks were utterly wrong and should in no way be defended or justified, and al Qaeda itself is a reactionary force in the world whose influence must be combated. But invoking these attacks can neither wipe away the far more heinous crimes carried out by the U.S. leading up to them, nor does it justify the murder now of far, far greater numbers of people by the U.S. military. Yet Obama can invoke nothing but the specter of 9/11 to justify the military aggression taking place across the region.
Obama goes on to say that while the war against Iraq was a "war of choice"—in fact, it was an illegal and criminal war, a crime against humanity according to international law—the Iraqi people are "ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein." In short, far from apologizing for the war, he justifies it. Let us pause for a minute to reflect on the fact that over one million people have died as a result of the two U.S. wars against Iraq and the imposition of "sanctions" that deprived Iraqis of clean drinking water, needed medical supplies and facilities, etc. over the course of more than ten years. Let us pause for a minute to reflect on the war between Iraq and Iran during the 1980s, in which the U.S. encouraged both sides, in an effort to get each to bleed the other—a war which resulted in an estimated one million deaths. Let us pause to think about the over four million Iraqis displaced by the current war; the countless women and girls driven into prostitution; the terrible, almost unfathomable toll in ruined and shattered lives. Now a new form of rule, no less subservient to the U.S. and no less exploitative and oppressive than Hussein’s, is being hammered into place. To blandly intone that the Iraqis are "better off" is obscene.
Obama also gives what the Wall Street Journal called a "robust defense of the war in Afghanistan." The Journal particularly welcomed Obama’s promise that "America’s commitment will not weaken." As we have covered in this paper, this war is bound up both with "maintaining respect" for U.S. military power in the world—power which is essential to backing up its plunder and exploitation—and, in the case of Afghanistan, is also connected to very critical geopolitical and economic interests (see "The U.S. in Afghanistan: A War for Empire – Not a 'Good War' Gone Bad, Part 1," "The U.S. in Afghanistan: A War for Empire—Not a “Good War” Gone Bad, Part 2: Seizing on September 11 to Launch an Imperial War" and "Pipeline of Greed: U.S. Imperialism and the 'Great Game' for Caspian Oil," as well as other articles analyzing U.S. imperialist interests in Afghanistan at revcom.us). And, as we have also documented, it is a war in which the U.S. way of fighting of necessity involves terrible suffering and death among the people.
Obama next proceeds to what he calls "the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world." Obama makes sure that everyone first understands that "America’s strong bonds with Israel" are "unbreakable." He then invokes the Nazi murder of 6 million Jews in World War 2 in order to lend legitimacy to Israel.
Obama casts this as "a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive." He calls on people to not "see this conflict only from one side or the other." Instead, "both sides" must "live up to [their] responsibilities under the Road Map"—that is, the plan developed by George W. Bush for "peace" between Israel and the Palestinian people (essentially a plan for surrender by the Palestinians).
No. The oppression of the Jews by European rulers—oppression which lasted centuries and which reached a culmination in the Nazi holocaust—terrible though it was, cannot through some alchemical magic make legitimate the attempt by some European Jews to then dispossess and oppress a whole other people.
And no, this is not a "stalemate" between two equally aggrieved peoples. On one side is Israel, a settler state originated by the Zionist movement which arose in Europe among European Jews, and which was supported, bankrolled and finally backed up with force by a variety of imperialist powers, most notably the United States. That movement carried out a vicious colonial war, replete with massacres and the razing of hundreds of villages. The state which grew out of that war not only killed thousands and dispossessed hundreds of thousands of Palestinian people through the war itself, but has ever since carried out ruthless oppression against them. Most recently, this was evident in the ruthless and criminal Israeli attack on Gaza—one which featured, again, the murder of whole families and, in a new and truly grotesque twist, the forcing of children to stay in houses with their murdered mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, starving and traumatized, lest they be murdered as "possible terrorists." (See, for example, "Shelled family recounts Gaza horror," Al Jazeera, (1/12/09) available at YouTube. This is not a matter of how one "chooses" to "see the conflict"—it is a matter of what is true, and what is false.
Over and over again, Obama demonstrates his mastery of the art of euphemism. This is clear for instance in what bourgeois commentators have agreed was Obama’s "great concession" in the speech: "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."
No again. These settlements—ALL of them, not just the future settlements which Obama says should stop—are war crimes, expressly forbidden by the Geneva Conventions. And they are war crimes on top of war crimes in the real sense that the whole founding of Israel was totally unjust and criminal, as outlined above.
Obama also calls on all parties to adhere to the "Road Map"—the U.S. plan to end the "conflict" by setting up a fragmented network of territories occupied and administered by Palestinians, but militarily, politically and economically dominated by Israel—he insists that "Palestinians must abandon violence." But this call to end violence is applied only to Palestinians and not to the Israelis, even though Israel carries out violence on an almost infinitely greater scale.
To say this to the Palestinians is outrageous. It is as if someone came into your house, and killed much of your family, and chained up you and the few surviving fellow family members in the basement for years as they moved their family in, and retaliated for the mildest peep of protest with even more violence, murder and abuse; and then when you try to break out of the basement, you are told by the robber’s older brother that you are being too violent in your protest and resistance.
This part of Obama’s speech contains one of the most astounding lies of the whole speech (though there are many contenders for that title). Insisting that the Palestinians must renounce violence, he says the following: "For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding."
To this, there can be but one reply: Are you fucking kidding?!?
First of all, Black people today do not have "full and equal rights." As we document and analyze in our statement The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System, and the Revolution We Need, the oppression of Black people is not a thing of the past but a pillar of the system of today, with inequality and oppression pervasive in the spheres of employment, education, housing, imprisonment, and health, as well as in the sphere of culture and ideology more generally. Nowhere is this inequality and oppression more glaringly manifest than in the pervasive police brutality and outright police murder directed against Black youth—with the most recent well-known outrage being the murder of Oscar Grant, Jr. on January 1 this year—shot point-blank in the back as he lay restrained on the ground. Obama has not seen fit to even mention this murder; in fact rarely if ever does he mention murders of this kind other than to justify them, as he did in the case of Sean Bell, when Obama very vocally instructed people to "respect" the not guilty verdict rendered on the cops who killed the unarmed Bell.
It is also true that outright chattel slavery no longer legally exists in the U.S. and that many legal rights have been won over the past 50 years. But these were hardly won by renouncing resistance, resistance which in many cases included revolutionary violence in the face of counter-revolutionary violence.
Let’s start with slavery. First, there are the over 200 slave rebellions in American history. Nat Turner, for one, was very determined but you couldn’t really call him peaceful. Or take Frederick Douglass. Douglass, like much of the movement to abolish slavery, adhered at first to non-violence. But, as the force of white supremacy continued to ever more stubbornly assert itself, Douglass, along with much of the rest of the abolitionist movement, came to a different view. With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, Douglass wrote that "Slave-holders..., tyrants and despots have no right to live. The only way to make the fugitive slave law a dead letter is to make half a dozen or more dead kidnappers." The following decade was marked by increasingly violent struggle, including a virtual civil war in what would become the state of Kansas and then John Brown’s raid on a federal arsenal Harper’s Ferry, Va.—an attempt by Brown to start a widespread slave insurrection. Brown was tried for treason and hung, though much of the abolitionist movement, including many great writers and intellectuals of the day, upheld him.
Which leads us to the Civil War. Mr. Obama, was the Civil War not violent? But was it not instrumental in ending slavery? Playing a key role in this were Black soldiers in the Union Army, who died in twice the proportion of their white fellow soldiers. Lincoln was very reluctant to allow Black enlistment and even after doing so at first prevented them from serving in combat battalions. But Lincoln’s desire to win the war eventually forced him to allow Black soldiers to fight. Even still, Lincoln stubbornly refused for a year and a half to grant Black soldiers equal pay, giving them only half the salary of the lowest ranks of white soldiers. As one notable defender of Lincoln recently wrote, "Only after blacks threatened mutiny (and after several were hanged for protesting the unequal pay) did blacks in uniform get their due." ["Lincoln’s Black History," Garry Wills, New York Review of Books, June 11, 2009]
Nor does this bizarre version of history stand up to recent times. There were literally hundreds of rebellions in the major cities of America during the 1960s, in which thousands and thousands of people went up against police forces, National Guard and even the regular troops of the U.S. Army. By 1966, the non-violent strategy and orientation of Martin Luther King—which contrary to mythology were never universally taken up in the civil rights movement even in its earliest days—had been rendered irrelevant. The concessions that did come in employment, education, and other arenas came fundamentally as a result of the heroic resistance and struggle put up in urban streets, and the threat of the embryonic revolutionary movement of the times growing into one that could actually contend for power.
For a number of reasons—and we urge readers to go to The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System, and the Revolution We Need for a fuller explanation—this struggle did not "go all the way." Today, while there has been improvement in the situation for a small section of Black people, for many the situation is much worse. Contrary to Professor Obama, the lesson that must be drawn from this epochal struggle, by Palestinians and everyone else, is NOT that the system works, or that any movement must adhere to non-violence but that resistance is essential to not being ground down to what Marx called a "level mass of broken wretches," and this resistance must be waged as part of a movement for revolution if the masses are to actually achieve REAL emancipation.
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
Revolution talks with Raymond Lotta
Controversies and Lessons, Part Three
Raymond Lotta is a Maoist political economist. He is author of America in Decline and editor of And Mao Makes Five and Maoist Economics and the Revolutionary Road to Communism. Since 2005, he has been speaking on college campuses and in the media as part of the Set the Record Straight Project, which is taking on the distortions and misrepresentations about the first wave of socialist revolutions in the 20th century. In December 2008, he helped
organize a major symposium, “Rediscovering China’s Cultural Revolution” held in New York City.Raymond Lotta is a contributing writer for Revolution newspaper; recent articles and interviews have also appeared in the Economic and Political Weekly (India), GlobalResearch.ca (Canada), and Agence France-Presse.
This is the third, and final, part of this interview. Part One appeared in Revolution #166 (May 31, 2009); Part Two appeared in Revolution #167 (June 7, 2009).
Question: Raymond, you talked quite a bit about the achievements of the Cultural Revolution. But socialism was overthrown in China in 1976. There are people, including some who would describe themselves as Maoists, who look at this and conclude that there was something fundamentally wrong with the concepts guiding these revolutions, especially the leading role of a communist vanguard party. How do you respond to this?
Raymond Lotta: There is a question here of what lessons should and should not be drawn from the first stage of the communist revolution. The Soviet and Chinese revolutions achieved these amazing, these truly liberating, things. But they did this in a world still dominated by imperialism and in which the proletariat is still learning how to remake society. These societies were a glimpse of the future...and they showed that a new state power and institutionalized vanguard leadership are indispensable, if you are serious about mobilizing the masses to revolutionize society and the world.
Question: But you’re not saying that there weren’t problems?
Raymond Lotta: There were shortcomings and errors, some of them quite serious, especially in the case of Stalin and the Soviet Union, though we can’t overlook that this was the first attempt to build a socialist society, and in extremely hostile external circumstances. Even in China, where Mao led in developing a groundbreaking understanding and emancipatory practice for continuing the revolution, there were some problems in conception and in methods.
These problems were not the main cause of the defeat of socialism in 1976. But they had an effect. These problems in conception and method influenced the alignments of social forces within revolutionary China at the time of the reactionary coup...the understanding of the masses about where society needs to go and how...and influenced the theory and practice of how the revolutionary state was interacting with the world arena. Again, these were secondary shortcomings in an overwhelmingly positive experience, but they exerted real influence.
The new Manifesto of the RCP, USA, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, speaks to this. It points out that, among some forces, one response to this current moment and the whole experience of the first stage is to refuse to engage with Mao’s analysis of the real contradictions of the socialist transition, or to reject it and distance themselves from this whole experience. Many of these forces say we have to “go back to the drawing board” or come up with something new for the 21st century. And under this umbrella many of these forces are going back to the past...to the 18th century and to the outlook and principles of bourgeois democracy, and its formal processes of competitive elections, its declarations of classless democracy and equality—all of which cover over and legitimize bourgeois class dictatorship.
And then there is what Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, has been doing. As the Manifesto puts it, Avakian is “building on all that has gone before, theoretically and practically, drawing the positive and negative lessons from this, and raising this to a new, higher level of synthesis.”
Question: There’s a lot of controversy about this as well.
Raymond Lotta: This new synthesis is based on a deeper understanding of the dynamics of socialist society as a transition to communism. It speaks to the challenges of exercising leadership in socialist society in a way that is more consistent with the aims of communist revolution...and to the kind of society socialism must be if it is going to open the way to communism.
Really, what is the essence of the dictatorship of the proletariat—what is the proletarian revolution really aiming for? Marx wrote this wonderful passage which summarizes this concisely. He talked about communism as the abolition of all class distinctions, of all the production relations on which those class distinctions rest, of all the social relations that correspond to those production relations, and the revolutionizing of all the ideas that correspond to those social relations. This has come to be called the “4 Alls.” That’s what the communist project is about: achieving the 4 Alls. Avakian’s new synthesis is more scientifically grounded in this...at going at the achievement of these 4 Alls more deeply and more all-sidedly to emancipate all of humanity.
Question: Maybe you could say some more about the content of this.
Raymond Lotta: Avakian is bringing forward a new model of socialist society. You need firm and visionary leadership to guide the complex and challenging struggles to achieve the goal of a world community of freely associating human beings. You need to hold on to power; you don’t want to allow the capitalists back in to power. But this new power has to be worth holding on to. Socialism has to be a vibrant and exciting place that people would want to live in and that would open the pathways to communism.
A highly important aspect of this new model of socialist society is a greater role for dissent, the greater fostering of intellectual ferment, more scope for creativity in the arts, and more of an atmosphere of experimentation and initiative than existed in the Soviet Union when it was socialist and in revolutionary China.
Question: In what sense is this different from the Cultural Revolution?
Raymond Lotta: It’s building on but actually going beyond the Cultural Revolution. There’s a lot we could get into, but let me give an example. One of the great things about the Cultural Revolution was that it brought the masses into “forbidden” arenas, like the sciences, the arts, management and administration. There were these extraordinary transformations aimed at reducing what Mao called the “three great differences”: between mental and manual labor, town and country, worker and peasant.
You had peasants and workers being admitted into the universities on a vast scale. You had intellectuals and artists going to the countryside...no, not as punishment as the bourgeois accounts distort it but as part of overcoming the lopsided concentration of intellectual, cultural, and scientific resources in the cities and bringing the intellectuals into closer contact with the masses—to share knowledge and to learn from peasant masses. You had things like “open-door” research, where scientific experiments were conducted among the peasants.
There was a revolution in culture, breakthroughs like the model operas that combined high artistic quality with revolutionary themes. Peasants and workers were on the stage instead of feudal emperors. These works projected powerful images of strong, independent, revolutionary women. They involved innovative collective forms of producing art. There was an explosion of amateur artistic expression among the masses. The Cultural Revolution profoundly revolutionized what Marxists call the “superstructure”—the political structures, social relations and social institutions, values and ideas of society.
This was pathbreaking—and we as communists have to go up against the bourgeois lies and distortions. But we also have to dig into this experience deeply.
In working on the mental/manual contradiction, there was tendency to go at this one-sidedly—from the side of bringing the basic masses into the intellectual spheres...and from the side of integrating intellectuals with the masses. This was correct and important. But as Avakian has summed up, there was not sufficient recognition and appreciation of the very important contribution that intellectuals and intellectual ferment plays in socialist society. In other words, working on the contradiction from this side—this was not sufficiently recognized and appreciated.
Question: But aren’t intellectuals privileged?
Raymond Lotta: You don’t want to replicate the ivory-tower relations of capitalist class society, where the masses are locked out of the realm of working with ideas, and where you have small islands where a stratum of people can work with ideas while the great majority of humanity is not only prevented from doing so but subjected to exploitation.
But you lose something very important if you simply see the matter in terms of reducing privilege. This might seem counterintuitive, but the fact is, you can’t overcome the gap between mental and manual labor...you can’t do that without a rich intellectual life, without giving scope and space to intellectuals, artists, and scientists.
One of the very positive aspects of intellectual life is the tendency to look at things in new ways and from new angles...and to challenge the status quo and hidebound thinking. All this puts questions of all kinds before society, raises the sights of the masses, and generally promotes a critical and exploratory spirit. All this is essential to the search for the truth—to humanity knowing the world more deeply, so it can be transformed more thoroughly. Avakian has been emphasizing that you can’t get to communism without this.
Question: You talked about this as a problem in previous socialist societies. Where did this come from?
Raymond Lotta: Well, this is a big question, in part involving some of the particular historical and social conditions out of which these revolutions emerged. But there were also questions of orientation and methodology that Avakian has examined, and he provides some conceptual tools to evaluate and explore this.
In the realm of epistemology—the branch of philosophy dealing with issues of knowledge—Avakian has identified the phenomenon of “class truth.” This is the idea, and it has had considerable currency in the international communist movement, that “truth has a class character”...that the bourgeoisie has its truth and the proletariat has its truth about the same phenomena. But this is wrong! There is one reality. What’s true is true: it either corresponds to or does not correspond to reality in its motion and development.
And this notion of “class truth” overlaps with the erroneous idea that people of proletarian or peasant background have special access to the truth...by virtue of their social position. But, again, truth is truth no matter who articulates it, and what’s wrong is wrong no matter who articulates it. And getting at the truth, for proletarians as well as people of other social and class strata, requires the grasp and application of a scientific approach to society and the world.
Now Marxism provides the most thoroughgoing and systematic approach to understanding society and nature in their complexity and changing-ness. But people who do not use this method—and even people who disdain and oppose Marxism—can discover important truths.
Avakian has pointed out that you want to promote Marxism in socialist society, the socialist state has to be doing this...but you can’t make Marxism some “official ideology.” You can’t impose it on people. It has to be taken up consciously and willingly. It has to be ideologically fought for; it has to be interacting with other outlooks and methods; and you need to be learning from all kinds of intellectual trends and currents.
There is class struggle in the realm of ideas over truth. But you can’t dismiss people or their ideas because they don’t come from “good class backgrounds.” You can’t dismiss what they’re saying or bringing forward because they may hold political positions opposed to the revolution and to communism. You have to critically sift through all of this...including uncomfortable and inconvenient truths that different people bring forward, that point to negative things in socialist society and in the leadership of society.
In socialism, you want the clash of ideas and debate on a vast, society-wide scale. But the concept of “class truth” has impeded that kind of rich process of contention and ferment in previous socialist societies.
Question: What you are emphasizing about the “clash of ideas” raises the question of elections under socialism. Wouldn’t it be better to put the party to the test of competitive elections?
Raymond Lotta: Within the framework of not letting go of power, competitive elections under socialism are very important. They are part of a larger process of uncovering problems in society and deepening understanding...part of the search for the truth... part of a larger process of bringing the masses into political and intellectual life. It’s crucial that contending lines be debated out broadly.
But the question of whether society should be socialist...this is not going to be put up for vote. This would be a betrayal of the struggle and sacrifice that brought the revolution to power...a betrayal of the interests of the world revolution: “oh, thanks a lot—you allowed yourself to be ‘voted’ out of office, to be ‘out-organized’ by old and new bourgeois and exploiting forces that threaten and cajole for the sole purpose of bringing back the old system.”
This is different from some in the international communist movement who see multiparty elections as a means of preventing capitalist restoration under socialism. There’s a tendency to want to find a short-cut to a very difficult and vexing problem: how to keep on the socialist road to communism, and how to maintain the communist party as a vanguard party in power at the same time that you are creating the conditions, as part of the worldwide advance to communism and overcoming the division of society into classes, to go beyond the need for institutionalized leadership.
Avakian makes the point in his recent “Ruminations” talk1 that this whole approach of putting communist leadership up for vote assumes that the masses will spontaneously gravitate to correct understanding. But this is not the case. There are the advanced, intermediate, and backward among the masses. And the communist revolution is challenging all traditional relations and ideas.
There’s complexity to the class struggle under socialism. Again, it’s important for these contending lines to be debated out broadly. But these things are not going to just sort themselves out. The capitalist roaders and new bourgeois forces have a lot going for them. They have spontaneity on their side. They appeal to the customary way of doing things, the “tried and true.” They rely on the force of habit deeply ingrained in class society—“leave it to the skilled and experienced who seem to know what’s best.”
The capitalist roaders also have international capitalism on their side—in some cases, gaining actual support and backing—and the whole weight of world capitalism...I’m talking about its pressures and threats, and its inducements, all this is working to their advantage.
So the proletariat, through its vanguard party, can’t let go of state power, by allowing its rule to be put up for vote. There needs to be leadership—genuine revolutionary communist leadership—or the revolution will be lost—which is unconscionable.
Avakian is saying that there should be contested elections over key issues facing society and the state. These things need to be vigorously debated out. There will be a civil society under socialism...associations and organizations that are not part of the government...in this case the socialist government. There will be elections in which organized forces will be advancing platforms and putting forward candidates for positions of governance at various levels. This will have real stakes...I’m talking about real policy outcomes.
Question: But you are setting certain terms.
Raymond Lotta: The new synthesis envisions and requires the revolution to firmly hold on to power to defend and advance the revolution. You have to suppress counterrevolution. To be clear, this is not the same as opposition to the government and to socialism...we’re talking about active efforts to undermine and overthrow the socialist state. And this distinction has to be clearly spelled out in a constitution.
The new synthesis sees the need to unleash a whole process marked by greater elasticity than has been the case in the first wave of socialist revolution. It sees a greater role for the contestation of different ideas and dissent throughout society, including ideas opposed to socialism and communism...and as articulated by the most ardent advocates of those ideas. The new synthesis envisions more space for initiatives running in all kinds of diverse and creative directions.
Getting to communism is not a single line of march forward. Socialism has to be a society of great diversity, initiative, and experimentation. There has to be all kinds of vibrant interplay between intellectuals and the masses. And the new synthesis envisions even greater involvement of the masses themselves in working with ideas and in the actual direction of society in every sphere, taking up and wrestling with the biggest problems of the revolution.
At the same time, this has to be led, in an overall sense, so it is contributing to the achievement of communism.
Question: This brings us back to the question of institutionalized leadership.
Raymond Lotta: Avakian has put forward the formulation “solid core with a lot of elasticity” to describe this orientation of the future socialist society.
First, there must be a solid core of leadership. This solid core must firmly grasp the fundamental and final goal of the revolution, the achievement of communism, throughout the world, and must hold firmly onto the reins of power against imperialist pressure and capitalist elements arising within socialist society—and it must maintain the new state power as a socialist state power in transition to communist society. Second, this leadership must expand the solid core to the greatest degree possible at any given time. Third, it must be consistently working toward the realization of the conditions where such a solid core will no longer be necessary. And, fourth, it must give expression to the greatest degree of elasticity at any time.
This elasticity is crucial. Dissent and contestation need to be raging over the big issues of society and the world. There has to be continual deepening of understanding, the continual interrogation of society and its leadership in all spheres and all institutions and structures.
It’s not going to be some neat and orderly process. As I said, in an overall sense it has to be led, summed up and sorted out, so that you are going towards communism. But not led in the sense of being managed. And the more far-reaching, probing, and contestational the texture of socialist society is—and I’m talking about protests and upheavals—well, the greater the risks of losing power. But that’s where you have to be prepared to go!
It’s mind-expanding. Avakian has said that a hallmark of vanguard leadership in socialist society has to be actively seeking to go to that “brink of being drawn and quartered.” What he means is that you will not be changing society in the ways it must be changed...the masses of people will not be gaining the knowledge and understanding they must...and they will not be able to increasingly develop the ability to master and transform society, in the direction of communism...if you are not doing this.
This is all necessary to get to communism. It’s all necessary to finally overcoming the contradictions and conditions that require institutionalized vanguard leadership.
I’m only touching on some aspects of the new synthesis, but taken as a whole it is a framework for the renewed advance of the communist project...for how we can go further and do better in the next stage of communist revolution. The new synthesis has ideologized revolution and communism back on the scene.
1 “Ruminations and Wranglings: On the Importance of Marxist Materialism, Communism as a Science, Meaningful Revolutionary Work, and a Life with Meaning,” by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, is being serialized in Revolution (#162 - #167 and #169) and can be found in its entirety at revcom.us/avakian/ruminations/BA-ruminations-en.html. [back]
“Ruminations and Wranglings: On the Importance of Marxist Materialism, Communism as a Science, Meaningful Revolutionary Work, and a Life with Meaning,” by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, is being serialized in Revolution (#162 - #167 and #169) and can be found in its entirety at revcom.us/avakian/ruminations/BA-ruminations-en.html
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
Update in Battle for Justice for Oscar Grant
On June 4 an Alameda County judge announced that Johannes Mehserle would stand trial for murder. Mehserle is the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) cop who shot 22 year old Oscar Grant point blank in the back in front of hundreds of BART riders, a murder that some of them recorded on video and released to the media. The fact that Mehserle has been charged is a rare occurrence, only the 7th time a cop in the U.S. will be tried for an on-the-job murder in at least 15 years.
Eleven days later, on June 15, the Alameda County District Attorney’s office announced that it was dropping all the charges against David, a member of the Revolution Club. Dozens of supporters waiting in the halls outside the courtroom broke into cheers and applause and poured outside to hold a rally. This is a significant victory and something to celebrate as people continue the struggle to fight for justice for Oscar Grant.
David was charged with a felony after an outpouring of hundreds that took place on the night of January 7–—the Oakland rebellion which occurred after the police murder of Oscar Grant. As we reported last week, police murder happens every day. But THIS was a murder that many people protested in many different ways. First, at least five 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. 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!, Revolution, January 18, 2009)
Over the next several days, there were smaller protests in downtown Oakland, and more arrests. There were walkouts at Oakland High and other schools, and an evening protest in downtown San Francisco, where 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.
As the Revolution Club said in a flyer calling for people to demand that the charges be dropped against David, “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.”
At each hearing for David the juvenile “justice” facility was filled with the unusual sight of a wide spectrum of people who came there to support David, determined that he not be punished for speaking out. Three other people, adults, still face felony charges from the January 7 rebellion.
The next court date for Oscar Grant’s killer is scheduled for July 24 when Mehserle’s attorney will argue a motion in one last try to dismiss the charges. On September 11 a hearing on a possible change of venue will be held. Mehserle’s attorney, a long-time attorney for police and a former cop himself, has argued from the beginning that Mehserle cannot get a “fair” trial and should be moved outside of not only Oakland, but all of Alameda County–—which includes 14 cities and a diverse population. It should be noted that changes of venue all played a role in the acquittals in state court trials of police for the murder of Amadou Diallo (moved from New York to Albany).
There is a need for resistance and vigilance as the case against Johannes Mehserle continues to trial which is currently set for October 13.
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
On, May 31, when an anti-abortion assassin killed Dr. George Tiller, it was a huge loss to women everywhere. We lost a brave, skilled physician who was one of three doctors in the country that publicly specialized in late term abortions and saved thousands of women's lives. And Wichita lost its only abortion provider and clinic. Today, the nearest clinics that provide abortion services are in Tulsa, Oklahoma which is two hours away and Kansas City which is three hours away. Wichita once had three abortion clinics, now it has none. In 1991, the Christian fascists vowed to make Wichita "an abortion free city"—a goal, which at this point, they have now achieved through cold-blooded murder. (More on Dr. Tiller and the morality and science of abortion at every stage of pregnancy, see Revolution newspaper issue #168.)
In 1975, two years after abortion became legal in this country, anti-women, anti-abortion forces started rabid picketing of Dr. Tiller's clinic. For decades thereafter Dr. Tiller, his family, and staff endured daily harassment, death threats, stalking, vandalism, bombings, and baseless lawsuits. A nodal point in the battle for abortion rights and one of the fiercest attacks on abortion access was in Wichita, in the summer of 1991. This was when the Christian fascist organizations Operation Rescue and the Pro-Life Action League, organized a massive siege of Wichita abortion clinics, which they called "The Summer of Mercy." The events that summer had a lasting effect on people in Wichita and is still widely talked about.
I have been in Wichita to distribute and report for Revolution newspaper (see my first installment of Reporters Notebook from Wichita in Revolution issue #169). I had the opportunity to talk to some of the clinic supporters who were on the front lines of that battle. Two of the people I spoke with were Peggy (Jarman) Bowman and Julie Sheppard. During the summer of 1991, Peggy worked for Dr. Tiller as his public relations spokesperson and she also headed up the Pro Choice Action League, which organized volunteers for the clinic during the 1991 siege. She is the author of Fetus Fanatics, Memoir: When Government Collaborates with Anti-Choice Zealots, a book that documents the reactionary siege of Wichita in 1991. Bowman is now the director of the Second Chance Fund which is an organization that helps Kansas (and now Tulsa, Oklahoma) women who are seeking an abortion or emergency contraception. Julie was a clinic volunteer during the siege of Wichita and is currently the president of the board of the same fund. On their website they have a quote from an abortion provider that says: "There aren't 'women who have abortions' and 'women who have babies.' Those are the same women at different points in their lives."
The following is taken from the conversation I had with these two women:
Peggy (Jarman) Bowman: I never call it the "Summer of Mercy," I call it the "Siege of Wichita"… or the "Summer of Horror" because there was nothing merciful about how they [the anti-women/anti-abortion forces] acted and how they treated our patients.
Julie Sheppard: My daughter and I, we did a lot of protesting that summer to try to stop the [anti-abortion] protesters and protect the clinic and let it be known that there was a force to be reckoned with, and that they weren't going to come in here and completely stomp on us without anyone doing anything about it. Since the government wasn't stepping up, we were going to protect the clinic.
I had been at clinic support protests before. I was just flabbergasted, as a young adult that not everyone was pro choice. "Summer of Mercy" was not the beginning, there was more than one clinic back then (there were three clinics). We would go to different ones to show our support. But that was a horrible time. Everyone came out of the woodwork to help—at last. That summer we had to defend ourselves instead of just being a presence at the clinics. This was a new thing with people [the anti-abortionists] having banners and posters. My "favorite" was this girl that had a sign that said, "Dr. Killer killed two of my children," like she was sucked in there by some magnetic force. I also went to the Central clinic [another clinic in town at the time]. They were obstructing traffic, disturbing the peace. They came and stayed and the government did nothing.
Peggy (Jarman) Bowman: Day after day it was different. Women had to sit in a van and wait [to get into the clinic]. One day the police put the patients in their vans, drove pass the protesters, stopped in front of a clinic door that wasn't normally used, they jumped out and formed a line to the clinic door, and the patients in seconds got into the clinic. We all cheered. The next day the police were standing around doing nothing. The gate was blockaded by hundreds [of anti-abortionists], about 600, not counting the other hundreds across the street singing and carrying on. I think that was the single worst day of the siege. I asked the police when they were going to clear the path and they kept saying they were waiting for orders, they don't know when. Patients were in a line waiting to get in. We eventually worked it out with police so that they [the patients] would have to sneak behind the police to get in. We had escorts for the patients, they would have covers over the patients' heads so they weren't identified.
The police told me they were told not to do anything. For 26 hours, literally, they stood there and waited. That day or the next day, they eventually started arresting people, but the anti-abortionists took these baby steps and it took hours to arrest them. When the gates looked like they were getting clear, the Christian Broadcast station would tell people to come on down—[saying] nothing will happen to you—you don't even need to pay the fine. And that was true. In the meantime those who were arrested were processed and would come back to the clinic. This went on for 7 weeks. By the 7th week things started to slow down.
Police said they were told not to do anything. I had friends on the city council who told me what was going on downtown and who was calling the shots. It was Mayor Knight.
Julie Sheppard: The reason [the police and the U.S. Marshals weren't doing anything] was because the President, [George H. W. Bush], the Governor, the Mayor, and the city manager supported the invasion, that's why they got away with it.
Peggy (Jarman) Bowman: We have always been so very insistent and for all the right reasons, all of our medical records are private, and it has been extremely important that women have abortions in private. We need women to be willing to come forward and talk about this procedure in her life and at that particular time in her life. I am not sure how we are going to put all that together. But it must be done. It will help dilute the anti-choice message considerably when women are willing to come forward and make these kind of statements. There are a number of vehicles, we get requests from reporters all the time asking if there is a woman who is willing to come forward and talk about their abortion experience. This can play out on radio, TV, in the blog, on Twitter, in lots of different ways. Maybe it will be as effective using their first name only, we don't want women in positions that they will be attacked by the anti-abortionists. I have seen it first hand when it has happened and it is very, very horrible. There are millions of women who have had at least one procedure, some more than one, we need them to find a way to come forward, in a way that will help others to understand how vital it is that abortion remain legal and accessible. Right now it is still legal but it is becoming more and more inaccessible.
I think it is likely it would help. When you go into the clinic you have people yelling at you "don't murder your baby" and when you come out of the clinic they yell "you murdered your baby." You have to be a really strong person to be able to go through that kind of torture and to not absorb some of that in some way. Certainly the women go to the clinic and see another dozen or two dozen women there going through the same thing they are going through. They know they are not alone. In addition to coming and going to the clinic you see billboards, see horrible trucks parked outside the church you go to, TV ads. There is nothing that really counters that. How often do you see pro-choice billboards or pro-choice ads on TV? How often do you see in a television series a woman have an abortion? I saw a television show with a teenager in New York City who went to a doctor and she was told at 14 weeks pregnant that she was too late to get an abortion. I started to scream at the TV—that was pathetic, it is untrue.
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
June 20, 2009: Two weeks ago I along with many others including Sunsara Taylor, writer for Revolution, and Debra Sweet (Director of World Can't Wait) came to Wichita, Kansas to attend the funeral of a very courageous and brave man, Dr. George Tiller. Dr. Tiller, who was one of only three doctors in the country who publicly provided late term abortions to women, was dedicated and passionate about saving women's lives. His view of abortion was that this is about women's lives, their hopes and dreams—and that without this right their lives would be shipwrecked. He was known for wearing a button that said "Trust Women." For decades he was one of the main targets of the Christian fascist anti-abortion, anti-women movement that gets leadership from and has ties to powerful forces in the ruling class. This meant that death threats, harassment, vandalism, rabid picketers, baseless lawsuits were a part of Tiller's daily life. When his clinic was bombed in 1986, Dr. Tiller responded by making a homemade sign saying "Hell, no, we won't go" and posting it on what was left of the building, showing his resolve to rebuild and continue to provide abortion services. In 1991, his clinic was under total siege by the anti-abortionists for 47 days in what they called the "Summer of Mercy." In 1993, he was shot in both arms by Shelly Shannon who identified with the extreme Christian Fascist group called the Army of God. Showing his determination and courage, Dr. Tiller returned to work the next day!
George Tiller never backed down and on Sunday, May 31, 2009 he was murdered by an anti-abortion assassin. (More on Dr. Tiller and the morality and science of abortion at every stage of pregnancy, see Revolution newspaper issue #168)
I have returned to Wichita to distribute and report for Revolution newspaper, interview people, investigate and assess the polarization here among different sections of people; and boldly spread the scientific understanding that women are not incubators, fetuses are not babies, and abortion is not murder.
A few days before I got here I heard that Troy Newman, the Christian fascist Director of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, and Pat Mahoney, director of the Washington DC based Christian Defense Coalition, called for a protest—two weeks to the day from the funeral—at Dr. George Tiller's clinic (which has been closed by Tiller's family). This disgusting move was meant to further spread the lie that fetuses are babies and that therefore Dr. Tiller was a "baby killer." (For a scientific discussion of why fetuses are NOT babies checkout the centerfold of Revolution #166).
These plans by the anti-abortionists in Wichita infuriated and angered many people. Right away, the National Organization for Women (NOW) in Wichita called for a counter-protest. After pro-choice forces made it clear that they were not going to let the anti-abortionists protest at Tiller's clinic unopposed, the Christian Fascists backed down and changed the location of their protest. It was a very good thing that the anti-abortionists were not able to demonstrate at Tiller's clinic. A woman at the NOW orientation meeting the night before said that when she heard that Operation Rescue was going to Tiller's clinic it was as though she was getting raped.
The anti-abortionists had their ugly protest at the Wichita headquarters of Operation Rescue (this building used to be an abortion provider clinic and Troy Newman bought it a couple of years ago). About 25-30 anti-abortionists, half of them youth, laid flowers in the front of their building, and then walked to a nearby hospital to "celebrate the birth of babies and mourn for the women who were taken there after having botched abortions."
Meanwhile the the pro-choice forces stayed most of the afternoon, through a torrential downpour, at Tiller's clinic to protect it in case any anti-abortionists showed up.
I've only been here a day, but have already had lots of very interesting conversations. In the next few weeks I'll be adding to this Reporter's Notebook from Wichita, including interviews with many different kinds of people. These will be posted up at revcom.us.
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
From A World to Win News Service:
Horrifying news is leaking out from prisons and underground detention centers where people arrested in the recent uprisings are being held. It is important to start a massive campaign to expose the on-going crimes and massacres and to demand the unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners. In Iran, families of past and recent political prisoners can be the nucleus to initiate the campaign. But, at this point in time, Iranians abroad can play a very significant role in this matter. Even the gatherings on the anniversary of the massacres [of communists and other revolutionary political prisoners] of 1988 can be an occasion for this.
There is talk of brutal and inhumane tortures inflicted on youths and others detained in the recent uprising, with the intention to kill them. At the same time pressure is being put on marked and known people, like reporters and activists in the camps of Mousavi and Karoubi [the two main figures of the electoral opposition] to confess to their alleged crimes. It seems that in case of youths they are adopting the policy of "disappearing" prisoners developed in Latin America. A prison guard serving his national service at Evin prison explained that in the prison quarters allocated to the Basiji [militia members] and the information center of the Revolutionary Guard (Pasdaran) where no one else is allowed to enter there, severe torture is going on every day, and they are all unnerved because of the screams and cries from within; and that every day at least 10 corpses of people who died under torture are thrown in ambulances and carried out to buried in unmarked graves.
The aim of the mass arrests and physical abuse in both public places where people are watching and detention centers is to scare everybody off. I myself know of a few cases where people were arrested because of their age or physical appearance. They were released after 10 hours of beatings and verbal abuse, with the hope of sending out a message. This is not the authorities' sole tactic. They are going through the pictures taken by surveillance cameras to pick out the most militant and active youths who were involved in street fighting in and around the Basij centers and state institutions, in an attempt to eliminate them from the mass uprising. In the most recent days, people shouting slogans from their rooftops have been picked and taken to detention centers. The authorities are attempting to murder a few hundred people before the start of the school year, when they most probably face problems from teachers and students alike.
It is also probable that schools will be half empty when they open. The secretary of education recently announced that 300,000 students eligible to take the National University entrance exam did not come forward to claim their entrance exam cards, nor did they participate in the national exams. Who were these people? Why didn't they take part in the exams? Some say it was a form of protest and others say they had lost their interest in taking the test and had no heart and mind for it. A few hundred may have become fugitives.
The education secretary also announced this year only 20 percent of the entrance exam slots will be allocated to Islamist "revolutionaries" and Basiji, instead of the usual 40 percent. This, he implied, means that there will be that much more room for everyone else. But actually, it was understood such allocations no longer existed, so the intent is the opposite of what he claimed. This may signal a plan to fill the universities with Basiji to crush the student movement.
It is of utmost importance that our comrades in the Iranian diaspora massively campaign on the issue of detainees who are being "disappeared". The coup-makers are not even showing any mercy for the regime’s own factions. One indication of how they are treating the people involved in their own internal conflicts is the case of a retired prominent figure in the Ministry of Information now an active member of the Rafsanjani/Mousavi [opposition] camp. He sent a letter to Zarghami (head of Iran’s radio and television authority) complaining that he had been kidnapped, beaten for a few hours and released. If they behave in such a manner towards their own, can you imagine what they would do with students and youth who rose against them?
The situation is urgent – don't waste time!
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
From A World to Win News Service
For more background on this situation, please check out these other articles:
June 29, 2009. A World to Win News Service. Despite the brutality of Iran’s Islamic regime, protests continued in Tehran and many other cities two weeks after the upsurge began. They are on a much smaller scale than the first days, but it is extremely significant and inspiring that many youth and other people are determined to persist even in the face of gunfire, beatings, arrest and possibly torture. They are expressions of a broader popular rage that will not be easily quenched.
There were reports of people gathering June 25 at the Behesht-e Zahra graveyard, the burial place of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman shot dead by a Basij militiaman during a demonstration, and others killed by the security forces. Thousands of people assembled at Enghelab Square in north-eastern central Tehran on June 27. The families of those arrested and killed in the recent revolts planned to get together in Laleh Park, north of the square, but security forces had taken control of the park and surrounding streets. When protestors in Enghelab square were attacked, they scattered and then reformed on Keshavarz-Tohid Boulevard. They headed for Laleh Park, but were again attacked. They fought to come back together until late in the evening. Several were beaten and arrested. On June 28, after a legally authorized memorial service for a long dead founding father of the Islamic regime whose family is now allied with opposition leader Mir Hussein Mousavi, thousands of people again chanted "Death to the Dictator" and were tear-gassed in retaliation.
The Islamic Republic's various security organizations have been acting with a level of ruthlessness unseen since the massacre of political prisoners in 1988. The Basij volunteer militia has been mobilized to break into homes at night, whole blocks and even neighborhoods at a time, to harass people, rubbish their apartments and sometimes kidnap youth. Some of these attacks are meant to chase demonstrators or those who go onto the roofs to chant anti-regime slogans every night at 10 pm. Others are just to intimidate the people.
Witnesses using their mobile phones have captured much of the brutality. But the extent of the repression is far beyond what the world has seen. It is said that more than a thousand protestors, including hundreds of students, have been arrested. Their families have no news about them and fear that they might be undergoing torture in the notorious Evin and other prisons.
According to reports, many partisans of Mousavi and fellow opposition candidate Mehdi Karoubi as well as numerous journalists working for newspapers favorable to them have been arrested. Also under detention are people who held high-level governmental posts during the Mohammad Khatami presidency or have been his advisors.
At the end of the Friday prayers June 26, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami (no relation to the former president) said that those responsible for the "riots" were "waging war on god," a capital offense under the Islamic Republic. He said, "I want the judiciary to punish leading rioters firmly and without showing any mercy to teach everyone a lesson." The Islamic Republic has carried out mass executions on such charges before and there is good reason why such talk strikes fear into people's hearts.
One of the most important features of the recent Iranian people's upsurge is the sharp intensification of two major contradictions, one between the people and the ruling power structure and the other among the factions in the political establishment.
It is common knowledge in Iran that the confrontation within the establishment is not limited to the dispute between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chief electoral rival Mousavi over the outcome of the voting. Underlying that is a struggle between Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and the regime’s official "Supreme Leader" Ali Khamenei, the two most powerful men in the Islamic regime. It has been going on for years and is now reaching a boiling point. There are rumors about Revolutionary Guard commanders and other major figures being killed in factional fighting over the years. On the eve of the election, during the televised debates between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, backed by Khamenei and Rafsanjani respectively, each of these two men went beyond the usual empty promises and generalities and exposed some of each other’s crimes. Ahmadinejad went even further and attacked Rafsanjani as corrupt, while Mousavi refrained from even indirectly attacking Khamenei until a week after the election, when Khamenei dropped his pretense of neutrality. While bitter factional disputes among Iran’s ruling circles are nothing new, this kind of appeal to the masses is unprecedented.
This is a big part of what has allowed the long simmering discontent and anger of many sections of the people to burst through to the surface. In turn, the mass anger and initiative has reacted back on the inter-regime rivalries, creating a situation that has taken on a life of its own. Neither side may be in a position to back down, or to bring the crisis to an end.
This rivalry is especially complex because there are not really two well-defined sides but rather shifting coalitions of cliques, with conflicting as well as matching economic interests, political visions and ideological features. There are two main points that need to be understood about this. One is that Rafsanjani and Mousavi, no less than Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, and all the major political figures without exception, are fighting to preserve the Islamic regime and restore its legitimacy in the eyes of at least certain sections of the people. The other is that the U.S. has been and remains determined to overthrow or dramatically reconfigure the Islamic Republic, and the regime's inner squabbles have been driven by considerations of how to deal with that and who will come out on top in that inevitably bloody process.
Both sides seem more than willing to make a deal with the U.S. if they can make one that the American regime will accept while saving their own political rule. Ironically, even as each side tries to claim for itself the regime's ideological and political legitimacy and fights for what it thinks can best preserve it, the confluence of their infighting and the people's sentiments and sometimes uncontrollable protests have left that legitimacy in tatters.
The inter-tangling of the contradiction between the people and the regime and the regime’s own inner contradictions has brought advantages for the revolutionary interests of the people, but it has also brought disadvantages. Not the least of the dangers is that it spreads new illusions among the people even as it challenges some old ones.
There are many powerful factors, both in the propaganda of Voice of America and BBC television and that of the regime, and the workings of life itself, that strengthen the idea that the conflict is between Islamic fundamentalism and Western-style electoral democracy, and especially various mixes and shades of the two. Bourgeois democracy, in which elections disguise the dictatorship of the monopoly capitalist class in the imperialist countries, is even more of an illusion in countries dominated by imperialism like Iran for many reasons. One of them is that the imperialist powers have always used force and the threat of force to further their interests there, along with the crushing might of their capital. But these illusions are strong anyway, especially because they correspond to the prospects of Iran’s further integration into the capitalist world economy and U.S. President Barack Obama's aggressive plans to succeed where his predecessor George Bush failed in reconfiguring the Middle East.
So the entanglement of different contradictions is an important feature of the current crisis and current upsurge of the people. But what started as a quarrel between rival reactionaries doesn't have to finish that way. One factor is that the unexpected people's upsurge has upset the plans of all these reactionaries. The other is that this situation provides conditions in which communists can intervene and lead the masses of people to better understand their revolutionary interests and rupture with all the reactionary paths now competing for their loyalty, either on the basis of their belief in them or on apparently more pragmatic—but no less incorrect and stifling—ideas about what is possible. Huge numbers of people have shown their readiness to go much further than where the Islamic opposition wants them to go and where the imperialists are advising them to go.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
From A World to Win News Service
June 22,2009. A World to Win News Service. Rage continues to sweep Iran. Young women and men are prepared to offer their lives to confront a brutal regime. The pillars of Iran's power structure have been shaken and cracked.
At Friday prayer services on June 19, "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei firmly took the side of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his electoral dispute with the opposition and announced that any attempt to repeat the week-long protests would be crushed. Nevertheless, thousands of youth and others came out into the streets the next day, knowing very well that they would face batons, teargas, and gunfire.
The security forces tried to create an atmosphere of terror around the area between Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) and Enghelab (Revolution) squares. Nobody was allowed to gather. People of all ages were beaten indiscriminately. Then the security forces closed the cross streets to prevent those in one area from joining those in another. Some people, feeling powerless and discouraged, chose to go home. But thousands of youth had the courage and ingenuity to get around the obstacles. They gathered and marched toward Azadi Square. More people joined them and the crowd—tens of thousands according to some reports, hundreds of thousands according to others—began marching together from there. That was not the end of it. The protesters had to confront the forces of reaction blocking the way. Clashes continued throughout the day and until midnight. Some people who couldn't get to the main crowd joined another large march in Forsate Shirazi Street or smaller ones in various Tehran neighborhoods.
People also protested in other cities, particularly Shiraz, Isfahan, and Rasht, as well as others where confrontations with the security forces were reported. They faced special anti-riot police wearing body armor and the vicious club-wielding two-man motorcycle teams of the Basij, a volunteer vigilante corps led, trained and armed by the regime's elite Revolutionary Guards. The regime presents the Basij as representatives of the masses of people, especially the poor.
Protestors shouted, "Death to dictators, Death to Khamenei, Death to this deceitful regime!" During moments when the reactionary forces were preparing to attack and moments when the protestors decided to break through the lines of the reactionary forces, they boosted their own spirits and the spirits of their comrades by chanting, "Fear nothing, we're all together, fear nothing…."
As the bullets of the reaction targeted the hearts of the precious children of the masses, this strengthened the determination of their comrades, as they shouted, "Death to Khamenei, Death to Ahmadinejad." A young woman named Neda Agha-Soltan got out of the blocked car where she was riding with her music teacher to get some fresh air and sat down on a curb. She was shot in the chest by a Basij sniper and fell to the ground. People all over the world saw a video showing the last moments of her life. She was murdered on Amirabad Shomali Avenue just north of Enghelab Square. People in the crowd that day vowed it would be renamed Neda Street.
On some of the footage that has appeared, groups of Basij militiamen can be seen firing their handguns directly into crowds—and people charge them anyway, running toward them under fire until the Basiji turn and run—and are overrun. The regime says 10 people were killed that day; others put the toll much higher. Angry protestors set fire to a Basij base facility and two petrol stations that night.
Sporadic protests continued on June 21 and the cries of "Death to dictators" echoed even louder. The next day, the Revolutionary Guards issued a threat that they would put down any further unrest themselves. Until then, the regime often tried to hide behind the phony ''civilian'' Basiji and pretend that it didn't know who was shooting protestors.
An hour later, thousands of young demonstrators gathered in Haft-e Tir Square in the more southern part of Tehran to express their determination. They shouted that they would rather die than accept being treated with contempt.
The significance of this protest stands out even more when Ayatollah Khamenei's speech after Friday prayers at Tehran University is analyzed. Many people were waiting for this speech to see how he would resolve the electoral dispute between the president and the opposition. Khamenei's speech was unprecedented, and shocked some people. He not only took Ahmadinejad's side more enthusiastically than ever, but also condemned and threatened anyone who questioned the election results. Cheating was impossible in the Islamic Republic, he said, and any suggestion otherwise represented impermissible questioning of the Islamic Republic itself.
This was aimed at opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has tried to keep the protest movement entirely within the framework of the Islamic Republic founded by Ayatollah Khomeini. Khamenei said that the election was a referendum on the Islamic Republic and that the 85 percent of the voters who allegedly took part were voting for the system. Then, using very strong language, he threatened protesters. He demanded that the candidates pursue their complaints through the legal system. But he also clearly said he did not recognize the legitimacy of any opposition to the Islamic Republic. He put aside the unbiased father-of-the-nation role that he had long cultivated and came out as the godfather of one faction of the Islamic Republic, claiming the right of that faction to bully the whole nation.
This Friday prayer service was a show of force, since the heads of all the military bodies, parliament, and court system were present to show their solidarity and intimidate the people. He was clearly issuing orders to the other factions to shut up and accept his decision, submit to his faction and call off all protests—or else.
Yet while the people's uprising was what had terrified the dominant faction and made the people the real target of Khamenei and his clique, there is no doubt that the internal conflicts were what triggered the whole upsurge. This speech was the sign of a new stage in the deepening crisis.
This speech could be taken as a parallel to Khomeini's speech on June 18, 1981, which marked the end of the alliance between his Islamic fundamentalists (including Khamenei and Akbar Rafsanjani, now Iran's richest man, a pillar of the Islamic regime, and a powerful backer of Mousavi) and the so-called Islamic liberals such as Abul-Hassan Banisadr, who was president at that time. Khomeini stripped Banisadr of his title as commander of the military forces and forced him out of office. Khomeini's coup d'état and the establishment of the Islamic Republic provoked mass protests. But the Islamic regime responded with extreme brutality. The arrest, imprisoning, and massacre of the communists and other revolutionaries started immediately. The reign of terror continued all through the 1980s until the Iran-Iraq war ended. Then, to try to make sure nothing of the spirit of revolution was left, in the summer of 1988 they massacred thousands (according to some accounts tens of thousands) of the communists and revolutionaries who were still in prison.
Despite the similarities, the situation today is not the same. Most importantly, a huge and growing part of the people no longer have trust or faith in the regime. People who had not yet voiced any response to the political situation clearly shouted, "Death to Khamenei," a slogan seldom if ever heard before at any protest in Iran. Others shouted, "You want a fight, let's fight—we are fighting women and men!"
But Khamenei and his clique are not the only ones trying to maintain the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic and the economic and social system this power structure serves. While fighting for the interest of his faction, Mousavi is trying hard to restore the "values of the Islamic Republic of Imam Khomeini." These are not words—the state system called Velyat-e-Faqih, the regime's foundational doctrine of "the rule of the Supreme Jurisprudent," is the apple of his eye. In a statement to his supporters he said, "We are not confronting the Basij, Revolutionary Guards or the army. The Basiji are our brothers, the Revolutionary Guards are the protectors of our revolution and our system. The army protects our borders. We are not confronting our sacred system and its legal institutions. We are confronting the wrong-doing and the lies, and we are seeking a reform that requires going back to the pure principles of the Islamic Revolution."
As the "reformist" ex-president Khatami, warned Khamenei, "When you close off the legal avenues of protest, you are in fact opening another way, and god knows where it may lead."
Because of the determination and persistence of the people's struggle, what began as a quarrel within the regime has brought Iran to a crisis of legitimacy and an institutional crisis. During the 1979 revolution, when the Shah could no longer hold onto power, the U.S. convinced him to abdicate to preserve the cohesion of the army and prevent the revolution from going any further. That's how that crisis was resolved, to the advantage of the imperialist system, and the people paid the price. The U.S. and the other imperialist powers have long done their best to determine events in Iran (invasions, coups, etc., not to mention the workings of the international market itself) and will do whatever they can to push this crisis toward a resolution that is to their relative advantage, which would certainly be to the disadvantage of the revolutionary interests of the people. Several observers have commented that American indignation about a stolen election is criminal hypocrisy coming from a power and a government that has for so long held up puppet tyrants like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, whom Obama embraced just a few weeks earlier in Cairo. When it comes to rigged elections and torture-enforced repression, Mubarak is hard to surpass.
As the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) said in one of their frequent leaflets addressed to the Iranian people during this period, "One thing is clear: We still have a long way to go on what we've started. People should prepare themselves for days and months ahead, to remain in the streets in different forms. The slogans of the uprising should become clearer and deeper, and the level of struggle raised so that it can seize victory."
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
CPI(MLM) communiqué no 7:
June 23, 2009. A World to Win News Service. Following are excerpts from one of the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) frequent statements to the people, put out on the night of June 20.
The intensity of fighting in the streets and alleys of central Tehran tonight, and the number of women and men who, with their lives in their hands, stood firm in the front lines and drove back the armed herds of violent thugs, was unprecedented. If you want to see how weak and desperate the regime is, look at the only thing it can rely on: its security forces. That's all! Illusions have evaporated. Cunning religious preaching and the myth of the Imam Zaman [the Shia messiah] can no longer fool the angry people. The lies of the national media can no longer put the masses to sleep. Instead it increases their anger and hatred a hundred-fold. So the only thing left for the murderous ruling gang is guns, batons, teargas, chains, and herds of anti-riot and law and order forces, Basijis and finally the army.
This afternoon's brutal attack against scattered but numerous crowds did not end the demonstration—instead, it spread it to other areas of Tehran. The Basij units and anti-riot police used the tactic of dividing the crowd into smaller groups and then encircling and beating up each group. It worked at first, but before long the scattered masses regrouped in the streets and alleys in the surrounding area, this time with a spirit and methods totally different from that of the demonstrations of the last couple of weeks. This time the slogans directly targeted the Islamic Republic and its leader. There was not much room for"God is great!" A young person wrote in blue spray paint on a street corner, "Even Shah heard the cry of my revolution! [and resigned]. Jamaran [the Leader's headquarters] is deaf! "...
Tonight, from east to west, from the north to south of Tehran, there is a state of siege. Tonight many eyes will stay open. Many people are thinking about tomorrow, the road forward, the methods that need to be taken up to advance the uprising of the masses and lead it to victory. Today, in the short moments that were found for discussion, there was talk of the need for a widespread general strike. Some said nothing can be done without weapons. One thing is clear: We still have a long way to go on what we've started. People should prepare themselves for days and months ahead, to remain in the streets in different forms. The slogans of the uprising should become clearer and deeper, and the level of struggle raised so that it can seize victory.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
From A World to Win News Service
June 22, 2009. A World to Win News Service. Speaking at the June 19 Friday night prayers, Iran's "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that further demonstrations would not be tolerated. The thousands who came out into the streets of Tehran the next day knew what they would be facing. This was the most violent day—on both sides—since the upsurge began.
Sound of helicopters. Shooting. Smell of gunpowder. Teargas. Constant ambulance sirens.
People roaring. Nobody is chanting, "Give me my vote back" anymore. People hardly remember that it was electoral fraud that set everything off.
Shouts of "Death to dictators!" are constantly heard.
Paving stones are broken up. Everybody takes some pieces.
Charge! We attack and talk.
Blood brings blood. They have to pay for the last 30 years. They have to answer for those they executed. They are finished.
Don't be afraid. Watch for the roofs. The Basiji are shooting from up there. Listen guys [not gender specific], we're not alone. From Tupkhoone to all Tehran, people are out there. Everybody is fighting. In the streets, and in the back streets and alleys.
Things are getting worse: no, this is great.
Be calm. They'll kill everybody: No, they can't. They're showing their teeth. But they're scared. They're the ones in crisis, not us. It was the Leader who was crying and pleading [during his speech the night before], not us.
[Opposition candidate Mir Hossein] Mousavi is on Jeyhoon street. They say he has washed his body [symbolizing preparations for death—Mousavi had said he was ready for martyrdom.] I hate all this talk about martyrdom; we're sick of it.
Hey, guys, bring some tissues. Light a fire. It's teargas. Don't wet your face. Make some smoke.
Hey, Majid, don't waste rocks. You threw a stone at his head. Can't you see he has a helmet on? Aim better, man.
Police station, Basij station, we should take them over and get some weapons. They say guys down the street attacked a Basij post.
They look like the Israeli soldiers we see on television.
The slogan resounds everywhere: "People, what are you waiting for? Iran has turned into Palestine!"
Somebody says, But even Palestine has been fighting for 60 years and hasn't won yet. Another person says, Because they have conciliatory leaders. A third person says, Because you can't answer bullets with stones.
They're right and looking for a path to victory in the middle of the battlefield.
Guys, get back, they're coming! Hey people, leave all your doors open.
Lets move towards Shadmehr.
"Death to dictators!" "Death to Khamenei!" "Death to dictators, whether Leader or doctor!" [Ahmadinejad has a doctorate.]
The street is filled with smoke. Fires are lit everywhere to neutralize the effect of teargas. Those in the middle of the street, young women and men, have armed themselves with something. Some have batons snatched from the repressive forces during battles.
Hey, mister, back up! Don't park your car at the end of the street! These streets are people's only escape route!
"Down with the coup government!" "Dictator, shame on you, let go of the presidency!"
Guys, let's build barricades.
Stones and wood are collected. An old man says, that's right, my children—do you want a soft drink?
Somebody says, This is revolution. Another says, This is the beginning of the revolution. A third person says, It's just like during the Shah. And a fourth person, Yes, it started in 1965 the first time Khomeini rose against the Shah, and then continued in 1979. Another says, No, that's not right, that's just their propaganda. The 1979 revolution belonged to the people, the people made the revolution, they just rode on it, stole it, and said it was the continuation of '65. Somebody else says, The last few days have concentrated months. Another asks, What's gonna happen now? And she answers herself, It all depends on us.
Oh oh, guys, they're coming. Go into houses. (People leave their doors open so that protestors can take refuge in them.)
Somebody says, Hey, why did you run away? He answers, this isn't running away, it's called retreat, and it's a law of war. All of a sudden, Hey hey, what happened? What's going on?
They're beating them up! They beat up three of them! Who's 'they'? They're beating people? No, we're beating them! People grabbed three motorcycle riders [Basij attackers] and gave them a good beating.
Excitement reaches the skies.
They deserve it. That's what to do.
The slogan "Death to Khamenei" shakes the street. Somebody says: that's the end. This slogan means the end of it.
People and security forces are fighting at very close quarters.
Guys, let's deal with the ones who've written "Protectors of people's security. Helpers of the Leader" on their shield.
Somebody says, "They're just poor things. They're like us." Another says, "They came to kill us!" A young woman is seriously injured. People take her away from the skirmishes and hide her in a house. Somebody goes to get a doctor. News comes that the van that is coming; it carries two of our injured. Make way so that we can get them somewhere safe before they're arrested! Everybody moves out of the way.
An angry torrent of people is flowing through the square and streets. There are fires everywhere Cries of "Death to dictators!" are shaking the square. The repressive forces are helpless. They keep throwing teargas. People help each other. They teach each other how to counter the effects of teargas. They hug each other. Kiss each other. Shake hands. A warm feeling has overtaken everybody. A feeling of satisfaction. Of resistance and struggle. The pride of not surrendering.
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
From A World to Win News Service
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.
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
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.
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
CPI(MLM) communiqué no 6:
June 2, 2009. A World to Win News Service. Following are excerpts from Communiqué no. 6 of the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist), put out on the morning of June 20.
These words might sound unpleasant for many of you engaged in bloody battle with the enemy, but open your eyes and ears!
Mir Hossein Mousavi called on you to "consider the Basiji your brothers." This means you should consider your brothers those who used knives and machetes on the bodies of your dearest sons and daughters. Mousavi told you "not to consider the army to be against you." This means considering to be your friends those who under the orders of Khamenei are trying to smash your uprising and are shooting our youth in many corners of the country.
Young people, be alert!
Mousavi claims that "the genuine call of Islamic revolution" is what has moved you. This is a blatant lie. He knows very well that what has moved you is a burning desire to change this world. It's impossible to change the existing order without overthrowing the Islamic Republic.
Mousavi claimed that "the heritage of the far-sighted Imam [Khomeini]" is what has inspired you. This is also a blatant lie. Khomeini's first measures after taking power were to slice women's faces with knives, force them to cover their heads, and take away their basic rights. He sent the army to suppress the people of Kurdistan, Khoozistan, and Turkmen Sahra. Is that what has inspired you?
Brave young women and men, pay attention to Mousavi's real demands!
He calls you to "the Islamic revolution as it was and the Islamic Republic as it should be." He tells you, "You are not against the sacred Islamic Republic system and its legal structures." He tells you that you must seek reform, "a reform with a return to the pure principles of the Islamic Revolution...."
Look at this society drowning in corruption, destruction, superstition, dark religious ignorance, drug addiction, and prostitution. These are the fruits of those pure principles. Principles against which you have courageously risen.
Mousavi says, "Many of our problems are the consequence of lies." But he himself is lying... One of Mousavi's big lies in 1981 was to slander the Sarbedaran uprising in Iran as "inspired by the Shah." The Sarbedaran uprising was waged to overthrow the Islamic Republic and save the people's revolution, but it was defeated. These are facts that you all must know.
In these decisive days, besides bravery and perseverance in the battlefield, you must arm and strengthen your mind with the truths of the last 30 years. These truths light up our road and further strengthen us. Mousavi, with his religious preaching, wants to numb your searching brains. If you know the truth—that the quarrel between Mousavi, Rafsanjani, and [opposition figure Mehdi] Karoubi on the one hand, and Khamenei and Ahmadinejad on the other, is a quarrel between two power- and money-hungry Mafia gangs and has nothing to do with your interests—then you can find the real liberating road and dare to scale the heights for your liberation.
Young women and men—fight! But fight with open eyes and lofty goals!
Mousavi's trademarks are the slogan "God is great" and the [Islamic] color green. Many of you think that these symbols are important for your unity. But they are first and foremost the symbols of the society that Mousavi promises to build—nothing but the same Islamic Republic with minor reforms to make it stronger.
Is this really the kind of society you want? Is it worth so much sacrifice? Why can't we make sacrifices for much higher and loftier goals? Why not struggle for a fundamentally different society and future? A society free of all oppression and exploitation. A society where everyone shares and cooperates. Where the equality of women and men is a fundamental and self-evident principle. Where the beautiful scenes of collaboration, mutual help, and consideration we are witnessing in our common battles today would be institutionalized. A society that is rid of boredom and stagnation, and always lively and active.
Shouldn't we think about these things and debate them even in the midst of the battle? In fact it is decisive for the future of our uprising to know what kind of society we want and how we can bring it about. This view, perspective, and commitment must be linked up broadly with your anger and struggle today against this bigoted and fraudulent rule. This is the only way to prevent our efforts in this historical juncture from going to waste and prevent us from confusing friends and enemies.
Let's raise our level of consciousness! And widely stir debate among the masses!
Form revolutionary cells of the most advanced young women and men in each neighborhood, factory, and university to widely distribute leaflets, do exposures and raise consciousness among the masses and bring more people into the various militant struggles.
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
From a reader
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.
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.
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.
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
Orange County Ruling:
A US District Court judge in California issued a dangerous ruling on May 1, 2009, in a civil lawsuit against a California public school history teacher. The teacher, James Corbett, was sued by Christian fundamentalists. Corbett is well known in Capistrano Valley High in Orange County, California, as a teacher who stimulated critical thinking and who at times made pungent critiques of religion, creationism, and traditional morality. The fundamentalist lawsuit cited statements they claimed Corbett made in classrooms, and argued that Corbett was in violation of the separation of church and state.
The ruling by Judge James Serna upheld one of their claims—that when Corbett said creationism was “religious, superstitious nonsense”, this violated U.S. Constitutional provisions that say that a teacher as an agent of the state cannot either support or oppose religion.
Corbett wrote in an on-line editorial after the verdict: “Every teacher in California (this was a federal case after all) now works with the knowledge that any student, at any time, and in violation of California law, can sneak a tape recorder into a classroom, record the teacher and use an out-of-context five second comment as a bludgeon to threaten, to intimidate and, ultimately, to destroy the teacher’s career and good name.”
Judge Serna’s ruling undercuts many previous court decisions supporting the teaching of evolution. Teachers trying to stimulate critical thinking and even just teach science should not have to carefully calculate whether they will violate the backward and reactionary political, religious and moral strictures of Christian fundamentalists before opening their mouths. As Corbett put it in his editorial, “Every teacher who makes a student think takes the risk that he will be attacked by parents and others who see themselves as guardians of cherished political and religious myth. The teachers who take that risk should be rewarded, not punished.”
To sort out the issues involved in this lawsuit and verdict, consider the statement that Judge Serna considered to go over the bounds: that “creationism is religious, superstitious nonsense.” There have been a series of major court decisions that have ruled that in terms of the law, creationism in all its many forms is a religious expression, and that it is not science. More fundamentally, in terms of the truth, evolution has been firmly established over the 150 years since Darwin first brought it forward and it has been shown to be true from many, many different lines of scientific investigation, and never shown to be false. Creationism, including in its recent mutation as intelligent design, often makes contorted claims to be based on science but in all its forms creationism actually is about subverting science and the scientific method in order to strengthen the hold of religion over the minds of the people.
In this country today, creationism is a crucial part of the ideological arsenal of Christian fascist forces which continue to be powerful, dangerous and backed by the government at the highest level.
James Corbett has been a popular teacher for many years in Capistrano Valley High School in Orange County, California. When the fundamentalist lawsuit was initially filed in December of 2007, the Orange County Register wrote:
“To an almost continuous stream of blaring car horns and cheering, more than 200 Capistrano Valley High School students and alumni rallied outside their school Wednesday morning to show support for embattled history teacher James Corbett, who is being sued by one of his students for making remarks about Christianity and traditional Christian viewpoints in class. Under an early morning drizzle, the protestors lined both sides of Via Escolar outside the Mission Viejo high school, holding up handmade posters with messages that read ‘Honk 4 Corbett,’ ‘Keep Corbett’ and ‘Alums for Corbett.’”
And the Orange County Register noted on May 1, 2009, after Judge Selna’s verdict that: “Corbett is known among his students for being intentionally provocative, taking them out of their comfort zone and asking them to question long-held convictions.
But students say Corbett's teaching style encourages them to think critically and to speak up in defense of opposite viewpoints…”
Corbett was targeted in the lawsuit not only for his comments on creationism, but for a range of comments he was accused of making on important and complex issues, including things like "From conservative Christians in this country to Muslim fundamentalists in Afghanistan … it's stunning how vitally interested they are in controlling women", as well as the quote most highlighted in the early press accounts of the case, “when you put on your Jesus glasses, you can’t see the truth.” (These quotes are from the judge’s ruling—Corbett’s lawyers made clear that they do not agree that Corbett said all the things the Christian fundamentalists said he did, particularly that in many cases they were taken out of context.)
Chad Farnan, the student who brought the lawsuit against Corbett, secretly took a tape recorder into Corbett’s class and recorded lectures and discussion. Farnan and his family worked with “Advocates for Faith and Freedom”, a legal organization which specializes in lawsuits advancing Christian fundamentalist causes. As Corbett noted in an interview, they “have defended the right of a pharmacist on religious grounds to not sell birth control to an unmarried woman. They have defended the right of a doctor to refuse reproductive assistance to a lesbian. They have defended the right of a boy to wear a T-shirt that was offensive to homosexuals.” The tape recordings that Farnan made in Corbett’s class were then transcribed, gone over by the lawyers with a fine tooth comb, and distilled into about twenty different comments, some out of context and distorted, which were used as the basis for the lawsuit.
Farnan was invited onto Bill O’Reilly’s right wing talk show, and the case became known in Christian fundamentalist circles nationally. Corbett reportedly received death threats by phone, but he also received 500 letters from former students, all but one a letter of support.
Jennifer Monk, Farnan’s attorney and general counsel for Advocates for Faith and Freedom, said “It is constitutionally impermissible for Dr. Corbett to use his classroom as a bully pulpit to display his personal disapproval of Christianity.” Actually, the real thrust of the fundamentalist lawsuit was the claim that the U.S. Constitution guarantees Farnan a right not to hear his particular religious beliefs subjected to critical analysis in the public schools.
There is monumental hypocrisy involved in the Christian fascist forces invoking the separation of church and state. They not only have an ultimately theocratic agenda, but have continuously worked for decades to utilize the government at every level, including state and local governments, to launch concerted attacks on evolution, and to bring religion into classrooms. A new twist in this case is to force religion down people’s throats - under the legal rubric of the separation of church and state!
Just how secular the government of this Christian country has been has varied over time and is conditioned and framed by what serves the needs and interests of those in power at any time. History is full of such things as the insertion of the phrase “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance that school children are required to recite. This is a naked violation of the separation of church and state. The "under God" clause was originally inserted to serve an ideological agenda at a time when the world communist revolution held state power in major countries and was challenging U.S. imperialism around the world; the Pledge, with its allegiance to “one nation, under God” was an important part of uniting the people ideologically behind the American imperialist empire and against its atheist challengers—compelling students, in school, to recite their allegiance to God and country.
And the U.S. Supreme Court ruled only a few years ago that the Pledge with the phrase “under God” was still constitutional today.
This makes it all the more dangerous that Judge Serna concluded that Corbett had violated the separation of church and state: “Corbett states an unequivocal belief that creationism is ‘superstitious nonsense.’ The Court cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context.”
Some commentators pointed out that Serna’s decision further undermines teachers who were already under attack for teaching evolution and critical thought. This leaves them looking over their shoulder fearing lawsuits if they dare to make critical comments about religion—even if they feel justified in what they say based on past federal court decisions. And some commentators made the further point that if you follow the logic of Serna’s decision, it throws up whether you can even teach that evolution is true and creationism is not in public schools—as this, it would seem from Serna’s position, would be criticizing religion.
Corbett has said he has not decided on whether he will appeal Serna’s decision. Politically, morally, intellectually, what is right and wrong is very clear here—evolution is true, and teachers should teach it, and creationism is not true, and teachers should criticize it. This case puts a spotlight on the way that this system assaults critical thinking, science, and evolution in particular—and points to how the legal doctrine of the separation of church and state offers at best only very partial and limited protection for critical thinking. Right now, teachers who dare to provoke critical thinking about anything - and particularly religion - run the risk of punishment by the state as well as Christian fundamentalist attacks. This ruling heightens the importance and urgency of the fight to defend critical thinking and the teaching of evolution.
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
Correspondence from readers
We have been going out to the Iranian demonstrations at the Los Angeles Federal Building at nights and on the weekends. On a week night, there have been up to 700 people, and on the weekends 2,000 have been demonstrating. We’ve been taking out issue #168, the Manifesto (Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage—a Manifesto by the RCP,USA), and the CPI(MLM) statement, “You Wanted a Fight? Let’s Fight.” Our table included several works by Bob Avakian—Bringing Forward Another Way, Away With All Gods: Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, and Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy—as well as the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
We’ve noticed a change in the mood of the demonstrators over the past week. At the beginning, there were different trends involved in the demonstrations, including supporters of the Shah. People were facing off against each other and street fights broke out. At that time, most of the signs read, “Where is my vote?” This past weekend the dynamics of the demonstrations began to change. People were calling for unity and support for those who were out in the streets in Iran. There were very few people with the “Where is my vote?” sign, even though many were still wearing green. The biggest shift in the mood is that there are now many signs calling for an end to the theocracy. One sign had all the theocratic contenders with an “X” across their faces.
In a demonstration during the morning on the weekend, there were almost no Iranian flags at all, but at the evening demonstration, there were about 50 flags. We asked people about the flags and were told that “we don’t support the Shah or monarchy of any kind—this flag represents 2,500 years of history. We resent that the mullahs have changed our flag.” A couple youth had t-shirts with RDAI—Revolutionary Democratic Army of Iran. One was carrying the flag. He said that they do not support the Shah but want to see a democracy, bring down the government, and get rid of the mullahs. There were a handful of people who said we need a revolution, but how that would come about was a big question.
There were still a few Shah supporters in the evening demonstration, and most were older. These people were putting forward that the communists were responsible for the mullahs getting into power.
In San Diego, there was a significant demonstration of up to 500 people at the Federal Building. The majority of people were young immigrants. A significant section of the people at this demonstration was in opposition to both the IRI and any intervention by the U.S. Some know of the role of the U.S. in overthrowing Mossadegh and putting the Shah in power, and many spoke about Mousavi’s role as Prime Minister in the murder of thousands of revolutionaries.
The signs in San Diego read, “My vote didn’t count,” and many people were wearing green. A few had IRI flags and were chanting “Praise Allah” on one corner. To this, people on the opposite corner replied in Farsi and English, “Death to the IRI.” Some people had the old Iranian flag but were not Shah supporters. It was definitely contentious.
We had conversations with many people in L.A. and San Diego. Here is a sample of what they were telling us.
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
Correspondence from readers
On June 16 at least 400 Iranians took over all four corners of Houston’s busiest intersection, in the upscale Galleria shopping area, in a spirited rally that lasted almost three hours. It was a mix of generations, with the youth in the forefront, chanting and waving signs, as cars passed through the heavy rush hour traffic. There were also older folks who had been through the anti-Shah, anti-U.S. upsurge of the late 70s—either in Iran or here in the U.S., where a number of them had been involved with the Iranian Student Association or other organizations.
“Marg Bar Dic-ta-tor!” was a frequent chant, reminiscent of the shouts of the 1979 revolution against the U.S.-backed Shah, when crowds roared, “Death to the Shah!” The main slogan was “Where’s my vote?” and was seen on numerous signs and t-shirts. Placards expressed that the votes had been stolen, and denounced what they called a “coup d’etat” by Ahmadinejad. There were also pictures of Ahmadinejad together with Hitler, with swastikas. One sign read, “Ahmadine-fraud.” A number of large signs displayed photos of the police and paramilitary beating and killing young protestors.
Few people showed any real trust in, or specific support for Mousavi, who, after all, was prime minister during the especially bloody early years of the Islamic Republic. One man made the point that all of the candidates are picked by the leaders of the Islamic Republic (most importantly, by the “Supreme Leader of Iran,” Ayatollah Khamenei), but some felt that Mousavi was at least “the lesser of two evils.”
An older man recounted that shortly after Ayatollah Khomeini took power in 1979, the regime killed 5,000 people in 45 days . He lost his father, brother, and nephew to this wave of repression, and shortly after that his mother died from all the grief. A general sentiment was that frustration and anger had been building up over a long period of time, and that the youth in particular are just fed up. When the election was so blatantly stolen, people felt they had to act. One sign read, “30 Years of Silence is Enough.”
A number of people there said that when they saw young people and others speaking out in the streets of Iran, subject to getting killed for standing up, they had to come out and support their friends and family. And with the Iranian authorities blocking Internet and phone connections, and kicking out foreign reporters, it was on them to be the “voice” of their loved ones.
A woman in her 20s said, “It’s just like what happened in Florida in the 2000 election; they stole the votes, but here we’re in the streets.” When one of two sisters saw Revolution newspaper, she immediately got it and said, “One of our parents is Irish and the other is Iranian, so we have revolution in our genes!”
A young American couple, who had heard about the rally on the local Pacifica station, felt they had to come down. They expressed frustration at the absence of non-Iranians there. She thought the “Stop thinking like Americans, and start thinking about humanity” button was exactly what needed to be said, adding that “American lives are not more important than other people’s lives!” When she heard that the paper is put out by the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, she said, “Awesome.”
People liked the back page a lot, with the picture of Obama as the mask for Uncle Sam. There was a very deep anti-U.S. imperialism stance, especially among the older people who had more political experience and consciousness. Most people agreed that Obama is carrying out the same program as Bush, while some still saw him as better than Bush—some hoping that something good might come out of his “positive” speech in Cairo. Others felt that his Cairo speech showed Obama as a complete manipulator. A number of people said that the U.S. had a hand in Khomeini getting into power, and there was lots of discussion of the struggle against the Shah. One man who got the RCP,USA's Manifesto spoke of how religion has been used to manipulate people, and quoted Marx about religion being the opiate of the masses.
There was apparently a small group of pro-Shah forces there, and at one point a young woman started agitating passionately, telling people to go across the street, to distance themselves from the pro-Shah people. One guy said that these forces want to put his son back in power.
Both the tragedy of the actual outcome of the 1979 revolution, and the loss of revolutionary China weighed on people. When one man saw Revolution newspaper, he said, “Revolution … that’s what got us into this mess!” While the demand for democracy was the main thing, and people saw little difference between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad, a few said, “At least its better than communism. At the same time, many were eager to see what revolutionaries here in the heart of the imperialist empire had to say, and were happy to see that we were talking about “another way.” All this opened up a lot of discussion of what kind of revolution is needed, and about the first wave of socialist revolutions and Bob Avakian’s new synthesis. We got out lots of copies of Revolution, including a good number of issue #162 with “An Open Letter to the Revolutionary Communists and Everyone Seriously Thinking About Revolution: On the Role and Importance of Bob Avakian.” We brought up the latest AWTW News Service articles, and several people were interested in checking that out, including the statements by the Communist Party of Iran (MLM).
Revolution #169, June 28, 2009
May 24, 2009
February 1, 2009
December 6, 2008
Comment: I am totally behind this article. It is my understanding that religion of whatever denomination blinds the masses of oppressed people not to be able to see the realities of their oppression and exploitation. The oppressors regard religion as the most powerful instrument to control the masses and Obama cleverly uses it by upgrading certain religion to sound open minded but legitimizing its oppressing qualities.
Comment: I was @ La Mesa during the riots. I just got out after three and one half years. I saw the bodies. I was beaten by the Federales and have the scars. I’m just a white boy with a bad memory of starvation, overcrowding and abuse from every direction. La Mesa is hell on earth-and it still goes on-does anyone care? I was a trustee and saw many things I shouldn’t have.
Comment: I would like to ask this question to the so-called "pro-lifers": at what point in time does the right of the woman become superseded by the right of the fetus? When God gave man free choice, where, in the Bible, does it say that all humans have the right of choice, except for pregnant females? Their primary and everlasting goal, indeed, is and will always be, to deny women free choice. And if they espouse thou shalt not kill, how do they explain support for the death penalty?