Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Spreading Revolution and Communism:
Letters from Readers:
Revolution #171, August 2, 2009
The Arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.:
What do they call a Black man with a PhD?
Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr. is a prominent professor at Harvard University. In 2002, Gates was selected to give the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities—which, according to the National Endowment for the Humanities is “the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.” In 1997, he was named one of TIME’s 25 most influential Americans.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is also a Black man in America. And on July 16, 2009, the Cambridge, Massachusetts police made a statement about what that means.
On that day, Gates arrived home from a trip to China, where he was filming a PBS documentary. He had difficulty opening the front door of his home, so he entered his home through the back door using his key. After entering his home, Gates turned off his alarm, and with the help of his driver, was able to get the front door open.
Shortly after entering his home, he was confronted by a police officer who came into his house, demanded (and got) proof that this was in fact Professor Gates’ home. And then, after verifying that this was, in fact, his home, the police arrested Gates, charged him with “disorderly conduct” and took him away to jail in handcuffs where he was held for several hours.
Professor Gates was able to get word of his arrest to his colleagues and his attorney, and after their intervention he was released from jail later that day, and later charges were dropped.
The Gates Affair has connected far and wide among African-Americans, and everyone who has a sense of what it means to be Black in America. And, it has set off a racist backlash among those who are infuriated that Professor Gates refused to bow and scrape to the racist cop who harassed him in his own home, and that Barack Obama called the arrest “stupid.” And through this, it has opened, again, the question of the subjugation of Black people in America.
Mainstream news reports claim that there are conflicting accounts of what happened with the arrest of Professor Gates. That Barack Obama jumped to criticize the police before the “whole story” came out. Not true. Gates’ account of his arrest is not only credible, consistent, and backed up by facts, it is not, in any essential way, contradicted by police reports of the arrest.
In an interview at the Root (www.theroot.com), Professor Gates described returning from China, and the events that led to his arrest:
“I just finished making my new documentary series for PBS called ‘Faces of America.’ It was a glorious week in Shanghai and Ningbo and Beijing, and on my trip, I took my daughter along. After we finished working in Ningbo we went to Beijing and had three glorious days as tourists. It was great fun.
“We flew back on a direct flight from Beijing to Newark. We arrived on Wednesday, and on Thursday I flew back to Cambridge. I was using my regular driver and my regular car service. And went to my home arriving at about 12:30 in the afternoon. My driver and I carried several bags up to the porch, and we fiddled with the door and it was jammed. I thought, well, maybe the door’s latched. So I walked back to the kitchen porch, unlocked the door and came into the house. And I unlatched the door, but it was still jammed.
“My driver is a large black man. But from afar you and I would not have seen he was black. He has black hair and was dressed in a two-piece black suit, and I was dressed in a navy blue blazer with gray trousers and, you know, my shoes. And I love that the 911 report said that two big black men were trying to break in with backpacks on. Now that is the worst racial profiling I’ve ever heard of in my life. (Laughs.) I’m not exactly a big black man. I thought that was hilarious when I found that out, which was yesterday.”
A statement issued on Gates’ behalf by his attorney, friend, and colleague, Charles Ogletree, details what happened next: “Professor Gates immediately called the Harvard Real Estate office to report the damage to his door and requested that it be repaired immediately.”
And, that statement continues, “As he was talking to the Harvard Real Estate office on his portable phone in his house, he observed a uniformed officer on his front porch. When Professor Gates opened the door, the officer immediately asked him to step outside. Professor Gates remained inside his home and asked the officer why he was there. The officer indicated that he was responding to a 911 call about a breaking and entering in progress at this address. Professor Gates informed the officer that he lived there and was a faculty member at Harvard University. The officer then asked Professor Gates whether he could prove that he lived there and taught at Harvard. Professor Gates said that he could, and turned to walk into his kitchen, where he had left his wallet. The officer followed him. Professor Gates handed both his Harvard University identification and his valid Massachusetts driver’s license to the officer. Both include Professor Gates’ photograph, and the license includes his address.
“Professor Gates then asked the police officer if he would give him his name and his badge number. He made this request several times. The officer did not produce any identification nor did he respond to Professor Gates’ request for this information. After an additional request by Professor Gates for the officer’s name and badge number, the officer then turned and left the kitchen of Professor Gates’ home without ever acknowledging who he was or if there were charges against Professor Gates. As Professor Gates followed the officer to his own front door, he was astonished to see several police officers gathered on his front porch. Professor Gates asked the officer’s colleagues for his name and badge number. As Professor Gates stepped onto his front porch, the officer who had been inside and who had examined his identification, said to him, ‘Thank you for accommodating my earlier request,’ and then placed Professor Gates under arrest. He was handcuffed on his own front porch.”
On all the essentials, with the exception of whether the cop refused to identify himself, the police report does not contradict Gates’ account. The Cambridge police report, by the arresting officer—James Crowley—who identifies himself as working for “the Administration Section” of the Cambridge Police Department, makes clear that Gates was arrested at a point when there was no question in the officer’s mind that this was Gates’ home, and that he was not a burglar. Crowley states explicitly that Gates “did supply me with a Harvard University identification card.”
And when Gates provided that ID, did that then settle the matter? Did the officer then apologize for the false accusation and leave Professor Gates alone? No. After ascertaining that no crime had been committed, and that Gates was in his own home, the police report states that Crowley called for more police. His report continues, “Upon learning that Gates was affiliated with Harvard, I radioed and requested the presence of the Harvard University Police.” In other words, after Crowley—by his own account—determined who Gates was, and that no crime was being committed, he called in more police.
Why? Crowley’s report does clearly state what constituted Gates’ supposed crime in the eyes of the system: “As I descended the stairs to the sidewalk, Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him. Due to the tumultuous manner Gates had exhibited in his residence [emphasis added—Revolution] as well as his continued tumultuous behavior outside the residence, in view of the public, I warned Gates that he was becoming disorderly.” The police report also says Gates was arrested because his actions “served no legitimate purpose and caused citizens passing by this location to stop and take notice while appearing surprised and alarmed.” Then, according to the police report, when Gates “ignored [Crowley’s] warning…to calm down,” he was handcuffed, initially refused access to a cane that he needs to walk, and arrested. (The arrest report is available at thesmokinggun.com.)
When, again—exactly—did it become illegal, much less wrong, for a victim of racist police abuse to accuse a racist cop of racial bias?
In his statement after the arrest, Henry Louis Gates said, “I’m deeply resolved to do and say the right things so that this cannot happen again.
“Of course, it will happen again, but…I want to do what I can so that every police officer will think twice before engaging in this kind of behavior.” [ellipsis in original]
That is a stand and spirit to defend. And one the powers-that-be find intolerable.
If you are Black in America, you object to police abuse only at risk of arrest…or worse. And this is true even if, and in some ways especially if, you are a successful Black person. This is a fact of life in the rural south, but it is also true in a liberal university town in Massachusetts.
Cambridge, Massachusetts is a city of 100,000 people, adjoining Boston, dominated by Harvard University. In Cambridge, top Harvard professors are celebrities almost like movie stars are in Hollywood. Gates’ home is owned by Harvard University, and he has lived there for years. He is a widely recognized figure as he walks with his cane to and from work in Harvard Square. And Gates is not just like a movie star in Cambridge, he is a highly recognizable media personality in Cambridge and worldwide. His PBS documentaries, like “Wonders of the African World” or “Looking for Lincoln,” have been seen by millions. Gates hosted “Oprah’s Roots: An African American Lives Special,” and “African American Lives,” a PBS show about the family histories of prominent U.S. Black people.
In this light, consider the chain of events that led to Gates’ arrest. First, there was the Cambridge cop who arrived at Gates’ house to investigate a reported break-in. Then, there were additional police officers who showed up as “backup” on Professor Gates’ porch. And there were the supervisors in the Cambridge Police Department and the Harvard Police Department who dispatched more police to Gates’ house. Were all of them unaware of who Gates is? Not likely. But in any event, it was certainly true that by the time Professor Gates was arrested, it was clear to all not only that he was being arrested at his own home, but who he was. And that the arrest constituted a message to Gates, to Black people at large, and to society, that no Black man better get too “full of himself” or “uppity,” or think that because he is famous and respected, that he is immune to being abused and humiliated by police for no reason.
And Gates’ arrest is not the first or only incident of racial profiling against prominent African-American academics at Harvard. In 2004, Dr. Allen Counter, who has taught neuroscience at Harvard for 28 years, was stopped on campus by two Harvard police officers who accused him of being a robbery suspect, and threatened to arrest him when he could not produce identification. “We do not believe that this arrest would have happened if Professor Gates was white,” Counter told AP. “It really has been very unsettling for African-Americans throughout Harvard and throughout Cambridge that this happened.”
In the wake of the arrest of Gates, the New York Times interviewed a number of Black professionals who both described being stopped or harassed by authorities themselves, and referenced what one diversity trainer from Atlanta called the “unwritten code” that Black men have to follow in any encounter with police. The Times article recounted advice from the Black diversity trainer: “Quiet politeness is Rule No. 1 in surviving an incident of racial profiling…. So is the frequent use of the word ‘sir.’”
Note the diversity trainer’s choice of words: “surviving” an incident of racial profiling. That’s not just a figure of speech. In October 1995 Jonny Gammage was driving a Jaguar that belonged to his cousin Ray Seals, defensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers, through Brentwood, a nearly all-white suburb of Pittsburgh. He was arrested, assaulted, and died of suffocation when the police stood and kneeled on his neck, shoulders, and waist as he lay handcuffed and shackled, face down on the pavement. His crime—being a young Black man in a late model sports car and putting on his brakes “in a suspicious manner.” Gammage was unarmed, and even the D.A.’s office found no reason why Gammage was stopped by the police that night.
The fact that speaking quietly to a cop, and frequently using the word “sir,” is the “unwritten code” for Black men, including those who have “made it” by the standards of this system, who want to survive an encounter with police, is a reflection of how deep, and how broad, the oppression of Black people is in this system.
Malcolm X once asked, “What do you call a Black man with a Ph.D.?” And, he answered with bitter irony, “a nigger.”
The arrest, and public insulting of Professor Gates, the photos of this 58-year-old Black professor being hauled out of his home in handcuffs, was a statement that no matter how far you have “made it” in this system, you still live under the shadow of pervasive white supremacy. And you better not forget it.
Six days after the arrest of Professor Gates, Barack Obama had this to say at a press conference held to promote his health insurance reform plan:
“I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home. And number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.”
Obama went on to frame his criticism of the police by saying “That doesn’t lessen the incredible progress that has been made. I am standing here as testimony to the progress that’s been made.”
Obama’s comment set off a shitstorm. Never mind that it essentially covered up the systemic nature of racial profiling by contextualizing the criticism with lies about “incredible progress.” The president of the United States is not supposed to acknowledge racial profiling.
Obama’s statement that “African-Americans and Latinos” are “stopped by law enforcement disproportionately” is in fact, just a fact. A report by the Center for Constitutional Rights found that in 2006, more than 80 percent of those stopped and frisked by the NYPD were Black or Hispanic. Of those stopped, 45 percent of Blacks and Hispanics were frisked, compared with 29 percent of whites, even though white suspects were 70 percent more likely than Black suspects to have a weapon.
Before exploring the backlash, it is worth exploring why Obama made this statement in the first place. After all, the very day after Professor Gates was arrested, Obama addressed the national convention of the NAACP with a lecture about how whatever discrimination Black people might face (and Obama essentially trivialized that), in regard to their conditions, Black people have “no excuses.” And in case people didn’t get the point, he repeated, “No excuses.” [For a response to Obama’s speech, see excerpts of Carl Dix’s video online at revcom.us.]
Here’s the contradiction: The powers-that-be selected Barack Obama to be the imperialist system’s president, through their financial support of his campaign, and through calculated packaging in the media they control. They bet on that unprecedented move—installing a Black president—as a way to defuse widespread dissatisfaction and anger among people in times of endless war and economic crisis. They saw “Obama’s face,” as one ruling class pundit put it, as a weapon to employ in their global contention with Islamic fundamentalism. But they also saw the Obama presidency as a way to keep society together in the face of sharp divides over all kinds of questions ranging from the oppression of women, and Black and Latino people, to torture and theocratic fundamentalism. Whether that bet pays off is yet to be seen. Under Obama, the wars have dragged on and been escalated. Torture has been whitewashed and the torturers granted free passes. And conditions have worsened in the inner cities, hit hardest by the economic crisis. In the face of this, many people who had enthusiastically, even euphorically supported Obama’s candidacy have begun to question, and even speak out against what Obama has actually implemented.
A pivotal moment in that process was the dialog between Cornel West, a widely respected Black academic, author, and public intellectual—who was an early supporter of Obama, and Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party in Harlem on July 14, on the theme of “The Ascendancy of Obama...and the Continued Need for Resistance and Liberation.” The event featured unsparing exposure and opposition to what Obama is doing from both speakers—coming from very different political and philosophical positions.
That unsparing criticism was met with applause, not boos, by a packed house of 750 people in Harlem. The event—the combination of speakers, the makeup of the audience, and the mood in the crowd—could hardly have escaped the notice of those in Obama’s circle whose role it is to take the temperature of, and gauge the level of outrage and anger among sections of people, including influential Black intellectuals. [See centerspread article and online coverage at revcom.us for an analysis of this event.]
The event in Harlem, and what it brought together and concentrates, provides a context for understanding Obama’s initial press conference comments. The point is not that there is a “good side” to Obama which can be “pushed on” to get him to “do the right thing.” But having Obama play the role substantial sections of the ruling class intended for him to play involves some intense contradictions that can bust open at any time. Obama, and the ruling class forces who installed him as their president, are walking a tightrope—he is working to pacify and defuse the anger of people who are justifiably angry and outraged, while carrying out an agenda defined by the capitalist system, and its relentless drive to exploit and oppress.
By the ruling class’ logic, Obama is supposed to “calm down” the anger on the part of Black people and all those who have some sense of what it meant for one of the nation’s preeminent African-American professors to be arrested at his own home for violating the “unspoken code” of how any Black man has to act to survive an encounter with police. For Obama to remain silent on the Gates Affair would have risked alienating a critical section of people. On the other hand, and even more fundamentally, Obama’s role as president is to preside over a system that has the subjugation of Black people deeply embedded into how it operates. That’s a contradiction fraught with great explosiveness.
But even as Obama’s comments on the Gates arrest were calculated to serve the larger interests of the ruling class, he has come under a firestorm of criticism in the media, from police organizations, and the ruling class noise machine in general for his momentary acknowledgement of racial profiling. In response, Obama has backtracked, soft-peddled, and watered down his criticism, talking about how he “overreacted.” Even worse, he has now apportioned blame equally between the cop and Henry Louis Gates, who did absolutely nothing wrong!
Truth is truth, and there is a clear right and wrong here. Professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested at his own home for refusing to speak quietly and repeatedly say “sir”—and instead for objecting to being abused when the police accused him of breaking into his own home. Such conduct has resulted in death at the hands of police for many, many Black and Latino people in this country. This kind of brutality and murder is endemic in this system, and that is just a fact.
To equate what this cop did, acting with all the authority of the state behind him to enforce oppressive social relations, with what Gates did, which was to exercise his right to verbally oppose those relations, is truly outrageous!
As we go to press, Obama invited the cop who subjected Gates to what by all accounts was a false arrest to the White House “for a beer,” along with Gates himself, and is saying both the cop and Gates accepted.
One result of all this backpeddling has been to leave those who have a basic sense of right and wrong confused and on the defensive, and assigned to the position of “let’s not overreact.”
But Obama’s calls for everyone to calm down and get along have not at all chilled out the racists, the fascists, and the motley collection of reactionary forces who are just fine with police keeping Black people “in their place.” They found Obama’s comments treasonous. These forces are being whipped into a frenzy by not just Fox News, but CNN, where Lou Dobbs said Obama “threw the cops under a bus,” and that Gates was “arrogant” for saying this should be a “teachable moment.”
And the Gates Affair is being meshed into a political whirlwind that includes prominent Republicans presiding over town hall meetings of outraged reactionaries who have been convinced that Barack Obama is actually an illegal immigrant from Kenya whose birth certificate is forged, and who is an operative of some kind of conspiracy to impose “socialism” on the United States through health care reform.
This is all serving up more raw meat up to a rabid fascist section of society. These forces have been, to now, more or less on a leash. But they are being kept in reserve—straining at their leashes—and in a state of increasing agitation against an administration they are being told is illegitimate.
The ruling class of this country attempted to purchase social peace on the cheap with Barack Obama, in order to carry forward a program that is bringing, and will bring, great suffering to people around the world, and to people within the U.S.
But the Gates Affair shows that the explosive contradictions at the very heart of U.S. society might not be so easily contained.
ONLINE at revcom.us:
See “Post Racial My Ass! ON THE ARREST OF HENRY LOUIS GATES IN HIS OWN HOME!”, a press release by Carl Dix
Revolution #171, August 2, 2009
Post Racial My Ass!
Harvard professor Henry Louis "Skip" Gates is arguably the most prominent Black intellectual in the US. On July 14th, cops in Cambridge, Massachusetts forced him to do a perp walk from his own home to a police car in handcuffs. The charge was disorderly conduct, but Gates’ real offense was being Black and unwilling to bow and scrape when ordered to do so by a white cop.
The cop responded to a report of a daytime break-in at the home Gates rents from the University and asked the professor to step outside. Gates refused to do so and demanded to see the cop's ID. This challenge to the cop’s authority led to the arrest, which happened AFTER the cop had found out that Gates was indeed inside his own home! In this cop's mind, a Black man questioning his authority and asking to see his police ID constituted "loud and tumultuous behavior" punishable by the humiliation of being taken from your home in handcuffs.
The charges have since been dropped, and the Cambridge police department has issued a statement saying Gates should not have been arrested. But this incident was very serious. Had Gates not been able to quickly call his secretary who got his lawyer down to the jail in short order, there’s no way to know what this could’ve escalated into.
Those who blame Gates for escalating the situation and causing his own arrest are saying he should've been more servile, with his head bowed and shuffling. These people either don’t know what all too often happens when cops confront Black people, or are trying to cover this reality up. Black people are disproportionately stopped, harassed, beaten, arrested and even killed by cops. The Stolen Lives Project of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality documented over 2000 cases of loss of life at the hands of police in the U.S. between 1990 and 2000. Most of the people killed were Black or Latino and most weren't involved in any criminal activity when they lost their lives. Some of the people this has happened to were well off, had played by the rules and done everything they were supposed to do to make it. Yet none of this mattered. Black people face inequality and discrimination in virtually every facet of life in this country. This oppression is built into the very fabric of this country, and it will take revolution and going on to build a whole new society to replace this messed up one to eradicate it once and for all.
Right-wing talk radio, Fox news and other such forces were quick to charge racism in response to this incident – against Gates! These people were upset that Gates not only questioned the cop, but that he had the audacity to say he was being targeted because he was a Black man. They also took Barack Obama to task for saying during a news conference that the police acted "stupidly" in arresting Gates inside his own home.
There's multiple irony involved in all this. Some of the very people who cite the election of Obama as proof that the U.S. has become a post-racial society respond to cops arresting a Black man in his own home by calling the Black man racist. At the same time, the president who has repeatedly lectured Black people to stop using racism as an excuse for the inequality and oppression they face gives a white cop a verbal slap on the wrist for the way he treated this Black professor.
Obama and his team felt compelled to address this only because he has been called out for carefully avoiding even addressing the hell Black people continue to catch in the U.S. Obama's tsk-tsk to the Cambridge cops doesn't address the seriousness of this incident. And this mild rebuke to the cops for this incident (which the White House began to back away from the next day with "clarifications") in no way makes up for the way in which he has blamed Black people for the conditions the system he presides over enforces on them.
Obama’s "No Excuses" speeches (see his speech at the recent NAACP convention for an example of this) have never been about tough love. The problem with them isn’t that they don’t go far enough. They go in the wrong direction! They say Black people face the problems they do because of their own faults and shortcomings. They cover over the oppression brought down on them by this system. And they threaten and justify the even more vicious attacks this system has in store for Black people.
What was done to Gates opens a window into the way this system oppresses Black people. This ugly and continuing reality needs to be fully dragged out into the light of day, and all who oppose injustice need to condemn it unequivocally and build opposition to it. And those who are sick and tired of it for real need to check out the revolution and understand that THIS system has always thrived on and reinforced oppression of Black people, in one form or another; never has, never can and never will create a society where Black men and women can truly breathe free, day in day out; and must be replaced with a revolutionary communist one where this, and all other forms of oppression, can finally be eliminated.
Carl Dix, founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA and was one of six GIs in 1970 who refused orders to go to Vietnam and served two years in prison for his stand. In 1996, Dix co-founded the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality.
Revolution #171, August 2, 2009
[Editors’ note: The following is the seventh excerpt from the text of a talk by Bob Avakian, earlier this year, which is being serialized in Revolution, beginning with issue #163. Parts 1-6 appeared in issues #163, #164, #165, #166, #167, and #169. Part 7 is from 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 question is not only important in a general and fundamental sense, but it takes on particular significance in relation to the current "Obama phenomenon," and some of the deeper emotions his candidacy—and still more his election (and inauguration)—have called forth, and the ways in which, sad to say, this has blinded some people to what Obama is really all about and the actual nature of the system of which he's a part, of which in fact he is now the chief executive and commander-in-chief.
In this connection, perhaps the following story will shed some light. Back in the '70s when Idi Amin was still the head of the government in Uganda, I went to a party that was held at the house of one of our comrades, and there were some masses from the local area there, including a number of Black people. I was going around and listening to different conversations and just enjoying myself, but also seeking to find out what people were talking about, and in one corner there was a very lively discussion and debate about Idi Amin: One of the Black people there was vigorously upholding and defending Idi Amin, who in reality was both a flunky of imperialism and a brutal oppressor in his own right. And, finally, after listening for a while, I kind of broke in and said: "I understand, I saw that picture of Idi Amin making those British citizens carry him around on all fours. I understand the feelings that evokes. I understand why that made you feel good. But we have to get beyond that to see what Idi Amin really is." And then we began to talk about what Amin really represented—and did not represent.
The desire for revenge (for "the first shall be last, and the last shall be first") and to see one of "your own" actually "make it to the top"—this, especially under a system like this and with the pull of its ideology and the notion that the point of change is for oppressed individuals to "have their chance" to be in a position of privilege and power, is understandably, even if very wrongly, quite strong. And, to come up to the present situation in the U.S., we hear of many people, particularly Black people, saying things like: "We've had a revolution, it's a new America." No, we haven't had a revolution, and it's not a new America. There is something different going on: You have a different kind of president who comes from a different place, and has a different color, if you will. But that is not a revolution, and it is not a new America. It's the same old America, the same old imperialist state, trying to get over better in the world, as well as among people in the U.S.—including Black people in particular—with its murderous and brutally oppressive program.
Malcolm X, even with certain definite limitations in his outlook and understanding, had many important insights, and among them was the way in which he made the point that revolutions are not just a change within the existing system, and that revolutions are not made through the ballot box. As he put it, revolutions overturn systems. This is not what's happened with the election of Obama. What system has been overturned? What fundamental relations in society and the world have been radically changed, in the interests of the masses of people? None. A change of face, a change of color, is not a revolution and it does not a "new America" make.
In a very concise and scientific way, Mao Tsetung spoke to what a revolution is, when he pointed out that a revolution means nothing less than the overthrow of one class by another. A revolution means that the hold of a reactionary ruling class over society—as concentrated in that class's monopoly of political power, embodied in a state (armed forces, courts and prisons, bureaucracies, etc.) representing and serving the interests of that ruling class—is broken and thoroughly dismantled, through a determined struggle of masses of people, organized around a program of radical change—and a new state, representing the interests of a rising revolutionary class, is established in place of the old state. It means that a whole different system is brought into being.
Which class in America has been overthrown, by which other class, with the election of Obama? What new state has been brought into being? What new system? None. It's the same class ruling and the same system, being presided over by a new face with a new color. It's not even "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last." It's just one of those who looks like the "last" joining, and heading up, the "first" to keep the "last" last.
The revolution we need—a real revolution, and in particular a revolution aiming for the final goal of communism—has to set its sights on first bringing into being a radically new state, which represents the revolutionary interests of the proletariat in finally abolishing all relations of exploitation and oppression. And then the revolution must be carried forward from there. The long-term and fundamental aim of this revolution is uprooting and eliminating class antagonisms, indeed all class divisions, and everything bound up with this; and in achieving this, throughout the world, the conditions will be created for the withering away of the state—as an instrument of organized, forcible class suppression—and its replacement by forms of association and functioning among the people that enable them to make decisions affecting their interaction with the rest of nature, and their interaction with each other, without class distinctions or any oppressive divisions. This obviously involves something radically different and better than "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last." But the election of Obama is not even that.
Revolutions are called forth fundamentally by contradictions in the economic base—by the way in which people are exploited and the way in which the functioning of the economy proceeds through certain relations among people which have become outmoded, which can no longer meet the needs of society in a fundamental sense. This—through many different channels and not directly one-to-one, but nevertheless in an overall sense—calls forth the need for radical change in society, and people more or less consciously come to an understanding of this and act to bring about changes in accordance with their understanding.
At the same time, as I have emphasized before, while they proceed from, or are called forth by, contradictions in the economic base of society—with the outmoded character of the fundamental economic relations, and the way in which they are a fetter on society, becoming particularly acute—revolutions are not made in the sphere of production. They are made in the realm of the superstructure of politics and ideology, through a struggle which ultimately takes its highest and most concentrated form in the all-out struggle to determine who—that is, which class, representing which economic and political and social system and relations—will actually rule society and transform society in accordance with how its most conscious representatives understand the problems and the solutions. That is what a revolution is. Measure that against the election of Obama and see how his election stands in relation to that.
The communist revolution is a radically different revolution from all previous ones, in that it is made in the interests of, and fundamentally by, the class—that is, the proletariat—whose interests lie not simply in changing positions within society (let alone just changing some faces) but in radically transforming society to abolish all economic, social and political relations, and all ideas and culture, which embody and enforce exploitation and oppression—not just in one place or one part of the world, but throughout the world as a whole. It involves and requires the advance to a society, a world, not divided into classes and into oppressors and oppressed, a communist society and world.
Revolution #171, August 2, 2009
West and Dix Open Up the Dialogue:
On July 14, 650 people filled a Harlem auditorium completely, and an overflow crowd of at least 100 more gathered on the streets outside, to hear, "The Ascendancy of Obama… and the Continued Need for Resistance and Liberation: A Dialogue Between Cornel West and Carl Dix."
In his promo video for the event—which has now been viewed more than 3,000 times on YouTube—Dix, a founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, set unmistakably clear terms:
If you're somebody who doesn't want to hear straight talk on these questions, I suggest that you just stay your ass at home on July 14, and I feel sorry for you. But if you're somebody who's concerned about the state of humanity… if you hate the fact that these wars for empire continue whether it's Bush or Obama in the White House... if you feel it in your gut every time that you hear that the police have killed another unarmed Black or Latino youth and gotten away with it… if it really bothers you that women in this so-called "best of all possible societies" face violence and sexual assault in horrific numbers… and you wonder what, if anything, can be done to deal with these and other problems that people face, then you need to be out on July 14, and you need to spread the word and challenge others to be there as well. It's that important.
In the days and weeks leading up to July 14, the Revolutionary Youth Summer Project—a collective of 20 young people from across the country who have arrived in New York City to build a revolutionary communist movement—had done extensive outreach in Harlem to mobilize people for the event. The team took to the streets with sound trucks, banners, red flags, and plenty of newspapers and leaflets, as well as a portable DVD player with which to show the YouTube video. In their chants and agitation, the youth emphasized that Obama was a representative of the same imperialist system that has always committed brutal crimes around the globe, and that people should therefore not support Obama. One chant went: "Barack Obama is part of the system/commander in chief of imperialism/fuck that shit, no more confusion/what we need is revolution!"
Some people, like a young Black man visiting from Atlanta, dug this message: "That's all I needed to hear!" he exclaimed enthusiastically, when one youth told him that Obama's presidency was nothing to celebrate. Others did not like what the young revolutionaries had to say, and suggested that they take their message "downtown," or "to Long Island." Some were just taken aback. "Say that again!" a young woman of color exclaimed, after one of the youth repeated the statement from Dix's video that those who felt Obama's election constituted a revolution had "lost their muthafucking minds." Her tone seemed to be partly a challenge (as in "I dare you to say that again!") and partly a sincere desire to hear the statement repeated.
Heading into the program, then, it was clear that Dix's message—as well as the event it was promoting—had a powerful polarizing impact: it had the potential to push away those unwilling to question what Obama's presidency really represents for the people of the world, to draw forward those who were willing to engage this question, and to compel people in both camps to take note that new terms were being boldly thrust onto the scene.
With their presence at the Harlem Stage of City College's Aaron Davis Hall, the hundreds who turned out—whether or not they had literally seen the video clip—embraced the spirit of Dix's challenge: Yes, they did want to hear the truth about Obama, and the crimes of their government. And no, they did not wish to accept the world as it is as tolerable.
Conversations with a handful of people in the building's lobby, before the dialogue began, suggested an atmosphere of excitement, curiosity, and anticipation.
Christianne, a 26-year-old waitress, said she had found out about the program during a recent visit to Union Square, during which she encountered volunteers with the Revolutionary Youth Summer Project.
"In talking about what I see wrong with the world, and what I'd like to see happen, and my inability to come up with a solution, this seemed right up my alley," Christianne said. She added that she had watched Dix's three-minute video in Union Square.
Christianne said that she wasn't going into the event with particular questions in mind, nor expectations of specific issues on which Dix or West would speak.
"I'm just going to see what piques my curiosity," Christianne said.
Sara, a 31-year-old white school teacher in the Bronx, said it was West who had drawn her to the event; she said she wasn't familiar with Dix at all. Sara described West as a "smart" and "provocative" speaker. Asked what she thought about the event's title, Sara replied, "I find it intriguing," and indicated she wasn't completely sure what it meant; she suspected its implication was, " [We have a] Black leader, but that doesn't mean we stop fighting."
Inside the auditorium, Bob Marley's "Emancipation Song" played as the beginning of the program drew near. Its opening lyrics—"Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/none but ourselves can free our minds"—were quite fitting for a night in which one central theme expressed from the stage was that the people must take the responsibility of resistance into their own hands; that it is wholly unacceptable to be suckered into complicity with the crimes of our government simply because a Black president is now presiding over those crimes.
Shortly after 7 pm, Sunsara Taylor—a writer for Revolution newspaper, and one of the two moderators for the evening—stepped to the podium. She noted, to applause from the audience, that the event was being broadcast live on local progressive radio station WBAI, before promising an informative and thought-provoking discussion.
"We're in for a journey this evening," she said, as she introduced her co-moderator, the longtime radical journalist Herb Boyd.
"Welcome to City College," Boyd began. "Welcome to Harlem. Welcome to the revolution."
Boyd suggested that the theme of the evening's program was quite relevant to the history of Black experience in America.
"Resistance and liberation—those have always been operative words in the African-American canon and lexicon," Boyd said, adding that Dix and West were well qualified to address those topics. At that point, the two featured speakers walked onto the stage, hand in hand, to loud applause; some members of the audience rose to their feet.
Dix was the first to speak, and as was the case with his YouTube video, he wasted little time establishing clear terms of discourse. "What we're doing tonight is important," Dix began. "We're not gonna pretend Afghanistan is the good war."
The crowd responded with delayed, yet sustained, applause.
"We're not going to give Obama a pass for his Cosbyesque attack on poor Black people," he continued. "What we are going to do is get at reality as it actually is, and as it needs to be transformed."
And with that, a critical conversation happening virtually nowhere else was underway.
In the first part of Dix's speech, he laid out his analysis of the euphoric reaction to Obama's election, and contrasted that with what Obama's victory actually means for Black people and the people of the planet more broadly. Dix alluded to his "lost their muthafucking minds" statement from the YouTube video. At the Harlem Stage, Dix made clear that he stood by that assessment, but added that he wanted to address the underlying reasons why so many people were euphoric. Traveling with his family to the eastern shore of Maryland, which he described as "Mississippi further up north," Dix had to watch his 40-year-old father be addressed as "boy" by a white teenager. He witnessed the city of Baltimore close down its swimming pool, rather than integrate it.
"I know about the white supremacy of this setup," Dix said, "so I understand why people seeing a Black person elected president would get swept up." However, Dix added that while he understood the excitement over Obama's victory, he "did not and do not share it."
Obama's victory, Dix said, was serving to conceal the essence of this system of imperialism and the crimes it commits, and to solicit acquiescence to the system's crimes from people who would not have accepted them under any other president. As an example, he referred to Obama's recent speech in Ghana, during which the president demanded that African people and nations assume responsibility for rectifying their suffering. In so doing, Dix pointed out, Obama sought to mask the legacy of slave ships, the brutality of European colonists, the manner in which imperialism has consistently plundered Africa, and the murderous proxy wars carried out by the U.S. and other imperialist nations; the message Obama delivered, Dix said, was that the real cause of the plight of African peoples was that their governments were corrupt.
"This is a concentration of the role that he's playing," Dix said of Obama's speech.
The next section of Dix's presentation focused on the status of youth under imperialism, and the implications of Obama's presidency for those youth. Dix took on the commonly-expressed sentiment that, even if Obama himself does not represent anything good, at least having a Black man in the White House will inspire Black youth to achieve. In actuality, Dix said, Obama's victory will only suck youth into supporting a system that has condemned them to failure; the real doors that will open to these youth, Dix said, are the doors to the military recruiting centers, the jails, and the courthouses. On top of that, Obama attacks the oppressed youth and blames them for their conditions.
"It was bullshit when Cosby said it, and it's bullshit now," Dix said, to applause.
The final part of Dix's speech focused on what humanity needs to get beyond a system that thrives on torture and wars for empire, spawns massive disease and starvation, ravages the environment, violently subjugates women, and offers millions of youth no better fate than death or jail: revolution. Drawing on the RCP's new statement, "The Revolution We Need, the Leadership We Have," Dix told the crowd that the system of imperialism needs to be swept off the planet, with imperialist institutions replaced by revolutionary institutions. He explained that in past revolutionary societies, such as China under the leadership of Mao Tsetung, monumental and previously unthinkable advances had been achieved quickly under the guidance of a state that served the people; for instance, China went from a society where prostitution was pervasive to one in which the practice had basically been eliminated, and from a country where hundreds of millions were addicted to opium to one in which there were essentially no addicts. Dix went on to say: "Now revolutionary power in China was overthrown when Mao Tsetung died. But Bob Avakian has taken up the understanding that Mao developed and led the Chinese revolution on the basis of and developed it even further and that puts us in position to not only make revolution again but go farther and do even better with it the next time."
Similarly, Dix said, youth in modern imperialist societies who were immersed in the poisons of gangs, drugs, and religion need to be challenged to instead devote their lives to revolution, changing themselves in the process.
Dix finished by quoting the late Oscar Brown's poignant poem, "The Children of Children," and asking: "What is going to be our answer to the children of children all over the world?"
While he clearly did not share Dix's revolutionary communist perspective, West united with the need for resistance and repeatedly commended Dix for being a powerful voice for the oppressed who was willing to sacrifice his life to fulfill that role. "I am here," West said, "because at this particular historical juncture, we have got to create a space for principled criticisms of the Obama administration."
During an electrifying speech that often moved the audience to loud applause, as well as to appreciative laughter, West applauded Dix for driving home the message that humanity's goal should not be to place a Black man at the head of an empire that continues to heap horrific suffering on the vast majority of people of color.
West then walked the crowd through the process, and reasoning, behind his own decision to become a "critical supporter" of Obama's campaign. West joked that when he saw Newsweek heavily promoting Obama early in his campaign, "my suspicion was not just doubled, it was cubed." He then described speaking to Obama on the phone, and asking him if he would be true to the spirit of political activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Phil Berrigan. "I'll do the best I can," West quoted Obama as saying.
During his presentation, and then during the Q and A ,West argued that his concern for the world's oppressed compelled him to support Obama; he presented his decision as a tactical choice motivated by a desire to fend off the forces of fascism embodied in the McCain/Palin ticket and to end the age of Reagan-style conservatism. At one point, West argued that if McCain and Palin had emerged victorious, the dialogue he and Dix were having might not have been possible.
West mused that when Obama won the election, he was "relatively content," rather than euphoric. He added that the same factor that motivated him to support Obama—West's concern for the fate of humanity's downtrodden—moved him to be immediately critical of Obama after the election. For instance, West angrily ran down the list of Obama's team of economic advisers.
"Here comes Larry Summers!" West said. "Here comes Robert Rubin and his crew!" West contrasted Obama's $700 billion bailout to banks with his demand that the impoverished "pull themselves up by the bootstraps." And he condemned Obama's foreign policy team as a crew of "recycled neo-imperialists," as well as Obama's silence in the face of Israel's massacre in Gaza.
One of the more stirring moments of the program came when West, after alluding to the vicious FBI and CIA repression of resistance and revolutionary movements in the 1960s, sarcastically acknowledged the likely presence of federal agents in the room—"We know the CIA and FBI are here; we welcome you," he said, to thunderous applause and laughter—and then proceeded to put them on notice that the people in the room would continue to resist the crimes of their government, and to hold the government accountable for these crimes, and would not be deterred.
This was the sort of bold, unapologetic seizing of the political and ideological offensive that can give heart and courage to many people.
"We end with a call to action," West concluded, praising the young faces in the front row who were part of the Revolutionary Youth Summer Project. "You have to make reform and revolution a way of life."
After West concluded, Taylor returned to the podium, and said, "If you can believe this, now it's going to get really interesting."
She was right. During the Q and A from the moderators, and then the audience, both the unity and differences between Dix and West came into sharper focus. Taylor began by asking each speaker to describe his views on democracy, given that each of them had spoken of America's foundation of wars, slavery, and genocide. West stated very bluntly that, while he agreed that the U.S. was an empire, he believed in the "expansion of forms of democracy within the capitalist project," while Dix referenced Bob Avakian's three sentences on democracy in arguing that speaking about democracy in a society divided into classes was "meaningless and worse," and that the key questions that must be posed are which class is ruling, and whether the democracy it employs reinforces, or works to eliminate, class divisions.
"America was founded on slavery and genocide," Dix said, "but it was also democratic."
He went on to point out that American democracy was based, from its origins, on the violent exclusion of entire groups of people, and that it was on that basis that democracy was extended to one particular group—white men. He also reminded the audience that the American form of government involves dictatorship, not just democracy: when did the American people get to vote on ending the wars in the Middle East? he asked. Dix further stated that the goal of revolutionaries was not to "perfect" the system of U.S. imperialism, which commits crimes all over the world; it was to end that system.
Two of the five questions from the audience focused on the relationship between individuals transforming themselves and the overall transformation of society. The answers to these questions brought out further differences in the viewpoints of Dix and West. In response to an evacuee from New Orleans who argued that "revolution takes place internally," West largely agreed: After saying that talk of revolutionary overthrowing was "not my language," West added, "First and foremost, we have to muster the courage to bear witness to the system of evils inside of us."
Dix, on the other hand, essentially argued that West had the relationship between societal and individual change reversed: "It is through the course of resistance that we will change," Dix said. To illustrate the point, Dix drew on his own personal experience as a war resister who served time in Leavenworth prison rather than serve the imperialist army in Vietnam. When he was drafted, he faced a series of choices: He could serve in Vietnam; he could flee to Canada; or he could stay in the U.S. and be part of the resistance. He chose the latter course of action, which then set him on a radical (and eventually revolutionary) pathway.
The next question, asked by a young Black woman, was simple but profound: "How do you resist?" Within both Dix and West's responses was a sense that the decision to resist could come about in many different ways, and take many different forms. Dix said that the specific event which fills an individual with a strong sense of injustice and compels them to act politically could be a global issue, like the U.S. wars for empire, or it could be something more local and immediate, like seeing police harassing youth on the corner. As an individual resists, Dix said, their eyes start to open, and they realize that the atrocities against which they are acting are not isolated acts, but rather systemic. Dix said his orientation was to resist on the basis of putting forth that revolution was the solution to the particular problems being fought, and to unite with others who were genuine about resistance even if they did not agree with that view.
West drew an analogy between becoming involved in resistance and falling in love: As one enters into either process, an old part of them dies and a new part of them is born. West said that people can resist in a lot of ways, including through art; he cited Nina Simone's use of song and Talib Kweli's use of hip-hop as forms of fighting the power.
Towards the end of the program, there were two moments that exemplified the spirit of unity amidst struggle (friendly struggle with one another, and fierce struggle against the status quo), and the spirit of lively exchange, that characterized the evening. First, Dix broke out into a rendition of the Isley Brothers' version of "Ohio," with the opening lines: "Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'/We're finally on our own/ This summer I hear the drummin'/ Four dead in Ohio/Gotta get down to it. Soldiers are gunning us down. Should have been done long ago."
The audience clapped in rhythm along with Dix, and cheered when he finished. West leaned over and embraced him.
"That was one of my favorite performances of my lifetime," a young white woman would say after the event. "And I'm 22 years old."
A moment later, West said that the reason he reads the works of Bob Avakian and wrestles with him is not because he is a communist but, "He is a certain kind of human being who has raised his voice and in his project that includes communism, I see some character, I see some quality of service to the poor, I see those who are concerned to sacrifice, I see a willingness to wrestle with deep issues that the mainstream does not want to wrestle with, including mainstream intellectuals."
While it is, of course, crucial to win as many people as possible over to the need for communist revolution—and the need to take up Avakian and his work on that basis—it is also crucial to building a revolutionary movement that broad sections of people, including those who are not communists, support, engage, and defend Avakian. The fact that West, a prominent and influential Black intellectual, made the public statement that he did, even though it will likely make him the target of unprincipled attacks from reactionaries and some "progressives" alike, is a big deal, and potentially an important opening in creating a culture of appreciation, promotion, and popularization of Avakian and his work.
In between questions from the moderators and the audience, Clyde Young of the Revolutionary Communist Party delivered a moving and convincing argument for the critical importance of revolutionary theory in general, and Revolution newspaper in particular. Young's speech was in tune with one of the major lessons of the program overall, which is that one of the first and most important steps in building revolution—or even mass resistance—is widely spreading the understanding of what fundamental change really means, and what it will require.
Since the event was a fundraiser for not only Revolution Books, but also the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF), Young placed particular emphasis on the impact that spreading revolutionary consciousness can have within the nation's penitentiaries.
Young recalled digging into the works of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, and immersing himself in revolutionary theory, while serving a 17-year prison sentence. At the time, he said, Revolution newspaper did not exist, so he had to break down and interpret works like the Communist Manifesto on his own. "Today," Young said, "Revolution is a lifeline for many, many prisoners behind walls."
Young told the crowd that Revolution newspaper frequently received letters from prisoners who were wrestling with the works of Avakian, and of the party in general. And he said that the paper had the potential to powerfully transform people, and the way they viewed the world; forging unity, rather than needless division, among different sections of the oppressed.
"Just changing the color of the president won't get the job done," Young said. "What we have to do is change the world. But to change the world, we have to understand it."
At the close of his presentation, Young informed the crowd that the newspaper subscriptions of 400 prisoners were due to expire after the month. He asked if anyone in the crowd was willing to donate $500. One person raised their hand to indicate they would be willing if two others stepped forward as well. Huge applause emanated from the crowd when the third and final donor stepped forward.
Young then asked if anyone were willing to donate $100, in order to buy three subscriptions for prisoners: at least two people stepped forward.
After the program ended, it was clear that people of many different strata and perspectives had been energized, inspired, and stimulated by the event; they had been provoked to think about new questions, and about old questions in new ways. Audience members expressed appreciation that they had the opportunity to hear frank, critical discussion of Obama and his presidency, in addition to blunt exposure of the reality that his ascendancy had not altered the imperialist system or halted its crimes.
"It was amazing!" a middle-aged white woman said of the program. (She seemed anxious to get where she was going, and efforts to have an extended conversation with her were unfortunately unsuccessful.)
"I'm new to this," she continued. "I'm not a revolutionary. I'm not a communist. I found them [the speakers] both very articulate and very real and true. I was surprised how much I agreed with them."
Asked to elaborate on why she said she was "surprised," the woman responded, "I'm a very centrist kind of person."
A young Black bank employee who was born and raised in Newark, and who described himself as a "freethinker," was very enthusiastic about both speakers. "It's so appropriate, what they're saying in terms of our view of Obama," he said, "the euphoria of a Black man in the White House, but the bottom line is he presides over a very racistand oppressive system."
"I thought the discussion was relevant in terms of creating that space to talk about Obama," another young Black man said. "Not the person, but Obama the president and what it means to the revolution or class struggles or different issues we're facing now. It's definitely timely, since Obama's been in office for more than six months now. It's good to have people who are out there thinking critically about how is Obama being the first African-American president going to address the issues that are systematic within the United States and capitalism."
He added that he was unfamiliar with Carl Dix before the event, and said he very much enjoyed hearing a person of color put forth a communist viewpoint. "I think I never really thought of the communist party as being relevant in American politics, to be honest with you," the man said. "I had nothing to disagree with them, it just seems like a relic of the past. It's kind of refreshing to see that there are people who are trying to create a paradigm shift, essentially, and not just look within the system and try to tinker with things within the system, but really say the system is inherently structured to perpetrate everything we are against."
Jenny, a 51-year-old white artist from England, said she wished she had heard more clashes between the speakers. "I thought they were being more careful of each other," Jenny said. She said she was quite familiar with both Dix and West going into the event, and that she knew they differed over the question of revolution; she felt that difference had been muted during the event.
"I suppose the main thing they were trying to focus on was Obama," Jenny said, "and I think it was useful that they did that for a lot of people."
Jenny agreed with the speakers that Obama's presidency was sucking many people into supporting the crimes of this government, and constituted a significant obstacle from the standpoint of building resistance to these crimes. However, she said that she viewed revolution as impossible.
"Why?" she was asked.
"Because I'm a pessimist," she said, with a laugh.
Asked to explain that sentiment further, Jenny replied, "The U.S. and the whole system that it perpetuates, I don't believe it's possible to end it the way you guys think it could be ended."
"Why?" Jenny was asked again.
"It's too powerful," Jenny replied.
Jose, a 21-year-old Latino student at Baruch College, said the roughly two-and-a-half hour event had held his attention the entire time.
"It was very stimulating and thought-provoking in the exchange of views that was shared by the audience, and of course Cornel West and Carl Dix," Jose said.
Jose, too, said he was already quite familiar with West—but not Dix—heading into the program. "But I'll start looking into him after the show," Jose added.
Asked what he thought of the speakers (particularly Dix, since he was far less aware of him going in), Jose said he was struck by Dix's emphasis on the need to radically change ideas and institutions, rather than simply looking to politicians to bring change.
"His point of view on society, and his approach to society, is new to me," Jose said.
However, echoing a comment made by the freethinker from Newark, Jose added that he still wasn't clear about what ultimate solution Dix was advocating. "I didn't understand what type of revolution he wanted to bring," Jose said, wondering if Dix envisioned means such as protest or civil disobedience as vehicles to implement radical change.
After the RCP's revolutionary strategy was explained to him—“hastening while awaiting" a revolutionary situation by working now to win millions of people over to understanding that the atrocities committed against the people of this planet stem from a common system, and that revolution is required to overcome that system, thereby laying the foundation for the people to actually make revolution when there is a crisis in the system—Jose said that he had more clarity on the question.
The young white woman who had raved about Dix's impromptu singing performance was equally thrilled about the event as a whole. "It was exhilarating," she said. "It was awesome. I got chills so many times just listening to people speak with so much passion about things that they really believe in. To hear other people say that they would die for something that they believe in, and to be talking about a poor working class, is a conversation that most people don't even consider because they don't belong to it. And I feel like I very much belong to it."
A few moments later, she spoke powerfully to the impact a program like this can have on those in attendance, and those who learn about the event after the fact.
"I think that for people to be talking about this stuff," she said, "versus all the trivial, superficial shit that goes on in everyone's daily lives—to find other people who want to have a conversation that's meaningful—is refreshing.”
Revolution #171, August 2, 2009
Iran’s political crisis may not be at the top of U.S. news headlines at the moment, but it is continuing in new and different ways and is far from over. Sharp divisions continue, and are developing at the top of the Islamic Republic. And many streams of mass anger, outrage, and courageous protest from below continue to break out in defiance of brutal state repression.
This has been the biggest political upheaval in Iran since the 1978-79 revolution that overthrew the U.S.-installed and backed Shah and brought the Islamic Republic and clerical theocracy to power. While immediately triggered by infighting at the highest levels of the Islamic Republic and comprised of diverse political viewpoints (including many who —at least for now —follow the more liberal of the Iranian theocrats and hope that the Islamic Republic can be reformed for the better), at a deeper level, this uprising reflected profound hatred on the part of significant sections of Iranian society of the suffocating and oppressive character of life under Islamic theocratic rule.
It is the responsibility of people in the U.S. to support the uprising of the people, while opposing moves by “our own” rulers to dig their claws deeper into Iran. For analysis and background on the situation in Iran, see “Response To Election Fraud Reveals Deep Schisms in Iranian Ruling Circle and Broad Based Profound Hatred of the Regime —UPRISING IN IRAN” by V.T. (Revolution 6/28/09); and “Roots of the Iranian Uprising: A Society Drowning in Corruption, Destruction, Superstition, Dark Religious Ignorance, Drug Addiction and Prostitution,” by Larry Everest (Revolution 6/28/09). For a brief survey of the role of U.S. imperialism, see “60 Years of U.S. Intervention in Iran: A Horror for the People.” All these articles are available at revcom.us. Revolution will speak to the developing situation in Iran in upcoming issues.
Following are excerpts from coverage of protests and repression in Iran distributed by A World To Win News Service (AWTWNS). These articles and others from AWTWNS are available, in full, at revcom.us.
On July 9, the tenth anniversary of the student upsurge that marked a new wave of the Iranian people’s struggle, thousands of demonstrators poured into the streets of Tehran and many other cities to commemorate the anniversary and continue their protests against the regime. Various authorities, including the governor of Tehran, the heads of the security forces and the Interior Ministry, had all vowed to “crush” any such actions. But despite the clear danger of beatings, torture and death, people came out, and they stayed out to confront baton-wielding police, Basij militiamen on motorbikes, tear gas and warning gunfire. In some cases they did battle with the security forces, and occasionally even overran them.
The people who decided to demonstrate were aware that the regime was not just making idle threats. The day before, the authorities had announced that 500 of the 2,000 people they reported arrested were still being held and would face trial. Since prisoners are not allowed any contact with families or lawyers, many people in Iran —and Amnesty International —fear they are being tortured to produce confessions that foreign powers are behind the protests, and that this could be used as a pretext to justify executions. (AI press release June 29) Many people seem to have “disappeared.” There is good reason to believe that the death toll has been far higher than the several dozen reported by the government.
Following are excerpts of two on-the-scene reports from Tehran received by the student newsletter Bazr.
What an enormity is associated with 18 Tir (July 9). Everyone is out, young, old and middle aged. This time the people have learned not to gather in only one street. There are mass protests in seven or eight central Tehran locations. There is no sign of silence. Everyone is shouting a slogan. Some are shouting “Allah-u Akbar,” but soon “Death to the dictator” and “The rule of coup d’état—resign, resign” replaces it. The center of clashes is the intersection of Vali Asr and Enghelab streets, in Daneshjoo (Student) Park. The crowd is concentrated and dense and the Revolutionary Guards anti-riot forces attack with tear gas and batons. Faces are bloody. The crowd continuously goes into the street from the sidewalks and then back again. The cars, like two weeks ago, keep sounding their horns (as a sign of support). There is a continuous honking. Again fists are in the air, along with the V sign of victory and solidarity. A wave of people is moving towards Enghelab Square and Tehran University from all the main streets. This time we hear the people sing a song they used to sing during the 1978-79 revolution, but the word “Shah” has been replaced by “Mahmoud” (Ahmadinejad): “Mahmoud the traitor I wish you would become vagrant/ you destroyed our country/ you killed the youth of my country…death to you, death to you!”
…Many women, many mothers in the front row! Furious, fresh and inspiring! Again we are attacked. This time the plainclothes “security” forces are with them.... A few hundred people go into a market passage next to Laleh Park, but there’s no way out there, so they’re trapped. Along with a few others, I jump over the fences and barbed wire and enter the park. We go towards Amirabad. …Amirabad is extremely crowded. On the corner where Neda was martyred (Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman murdered by the Basij while she stood on a curb during a demonstration), the crowd is chanting, “Death to the dictator.” An old man—he says he is 80—happily proclaims, “Nobody is afraid anymore. Everybody has come out. It’s time for them (he means the regime) to go. Look, so many people—but unlike 1978 there are no mullahs among us! We will avenge Neda’s blood!” He’s right. The people have understood the situation well. They have grasped the weakness and vulnerability of the regime. Nobody fears anything. Everyone, young and old, shouts that slogan, firmer and stronger than three weeks ago. A family in a car slowly moving north on Amirabad is honking the horn continuously. A young man sticks his head out of the car and says to the people, “Do you still want to continue your struggle peacefully! Can’t you see they have guns?” His sister is shouting, “Death to the dictator!” I just repeat the slogan with them and hold up my fist….
Following is from a call issued July 3rd by the Iranian student newsletter Bazr (www.bazr1384.com, www.bazr1384.blogfa.com, e-mail: email@example.com)
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 be buried in unmarked graves.
...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!
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 #171, August 2, 2009
From a Reader
In taking up and spreading this message, “the revolution we need ... the leadership we have” I’ve learned about some positive experience in fund-raising and organizing I wanted to share.
To put it sharply, you are not serious about fundamentally changing the world if you are not organizing people into the revolutionary movement. And while that takes all kinds of forms, people broadly and on different levels, contributing and raising funds for projects that advance the revolution is a tremendously important and needed expression of conscious support for and participation in this revolution.
Nothing we are setting out to accomplish will be possible without this.
First, in the run-up to this campaign, there was a well-planned and organized anti-July 4th picnic in a neighborhood where the revolutionaries had been doing distribution of Revolution newspaper for a few months. The picnic was focused around building a sustainer network for the newspaper in this neighborhood. In all, about 75 people from different nationalities came throughout the day.
They built for this by going out with enlarged centerfolds and pages from Revolution, playing music and selling copies of Revolution. They had organizing meetings to plan for it where they struggled over the basis and need for people, including people with very little means, to contribute to Revolution. They talked about the role of Revolution in being the organizational and political foundation and scaffolding of this revolutionary movement. The spreading of this newspaper is the responsibility of anyone who wants to see a different world, and while different people can give on different levels, giving and raising money for Revolution is an opportunity to participate in the revolution in an absolutely essential way.
They also struggled over the content of the program at the picnic itself—that the culture couldn’t be degrading towards women, play on the contradiction between Blacks or Latinos or uphold the “gang mentality” of being out to get me and mine. Importantly, they set goals for this few weeks of work: 15 sustainers amounting to $150 per month to go towards Revolution newspaper. They were able to get 13 sustainers amounting to $185 per month. Half of these were pledges, and there was an immediate plan to follow up on that.
At the picnic itself, along with a showing of part of the filmed talk by Bob Avakian, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About, there were testimonials from three people about what they think of this newspaper and why others should be part of sustaining it. One person the organizers met recently had spent time in prison where he was influenced by revolutionary nationalists from the ’60s. He committed to sustain Revolution at $20 per month and said the following, “The revolution is about raising the consciousness of the masses about the oppression and injustice—not just their own, but worldwide. That is the purpose of a vanguard—to be the voice of the people. Fighting for justice as well as revolution—to replace this capitalist government that constantly oppresses our brothers and sisters. A revolutionary realizes that to struggle is to go the long distance … to win is not caring how far to go.”
A homeless man pledged to raise $10 per month for Revolution by washing cars and he went around helping collect funds from others at the picnic. Someone else had an idea for a youth basketball tournament to raise funds. In addition to the sustainers mentioned above, $405 was collected. The bulk of this was from one section of immigrants, but they also raised smaller amounts from passing around the fund-raising bucket.
You see in this picnic, and the work around it, how fund-raising for Revolution newspaper is a concrete part of building a base of support—politically and organizationally—in an ongoing way on a revolutionary basis.
The second example I heard about was in relation to a more major fund-raising event for the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund. Going into the event, people made a plan to be freed up the day after so they could move in real time to learn about who came and to get back to people. At the event itself, lots of people gave their names—both to contribute money but also just to be contacted. This happens all the time. But this time, instead of waiting several days to get back to them, or just entering their name into a database, someone did a little bit of research on who these people were and they were gotten back to immediately. The revolutionaries were able to learn what people thought of the event, they learned more about the kinds of people who attended and were able to set up several meetings just a couple days after. Also, people appreciated hearing back right away.
A lot of times people will go to an event and be moved and even shook by what they learned and the challenge posed to them, but it doesn’t end up going anywhere and it just becomes something they went to and they’re on to the next thing. If we’re following up with people immediately it both builds on whatever they were just impacted by and what compelled them to contribute or give you their name in the first place, and it lets them know we’re serious about bringing them into this revolution—on whatever level they’re ready to throw in.
My last thought in this was from experience of being out on the street with this new message and call from the RCP. We were making a big splash with this, marching with big red flags and bringing a real sense that “the revolutionaries are here!” This was great fun and got a lot of attention. But when we stopped to talk to people more one on one, sometimes we ended up spending more time with the people who were less interested or had more backward arguments and less with people who wanted to get a copy of the statement right away. (Don’t get me wrong, we should sharply and substantively answer people’s backward shit, but it’s not where we should be spending the bulk of our time.) I think part of this has to do with the fact that sometimes it can be more challenging to deepen the engagement with people who are more readily open to discussing revolution. The questions are often more complicated and deeper. And it puts it on us to challenge people to get with the revolution. There’s a tremendous amount in this message to wield with people—but we have to put that to people, “it’s up to us to get with it and get to the challenge of making this happen.”
We should get into this on the spot: the people themselves have to be taking responsibility for the revolution—engaging it, spreading it and funding the projects that advance it.
And those of us at the core of these efforts have to be oriented and organized to both put this challenge to people and find the ways for them to take up these needs. (I heard one idea that if teams with this message are out on the street and someone gives you their contact info, you should text or email them right on the spot, log in if they bought a bundle, how much they gave and where they’re planning to distribute it.) And again, you’re just not serious if you don’t follow this all the way through, with deepening struggle and engagement.
My final point—along with the content of the message itself, we should be talking to people about the goals of this campaign and what that has to do with making revolution. The three objectives laid out in last week’s editorial (making THIS revolution known throughout society, having Bob Avakian become a household word, and drawing forward a core of people who are on a mission to go out and fight for this line, struggling for communism and becoming communists themselves). We have to get into all this with people—how we see these three interrelated objectives as key to breaking out of the suppression and suffocation gripping society, key to building a serious movement for revolution. And we need to enlist their participation, thinking and financial contributions to make this happen!
I look forward to sharing more with you soon, and reading correspondence from others in the pages of Revolution.
Revolution #171, August 2, 2009
In early April, after a month-long trial, a jury in Denver concluded that Ward Churchill had been wrongfully fired from his position as Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado (CU). He was dismissed in retaliation for a controversial essay he wrote after 9/11—which was critical of the U.S., and not because of academic misconduct as the university claimed. As we wrote at the time (“Verdict in Lawsuit Against University of Colorado: Jury Finds Ward Churchill Wrongly Fired,” Revolution 161), “The jury verdict was a welcome development, and a setback to the forces who are working to suppress critical thinking on campuses, and in society. But this battle is not over.”
On July 7, Denver Chief Judge Larry Naves vacated—threw out—the verdict and issued a ruling that gave CU everything they wanted. Professor Churchill is not to be reinstated, and he is not entitled to lost earnings or a financial settlement. This ruling by Naves is as ludicrous as it is utterly baseless; it represents a decision to crudely step in to ensure that CU prevails, in spite of the truth.
As regular readers of Revolution are aware, this case began in early 2005 when Ward Churchill became the target of a highly orchestrated, nationwide right-wing political witch-hunt after an essay he’d written shortly after 9/11 came to light. The attack on Churchill became the focal point of a major assault on critical thinking and dissenting scholars in academia that continues to this day. A chilling message spread to faculty across campuses to “watch out!”—criticism of past or present U.S. crimes could threaten your reputation, your job, even your career.
Faculty, students and others stepped out to oppose the demand for Churchill to be fired, seeing it as a key battlefront in the growing push by powerful right wing forces to use this controversy to bring sweeping changes to university life, and intimidate and silence other progressive and radical scholars. University faculty wrote letters and op-ed pieces for newspapers and magazines, and circulated statements signed by hundreds and hundreds of professors in support of Churchill. A full page ad appeared in the New York Review of Books signed by many well known public intellectuals, including Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Richard Falk, Derrick Bell, Rashid Khalidi, Mahmood Mamdani, Irene Gendzier, and others calling on CU to stop their push to fire him.
The university first tried to fire Churchill for the content of his essay, but then decided it would be wiser to switch gears and go after him another way. They combined several mainly old complaints about aspects of Churchill’s scholarship, and even solicited another; formed a faculty committee to investigate headed by a former prosecutor known at the time to be biased against Churchill, and used the committee’s findings of alleged research misconduct to fire him.
The verdict confirmed Churchill’s contention that this investigation of his scholarship, under a microscope, should not have taken place, and was for the sole purpose of finding a pretext to fire him for his scholarship and political views. Prominent scholars—such as Noam Chomsky and Stanley Fish—have made the point that no researcher’s work could stand up to this kind of scrutiny.
The court ruling, in large part lifted word-for-word from the motion by CU’s attorneys, accepts CU’s claim that the Regents hold “quasi-judicial immunity,” as a matter of law. In essence this means that the school’s governing board can do practically anything, including fire faculty members for speech they find offensive, and the faculty have no remedy, as long as the university’s formal procedures are followed in firing them. (Find the court papers at www.wardchurchill.net)
By making this ruling after the verdict has been reached, Naves is openly granting “quasi-judicial immunity” to a body whose members are known to have publicly denounced the “litigant” before trial; admitted being subjected to pressure to get rid of Churchill; and were found to have taken unconstitutional action in order to punish the exercise of First Amendment-protected speech. What does it mean for a powerful body to be given this kind of immunity for highly political decisions over the lives and careers of university faculty and scholars, including tenured faculty? This, and some of the points that follow, are taken from a letter opposing the ruling that is being circulated in the academic community by the Defend Dissent and Critical Thinking in Academia network.
Brian Leiter, philosopher and legal scholar, currently John Wilson Professor of Law at the U. of Chicago, described the decision as having “possibly catastrophic implications” in his on-line Report (Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports), titled: “Attention State University Faculty in Colorado: You Have Almost No Remedy if the Regents Violate your First Amendment Rights.” But the impact of this ruling, if it is allowed to stand, will be felt by faculty far beyond Colorado.
The judge provides numerous different, conflicting arguments for his decision, no doubt hoping to make it unlikely to be overturned on appeal. That’s why, having first thrown out the jury’s verdict, Naves then goes on to invoke it. He claims that the jury’s $1 damage award compels him to deny reinstatement. “If I am required to enter an order that is ‘consistent with the jury’s findings,’ I cannot order a remedy that ‘disregards the jury’s implicit finding’ that Professor Churchill has suffered no actual damages that an award of reinstatement would prospectively remedy.” This argument is completely baseless. The jury’s verdict that Churchill was fired in violation of his protected speech—which can only rightfully be remedied by returning him to his job—is in no way mitigated by the amount of the damage award. The argument that the amount of damages determines whether a constitutional violation should be remedied is absurd.
As it turns out, the judge’s attempt to interpret the jury’s findings is also contradicted by one of the jurors, who has written an affidavit filed with Churchill’s response to the ruling. In it the juror explains that “It was difficult for us to put a value on Churchill’s emotional distress, and in the end, we listened to Churchill’s testimony that the case was not about the money and hoped that the Judge would give him his job back or give him some compensation.”
In search of yet another argument for overturning the meaning of the verdict, the ruling claims: “The jury determined only that the University did not prove that a majority of the Regents would have voted to dismiss Professor Churchill in the absence of his political speech. That is a very different question than whether Professor Churchill engaged in academic misconduct…” The judge argues that despite the verdict, Churchill committed such serious academic misconduct that it would be wrong, and harmful to the university to reinstate him. As Churchill’s attorney David Lane’s Reconsideration motion puts it, how can there be no evidence of academic misconduct serious enough to justify Churchill’s firing, but there is sufficient academic misconduct in the court’s mind to deny reinstatement?
At trial the jurors heard testimony by experts in American Indian Studies and Indian Law highly critical of the findings of the faculty investigative committee, as well as by witnesses for the university, and that was a critical part of the basis for their conclusions. Again, as the juror’s affidavit states:
A majority of the Jurors thought that the academic misconduct charges were not valid. We felt that the procedures afforded to Churchill by the University of Colorado, before his termination, were biased. In fact, during our deliberations, we listed every witness that testified at trial, and determined that the majority of the University of Colorado’s witnesses were biased and dishonest.
Jonathan Turley, George Washington University Law School professor and frequent national media commentator, called the refusal to reinstate Churchill “bizarre.” He blasted Naves’ final argument that puts the blame for refusing reinstatement on Ward Churchill’s statements showing “hostility to the university”:
The university opposed the reinstatement on the ground that, if he returned, the relationship ‘would not be an amicable one.’ That was obvious from the jury verdict. However, that is like using the bias as a defense. First, the University is found to have improperly terminated Churchill due to its hatred for his views but then successfully blocks reinstatement due to its hatred of his views.
* * * * *
We recently wrote there is “a great deal at stake for academia and for society overall right now in upholding and defending this verdict, and deepening its lessons. An ugly, high-stakes public witch-hunt by dangerous, reactionary, and powerful forces, aimed at spreading a repressive chill over the universities, has been dragged into the light, and dealt a setback. But these forces, far from retreating, are regrouping, and trying to turn the meaning of this verdict on its head.” This absurd, twisted and clearly unjust decision by Denver Chief Judge Naves only contributes to those objectives, and it must be opposed. And at the same time, the debate we called for in that article is needed more than ever, with those within and outside academia who, in spite of the verdict, are still taken in by a distorted view of what the case is about.
As the fall term approaches, faculty and students, and everyone concerned with the defense of the unfettered search for the truth, intellectual ferment, and dissent, need to step forward on campuses around the country and develop plans for how to call out, build opposition to, and to delegitimize, this ruling, calling meetings and rallies, writing letters to newspapers and to CU and the Colorado court, taking out ads, and more. And broader segments of society need to join with them.
Again, as we wrote earlier, “The challenge to administrators, faculty, and especially students is to stand up to this assault. And broader segments of society must join with them. We must continue to defend those like Ward Churchill when they are singled out for attack, and, more generally, defend the ability of professors to hold dissenting and radical views. It is vitally important that the new generation of students step forward to defend an unfettered search for the truth, intellectual ferment, and dissent. One way or another, this struggle over the university and intellectual life will have profound repercussions on what U.S. society will be like, and on the prospects for bringing a whole new society into being.
Revolution #171, August 2, 2009
In issue 170 of Revolution, we published a message and call from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA: THE REVOLUTION WE NEED...THE LEADERSHIP WE HAVE.
Since then, revolutionaries have hit the streets across the country, taking this statement into the neighborhoods and out to high schools, to concerts and gathering spots. Getting thousands of copies of this statement into people’s hands. Many people, all over the country, have taken multiple copies to distribute in different parts of town (and made down payments on those copies) or to sell in their stores. The DVD Revolution: Why It’s Possible, Why It’s Necessary and What It’s All About is getting into people’s hands – and a movement of showings is beginning.
This all-out effort is the beginning of something new, something that has never been done before in this country. People have been challenged to join this revolutionary movement in a multitude of ways...and be part of initiating a whole new stage of revolution to emancipate humanity, here and around the world.
There has been an unleashing of broad debate and controversy as the revolutionaries have boldly taken this message and call into the world, on the streets and in smaller gatherings – and people are being challenged to wake up and shake off the ways the system puts on us...drawing forth people’s aspirations for a different – and better world. And this has kicked off wide-ranging debate and controversy. Is this a system we live under – and what are the workings of that system? What is the revolution we are talking about? Do we need revolution and do we need to build a movement for revolution now...who needs to join that movement...and what are the many different forms of participation that are needed?
In this Spreading Revolution and Communism forum, we are publishing some of the first letters summing up this beginning experience. We urge everyone to correspond with Revolution, as this revolutionary movement spreads to cities and areas all over this country, in big ways and small. If you join one of the revolutionary crews that are taking out the message and call...if you host a showing of the DVD...if you organize a bake sale or barbeque to raise funds for projects that advance the revolution...or bring together people to sit down with the revolutionaries to discuss the statement, write to Revolution. All our readers need to read about and get a living sense of how this movement they are a part of is taking root and growing – and all the ways in which people from all corners of society can join and contribute to it. Important breakthroughs and lessons learned, and urgent questions that come up as we take out this message and call – and how people are answering them need to be reported. This will be a process which is full of contradiction and struggle. These exchanges online and in the pages of our paper will contribute to quickly building on and multiplying our advances and overcoming our mistakes and shortcomings. This is experience which we should learn from and which should spur us on to reach out and spread the word even further, to give, as the statement says, “people the means to become part of this revolutionary movement, and organizing into this movement everyone who wants to make a contribution to it, who wants to work and fight, to struggle and sacrifice, not to keep this nightmare of a world going as it is but to bring a better world into being.”
There are several ways to send correspondence to the paper: 1) Email your correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org; 2) Go online to revcom.us. Click on the box that says “Send Us Your Comments.” Enter text in the “Comment” section and click on “Send Comment”; and 3) Send by regular mail to RCP Publications, PO Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654.
Revolution #171, August 2, 2009
From A World to Win News Service
July 20, 2009. A World to Win News Service.
The July G8 meeting held in L’Aquila, Italy, was a summit of shame in many dimensions.
On dealing with starvation in Africa and elsewhere in the oppressed countries, one of the event’s key claims to be something other than a conclave of the world’s top plunderers, this G8 talkfest did little more than re-promise the same aid money it pledged at the Gleneagles G8 meeting four years ago and failed to deliver ($15 billion) plus a last-minute sweetener for appearances’ sake ($5 billion). Those 2005 promises would not have dealt with the structural problems of countries whose economies are subordinated to and crushed by the imperialist world market, but this contemptuous “regifting” (recycling of old presents) added insult to injury. It was touted as an achievement by U.S. President Barack Obama. According to UN statistics, the number of malnourished people in the world has been rising for the past two years and will top 1.2 billion people this year.
On Iran, the G8 accomplished the trick of performing two criminal acts at once: it both failed to condemn the Islamic Republic’s bloodthirsty suppression of protests and at the same time threatened it with further economic sanctions and worse if it refused to give in to U.S.-led demands. This, too, was promoted by Obama. The following week, all 168 passengers died in the crash of a worn-out Iranian airliner—a dramatic example of who is harmed by such sanctions.
The most publicized aspect of this G8 was its communiqué on global warming. Far from representing anything positive, future historians may point to it as an indication of the criminal madness of today’s world system. This is an issue on which many people hoped Obama would break with Bush-era policies. Yet led by Obama himself, the meeting blatantly rejected meaningful action.
It’s true that the L’Aquila summit gave lip service to the scientific consensus that a rise in average world temperatures of more than 2° Celsius is likely to produce dangerous conditions for people and the planet. What did it propose to do about it? It set an “aspirational” (non-binding) goal of halving carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2050. Obama and the other G8 leaders pretended that this time they’ve changed and really recognized and begun to deal with the problem. There are a number of reasons why this is much less of an advance than it seems:
Nowhere does the nature of the capitalist system’s approach to the potential global warming catastrophe stand out more vividly than in the widely touted gimmick of issuing companies carbon gas emission credits so that instead of eliminating pollution, they can buy and sell pollution credits as a further source of enrichment. The experience in Germany, where this market is particularly developed is a good example: some of the country’s biggest companies have made huge amounts of money in this market, while Germany—piously painting itself as being on the cutting edge of greenness—continues to be one of the developed world’s worst polluters. If some smaller European countries like Switzerland have become cleaner, it’s because they export more money capital rather than finished goods compared to Germany.
Obama and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown tried to deal with the widespread disappointment with this year’s G8 global warming communiqué by calling it a good step forward to more progress at the December 2009 Copenhagen world climate change summit. Given how bad L’Aquila was, it’s not impossible that Copenhagen will do—or at least say—something better. But now that we can’t blame the G8’s do-nothing attitude on Bush’s stubbornness, L’Aquila is an illustration of what we can expect from the imperialist system no matter who leads what government. In fact, it’s a good indication of the limits imposed by the workings of the capitalist system.
To put it briefly, the potential powers of humanity’s productive forces and knowledge cannot be focused on human needs (including saving the planet) because of the existing economic and social relations: the capitalist system, which means the dictates of capital in economic terms and the political dictatorship of the capitalist class, and the imperialist division of the world into monopoly capitalist countries and the nations they dominate.
A November 21 and 28, 2005 AWTWNS article explains in more depth the economic constraints preventing capitalism from being able to respond to global warming in a way commensurate with the danger. It concludes: “Dealing with this kind of potential catastrophe will require the experience, thinking, creativity, efforts and sometimes sacrifice of the human race as a whole in all its billions around the world. No one could argue that such a thing is even conceivable under the present economic, social and political system that holds the globe in its grip.
“Development and greenhouse gases do not have to be synonymous. Many scientists and environmental activists have explored the concept of sustainable development—an economy that can increasingly meet human needs without destroying the planet we live on. If society—eventually all of human society worldwide—were run not according to the principles of capitalism but those of socialism, why couldn’t planning whose highest goal was the emancipation and welfare of humanity and its environment create an economy to serve these ends? Why would humanity have to put up any more with the wastefulness and destruction imposed by capitalism? And what would prevent such a society from devoting the necessary resources to prevent or at least lessen the impact of natural catastrophes?”
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 #171, August 2, 2009
Willie “Mobile” Shaw grew up and lived his whole life in the Nickerson Gardens Housing Projects in Watts, Los Angeles. After working with revolutionaries there for a period of time, he joined the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. The hardship of his life conditions led to his having a serious illness, and he died on November 24, 2005, due to complications following surgery. The following is a statement by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, at the time of Willie Shaw’s death.
The death of Willie “Mobile” Shaw is a terrible and bitter loss. Willie wanted his life to be about something—something beyond the dog-eat-dog and the murderous madness this system brings down on people, and catches them up in, in a thousand ways every day. He joined the revolution, became a communist and dedicated his life to the liberation of all people who are oppressed by this system—not just people of one race, or in one neighborhood, but men and women of all races, nations, and languages, all over the world. Most of them Willie had never met, but he came to see that they shared a common fate and could bring a much better future into being. Willie’s life is proof that those this rotten system tries in every way to drag down—can rise up; that those the system treats as less than human—can become the liberators of all humanity.
Willie never turned his back on people who had not yet come to see the world as he had come to see it—as it really is; he never gave up on winning them to the fight for a radically different and much better world. Willie brought to the revolution a gigantic heart, a wealth of life experience and great wisdom drawn from that experience. I consider myself very fortunate to have met Willie and spent time talking with him. He asked me many questions—and he helped me learn many things. Willie said to me: “You are the only hope we have.” I have kept those words in my heart, with a deep sense of responsibility to live up to them. But Willie, and all the people like Willie in the world, are also the ones who give me hope—they represent the hope of humanity for a better world. Willie’s whole life experience, and his all too early death, cry out the need for revolution. And the changes Willie went through, in his all too short life—the way he came through so much to take up the cause of liberating humanity—shout out the possibility of revolution. As our hearts ache over the loss of Willie, let us keep in our hearts, and let us learn all we can, from the beautiful human being that Willie “Mobile” Shaw was and the way in which, in dedicating his life to revolution and communism, he truly made it count, in the greatest way possible.
Revolution #171, August 2, 2009
On September 16, 2008, the mangled body of 26-year-old Brandon McClelland was found on a country road outside Paris, in East Texas. Two white men were charged with murder for running over McClelland with a pickup truck and then dragging him down the road. On June 5, 2009 both men were released from prison when charges were dropped against them.
The horrible murder of Brandon McClelland brought to mind the 1998 the road-lynching of another Black man, 49-year-old James Byrd. In Jasper, another East Texas town, Byrd was beaten by 3 white racists, who then killed Byrd by chaining him to the back of a pickup truck and dragging him for 3 miles.
On July 21, about 200 people, including members of the New Black Panther Party, Nation of Islam, and others, rallied at the Paris courthouse. This was the latest in a series of protests against the dropping of the charges against the two white men. The protesters confronted a group of white supremacists who had shown up at the courthouse.
Revolution #171, August 2, 2009
Nearly 100 people gathered in a multinational neighborhood in LA for a July 4th picnic to raise funds for Revolution newspaper, as part of further forging the revolutionary movement. The theme, “Stop Thinking Like Americans! Start Thinking about Humanity!” was a magnet to many (and an outrage to others). For example, a few days before the picnic, a woman at a concert at the Santa Monica Pier read the statement from Bob Avakian in the centerfold of the paper about “If you can conceive of a world without America”, and said, “Yes! We need proletarian internationalism!”, gave $100 and got 5 picnic tickets on the spot. Another woman called Libros Revolucion and said that of all the choices on July 4th, she wanted to be with the people who are thinking about humanity.
The crowd was extremely diverse – lots of proletarians and young people from different areas of the city, college students, middle class professionals, and family members of comrades. One very important component were people from other parts of the world, including a core of Iranians who have been actively taking revolutionary politics to the almost daily demonstrations in support of the anti-government protests and street fighting in Iran. What united us all, on one level or another, was valuing the importance of Revolution. We came together to share a day of fun and relaxation, but also high revolutionary spirits and discussion with others who want a whole different world.
Our plan was to build for this picnic in a way that would expand the newspaper’s ties and influence, to unleash many more people to take responsibility for increasing the reach of the newspaper and to take responsibility for the fund raising needs that go together with that. There was some struggle among ourselves and with supporters about whether this was just going to be a nice day in the park, or if it made a difference if a significant group came together on the 4th to build this movement around the newspaper and raise the sustained financial support that’s needed. Many leaflets were distributed throughout the city, posters went up in key neighborhoods, and the picnic was announced on Michael Slate’s show on Pacifica radio station KPFK. A number of people carved out time to phone and email hundreds of people that have gotten the paper or otherwise have made contact with the revolutionary movement in the past year.
There were a number of ways that people contributed to the success of the picnic. We took the centerfold of the newspaper and the picnic flyer to businesses and got food donations from several Iranian businesses, produce from Latino and Chicano shopkeepers, as well as donations from individuals. Four supporters took initiative to get the food together – though in retrospect, we should have put a lot more emphasis on unleashing all kinds of people to contribute.
The program had some real quality. Many people were moved by the personal statements from several supporters who attended who spoke to how this newspaper has changed their understanding, their outlook, and/or their lives. Two young people read Joe Veale’s letter that had been printed on the back page of the paper about how he became a revolutionary in prison and why he called on people to contribute to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund. We also enjoyed the reading of a new poem called “What Is the Sound of an American Flag Burning?”
The testimonials about the newspaper were heartfelt and had a real impact on others. When one young supporter was asked to read Joe Veale’s statement at the picnic, she said it was a powerful piece, and loved the “Athenian deconstruction”. A young Latina we met at the LA Times Festival of Books said that she really related to one speech (about a father wanting to send shoes to Mexico to help the poor and the daughter’s struggle with him over giving it to revolution) and that she’s “one of those people” who want to give shoes to the poor, but she’s also realizing that we need revolution. She, like some other young people there, seem to be at a crossroads of what to give their lives to. Another young person said that he was agonizing over getting involved full-time in the revolutionary movement, but not feeling ready to make that leap. Yet another discussion was about Away with All Gods and the Declaration around fighting women’s oppression, and when a student said that “it was cool” how we knew all this, it was raised that “anybody can learn these things and through that build resistance against the shit that people go through.” The kind of communist work that we do with these people and others can be decisive in solidifying some cores around this revolutionary movement.
We raised nearly $1,000. Several Latino immigrant proletarians pledged to give additional money on a monthly basis. 20 t-shirts with the beautiful Revolution masthead in English and Spanish were sold with proceeds to go to the newspaper’s fund drive. And orders were taken for 5 photos at $25 each of struggles from the 1960’s by a photographer who is donating his prints for the fund drive. (An important suggestion was made by a newer supporter on her two-hour drive home. She thought that we should have had small group discussions after the program to solidify fundraising plans. We didn’t do that then, so we have some catching up to do.)
There was definitely motion and development off of the picnic. One of the people told the audience that he didn’t feel comfortable speaking in front of a crowd (“I’m shaking”), but felt that it was too important not to step up to the challenge. One of the points he made was how the paper shows how different class forces are trying to remake society in their image and how this applies to what’s going on in Iran. Another supporter said he should have spoken up about how he eagerly awaits the Party’s analysis of world events through the newspaper and then challenged others to become sustainers. Some people made commitments to begin monthly sustainers, to translate, distribute, or in some ways work with the newspaper. And this picnic laid the basis for going back to people who came and others who didn’t to expand the base of people sustaining the paper.
A woman we met at the Iran demos had gotten a $5 trial sub, then changed it to a $50 year-long sub after hearing a supporter speak about the importance this paper has to people internationally. A college student who is very new to communism was inspired to get a year’s sub at the picnic. An unemployed activist bought a 6-month sub; he is someone who through listening to Avakian’s 7 Talks, sees that the Chairman grasps the complexity involved in carrying the struggle through to socialism from many different angles. An older woman who came with her husband bought a trial sub; they had attended a recent bookstore program around torture and have a deep hatred for the direction that society has gone, but are also cynical about Americans changing. A number of newspapers were bought by passersby who were very attracted to the banners and large newspaper displays set up around the perimeter of our canopies and tables.
The picnic was marked by all kinds of lively and intense discussions over overflowing plates of food, and there were some borders broken down between nationalities, ages, classes. For example, Joe Veale sat down with a white professional couple and told them about how the Revolutionary Union (precursor to the RCP, USA) challenged him, unlike other groups that tailed him. Several people spoke about how they have been looking for an organization and are very happy to have found us. These are not isolated incidents. This reveals the basis for fighting through to reach our goals for this sustainer fund drive, and this picnic was an important step in getting there. The challenge now is to harvest and unleash the potential that began to take shape.
Revolution #171, August 2, 2009
On July 4th, we held a “Stop Thinking Like Americans and Start Thinking About Humanity” picnic in a downtown park. People donated all kinds of food and drinks. A trio performed their upbeat music to kick it off. We started off with about 15 people and that grew as people from the park came to check it out. There were communists, Revolution readers, youth, activists and proletarians. We raised $120 and have $80 more coming in pledges.
There were many good things that happened at the picnic– more people getting to know one another and appreciating one another politically and personally, including older people learning new things about youth culture. There was a lot of lively debating like on the role of religion among the Black masses and why we need communist revolution – not the Obama “revolution.” People were drawn to a huge display of issues of Revolution and some took papers to get out to their friends. This all came together at the end when we challenged people around getting down with the party and taking out the newspaper and fundraising to others.
To imagine a world without America was very challenging. One guy said that he couldn't because he sees the American people as part of America and he couldn't imagine a world without people. However, it was brought up to him that Americans aren't the only people and so he should stop thinking like an American and start thinking about humanity. This caused him to pause and think. Some of the people who showed up could see that just because Obama was the president, it didn't negate the fact that there was still a system in place holding people down. It was important to not just present Revolution Newspaper to them, but to invite them to discussions and to get with the revolution.
One guy in particular, though, was very adamantly opposed to what we were bringing forward.
He at first believed that if you just had enough education then you could make it in this society, like Obama. He said that Obama should be given time to change things. He put forth that people who are homeless choose to be that way. He said that he couldn't follow what we were doing because we didn't believe in god. He kept putting forth what the people who uphold this system propagate everyday, things that actually counter this man's, and the majority of people's interests and we told him that too. It was important to challenge him though on what he kept throwing up because we were able to get into what he really believed and that was that he didn't think that the world could be changed at all. We believe otherwise, and told him that because of Bob Avakian and the work he has done studying the past communist projects and not just learning from but synthesizing how we can do better next time, we can actually change the world. He folded up his copy of the newspaper and said he would check it out.
This picnic provided an opportunity to bring together people who don’t normally have a chance to discuss these kinds of questions about the world we live in and whether another world is possible. One guy in particular has a job in which he travels and can see first hand what happens when the government sets up shop. He talked about the poverty and the shanty towns he's seen and now he was challenged to take Revolution with him because there is an answer to the horrors of this system.
Revolution #171, August 2, 2009
On Sunday, June 28, 5,000-7,000 Iranians from all over southern California rallied at the West Los Angeles Federal Building in a massive outpouring of protest against oppressive character of life under the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) and in support of the mass resistance that has been turning Iranian society upside down since the contested presidential elections in early June. When people took to the streets to march through nearby Westwood (known as “Tehrangeles”, a combination of Tehran and Los Angeles, because of the high concentration of Iranians living in this area), the crowd grew to 10,000-15,000.
People who came out to the Federal Building the week following the Iran elections with the slogan, “Where’s my vote?” were now raising the chants heard early that day in the streets of Tehran: “Marg Bar Dic-ta-tor!” (death to the dictator), “Death to Khamenei” (the supreme leader) and “Death to Khatami” (a hard-line ayatollah close to the regime who said in a nationally broadcast sermon that protestors should be executed).
People spoke angrily about the increasingly brutal government repression of the protests in Iran, like the widely seen YouTube video of the cold-blooded execution of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman shot to death by secret police forces in the early days of the protests, and increasing stories about people being tortured and in some cases murdered in the government prisons. There was a sense, especially among the youth, that it was on them to be the “voice” of their loved ones in Iran who are under an extreme clampdown.
It was a big mix of forces:
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Earlier that afternoon, 25 people met at Libros Revolución bookstore in downtown LA to talk about the uprising in Iran, and to dig into the analysis in the pages of Revolution. One of the key points that we wrestled with was the decisive importance which line and program come to lead the upsurge. Millions of Iranian people have been drawn into political struggle and debate in recent weeks, and many within this want to see an end to the IRI altogether. But spontaneously, people won’t see the potential (or even the need) for this struggle to go over to a fight for revolution rather than trying to reform the current set-up—and there are many forces “in the field” that are working as hard as they can to steer things in a direction that will ultimately leave the masses of Iranians still oppressed and exploited.
One of the Iranians who attended the store discussion spoke in Farsi about the need for correct leadership, using the example of the struggle of the minority Kurdish people living in Iran and neighboring countries and how the Kurds had been repeatedly used and played for decades by various imperialist and opportunist forces. Another Iranian said that people in this country need to understand how precious the analysis of Revolution and the leadership of Bob Avakian are in times like this. “Can you imagine where things could be if they had a paper like Revolution and a leader like Bob Avakian in Iran? People need to know there is a party in Iran that studies Bob Avakian.”
There was also discussion of how a lot of “radical” forces in the U.S. were finding themselves supporting the IRI, arguing that since the U.S. wants to carry out “regime change” in Iran (which it definitely does) and the western imperialist press is reporting favorably about the demonstrations over the Iranian election, this means that progressives and revolutionaries should back the IRI as an “anti-imperialist” act. Some have gone so far as to try to invent something “progressive” about Ahmadinejad and to denounce the students in the streets for “damaging public property” during the recent street fighting!
Fresh off of that discussion, a small number of us went out to the massive demonstration determined to bring people a revolutionary communist analysis and do what we could to strengthen support for the rebel forces in Iran.
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There was a pronounced sentiment coming from almost everyone at the demonstration that they wanted to see the protests in Iran continue – but for different reasons. We found that different sections of people have many different ideas about what line, what program, should be supported and in what direction should Iran go.
And just as many forces are contending for the allegiance of the Iranian people in Iran itself, we found the same thing going on here in southern California. The unfolding events in Iran have clearly been shifting the thinking and ideas of people broadly. While there are organized forces fighting for specific programs, we found many, many more people who are drawn to this or that position today, but struggling to figure out what is really needed and seriously weighing other positions.
We spent the day trying to get out broadly to people with Revolution while at the same time digging into the bigger questions with the advanced. People were drawn to our large displays of the front page of issue no. 169, “Uprising in Iran” and the centerfold statement by Bob Avakian, “If you can conceive of a world without America....” Many were intrigued that there is a revolutionary communist party in this country and there was a definite buzz that we were “in the house.” Not many people seemed to know the Communist Party of Iran (MLM) but eagerly picked up their communiques in Farsi. Over 200 copies of Revolution and 150 copies of the CPI communiques were distributed, and we sold a small number of the RCP’s Manifesto, “Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage.”
Throughout the day, a small but significant number of people who identified themselves as communists or Marxist-Leninists found us. They have been deeply affected by the anti-communist ideological barrage of the last decades, by the loss of revolutionary China, and they also are struggling to understand the failure of the 1979 revolution in Iran. There was lots of struggle over whether communism is still a viable path for Iran and the world, and this opened up the question of what kind of revolution is needed, and the work by Bob Avakian to sum up the profound lessons of the first wave of socialist revolutions, concentrated in his new synthesis. These discussions were very significant and more than one self-described communist expressed their joy at having found us – a number of them said, “Oh, you’re Bob Avakian’s group!” and talked about how they remember that the RCP stood firmly in support of the Iranian people’s revolutionary struggle against the Shah in the late 70’s.
A broad section of people we spoke with are opposed to both the IRI and the Shah. They do not trust Mousavi’s promise of reform, in part because he firmly upholds the basic framework of an Islamic Republic. Many felt compelled to check out our analysis about the infighting in the ruling circles of the IRI, what the U.S. and Obama represent, and the need for revolutionary forces to come to the fore. A number of them agreed with Bob Avakian’s statement about the need to fight the “two outmodeds” (imperialism, and reactionary Islamic fundamentalism) and they were eager to engage in discussion about bringing forward something far more liberating than either the horrors of Islamic fundamentalist rule or the horrors of U.S. imperialist domination.
But we also found that people broadly are having a difficult time thinking beyond the ideas and structures of bourgeois democracy. We asked, how can you talk about democracy without talking about classes and which class will rule, and how can a democracy led by the bourgeoisie actually uproot the intractable problems that are driving the people of Iran to rise up – the oppression of women, the suppression of the youth, the exploitation of Iran, it’s people and resources and it’s enforced subservience to imperialist powers. What the Iranian people need, we argued, is a new democratic revolution and they need socialism.
People were also affected by the posters and speeches by the Shah supporters appealing to world leaders to “help free the Iranian people” from the oppressive IRI. Slogans like “World Leaders, Speak Out to Stop the Human Rights Violations” and “Don’t Be Silent America, Hear Neda Calling” had the objective effect of trying to take the initiative out of the hands of the masses of people here and in Iran and give it to the imperialist powers. And there were widespread illusions among democratic Iranians that Obama “should be doing more.” We had a lot of sharp struggle with people over both the history of U.S. domination in Iran and how this is rooted in the very nature of the imperialist system, not some mistaken “policy” of past U.S. rulers.
Among some of the older people who had been active during the 1979 revolution that toppled the Shah, we found deep rooted anti-U.S. imperialist sentiment born from their knowledge and experience. These people had family members or friends who had been killed under the rule by the Shah, or executed later with the rise to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini. There is still a hunger to understand what happened, why the revolution that overthrew the Shah brought the reactionary Islamic Republic to power. People of this generation know that the U.S. had a hand in Khomeini coming into power, but it isn’t enough to know what happened, they want to know why it took place and how it could have been different.
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There haven’t been any demonstrations as big as the one on June 28 since then, and the frequency and size of the protests has tapered off. At the same time, many in the Iranian community are closely following the continuing turmoil in Iran, and there is a real possibility of more outbreaks of protest here in the U.S. We will keep you informed of further developments.
Revolution #171, August 2, 2009
After many years of wishing that something radical and revolutionary would come to this world, I gave up thinking that there were others who wanted a different and better world, just like I did. I had not yet met Revolution newspaper! When I first began to read Revolution, my life was too busy dealing with a lot of everyday stuff like being a mom, working and just trying to keep up with life. Then as I began to read and understand what this paper is about (revolution and communism and what that means) I began to re-evaluate all the expectations that I had lost for humanity. My life and point of view began to change. It was great to learn that I was not the only person who wanted and believed that this world could be better. To run across this newspaper meant that now I had something real meaningful to work on, something that can make a real and positive change in the world.
The most important thing about all this is not just how my life changed, but how the lives of others can change too. Revolution newspaper was the first important step in changing my life and transforming it into a life with meaning. Bringing Revolution to people is as crucial as the foundation of a skyscraper. Most people put all their revolutionary thoughts and ideas in the back of their mind, instead of fighting and seeking for a way to change this society. It is very important to have this newspaper available for people; this can change their lives and enable them to take part in making revolution.
Not too long ago I was having a conversation with someone who mentioned the discontent he felt with society and how much he wanted to change the oppressive situation that millions of children and people face. He told me a story that he heard on the news about a small town south of Mexico City where the population there is made up of indigenous people coming from different parts of the country. The report emphasized the daily struggle that children go through to get to school. The children had to walk for miles a day barefoot because they did not even have shoes and their diet consisted of “Quelites,” a native plant that grows wild in that town. This person was almost crying, feeling so angry and powerless for not being able to change the situation of these children. He thought that the best way he could help was by sending many pairs of shoes to these children or donating money so they could have a good meal. I asked him, “What’s gonna happen when they grow out of the shoes next year?” He looked at me with an even bigger question on his face! Then I said how about trying to change the whole system that keeps them in this oppressive situation. This is when I mentioned that working with Revolution and building the ground for a communist revolution can actually change and bring forward a world where this situation will cease to exist, where all the people in the world will be treated as human beings and nothing less.
I tell this story to urge all of you who would like to contribute to change the pitiful and unnecessarily horrible living conditions of people around the world, to get involved and contribute to something that can bring real change in the world. If you are really willing to change this imperialist and oppressive world, you need to become more involved with Revolution newspaper.