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Revolution #174, August 30, 2009
“And, despite the good intentions of many teachers, the educational system is a bitter insult for many youth and a means of regimentation and indoctrination overall. While, particularly in some ‘elite’ schools, there is some encouragement for students to think in ‘non-conformist’ ways—so long as, in the end, this still conforms to the fundamental needs and interests of the system—on the whole, instead of really enabling people to learn about the world and to pursue the truth wherever it leads, with a spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity, education is crafted and twisted to serve the commandments of capital, to justify and perpetuate the oppressive relations in society and the world as a whole, and to reinforce the dominating position of the already powerful. And despite the creative impulses and efforts of many, the dominant culture too is corrupted and molded to lower, not raise, people’s sights, to extol and promote the ways of thinking, and of acting, that keep this system going and keep people believing that nothing better is possible.”
Anyone who has thought seriously about revolution knows that the role of students and youth, as well as the overall ideological, intellectual, and political life of campuses as a whole, is of strategic significance. Young people have always been catalytic in revolutionary change—they are less weighed down by tradition and the suffocating limits of what is deemed “reasonable.” They are lifting their heads to the world around them and figuring out what role they will play in it. When students step forward to engage new and revolutionary ideas it helps to realign broader sections of intellectuals and it creates more space for—and synergizes in multiplying and transformative ways with—those from among the most bitterly exploited and oppressed sections of society to also engage in revolutionary ideas and actions. Students also play a role in sparking ferment and inquiry generally, insisting that old truths stand up to renewed challenge and bringing to light new truths in all kinds of realms.
Today, however, young people are mainly NOT playing this role. This cannot be separated from the fact that every young person today has been weaned on the BIG LIE—regurgitated, not only by outright reactionaries but also, outrageously, by progressive and “radical-minded” people—“that there is no other way than this system—or that attempts to really make a different way, through revolution and advancing toward communism, have brought about something even worse.” (The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have)
Consequently, even the best impulses of this new generation—to understand the cause of the world’s many horrors, to change the world for the better, even to imagine the future—remain strait-jacketed within the logic and confines of the current U.S.-dominated capitalist-imperialist order.
Radically changing this—starting right now—is a strategic question for the revolution and a key part of the campaign now under way by the Revolutionary Communist Party around The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have. What follows are some ideas for how to approach this. Note: All of this is something that people of ALL AGES can take part in, even while young people should play a particularly active role.
Starting freshman week, we must be on a mission to bring revolution to the campuses—overturning the verdict on communism, introducing a new generation to the leadership of Bob Avakian, cracking open mass debate and ferment (including what kind of future is possible and what is the role and responsibility of students to humanity as a whole), and organizing a new generation into the movement for revolution.
Starting with a few key campuses, dorms should be systematically blanketed with the statement and the statement should go out to professors and freshman seminars. The statement in both its long and short versions should be everywhere—and helping make this happen is one of the first ways students can get involved.
At the same time, there should be consistent and high-profile open-air distribution/agitation sites on or near campus in areas where students hang out and pass through. Big enlargements of the photos in the issue of Revolution which ran the full statement (#170, July 19, 2009) should attract attention and ground people in the real horrors humanity is currently being forced to live through as well as the revolution we need and the leadership we have in Bob Avakian.
The agitation should be hard-hitting and lofty, consistent with the content and style of the statement (this should include reading sections of the statement) and should embody and bring to bear the positive attractiveness of what communist revolution is all about. Students should be organized on the spot to join in getting out the statement, to take stacks to their dorms and classes, to understand why this matters to prying open the possibilities and ferment over real revolution in these intolerable times. Students should be drawn into discussion and debate, the idea being to create a site of tremendous revolutionary ferment—where knots of people are drawn in, both those who are attracted to revolution or at least learning more and those who are repelled by it but cannot just walk by.
Emphasis should be given to dispelling the BIGGEST LIE OF ALL, getting into how “The wretched of the earth have made revolution and started on the road to communism—first in Russia and then in China—and they achieved great things in doing so, before they were turned back by the forces of the old order. We are here to tell you that not only has this been done before, but we can do it again—and even better this time. This is the truth that is covered up and lied about, but we have the facts and the analysis to back this up—tremendous historical experience has been summed up, scientifically, and is there for us to learn from and build on.”
Another section of the statement that should be given great emphasis: “Bob Avakian has developed the scientific theory and strategic orientation for how to actually make the kind of revolution we need, and he is leading our Party as an advanced force of this revolution. He is a great champion and a great resource for people here, and indeed people all over the world. The possibility for revolution, right here, and for the advance of the revolution everywhere, is greatly heightened because of Bob Avakian and the leadership he is providing.”
All the questions about the revolution we need, whether that is necessary and what it is all about, get concentrated up in taking out Bob Avakian straight up—and the most concentrated answers to those questions are also embodied in him and his work. This must be a leading big strength and attractive force of what we are doing, and definitely not something that is regarded as a “controversy to avoid” or “save till later.” People should feel compelled to engage his works and learn about his life—reading his memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond (have copies on hand!), and viewing his talk, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About, which will be available online. This film must become a “must-see” for anyone who takes themselves seriously—or is taken seriously—about changing the world. Pluggers and other materials should be all over and one important way that students can contribute is to help get this out and to go viral on the net.
Controversy and debate—focused around the actual content of the statement—should be welcomed and encouraged. What we will be bringing will be attractive and will very powerfully reach inside many of the students, particularly freshmen who are wondering what their lives will mean, at a time of transition in their lives and for the world, and for whom we can offer a life with meaning—a real way to understand and act on the many outrages, hypocrisies and unnecessary cruelties that many of these students sense but do not deeply understand. At the same time, this goes straight up against the conventional wisdom on almost every topic that these students have been indoctrinated with. That contradiction should be a source of ferment and engagement.
Students should be left feeling like they can’t go about their lives as they used to without pursuing what has been revealed to them, reading the statement, watching the Revolution talk and/or reading the memoir, and going for themselves to the Internet and friends to find out if all this is really true, and coming back to pose further questions to the revolutionaries who they should also be able to consistently find (i.e. the revolutionaries must have a regular presence). We envision a movement where students can find their way in through many different doorways and relate on many different levels: checking out the revolution, comparing and contrasting it to other ways of understanding and changing the world, just getting their feet wet if they want or plunging in at the deep end if and as they become convinced.
Further, revolutionaries should be sitting down with groups of students, hanging out late into the night in coffee shops and dorm rooms, exploring and learning more about how students see the world and their role in it and getting deeper into revolution, communism, and the work and role of Bob Avakian. It is critical that this begin the very first days we are on campus even as we continue to push out with a very bold presence on the campus as a whole.
Those who do not like what is in the statement—students and professors, both the outright reactionaries or the smugly anti-communist “progressive” types—should NOT be able to dismiss or ignore this. They should feel compelled to come debate. And the revolutionaries should be eager and able to take on what is posed in a lofty but sharply challenging way. The atmosphere should be one of “taking on all comers” and being very bold and very confident that anything short of revolution, in the final analysis, really is bullshit. We should not pretend to know things we do not know (and there will be many things that people know more about than we do and we should learn from them) but we should never lose our bearings on what we DO know and must reveal to others and lead them to act upon: that humanity needs revolution and that we have in Bob Avakian the leadership to make the most liberating revolution in the history of humanity.
Through all this, students—and we, ourselves!!—should learn a tremendous amount, including about what it means to be an emancipator of humanity, differentiating different lines as well as different methods, different aims, and different moralities. As one measure of all this, the whole experience should be a lot of fun and extremely invigorating. This, too, should be part of what attracts people to keep coming back and digging in deeper.
Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA provides a framework for what we are doing and should be promoted among students. There should be a standing atmosphere of challenging anyone who wants to dismiss the communist project or run out some “conventional wisdom” or more “sophisticated” anti-communism, to debate us and answer to what is in the Manifesto. The recent polemic against Alain Badiou should be promoted in relation to all this as well.
A centerpiece of these efforts to bring revolution to the campuses will be a major speech by Raymond Lotta which will powerfully indict the whole system of capitalism-imperialism and reveal why it is utterly unreformable and irredeemable, how the actual history of socialism has been tremendously emancipatory, and how the future of communist revolution is both viable and desirable owing to the leadership and ongoing role of Bob Avakian. Lotta’s speech will be substantive and potentially transformative for all who hear it and it must be made a VERY BIG DEAL. The buzz should spread about a revolutionary who is serious about overturning the verdict on communism and has the facts, the analysis, and the passionate commitment to humanity’s liberation to back it up. Those who are attracted to the idea of communism but who’ve been told “it can never work” should know this is the place to come and ask their toughest questions. Opposition from reactionaries should be turned around and made part of the growing controversy and sense that Lotta’s speech must be heard and engaged. All those who consider themselves progressive critics of the current order but who use their “radical” or even “Marxist” credentials to rule real revolution off the table should be compelled—by the overall atmosphere and expectations created campus-wide—to bring their best arguments and put them up against what Lotta will have to say.
Through all this, the aim for revolutionaries must not be just to “meet some radical-minded students,” to “fill a quota of statements to be distributed,” or even to “build a successful event on the subject of revolution and communism.” Our aim must be to radically transform the life of the campuses as a whole. The universities should be places of truth-seeking, rebelling against the fetters set by the received wisdom and the narrowing of commodity relations. We must overturn the verdicts on communist revolution for this generation as part of putting it back on the scene in society and the world as a whole. We must bust open widespread radical ferment broadly and organize within that—and as an anchor to that—a growing core into the movement for revolution at various levels and in a myriad of ways.
All this should be propelled forward by and contribute to amplifying the work throughout society more broadly to spread the Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have.
At the same time—what we are undertaking on the campuses and with this campaign overall—is something new. We must not merely refashion things we did in the past or “do better” at what we have done before. As the statement puts it, referring to how the Party itself has not been consistent enough and bold enough in getting the word out and acting on it: “We are changing all that, starting now.” We must be bold, substantive, creative and daring—and we must learn and share as we go. It is very important that we hear from people working on this in real-time, about every experiment that people make in this, every new thing they try and bring forward, every advance to be built upon and every setback to be learned from. Send in reports to Spreading Revolution and Communism (http://revcom.us/a/online/taking_rev.html)
Send us your comments.
Revolution #174, August 30, 2009
[Editors’ note: The following is the 10th excerpt from the text of a talk by Bob Avakian, earlier this year, which is being serialized in Revolution, beginning with issue #163. Parts 1-9 appeared in issues #163, #164, #165, #166, #167, #169, #171, #172, and #173. Part 10 is the section titled “Communism as a Science—Not a ‘Scientific Ideology,’” which includes three subsections: “Some observations on what science is and some essential aspects of the scientific method”; “Once again on objective truth, relative truth, and the fundamental opposition between scientific materialism and relativism”; and “A correct understanding of the relation between science and philosophy.” 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]
Next I want to speak to the question of communism as a science and why it is not correct to conceive of it as a "scientific ideology," as someone has raised recently in a written criticism of the characterization in our party's Constitution, in the opening sentence of the Appendix, where it says: "Communism is both a science and a revolutionary political movement." The opposition that is expressed by this criticism, with the formulation "scientific ideology," represents another two into one. It is another version of a trend in the international movement toward reification of the proletariat (in effect, reducing the overall and fundamental interests of the proletariat to identification with individual proletarians) and of "class truth" ("proletarian truth") and a notion of, in effect "proletarian science." It is a form of relativism—which, in fact, "class truth" is, in essential terms—it is (to put it in the popular parlance of our times) another form of "identity politics," with the corresponding relativism.
Now, in discussion of this criticism, some important points have been made by some comrades in refutation of this argument about "scientific ideology." It has been pointed out that this argument amounts to an attempt to create ideology and philosophy which stand outside or above science—ideology and philosophy which are, in the words of this criticism, "a higher level of abstraction" than science.
It is worthwhile getting into this further here, because this touches on some fundamental principles and questions of outlook and methodology which are not only relevant for our party but are crucial for our movement overall and its fundamental objectives.
Part of this argument for why we should call communism a "scientific ideology" explicitly involves a reference to—but in fact a misuse or a misunderstanding of—an analogy I once made, comparing the understanding of reality to the handling of fire (or a burning object): you can't pick up something that is burning with your bare hands, you need an instrument with which to handle that burning object. This is true—there is validity to the analogy, properly understood—but it in no way negates the need for what we could call "scientific objectivity." Applying this analogy, the "instrument" we need for understanding and transforming reality, in all its complexity, is an outlook and method that is not subjective ("class truth"), but one that correctly reflects objective reality—dialectical materialism, which, as I have repeatedly stressed, provides the means for being scientific in the most consistent, systematic, and comprehensive way, if it is correctly grasped and applied, and is not vitiated with subjectivity of one kind or another, including what amount to instrumentalist notions of "class truth."
That such subjectivity is what the author of this criticism has fallen into is shown by the fact that he goes on to argue that we need a certain partisan ideology, in the wrong sense—in the manner of arguing, in effect, that everybody approaches things with certain preconceptions, and communism represents our partisan approach, embodying our set of assumptions, or preconceptions. This is a way of treating ideologies as "narratives," and including communist ideology in this—subjective—category of "narratives." This ends up negating the scientific character of communism, even while calling it a "scientific ideology." It goes along with a misunderstanding, and misuse, of the fact that, yes, everyone does come to anything, including science and any scientific process, with certain assumptions. It falls into—or at least lends itself to—the relativist argument that, since everyone is proceeding according to certain assumptions, then there is no basis for (so to speak) "separating out the subjective from the objective," and really arriving at the truth. It negates the fact that, even with regard to assumptions from which people may be proceeding, it is possible to determine, and to distinguish, which are valid and objectively true assumptions and which are not.
In other words, the fact that we come to things with certain assumptions, or preconceptions, does not rule out the fact—the very important fact—that even those assumptions or preconceptions can, and should, be repeatedly subjected to scientific analysis themselves, to see if they have been and if they remain valid (which, however, does not mean calling everything into question all the time). There is an objective basis, as well as an objective need, to test the assumptions, as well as the conclusions, with which people enter into and with which they carry out the process of science of any kind, including the scientific process of making revolution. Ultimately, this characterization of communism as "scientific ideology," and the arguments in support of this formulation, actually negate not only the scientific character of communism in particular but also the scientific character of science and of the scientific method in general.
This argument in favor of characterizing communism as a "scientific ideology" also insists that "philosophy regulates theory." There is truth in the assertion that one's particular ideological standpoint determines—or has a major influence on—how one develops theory and to what use one puts theory. But, once again, a serious problem enters in when ideology is reduced to a subjective standpoint—which is what is done in this line of argumentation, whether or not that is the conscious intent. This argumentation, including specifically the assertion that "philosophy regulates theory," negates the scientific standard and scientific criteria for evaluating philosophy itself as well as particular theories. Does the philosophy (or the theory) actually correctly reflect reality, or does it not? That is a test that can be applied, and should be applied, by proceeding according to the scientific method—and, above all, the scientific outlook and method of dialectical materialism.
Further light is shed on this by the fact that this argument (in favor of the formulation that communism is "scientific ideology") cites Althusser to the effect that ideology is class struggle in the realm of theory. This is another relativist and idealist formulation. Ideology is a worldview and a set of values. There is class struggle in the realm of ideology, as there is in the realm of theory, but ideology itself is not class struggle. This, yet again, is akin to—and in fact a form of advocacy of—"class truth." Once more, the correctness, or incorrectness, of a particular ideology—whether or not it corresponds to reality—is something which can be objectively determined, and that determination is not reducible to—and is not in essence—a matter of class struggle. As emphasized in Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA: "truth is objective, does not vary in accordance with differing class interests, and is not dependent on which class outlook one brings to the pursuit of the truth." (Part IV, "The New Challenges, and the New Synthesis")
This argument (for why communism should be considered not a science but a "scientific ideology") also involves a wrong understanding, as opposed to a correct understanding—or a wrong line, as opposed to the correct line—on the principle that Marxism "embraces but does not replace" all the different spheres of human endeavor and thinking. At one point in the course of this argument it is said that, as such, communism has nothing to say about specific theories in different fields or disciplines of science—physics or biology or whatever. Now, it is true that there is the particularity of contradiction—that each of the phenomena or processes that fall, generally speaking, within these different spheres of biology or chemistry or physics, etc., have their particularities. And you can't resolve them by just imposing, shall we say, communist principles in general. But to wall off the one from the other—a specific sphere, or a particular phenomenon, on the one hand, and the question of outlook and method, on the other hand (or, to put this another way, the "does not replace" aspect, on the one hand, and the "embraces" aspect, on the other hand)—and to argue that communism doesn't methodologically enter into the equation (if you will) of how these problems are approached and understood is, once again, wrong. It in effect negates the "embraces" aspect—the fact that, while not replacing them, communism does embrace all these particular spheres and the particular contradictions and phenomena within these spheres. It amounts to making an absolute separation where there is not, and cannot be, such a separation. Outlook and methodology "penetrates into" and has an influence on how particular phenomena will be studied, investigated, probed, synthesized and understood—or not—correctly. This does not negate the fact—one which we have very rightly insisted on—that people who do not uphold and apply the outlook and method of dialectical materialism can and do arrive at important truths. But it remains true that dialectical materialism provides the most consistent, systematic and comprehensive means for engaging, and learning about—and having the most scientifically founded basis for transforming—objective reality; and, once again, this does have implications for—it does "embrace" and apply to—all spheres of human endeavor.
As can be extrapolated from what I have said so far, this argument (communism is a "scientific ideology") involves a wrong line, as opposed to a correct line, on the very important principle that communism as a world outlook and method is both objective and partisan. This argument basically amounts to saying that communism is partisan, while in essence denying that it is objective, even if that is not explicitly denied.
This goes against very important principles that were being emphasized in the discussion with comrades on epistemology, in the book Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy1: the particular point about how truth does not have a class character but different truths enter into the class struggle, and the whole rich process that's being envisioned and argued for there, in terms of how communism correctly embraces everything and seeks to know everything that's actually true—even when, in the short term sense, particular truths may work against the things that we're fighting for, but then in the larger sense, if correctly handled, they can become part of the process that leads to the objectives we're struggling for. That contradictory motion and struggle—and all the richness involved in that process—is undermined and opposed by this incorrect line on objective and partisan (which is part of the argument for why communism should be considered not a science but a "scientific ideology"). Because communism is objective, it can be partisan on behalf of the proletariat—and, in fact, can be so in a thoroughgoing way—and only to the degree that it is actually objective can it really be partisan in the essentially correct sense—can it, in other words, really serve and further the most fundamental interests of the proletariat.
This leads into the broader question of what is the correct understanding of what science is. I was recently reading the book The Canon (or, more specifically, the first part of that book) by Natalie Angier. She recounts some discussions she had with a number of scientists on this question: what is science, and what is the scientific method? One of the essential things that comes through is that science involves, as a fundamental starting point, accepting and working with the world as it actually is, and not as you would wish it to be. This is, as we know, a fundamental dividing line, epistemologically and methodologically, and it has everything to do with what I have been speaking to here.
Science, we need to emphasize again, is not a mystery. There are specific spheres and disciplines of science which do have their own particularities—and which do, yes, require specialization and hard work to learn about them and make advances in them. This is where the correct application of "embraces but does not replace" comes in for communists. But the basic scientific outlook and scientific method is something that anyone can and everyone should grasp and apply to reality—not that everyone will do this, at least in a systematic way, in this kind of society, but looking to the future and in terms of what we're striving and struggling for, we should have an orientation and an understanding that anyone can and everyone should grasp and apply the scientific outlook and method, and by doing so, and persevering in doing so, ordinary people (that is, non-specialists, and not only specialists in various fields) can learn important things, not only about reality overall but about science itself and about particular spheres of science, even ones that are highly complex and involve a high level of abstraction.
The following, then, are some key principles of science and the scientific method as well as, in particular, the scientific outlook and method of communism, dialectical materialism.
First, as came through in the discussions Natalie Angier had with a number of scientists, there is the fundamental point of orientation of approaching the world as it actually is, and not as we would like it to be.
Along with this is the importance of proceeding according to the understanding that all reality consists of matter in motion, of material reality which is constantly moving and changing and undergoing transformation, through leaps, from one state of matter (and not anything else) to another state (or form) of matter.
There is the process of learning about matter in motion through empirical investigation of actually existing material reality in different particular forms (gathering evidence in this way, so to speak). In this regard, there is Mao's famous statement that to learn about the pear you have to change it by eating it—he didn't just say you have eat it, he said you have to change it by eating it. It is a fact that you do change reality by investigating it, but this understanding can, and should, be incorporated into and utilized as part of the scientific method and approach.
There is the importance, in the whole process, of synthesizing what is learned through this approach (that is, by empirical investigation of the actual existing material reality): making the leap from facts, data, etc., accumulated in this way to rational conclusions about these facts, data, etc.—and in particular by identifying the patterns that emerge through this process. (In this connection, I'll just refer people once again to the article "'A Leap of Faith' and a Leap to Rational Knowledge: Two Very Different Kinds of Leaps, Two Radically Different Worldviews and Methods"2 and to Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, in particular the section "Reason Has Not 'Failed Us'—Reason Is Absolutely Necessary—Though, In Itself, It Is Not Enough" in Part Four, "God Does Not Exist—We Need Liberation Without Gods.")
In terms of science, the scientific method, and in particular the scientific outlook and method of communism, it is crucial to constantly be striving to maintain a spirit and method of critical thinking and openness to what is new and what challenges accepted or received wisdom. This involves repeatedly re-examining what is believed by oneself and/or the prevailing opinions in society, etc., to be true: repeatedly subjecting this to further testing and interrogation from the challenges of those who oppose this and of reality itself, including the ways that the ongoing development of material reality may bring to light new facts—that is, newly discovered or newly understood aspects of reality which pose challenges to the accepted wisdom. However, it is very important to emphasize, this does not mean falling into agnosticism and relativism, denying objective truth and in particular acting as if everything must be called into question, as if nothing is known or can be counted on as being true, whenever new discoveries, or new theories or hypotheses, call into question certain ideas previously determined or thought to be true. The scientific process and scientific knowledge, and knowledge in general, is not advanced in this way and cannot be advanced in this way—at least not in any kind of sustained sense—but is advanced by proceeding on the basis of what has previously been established to be true, especially where this has been established through mutually reinforcing evidence and rational conclusions drawn from a range of sources; and then to further probe and learn about reality and use the accumulated store of human knowledge, including with regard to methodology, in evaluating new evidence, new theories, new challenges to what has been held to be true, and so on.
This basic point of method is, for very good reason, emphasized a number of times in the book on evolution by Ardea Skybreak, The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism—Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters. And it is articulated in the "Defend Science" statement (which is also reproduced as an appendix in that book), particularly in the following, just before the conclusion of the "Defend Science" statement:
"...one thing the overwhelming majority of scientists have in common is their understanding that, when conducting scientific investigation and applying the scientific method, it is essential to use as a starting point previously accumulated scientific knowledge—the storehouse of well-established scientific evidence about reality which has previously been arrived at through concrete and systematic scientific observation and experiment and has been subjected to rigorous scientific review and testing. This is what we scientists stand on as our foundation when we set out to further investigate reality and make new discoveries. This is how science has been done and how it has advanced for hundreds of years now, and this has allowed science to benefit humanity in countless ways." ("An Urgent Call by Scientists to: DEFEND SCIENCE! In the United States Today Science, as Science, Is Under Attack as Never Before," reprinted in Ardea Skybreak, The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism—Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters—see pages 322.)
What is involved here, among other things, is the fundamental difference and decisive dividing line between the recognition that all human knowledge contains an element of relativeness and, on the other hand, relativism as a basic philosophical outlook and approach. Here, again, is the relation between absolute and relative truth: the fact that the universe infinitely exists and the reality that actually exists embodies absolute truth, but human knowledge at any given time, even about particular things, let alone about reality in general, contains an aspect of relativeness because the world is constantly moving and changing and it is not possible to know everything about reality ever—and even what's known about particular things, since they don't exist in isolation and aren't static and unchanging, will involve a relative element. But as Lenin stressed, there is a fundamental difference between understanding that correctly—and therefore being driven to keep on learning, on the basis of grasping and applying a correct approach to the actual relation between absolute and relative truth, and between theory and practice—and, on the other hand, falling into relativism and agnosticism, especially when some established truth may be upended and overturned in this or that particular sphere, or even in a major way.
It is a basic foundation stone of materialism that practice is the ultimate point of origin and point of verification of theory. This is opposed to notions such as those advocated by Karl Popper, for example, who insists that how well a theory withstands criticism determines whether a theory should be accepted as the most valid at any given time. In Popper's thinking (and he is certainly not alone in this) this goes along with the idea that it is after all not really possible to know what is actually true. To quote Popper directly: "We cannot establish or justify anything as certain, or even as probable, but have to content ourselves with theories which withstand criticism." (The Open Society and its Enemies, Volume 2: The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx, and the Aftermath, Princeton University Press, Revised First Edition, 1966 [First Princeton Paperback Printing, 1971], pp. 375, 379, cited in "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity." See "Marxism as a Science—Refuting Karl Popper," in "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity"—also found in Revolution And Communism: A Foundation And Strategic Orientation, pp. 18-30.)
Here, ironically in the name of opposing relativism, Popper is in fact arguing very clearly for relativism—and is specifically denying and opposing the scientific principle that practice, and not "criticism," is the ultimate point of verification (as well as the ultimate point of origin) of theory.
But it is also important to emphasize that, just as it is a foundation stone of materialism that practice is the ultimate point of origin and point of verification of theory, it is equally true and crucial to grasp that what is involved in this criterion is not practice in a narrow empiricist sense, but in a broad sense, and practice not simply "taken as it is" but practice analyzed and synthesized through the application of the scientific method, and above all the most consistent, systematic and comprehensive expression of this, the scientific communist outlook and method of dialectical materialism.
From all this it can be seen that it is very important that we correctly understand the relation between science and philosophy, and in particular our communist philosophy, which includes morality as well as outlook and method. Communism is a world outlook and method, but once again that world outlook and method is (to put it that way) susceptible to and should be evaluated according to scientific principles. Is idealism (as a philosophical outlook) in accord with reality, or is materialism? Are static and metaphysical notions about reality (for example, the notion that things have been brought into being by some supernatural force and that, once brought into being, they have always been and will always remain the way they are) in accord with reality, or is dialectics—the understanding that all of reality involves, indeed consists of, contradiction, motion, struggle, development, and leaps from one state of matter in motion to a qualitatively different state of matter in motion—in accord with reality?
To come at this another way: Communism, it could be said, is not simply a science, in the sense that it does involve other elements, including morality, which are, strictly speaking, outside of the province of science. But all this cannot be divorced from science; and it all ultimately and fundamentally rests on, as well as needing to be continually regrounded in, what is actually true, as determined by a scientific approach and method, and no other.
So harking back to the discussion I mentioned earlier—the discussion with comrades on epistemology, on knowing and changing the world, in Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy—it is very important to continually go back to, dig into and wrestle more deeply with what is said there about the relation between the scientific method and the emergence of new truths that are established through the scientific method, on the one hand, and on the other hand the struggle for communism. It is crucial to grasp what is actually being said there, in all of its richness, concerning this whole process, and why in fact it is true that even truths that make us cringe can and should—and in a real sense must—contribute to the struggle for communism, rather than being treated as something which works against it.
1. Bob Avakian, Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy, Insight Press, 2005, pp. 43-64. [back]
2. "'A Leap of Faith' and a Leap to Rational Knowledge: Two Very Different Kinds of Leaps, Two Radically Different Worldviews and Methods," Revolution #10 (July 31, 2005), is available online at revcom.us/a/010/avakian-leap-faith-leap-rational.htm. [back]
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Revolution #174, August 30, 2009
We are thrilled to announce the online launch of Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About, a film of a talk by Bob Avakian, starting on Tuesday, September 1, 2009. This four-part film will be going up online. There will also be selected clips posted that day on YouTube.
The film thoroughly goes into the kind of revolution we need—and it gives people an up-close-and-personal experience with Bob Avakian, the leader of the revolution. He lays it all out in a nine-hour speech—and then goes into three hours of question-and-answer dialogue with the audiences. It’s all there—full of heart and soul, humor and seriousness.
Posting this film online opens up a new opportunity for people to dramatically expand the major and multifaceted campaign recently announced by the Revolutionary Communist Party calling on people to join with “the revolution we need… the leadership we have.”
Online millions and millions of people are searching for the truth, and watching videos, short and long. Some of these give part of the answer; but some of them—including some of the most popular—give people bullshit answers, pointing people in the wrong direction and spreading poison. There is nothing online like THIS DVD of Bob Avakian’s: nothing that answers the questions of why we are in the situation we are in... what is the source of the problem... and what is the nature of the solution. Nothing that gets at these questions as deeply, thoroughly and truthfully as this. Here and all over the world, people need to see this video. And wherever people are debating these big questions...this film needs to be in the mix and part of the debate.
To make that happen, this launch needs to be A BIG DEAL. And you are needed to accomplish this. Imagine… on Tuesday, September 1, people on Facebook and MySpace linking to the new Revolution film website being set up, embedding the clips on their page and encouraging others to do the same… blogging everywhere, tweeting… text blasts and email lists reverberating with the news of this launch. This would coincide with postcards passing hand to hand in neighborhoods and during freshman orientation at colleges and schools across the country… signs and posters appearing in dorm rooms, housing projects, community centers, coffee shops, laundromats and barber shops. This kind of launch could have an exponential effect—making the presence of this talk online known to many thousands on Day 1. And on the weekend of August 22-23, when there will be another major effort to get out the statement, “The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have,” there should also be an effort to sell and show the DVD very widely.
And that’s just the beginning… Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About will be capturing people’s attention in many different ways… Clips being projected on the sides of buildings or neighborhood lots and folks going home to catch the full talk... debates and discussions breaking out and then people sending the links to all their friends. The views on the YouTube clips should grow to where thousands and thousands are watching this and spreading it to their friends… ultimately going viral on the net.
Getting in on this and doing the work to make this happen is a way many, many people can join in and contribute to this movement for revolution.
And the work begins now. Call your friends and the people you’ve been meeting taking out this message and call: “The Revolution We Need… The Leadership We Have” the last few weeks. Play them a clip of the DVD, go to YouTube and look up the short film, “Next Stop… Revolution.” Talk with people about this campaign, the message and call from the RCP. Get everyone organized to be part of launching this Revolution talk online on September 1, 2009. Collect as many email addresses as you can and prepare to send out the links to the film.
On September 1, 2009, look for clips from this talk on YouTube and before then, check revcom.us for promotional materials and the announcement of the Revolution film website. Promotional materials will be available on Thursday, August 20.
Get with and be part of launching the Revolution film online.
We must spread the word to every corner of this country… giving 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.
—“The Revolution We Need… The Leadership We Have,”
Revolution, #170, July 19, 2009
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Revolution #174, August 30, 2009
Interview with Abortion Provider Dr. Carhart
Dr. George Tiller was a courageous and skilled physician who provided late term abortions in Wichita, Kansas. A true hero, Dr. Tiller devoted his life to saving the lives of thousands of women who came to him from all over the country. On May 31, 2009, he was viciously murdered by an anti-abortion assassin.
Dr. Leroy Carhart, who lives and works in Bellevue, Nebraska, was a friend and colleague of Dr. Tiller. Like Dr. Tiller, Dr. Carhart has been constantly harassed, his life threatened by the anti-abortion movement. After Tiller’s murder, Carhart announced he is considering opening a clinic in Wichita. In response, the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue is planning a protest at Dr. Carhart’s clinic in Nebraska on August 28 and 29. Dr. Carhart and others are calling on people to come to Nebraska to defend Carhart’s clinic, take on the anti-abortionists, and stand up for women’s right to abortion.
On August 18, Michael Slate interviewed Dr. Leroy Carhart and Debra Sweet, from World Can’t Wait, on his KPFK radio show in LA, Beneath the Surface with Michael Slate. The following are excerpts from that interview. To listen to the full interview go to: archive.kpfk.org/parchive/
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Michael Slate: In the aftermath of Dr. Tiller’s assassination, you stepped up to defend a woman’s right to abortion. You announced that you would not only be continuing your own work, but continuing to provide late term abortions to the women who need them, including all of Dr. Tiller’s patients. Why?
Leroy Carhart: First of all, I had worked with Dr. Tiller. I actually worked in his clinic for the last almost 11 years and for the last four years it was as part of a weekly rotation, with two women from California who worked the other two weeks. And we did late—I don’t really like the word “late term,” because nobody really knows what “late term” is. For some people it means 14, 15 weeks and for some, 28, 38 weeks. The second trimester, the last part of the second trimester, the early part of the third trimester are the ones we’re talking about—which in the whole country probably number maybe 1,100 a year, maybe 1,200 a year for everybody, not just myself but everybody in the country that’s been doing them. So it’s a very small number of abortions that we’re talking about providing, but it’s a very, very needed service for that small percentage that actually do need it.
From World Can’t Wait…
Omaha August 28/29: Protect Dr. Carhart & Stand Up for Abortion Rights! Join us in Nebraska on August 28 and 29. Help to draw the line and defend Dr. Carhart and women’s lives. For information about going to Nebraska and/or donating money to send people to Nebraska, go to worldcantwait.org. Watch YouTube video of Sunsara Taylor—correspondent for Revolution newspaper and Advisory Board Member of World Can’t Wait—calling for people to defend Dr. Carhart. Search YouTube for “Sunsara Taylor: Call to Clinic Defense for Dr. Carhart.”
Monday October 5, in Washington, DC. Protest at the White House against Obama’s Wars on the anniversary of the U.S. attack on Afghanistan, in coalition with National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance (NCNR) and Witness Against Torture, Activist Response Team & Veterans for Peace.
Tuesday October 6: We Are Not Your Soldiers! A day of resisting recruitment in high schools, nationwide with programs & protests. In support of these actions, we urge people to hold war protests on October 6 at recruiting stations, or city centers.
Saturday, Sunday October 10/11: Equality March in Washington, DC. World Can’t Wait will be present to support the just demand for marriage equality for gay & lesbian partners and for the repeal of the “Defense of Marriage Act.”
Saturday, October 17: Local Protests to End the Iraq & Afghanistan Wars and Occupations
For more information, visit worldcantwait.org
Slate: You began your work as an abortion provider in the late ’80s, right? What took you there? You were a general surgeon, and then decided to become an abortion provider.
Carhart: A patient of mine when I was in the Air Force, I had operated on her and then her husband who was on active duty. Shortly after I retired from the Air Force, her daughter had a ruptured appendix, and she called me and I took care of her in the hospital. And it was during this treatment in the hospital that she mentioned that she had a clinic where the doctor was getting ready to retire and she didn’t know what she was going to do about a doctor and we talked.
It took about a year and a half for me to agree to go and meet with her and to see what it was like at the abortion clinic, because I had just gotten out of the military and I’d opened up a general surgery practice and wasn’t really ready, I thought, to turn my life around. But actually after spending one day there at the clinic it reminded me of the way things were back when I was in medical school and residency when abortion was not legal yet. Women had the same compelling reasons that these women did in 1988, but yet they were coming to the clinic either very, very septic or dying, from self-attempted or the so-called back alley abortions.
Slate: You are not the least bit defensive about being an abortion provider, which I think is extremely important, both for women and generally in society. You say, “It’s not a four-letter word and I’m proud of what I do.” You serve women who come from five states or more, and in addition you’re what they call a “circuit rider.” Can you talk about what a circuit rider is, and what this situation says about the general availability of abortion?
Carhart: When I started doing abortions in the late ’80s, there were about 2,700 to 2,800 abortion doctors in the country. I started out doing it part time, working two days a week in the local clinic here. Then it went to three days a week and eventually four days a week. Then in 1991, we had a massive fire at our farm, where there were actually eighteen different fire origin points of vehicles and buildings. Everything on the property was burnt to the ground. And we lost seven horses and our dog and cat and everything we owned. Ten in the morning after the fire we got a letter that was postmarked the morning before the fire was reported, justifying the killing of horses and other animals for the “murder” of “little babies,” or something like that.
We had given that letter to the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] and the DOJ [Department of Justice] but there was nothing that was ever done about that. That was in 1991, and that’s when I decided that abortion was going to be a full-time thing on my plate. At the time, several clinics around the country did not have doctors, so I just started and from the year 1992, between June and the summer of 1995, I was working in six different states every week. And the reason was because of the low number of doctors. So I would travel. The other thing I was able to do was to train other doctors. In fact, all three of the doctors I trained are still providing abortions today. So it would help fulfill the need. I couldn’t go and hide because of what I did and I surely wasn’t going to quit. So I figure the best revenge was to train other people. This was shortly after David Gunn [another physician who performed abortions] was murdered in Pensacola, so that was what I thought was the right thing to do.
Slate: Why is it important that this type of abortion be safely and legally available to women?
Carhart: First, any pregnancy is not a benign entity for a woman. When a woman wants to have a child it’s what they’ll go through, and it’s what every one of us who’s a physician wants them to be able to go through. But in the United States today, depending on the studies you read, anywhere from 16 to 20 women out of every 100,000 who are pregnant die during the pregnancy or during the 30-day period after delivery. The chance of dying from an abortion, even when you throw in the latest abortions that are done, stays between eight and ten in 1.5 million patients, maybe six per million. So it’s significantly safer for a woman to terminate a pregnancy if she doesn’t want to be. So I feel very strongly that if a woman is carrying an unwanted pregnancy, and we’re forcing them to stay pregnant, we’re forcing them to take a risk that they don’t want to take, which other parts of the law don’t allow at all.
Sweet: We’ve had 36 years of a movement that has hammered relentlessly on the idea that abortion is murder, and abortion isn’t murder. Fetuses are not babies. Fetuses are dependent on a living woman. Women are not supposed to be incubators. We just don’t want to live in a society like that. When you have a movement that is built on the assumption that women determining their own lives is somehow illegitimate, and that all the people that provide abortions in this country are somehow illegitimate and targets for murder, target #1 or target #1,200, it’s all completely unacceptable.
I think it’s time for a resurgence of a moral and political offensive on the part of the people who are pro-choice in this country.
I’m very concerned for Dr. Carhart and all the other doctors, and I’m just really determined that we turn this situation around and, number one, put some bodies out on the street. Have some visible rejection of this climate that’s being created and have people out being really public about our support for these doctors. That’s what we need to do. For people who can’t come, you can make a donation, and we’ll put a big sign in your name. That’s fine. Donate so other people can be there. I want to say right now that, yes, we should be mobilizing. This is a very serious situation. This is the first serious targeting of a provider since they killed Dr. Tiller. They’re saying that they want to close Dr. Carhart’s clinic down. We cannot let that happen.
I think the call should go out to all the leaders of the women’s movement and other pro-choice organizations. All of us leaders should be there Friday morning, August 28. We’re going to have a press conference at the clinic of the leaders of the different organizations. All the national leaders should be there. I’m going to call all of them personally and tell them that.
Slate: World Can’t Wait has also said that this should not be a “mobilization as usual.” Can you tell us about that a little bit?
Sweet: Look. They killed Dr. Tiller. They’ve killed other doctors in the past but this is clearly a turn. All of us who care very deeply about the ability of women to function in this society have to on our part shoulder some personal responsibility. I think it’s just that serious. People who care about the humanity of women and want to turn this situation around have to make some sacrifices too. We cannot sit back and say it’s OK for these doctors to be the only ones taking the risk.
Slate: What are the stakes in all this right now?
Carhart: First of all, and this is going along Dr. Tiller’s line, it was his line and mine too, that this is not a war about abortion, or about late term abortions. What they’ve done is they’ve picked on late term because they can make it seem more gruesome. They’ve picked on abortion because they can make that seem more gruesome. This is a war against women’s rights. When you look at the people that are on the sidewalks, the groups that are doing this, they’re all the fundamentalist religions that want women barefoot and pregnant and in the home. That’s what this is all about. I think if they could take away the woman’s right to vote, that’s where they’re really trying to get to. Until people realize that this is just one, the beginning of the iceberg that the conservatives want to take away from the women of America. Until they realize how important what they’ve got to lose is, there’s a great danger of that happening.
Sweet: That’s it. We have to draw a line here and make a stand around this. The local chapters of NOW out in Wichita and Nebraska have taken the lead on this in calling for pro-choice people to come in. World Can’t Wait and other groups are going to join in. But we need more people. We need support. People can contact us at worldcantwait.org, and we’ll pass that support on to Dr. Carhart and we will be there starting on the 27th of August. So come on out.
* * * * *
The Wichita and Nebraska chapters of the National Organization for Women along with World Can’t Wait are mobilizing people from all over the country to come to respond to Dr. Carhart’s call for people to come defend his clinic in Nebraska. For more information and housing contact World Can’t Wait: worldcantwait.org; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; phone: 866-973-4463.
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Revolution #174, August 30, 2009
On August 8, 2009, police officers from the 43rd precinct of the New York City Police Department raided the home of Juanita Young, an outspoken activist against police brutality and oppression. Over a dozen plainclothes police officers broke down the door, attacking Juanita’s oldest son, James (JJ) Ferguson. They pulled down JJ’s pants, knocked him to the ground and turned him over face down on the pavement. They pushed their knees into JJ’s neck and back, choked him, punched him, handcuffed him and pepper-sprayed him. JJ was vomiting and had several bumps on his head as he was put into the police car. Police also sexually assaulted Juanita Young’s oldest daughter, Saran, while Saran held her baby in her arms. They arrested seven people including two of Juanita Young’s daughters. JJ Ferguson was charged with several serious charges, the six others were given a summons for disorderly conduct.
This raid is the latest in a history of police attacks and persecution brought down on Juanita Young and her family. Juanita Young is the mother of Malcolm Ferguson. On March 1, 2000, Malcolm Ferguson was shot and killed in the Bronx, by plainclothes officer Louis Rivera. Since that time, Juanita has been fighting for justice for Malcolm and all victims of police brutality. She fought in court for years and in June 2007 a jury awarded her $10.5 million for the killing of her son. The city is planning to appeal. Last year a jury acquitted Young of bogus charges leveled against her by police who brutalized her in her own home in 2006.
Young’s defiance and resistance in the face of this has been a significant front in the fight against police brutality, repression, and the criminalization of a generation.
It was a warm summer evening. Juanita Young, her family, friends and neighbors were enjoying a barbeque outside her apartment in the Bronx. Among those present were other parents whose children have been killed by the police.
As one of the guests, whose son was killed by the police in 2006, described it, the police “came running in here and kicking like storm troopers.” After busting down the door, police attacked and arrested JJ. As he was being put into a squad car, unable to open his eyes from the pepper spray, other officers were in Young’s apartment forcing everyone to get down on the floor. One of Juanita’s daughters told Revolution that when they asked the police why they were being arrested, they were told, “We don’t care, you’re all going.”
One officer followed Juanita’s daughter Saran Young as Saran ran up the stairs with her baby in her arms. As Saran handed her son to someone, the officer ripped off her shirt. She described what happened next. “He follows me upstairs and he try to bum rush me there, I’m like, ‘I’m just trying to go get a shirt. Just let me get a shirt, I’m going wherever you want me to go, just let me get a shirt.’ So he’s still grabbing up on me and touching one of my breasts so I’m like, ‘Stop touching me! Why are you still touching me?! I don’t have on no shirt. Just let me get a shirt, I’m goin with you.’” (She was allowed to get a shirt before being taken to jail.)
It was only after calls to the 43rd precinct from around the country that JJ was taken to a hospital. He was not released until 4 am, Tuesday morning, August 11. The six others arrested were held for hours before they were finally given summons for “disorderly conduct” and released.
Several days after the raid and arrests, Juanita Young told Revolution that achild in the neighborhood told her, “I’m really afraid. What the cops did, they might come back.”
There is a particular history behind this raid that goes all the way back to the murder of Amadou Diallo, and people everywhere need to know about this.
On February 4, 1999, Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old immigrant from Guinea was shot and killed by four white plainclothes New York City police officers on Wheeler Avenue in the Soundview section of the Bronx. The officers claim they thought he matched the description of a rapist and followed him to his apartment building. They did not identify themselves. Amadou Diallo was unarmed. The police fired at him 41 times. Even as Amadou lay dying in his hallway, they continued to pump bullets into him, evidenced by the bullet holes that went through the soles of his shoes. The police would claim Amadou was “reaching” for his wallet.
Thousands of outraged people poured into the streets in protest in the days following the murder of Amadou Diallo. Eleven days after the shooting the cops still had not been arrested. Eventually they would be arrested and charged with murder. The trial was moved to Albany, New York, where the population is 86 percent white. A year later, in February 2000, all four of the officers were acquitted. People came out into the streets again demanding justice.
Malcolm Ferguson, Juanita Young’s son, was among them. On the day of the Diallo verdict, Malcolm took part in one of the marches through the neighborhood to the 43rd precinct that blocked traffic on a major highway at rush hour. He was among those arrested for participating in this protest.
Then, on March 1—just a few blocks from where Amadou was killed, and just five days after the not guilty verdict on those four cops—Malcolm Ferguson was himself gunned down by a plainclothes cop. On that day, five undercover housing cops on narcotics patrol barged into an apartment complex, coming after Ferguson and three others. Officer Louis Rivera chased Ferguson, caught him, and fired a single bullet into the left side of his head. Blood found on the barrel of the gun was evidence of the close range at which Rivera shot.
Juanita Young has boldly and tirelessly fought police brutality and murder, and the criminalizing of a generation from that day forward. She has been ruthlessly hounded by this system for her persistent courage. Legally blind, Juanita is on disability and receives public assistance. In 2003 her ex-cop landlord evicted Juanita without any notice, in the course of which she was arrested in her own home. Making sure there was no misunderstanding over what this was about, one cop told her, “You won’t be going to any rallies today.” She was arrested again in 2005 at an anti-war protest, and again in 2006 while cops were responding to a call for an ambulance at Young’s home for one of her daughters.
After the most recent attack—the August 8 raid on her home—Juanita Young told Revolution, “They’re going after my children to get at me—it’s like they’re saying, ‘We killed one and we can take them all.’ But they are not going to make me shut up.”
After the raid, Juanita Young and her support committee immediately called a press conference and rally against police terror. On August 10, people gathered outside her home to rally and speak out against these attacks. They marched from there to the 43rd precinct where another rally was held.
Along with revolutionaries and activists, youth from the neighborhood joined in and rode on their bikes and carried signs. People chanted, “Hands off Juanita Young,” and “Join us, Join us, Stop Police Brutality.” Several people did come out of their houses and down from the housing projects to join in the march, particularly young people.
Carl Dix from the Revolutionary Communist Party, and a founder of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, said:
“It is unacceptable that our youth who are our hope for the future are being treated like a criminalized generation, guilty until proven innocent, if they can survive to prove their innocence. It is not acceptable that people say, ‘Well when our youth confront the police, they should learn to be respectful and polite. They should put their faces down to the ground and not look up with pride. They should be meek and submissive.’ Why don’t you tell them to shuck and jive, and scrape and bow. Why don’t you tell them that they should check their human dignity, until after the cop is gone. Look, I will not accept that, and you shouldn’t either…
“It is not acceptable that this sister Juanita Young is targeted by the police for standing up and speaking out against injustice. See and I’ll tell you, I’m a revolutionary and I’ve been one all my life. I think a system that does this to the masses of people, here in this country and around the world, is no damn good and needs to be gotten rid of through revolution. I think that needs to happen, I think it can happen. I know that ain’t where everybody here is comin’ from, but that’s what I believe and I will tell you that I believe that and why if you want to talk about it. But wherever you’re coming from, you have to say it is wrong for a mother to be having a cookout and to have a dozen undercover cops break her door down, beat up and arrest her children, rip the shirt off her grown daughter’s back in the course of doin’ that. It is wrong and unacceptable for her son to be arrested three times in three days by this precinct. So don’t tell me about what our youth are doin’ wrong. And I do challenge our youth to get out of some of this stuff they’re into, fightin’ and even killing each other, and stand together and take on this system. I will challenge you to do that—Fight the Power and transform yourselves and others for revolution.” (See the Carl Dix video at YouTube: youtube.com/watch?v=CaaGmqnkELo.)
The next court date for those arrested is September 14. Stay tuned to revcom.us for updates.
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Revolution #174, August 30, 2009
Life and Change in a Chinese Village
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) in China, from 1966-1976, involved one-quarter of the world’s population and took humanity to unprecedented heights in the struggle for liberation. But today, what people mostly hear about the Chinese Cultural Revolution is lies and slander. Dongping Han grew up during the GPCR and is the author of the book, The Unknown Cultural Revolution—Life and Change in a Chinese Village. His story is a very welcome contribution to the struggle to get the real story out about the GPCR. In December 2008, Dongping Han participated in a very significant symposium in New York City, “Rediscovering the Chinese Cultural Revolution: Art and Politics, Lived Experience, Legacies of Liberation” which was sponsored by Revolution Books, Set the Record Straight Project, and Institute for Public Knowledge-New York University. On December 12, 2008, the opening night of the symposium, Dongping Han spoke at Revolution Books. Revolution is serializing the transcript of this talk as well as the Question & Answer session (which will soon be available in full at revcom.us). Dongping Han has edited this for publication. Bai Di, who also grew up in China during the GPCR, was another speaker at this symposium—and an interview with her is available at revcom.us.
The following is the edited transcript of Dongping Han’s talk:
My book is about the education reform during the Cultural Revolution—I lived through it. I grew up on a Chinese collective farm. I started working on the farm when I was nine years old. At the time, the Chinese school would close for two days each week—two afternoons plus Sunday—for children to work on the farm. So I worked about two days each week while I was still in school. And the collective farm paid the students work points.1 The adults got ten points a day. I got 5.7 points each day working on the farm. So I was able to support myself when I was only nine years old. Everybody could work on the farm, and if you wanted to work you would always get a job. And my job at the time was an easy one. For example, the adults carried water from the river to the field, and I would water the plants with a ladle.
What China’s Cultural Revolution Was About
In 1949, the Chinese revolution came to power and threw off oppression and foreign domination. And under the leadership of Mao Tsetung, the Chinese people set out to build a whole new, socialist society. But by 1966 the class struggle over whether China would continue to build socialism—or become a capitalist society—was extremely sharp. This was concentrated within the Communist Party itself—between top revolutionary leaders leading the masses to transform society toward communism, and those whose policies would take China onto the “capitalist road” and restore oppression. This is why Mao launched the GPCR—to overthrow the capitalist roaders and to seize back those portions of power in the government and society that these capitalist roaders had taken over. But this “revolution within the revolution” was more than that. It set out to further transform the whole society in the direction of communism. As Mao Tsetung stated, while the target of the Cultural Revolution was the capitalist roaders-—the goal was to transform the whole consciousness, outlook and values of people.
A very important part of the GPCR was the struggle to narrow—with the goal of eventually eliminating—the inequalities and differences between town and country, between mental and manual labor, and between workers and peasants. This was a society-wide struggle to find new and creative forms that could enable the masses to more directly exercise power and participate in the all-round administration of society. For ten years, the GPCR prevented the restoration of capitalism and brought forward amazing “socialist new things” in culture, education, science and workplaces. But after Mao died in 1976, top leaders in the Communist Party, headed by Deng Xiaoping, carried out a reactionary coup. Key leaders and supporters of Mao were jailed and/or killed and tens of thousands were arrested and suppressed.
In my book I discussed the Cultural Revolution education reform and its impact on the countryside. When I was young, most people in the village were illiterate. Both my parents were illiterate. Before the Chinese Communists came to power, most Chinese farmers were too poor to go to school. My father started working in a factory full time when he was only 12 years old. My mom started working full time in an embroidery factory in my hometown when she was only six years old. So they didn’t have any education. I had five siblings. When I was growing up, many kids in the village who were older than I was were not able to go to school. Most of my cousins, my elder sister, were not able to go to school.
The Chinese Communist Party inherited an educational system that was biased against rural people. Most educational resources were concentrated in the urban areas. It was very hard for the rural kids to go to school. When I started first grade, I had to pass a screening test. If kids wanted to go to school they had to learn to write before they went to school, and they had to learn to count to 100 before they would be accepted into school.
But most of the parents didn’t have the skills to teach their children so they were all rejected. This screening test was necessitated because there was not enough room in the public school in the village at the time. But three years later, during the Cultural Revolution, every village in my hometown was empowered to set up a primary school of its own. There were 1,050 villages in my county at the time. Every village had set up a primary school during the Cultural Revolution years. Every school age child was able to go to school free. The Chinese government and the Chinese elite now talk about how education during the Cultural Revolution years was a disaster. This is simply a lie.
Education improved so much in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution’s ten years. Every four villages in my county set up a joint middle school. So children who graduated from the primary school were able to go to this middle school without any screening test. Everybody was able to go. And it was free. Every commune in my county had four high schools. There was only one high school in my county before the Cultural Revolution. And there were only two classes. From 1950 to 1966, for 17 years, that high school only produced 1,500 high school graduates. Of these 1,500 high school graduates, 800 went to college and never came back to the village. The rest of the 700 were working in the government or joined the army. There were almost no high school graduates in the countryside.
When I entered the commune high school in 1972, there were about 1,000 students in my year in my school alone. When I graduated from high school, there were more than 100 high school graduates in my village. These high school graduates in my village played a very important role in the development of the Chinese countryside. They were able to do a lot more things for the village than their elders were ever able to do.
Before the Cultural Revolution, we were only doing farming. During the Cultural Revolution years, the high school graduates helped diversify our village economy. We had a forest team composed of high school graduates. They planted many different kinds of fruit trees, pepper trees, as well as other trees. And we also built a factory. And there were 175 people working in that factory. In China today, rural young people have to leave the village to find jobs in the cities. But during the Cultural Revolution years we didn’t need to go anywhere. We were not anybody else’s slaves. We worked for our own future. And the 175 people working in the factory were able to generate an income for the collective, which greatly improved farmers’ livelihoods.
The factory also maintained the farming implements for the village. We had two tractors and two pickup trucks. And looking back, I feel the Cultural Revolution years improved the farmers’ lives in many ways because the production increased. And in my county, the grain yield more than doubled in those ten years. And the income more than doubled in those ten years. The Chinese government now says the Chinese economy was at the brink of collapse. That’s nonsense.
And when the Chinese government asked the farmers to disband the collective to farm on their own, farmers in my hometown resisted very hard. The government had to remove all the county government leaders from my prefecture in order to disband the collective. My village didn’t privatize all our assets, even though the government bought all the land from the village. But my village insisted, if they took our land they needed to compensate us with land from another area. So we didn’t lose our land. The village still owns as much as it used to own. The village is still doing very well today. And the farmers are able to retire today. My mom receives retirement money from the collective every month. In other villages where the land was privatized, the farmers are suffering hardship.
I went to college in 1978. In 1977 there were about 12,000 high school graduates in my commune. They all graduated from the commune high schools during the Cultural Revolution years. And all these people were eligible to take the college entrance exam in 1977. Of these people 2,000 took the exam, and out of these, I was the only person who was able to go to college. I was the only one from my commune of 50,000 people. I graduated from college and went to grad school and then went to teach in Zhengzhou University.
In 1986 I joined an American research team in China to do rural research. There were two American professors and myself. We went to a few villages in Hunan. At that time it was very rare to see a foreigner in the rural areas. So wherever we went in the village, there was a huge crowd following us—mostly young boys and young girls—who wanted to see what a foreigner looked like.
One day, while I was eating lunch, I asked the young kids to read some headlines in the newspaper. But they all shook their heads. And I thought they were shy in the beginning. And some kids said they were not in school. They were not in school! I was so shocked to hear that. I used to take it for granted that every child was in school. But since the commune has been dismantled, all the public school system, the medical care system, which were supported by the commune, had to go with the commune. I started thinking about the importance of the educational reforms during the Cultural Revolution years since then.
I left China in 1988, to go to Singapore to study there. From there, I got a scholarship to study in the U.S. It was my intention to study American foreign policy, to study U.S. intellectual and diplomatic history. But in the U.S. I read what the U.S. scholars wrote about China’s Cultural Revolution. What they wrote about China’s Cultural Revolution was not the same Cultural Revolution I experienced. I was horrified about the way they portrayed China and socialism. And of course I was also shocked about what was happening in the United States.
When I first came to the United States, I didn’t know what America would be like. I was told by the Chinese elite how wonderful America was. The first place I lived in the U.S. was Burlington, Vermont. It is a very beautiful place on Lake Champlain. I lived in the northern part of the city, a poor neighborhood. My next door neighbor’s children were hungry all the time. Every day after they came back from school, they came to my house to play with my son. They would say that they were hungry and ask if I would give them a piece of Chinese bread. I was shocked to see America, the most wealthy country in the world, to actually have hungry people. I lived there for two years.
Then I moved to Boston and lived in a wealthy neighborhood. One day, my landlord asked me what I thought about America. And I said I was not impressed. He was very upset. He asked me why. I told him that when I was in China, we were very poor, but we didn’t have a homeless population. And everyone had a job under socialism, and everyone enjoyed free medical care and free education. And in the wealthiest country in the world, these things did not exist. And my landlord felt that I have an attitude problem.
When the Chinese revolution succeeded in 1949, the communist officials felt that they suffered hardship fighting for the revolution. Now the revolution succeeded, it was time for them to enjoy life. They built special schools for their own children. Even though we were supposed to build a socialist system in China, the class situation in China was very sharp. High officials were entitled to special privileges.
The Cultural Revolution was a revolution within the revolution to empower the masses and to transform Chinese society into a real socialist system, and to make sure what happened in the former Soviet Union would not happen in China. During the Cultural Revolution years, all Chinese officials, all the Chinese elites were required to work with working class people on a regular basis. College students, college professors, high school teachers, were all asked to participate in manual labor on a regular basis. I was the manager of the village factory. I was not paid any more than anybody else working in the same factory. Village school teachers were paid the same in work points. The barefoot doctors2 were paid the same work points in the village. That’s how socialism should operate and if we have a system like that we wouldn’t have the financial meltdown like the one we have now.
In the last few weeks, as the financial crisis materialized in this country, many of my students were worried. I told them that this could actually be an important opportunity for us. We have been consuming recklessly for so long. It’s time for us to pause and reflect. We don’t have to live like this. We don’t have to tolerate homelessness and many other social ills. We have so much in this society. We have enough productivity to provide for everybody to live adequate lives. But we have a problem. A small minority, who are greedy, want more. We could build a different society where people are fulfilled.
1. Work points refers to the way in which income was distributed to peasants in China’s socialist countryside. In the collectives in which people lived and worked, people would receive a certain number of work points for the amount of work they performed. And the value of each work point was linked to the production and earnings of the collective. This was a particular application of the socialist principle of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their work.” [back]
2. Barefoot Doctors: During the GPCR the focus of health care shifted to the countryside, even as overall health care improved in the cities. The “barefoot doctor” movement was part of this revolutionary transformation. Young peasants and urban youth were sent to the countryside and trained in basic health care and medicine geared to meet local needs and treat the most common illnesses. And doctors went to rural areas—at any given time, a third of the urban doctors were in the countryside. Life expectancy during the period of Mao’s leadership doubled from 32 years in 1949 to 65 years in 1976. [back]
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Revolution #174, August 30, 2009
The following are excerpts of letters that were sent in response to literature sent to prisoners.
The Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund wants to call attention to the fact that these particular prisoners are among the 150 people on the waiting list for a subscription to Revolution newspaper. A donation of $70 today to PRLF would enable their subscription to be filled right away. (See box below for information on how to donate to PRLF)
First of all I would like to thank you for the literature that you sent me. I just finished reading “The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have” (condensed version).... I am 23 years old. So, I know that I’m still young, and have a lot to learn. Nevertheless, I do know that we need a different system, and that the only way that is possible is through revolution.
“The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have,” is so true, and should be studied by everybody. Thus, they can understand the essence of this system of capitalism-imperialism. Of course, there are going to be those whom have been indoctrinated by the doctrinal systems of this system. For instance, the media and even our schools... are meant to keep us ignorant....
The Iraq War is a perfect example, and in order to get us to join or support their imperialist wars, they feed us all kinds of propaganda. The most common one is of course, that it is the only way to keep us safe from the terrorists whom are the enemies of peace, democracy, and humanity itself.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the ruling classes only want to strengthen their empire. Thus, every victory for them, is a defeat for the rest of us. ...The ruling classes also throw a lot of religion at us to keep us under control. They tell us that this is all God’s will, and that we have to have faith and patience, and he’ll make things better.... As it was already stated in the Revolution... it wasn’t some god that got us in this mess and it won’t be some god that is going to get us out of it. Hence, revolution should be understood to be the only solution!
First I must give thanks where thanks are due for opening my eyes to a new way and for information mainstream media does not provide.... I’ve made my share of mistakes that’s why I sit here now. But I’m on the back side of my time now. I will be out within the next two years and I’ve been looking for something that would give my life meaning, a direction. Then a buddy of mine let me read one of his Revolutions: Sept 21, 2008 “Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the RCP USA.” I don’t know if life changing is the word. But really changed my way of thinking and how I look at this so called government and this society that we are living in. I started to look at my own personal beliefs and the things I was taught or told to believe in and I didn’t like what I saw. I really started to question a lot of things. I still have a ton of questions but I’m informed now and I now have a stepping stone to start my search for answers and most important I found something I really believe in something important “a change for the better.” Something we all need as a society and for that you have my full support...
With Solidarity And Thanks,
“One Who Has
Nothing To Lose
But My Chains.”
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The Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF) is an educational literature fund that fills requests from U.S. prisoners for revolutionary literature.
The main requests received by PRLF from those behind bars are for complementary subscriptions in Spanish and English to the weekly newspaper Revolution* and for revolutionary and other books, including ones highlighted in the newspaper. Through providing this literature, PRLF provides an educational opportunity for prisoners to engage with world events and key political, cultural, and philosophical questions of the day from a unique revolutionary perspective, including discussions of morality, religion, science, and the arts. Every week prisoners can delve into the urgent and lively news and debate about unfolding political and social struggles, and can critically think about and dissect the current state of society as well as search for an alternative.
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Revolution #174, August 30, 2009
On Tom Ridge's Revelation of Pressure by the Bush Regime to Jack Up Terror Alerts...
Implemented six months after September 11, 2001, color-coded "terror alerts" scrolled on the bottom of TV screens, and opened newscasts. They became part of the background noise for years—alternating between Red—severe risk… Orange—high risk… and Yellow—elevated risk. (The "terror alerts" were never blue or green— the lower risk colors). And under the rubric of these "terror alerts," spying and repression by the U.S. government was radically intensified.
Now come revelations from the former head of Homeland Security that top officials of the Bush regime pushed to spike the "terror alert" ratings for political gain on the eve of the 2004 presidential election.
* * *
In the atmosphere created in part by the "terror alerts," people who looked like they might be Middle Eastern were dragged off of airplanes. Brutal detention centers were filled with "suspicious" people who were accused of breaking no laws. Open kidnapping and legalized torture, along with new extremes in secret detention and torture were implemented to "keep Americans safe." The supposed right to free speech was recast as "watch what you say," and constant warnings were issued to the general public to "report all suspicious activity"—to turn in their neighbors or fellow passengers for dissenting views or non-conformist behavior.
Today, the color codes have been phased out, but the climate of fear and policies of repression continue. Torturers, and those who ordered torture (to "keep America safe") have been promised immunity. Barack Obama proposes preventative detention as a "solution" to the scandal of Guantánamo. In Los Angeles, the LAPD keeps track of people who take pictures or video footage "with no apparent esthetic value," who "take notes," or espouse what the LAPD considers "extremist" views—and this program has been promoted as a national model by Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
But now, in his upcoming book, The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege...and How We Can Be Safe Again, former Homeland Security head Tom Ridge says he was pressured by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush's re-election, to influence the outcome of the election!
It isn't just that the Bush Regime was pressuring Homeland Security to jack up terror alerts for political purposes. For years, it was verboten for any "credible" or "legitimate" political figure or journalist to even question whether the public was being manipulated by false "terror alerts." On the MSNBC show Hardball (August 21, 2009), Salon.com's Joan Walsh noted that leading up to the 2004 presidential election, when Howard Dean—who lost the Democratic nomination to John Kerry—charged that terror alerts were used manipulated to get Bush elected, "John Kerry had to come out and smack Howard Dean, who was telling the truth about this—that they were politicizing the terror warnings—because he didn't want to be seen as some kind of left-wing lunatic." (Another guest on the same show, Ron Reagan, responded, "Isn't it funny how left-wing lunacy turns into reality after a few years?")
Whatever Ridge's motivation, the implications of his revelation are damning. The "threat of terrorist attack" as reported by the government has been the supposed rationale for draconian changes that have taken place in this country over the past eight years. On a par with the manufactured lies about "weapons of mass destruction," the terror alert system was integral to justifying the domestic repression component of the "war on terror."
Week in, week out, more comes to light about how consistently, and wildly, those who run this system lie about the most basic facts—and use those lies to justify war and repression. Willie Nelson once sang, "How much is a liar's word worth?" The question that must be asked now by everyone is: Why should a system that perpetrated the "weapons of mass destruction" hoax to justify a horrific war on Iraq, whose leaders pushed to jack up "terror alerts" for their own political interests, be believed about anything that comes from its mouthpieces?
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Revolution #174, August 30, 2009
Inaugural issue now online! demarcations-journal.org
Demarcations: A Journal of Communist Theory and Polemic seeks to set forth, defend, and further advance the theoretical framework for the beginning of a new stage of communist revolution in the contemporary world. This journal will promote the perspectives of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement. Without drawing sharp dividing lines between communism as a living, critical, and developing science serving the emancipation of humanity, on the one hand, and other perspectives, paths, and programs that cannot lead to emancipation, on the other—whether openly reformist or claiming the mantle or moniker of “communism”—without making such demarcations, it will not be possible to achieve the requisite understanding and clarity to radically change the world. Demarcations will contribute to achieving that clarity.
In the wrangling spirit of Marxism, Demarcations will also delve into questions and challenges posed by major changes in the world today. The last quarter-century has seen intensified globalization, growing urbanization and shantytown-ization in the Third World, the rise of religious fundamentalism, shifting alignments in the world imperialist system, and the acceleration of environmental degradation. Demarcations will examine such changes, the discourses that have grown up in connection with them, and the ideological, political, and strategic implications of such developments for communist revolution. Demarcations will also undertake theoretical explorations of issues of art, science, and culture.
The inaugural issue of Demarcations opens with an extensive original polemic against the political philosophy and thought of Alain Badiou.
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Revolution #174, August 30, 2009
They're everywhere. You can't avoid them. "Exploding ARMs," "Predatory lending," "Toxic assets," "Mortgage backed securities" splash across headlines of major newspapers and flow from the tongues of evening news commentators. But what does it all mean? What do hundreds of thousands of Exploding ARMs (Adjustable Rate Mortgages) look like? What does it mean when housing, which people need, is a commodity—a thing to be exchanged for profit? How does the "greatest loss of wealth for people of color in modern U.S. history" look on the ground? Fortunately or unfortunately you do not need to imagine or speculate.
A devastating and visceral depiction of this is a central part of Red Lines Housing Crisis Learning Center, a project of Damon Rich at the Queens Museum of Art in Queens New York. Using the museum's 9,335 square foot scale model of New York City that includes every building built before 1992, Rich placed a red triangle over any city block that had more than three foreclosures of 1-4 family houses in the past year. Block after block after block, neighborhood after neighborhood are covered in red as if some war game were being played with generals moving their pieces around the board showing neighborhoods occupied by their army. But this is not a game and the effects are much closer to a real war—people driven out of their homes and buildings boarded up as if a bomb went off. Whole swaths of Brooklyn (Crown Heights, Bedford Stuyvesant, East New York…), tracts of Queens (Cambria Heights, Jamaica, Ozone Park…) and the Bronx are laid waste. This exhibition gives you a real sense of the scope of the carnage and destruction.
This is America and in America race matters. Redlining was the historic practice in which Black people were systematically discriminated against by being denied mortgages and housing. This exhibition explores how this practice has been updated in the 21st century. Denying loans has been used as a club against Black people -- now loaning them money is also being used against them.
The whole exhibition is a "learning center." There are light-boxes (backlight displays that evoke advertising signs) that define words like "Blockbusting," "Disinvestment" and modern terms like "Mortgage Backed Securities." There are historic ephemera including a copy of the 1939 FHA (Federal Housing Administration) Underwriting Manual that was written by Frederick. M. Babcock whose 1932 textbook The Valuation of Real Estate laid the foundation for contemporary methods of analyzing and establishing the value of real estate. That book also codified race as the decisive factor in property value and it openly advocated segregation. There are over 20 books and manuals that you can look through that address housing, mortgage lending and investment. On one wall, a giant reproduction of a newspaper ad hangs announcing "Make Money In Real Estate Foreclosures" which encourages people to take seminars on making money off of other's suffering. Placed throughout the exhibition space are stands like one might find on a lawn announcing a house for sale, but in these signs are photographs of houses from the Detroit area—suburb to urban metro. The havoc that is shown in model New York is the tip of a much bigger and more devastating iceberg happening across the country.
Another highlight of the exhibit is a two-channel video (two separate videos played right next to each other that are actually one artwork) that is projected so that housing rights activists, mortgage brokers and investment bankers "speak" to each other. While one person is speaking, the other video projection has silent video of another person, ostensibly listening. It presents a revealing look at bankers in their own words as well as insightful comments from a range of people. In the video, sitting in front of a poster of Karl Marx, David Harvey, an internationally leading theorist in urban studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) notes, "…you had 2 million people who had lost their homes… The first wave hit very, very badly on African-Americans in Cleveland, Baltimore, Detroit and also on some white populations in California and Florida…when I looked at the map of foreclosures in Baltimore or Cleveland or Detroit, it looks like a whole series of financial Katrinas had hit them…The African American community across the United States has lost more in the way of wealth in the last couple of years than they had gained probably in the last 30 years."
Through Red Lines… in many facets, you get a sense of the historic and systemic nature of one aspect of how this system crushes Black people, people of color and poor people generally. It shows movements of people in the '60s and '70s resisting this. You get glimpse of how white people were subsidized to move to the suburbs. You begin to see the hundreds of thousands of people who now are behind in mortgage payments on subprime loans and whose houses are worth less than the actual loan. If they sell their house they will be deeper in debt than when they bought the home—a perverse continuation of Southern sharecropping traditions where you played by the rules and at the end of the year you were always deeper in debt than when you began.
The current capitalist crisis is about much more than the housing crisis and it is not only targeted at the Black masses or the poor. This exhibition points to the depth of the crisis and enables you to connect many dots and recognize how all this is part of the regular functioning of the system and see how national oppression of Black people intersects with this. You begin to understand how very powerful blocs of capital orchestrated the recent theft consciously—through intentionally steering Black borrowers towards loans that would become impossible to repay and through other means.
This exhibit is well worth a visit. It makes you think and it opens up new questions. There is much more to learn and wrangle with. As a sign at the entrance to the exhibit reads, "What could be more abstract than money? What could be more concrete than buildings and land? This exhibition sets out to explore the relationship between the two..."
Red Lines Housing Crisis Learning Center is on view through September 24. Queens Museum of Art / (718) 592-9700 /firstname.lastname@example.org
More info is available online: queensmuseum.org/red-lines-housing-crisis-learning-center-2#
The video from the exhibit is available at: anothercupdevelopment.org/MortStake.mov
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Revolution #174, August 30, 2009
On August 11th, No More Deaths volunteer Walt Staton was sentenced to a year of probation and 300 hours of community service for the "crime" of leaving plastic water jugs in the Sonoran Desert along the U.S./Mexico border, just south of Tucson, in an effort to keep immigrants coming north through the desert from dying of dehydration.
No More Deaths reports that 5,000 men, women and children perished while trying to cross the border into Arizona between 1998 and 2008. U.S. border policy deliberately channels unauthorized migration into remote desert areas. The border fence blocks routes along more populated sections of the border, like the area south of San Diego and other border towns. This means that immigrants trying to cross over into the U.S. must travel through more and more dangerous, isolated sections of the desert where daytime temperatures regularly reach 110 degrees and the only source of safe water is what the immigrants themselves can carry.
Staton was convicted of littering, but throughout the trial and sentencing federal prosecutors made clear that his prosecution was highly political. Their sentencing memo claimed that Staton's actions "are not about humanitarian efforts, but about protesting the immigration policies of the United States, and aiding those that enter illegally." They charged that the phrase "buena suerte" or "good luck" in Spanish was printed on the water jugs, indicating that "the defendant and No More Deaths wish to aid illegal aliens in their entry attempt." The judge barred Staton from defending himself by arguing that the humanitarian nature of his actions far outweighed any so-called "littering" on his part.
Dan Millis, another volunteer with No More Deaths, recently spoke on the radio show Democracy Now! about the group's work. He explained that in February, he and others were walking in a section of trails used by migrants in order to leave water, food and medical supplies, when they found the body of Josseline, a young 14-year-old girl from El Salvador who had been traveling north with her 10-year-old brother to reunite with their mother. Josseline became sick, probably after drinking some dirty water or perhaps just running out of water and becoming dehydrated, and she fell behind. "I'm told that she encouraged her little brother to keep going, because he needed to make it to meet their parents. And her little brother did make it, as did the rest of the group, to our knowledge. But Josseline did not."
Two days after finding Josseline's body, Millis said, he was back out in the desert to continue No More Deaths' work when he, too, was arrested by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officers and charged with littering. Since Staton's conviction in June, 13 more No More Deaths volunteers have been charged with littering.
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Revolution #174, August 30, 2009
Revolution received the following correspondence:
Berkeley, CA, Monday, August 17: On a sunny late summer day, a determined group of over 60 people gathered on the steps of University of California Berkeley Law (Boalt Hall). Dressed as detainees, hooded protesters in orange jumpsuits stood sentry around the crowd. A man posed frozen atop a box in the iconic dark hood and drape of an Abu Ghraib torture victim, with the yellow "Cal" logo across his chest. As students arrived, "detainees" silently flanked the doors, alongside teams talking with students and professors, and handing out World Can't Wait's new brochure, "The Truth About Torture: Fire, Disbar and Prosecute John Yoo!"
People were here on the first day of law school classes for a press conference and then a spirited protest to make torture and Boalt's Torture Professor the question before all. Led by World Can't Wait, the National Lawyers Guild, and other organizations, the crowd demanded that former Bush regime lawyer John Yoo be fired, disbarred, and prosecuted for war crimes. By late afternoon, most of the law school was abuzz as students were stirred into debate over the protesters' message, and four protesters including Stephanie Tang, a World Can't Wait leader, were under arrest. The action received much media coverage, including CNN and local TV news. An excellent kick-off for the new school year!
At the press conference, TV cameras and reporters joined the crowd to hear impassioned speakers led by representatives of four generations of UC and Boalt alumni: Sharon Adams, Dan Siegel, Anne Weills, Marc-Tizoc Gonzalez, and Ann Fagan Ginger all exposed and denounced the shameful role of government lawyers whose work was essential in making torture possible—the university and the law school for harboring and legitimizing war criminal John Yoo—and the danger of a future where not enough people have resisted and repudiated torture. A powerful statement was read on behalf of the Coalition for an Ethical American Psychologists Association. Other speakers included World Can't Wait, Progressive Democrats of America, National Accountability Action Network, and Code Pink.
After the press conference, as Yoo's Civil Procedures class was to begin, 40 protesters flowed into a hallway filling with students. Many students checked out World Can't Wait flyers and talked with protesters, and debate was flying: Shouldn't people wait for Obama to fix the problems? Does protest energize or alienate people? Are law students exempt from social responsibility until they graduate? Aren't there ways people can stop war crimes besides marching in the streets?
This hallway debate—raucous, intense, and heartfelt—was punctuated by the arrival of John Yoo. As Yoo approached the classroom he was surrounded and verbally confronted by protesters calling him a war criminal and demanding an end to torture and his prosecution. As UC police began trying to silence the protesters, more such debate continued as protesters met Yoo inside the classroom. Even after most were rousted by the cops, the debate continued in the hallway.
Apparently this sort of conversation about crucial social and moral issues is not tolerated within the approved law school discourse, because campus police arrested four protesters to shut down these conversations.
World Can't Wait organizers say they had not known how many people to expect at this protest, or how those people would be thinking protest actions could affect the situation. But the "back to school day" turnout of protesters was large and broad, and their mood intense and serious. They were not only willing to confront the authorities of the university—they were determined to engage with the students and teachers, people who under this system are day-to-day living with a war criminal harbored in their midst, and they're supposed to think this is OK. The attitude of everyone at the press conference and then the protest was "This is intolerable! Torture is a war crime—torture is immoral. People living in this country have to say NO!" Of this kind of conscience, defiance and resistance, there needs to be much more.
Students and teachers make moral and political choices as well. Will it be a new normalcy of life on campus to allow those who commit war crimes on behalf of the American empire to find safe haven there? Are future lawyers really OK with learning about ethics, morality and justice from someone responsible for the torture and murder at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib? Are professors going to be silent because it's uncomfortable to admit that the guy in the next classroom helped set up excuses and impunity for enormous government crimes?
Stephanie Tang, a World Can't Wait leader and the first protester to be singled out and arrested, said later that day: "Torture sanctioned by your government—torture as a standing weapon in the U.S. arsenal for its so-called 'War on Terror'—this calls into question the very principles by which many people live. Can you, do you want to, are you willing to live under a system that tortures? If you refuse—what will you do to resist it? What can you do to stop it, in a way that's meaningful and powerful? That's what we were doing today, all of us. And if we speak and act for the truth about torture, despite the risks—if our numbers today aren't strong enough, those numbers can grow. American lives are NOT more important than the lives of others around the planet, and there are a lot of people who know this is true, and we have to reach them and we have to call them forward to join us."
The anti-war (and anti-torture) movement is up against big challenges. The Bush regime created programs—with the lawyers like John Yoo playing critical roles—to legitimize the systematic use of torture which was implemented with deadly consequences across the globe. Under Obama these programs continue largely unchanged, yet in the wake of Obama's election a large part of the anti-war movement has collapsed, with many people disoriented and demobilized, acquiescing to the crimes of their own government. It is high time for rebels and resisters who truly want a different world, to see that huge stakes rest on what people do now, and to act. Will people "wait for Obama to do the best he can" or will there be resistance upswelling from below, that can be stepped up and built, as part of people learning and transforming themselves in the course of fighting the power?
The battle over torture is a key part of a broader nationwide struggle to halt the ongoing crimes of the U.S. empire—including its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and threats against Iran. And it was very significant that the anti-Yoo protest received local and nationwide news coverage, including on CNN and in the Washington Post. World Can't Wait has announced big and exciting plans for reviving anti-war and anti-torture protest nationally.
Such broad resistance is urgently needed and is a key ingredient in bringing forward a movement for revolution.
For more information and updates go to worldcantwait.net
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Revolution #174, August 30, 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.”
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