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Revolution #176 Online Edition, September 14, 2009
Revolution received the following call which is also available in Farsi at revcom.us:
By a group of ex-political prisoners and the families of those political prisoners executed by the IRI
On September 23 and 24, 2009 Ahmadinejad is expected to take part in a UN meeting. We will be there in order to be a voice of the recent uprising of the people of Iran against the Islamic Republic; in order to show our solidarity with thousands of political prisoners and the families of those who were brutally butchered by the security and police forces of the IRI during street protests or in dungeons of Evin and Kahrizak; in order to show our solidarity with millions of youth who are fighting for a new and liberatory society; in order to show our solidarity with millions of women who are determined not to be crushed by a medieval patriarchal system and today are constituting the front rows of battle against the IRI.
We invite the Iranians and people in North America who have wholeheartedly supported the uplifting struggles of the brave people of Iran against the criminal IRI, to join us in this protest.
We invite all ex-political prisoners of Iran who are currently living in North America as well as the families of those who never made it out of the clutches of the IRI and were executed in the last 3 decades in Iran, to join us in this protest. Please bring the picture of your beloved ones who fell in struggle.
We call upon women to take part in great numbers and be an expression of audacity of tens of thousands of women who have dared to stand in the forefront of struggle against the woman hating regime of Iran.
We invite people from oppressed nationalities and religious minorities of Iran (and now living in North America) who for the last 30 years have born the brunt of medieval discrimination, to join this protest rally.
We call upon young women and men of Iranian origin to join this struggle along with their non Iranian friends and comrades. Our people as well as people in all countries need a new generation who braves to fight for a different world—a world without reactionaries and imperialists.
We also call upon ex- activists and supporters of the Confederation of Iranian Students Associations (USA) to revisit your old dreams for a better society and world, amongst us. Bring the pictures of your comrades in I.S.A. who went back to Iran in 1979 in order to join the revolution but were arrested and killed by the new reactionary power builders of IRI.
We invite the friends and families of the political prisoners in the USA (for which Mumia Abu Jamal is a symbol of), the families of the victims of police brutality, all anti war and anti globalization groups and forces who have earnestly struggled against US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and US threats to wage war on Iran, and have fought against imperialist capitalism ravaging of the peoples of the world, to join us and help us to turn this protest assembly into a strong expression of internationalist solidarity of the people of the world.
From Guantanamo and Abu Ghoreib to Evin and Kahrizak: Down With Systems of Torture and Execution
Down with the Islamic Republic of Iran—Free All Political Prisoners
For further communication please use this e mail:
On Wednesday September 23 & Thursday September 24, at 10 am
Place of Demonstrations: DAG HAMMARSKJOLD Plaza
First Ave. & 47th Street, Manhattan, New York
Send us your comments.
Revolution #176 Online Edition, September 14, 2009
Revolution Books NYC forum:
No U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran!
They will speak on the roots of the current crisis and resistance in Iran and the prospects to open up a different way in opposition to both Islamic theocracy and Western imperialism.
Wednesday, September 23rd, 7:30 PM
at Revolution Books
146 W. 26th Street, Manhattan
(between 6th & 7th Avenues)
For more information, call 212-691-3345 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Send us your comments.
Revolution #176 Online Edition, September 14, 2009
Earlier this year Michael Slate interviewed S., an Iranian woman who traveled to Los Angeles to participate in the International Women’s Day action there this past March 8. Her experience as a revolutionary began as a student in Los Angeles during the days when the Shah was in power in Iran; as the Iranian Revolution drove the Shah from power, she joined thousands of Iranian students who returned to Iran to carry forward the aims of the revolution—a revolution which through twists and turns ended up being consolidated as the reactionary Islamic Republic of Iran. Through the years of revolutionary struggle, imprisonment, and finally finding revolutionary communist organization again today, her story is one of courage, vision, and determination to fight for a different world. The interview has been edited for publication and will be published in two parts in the print edition of Revolution. The full interview appears here.
M.S.: Let's start by you telling me a little about your background, where you're from, what your family was, what you did when you were in Iran.
S.: My life story is one of the stories of many women who have lived under the woman-hating Islamic regime. Despite my awareness of the essence of the fundamentalist system, which is united with the imperialist world, I have been under oppression, and gone through what one experiences under such regimes, and I have experienced this oppression along with other women who also have experienced oppression such as this.
About 32 years ago, I—with my family who have been a political family and have fought against the Shah's regime, which was an ally with the U.S.—came to the U.S. and continued my education.
I was a high school student when I came and I started in Santa Monica High School. And after that I went to the major of aerospace, and I applied at college for aerospace. But because of my political activism and the amount of time I was able to put into it, I wasn't able to continue college.
M.S.: How did you become politically active?
S.: In 1976 when I came here, we enrolled in language classes, English language classes. It was called 'ISC,' I believe. And there, a lot of representatives from the student confederation came into these classes and talked about their views, and that's how we were introduced to them and to what they were doing, and that's how we got involved with them.
M.S.: That's very good. That's very cool, actually. So, what happened when you got involved with them? What did you start doing?
S.: The first meeting I attended, the topic was what to think, how to think about Tudeh Party of Iran, and the Fedayi Party of Iran [other left Iranian organizations], and also opinions and views about armed fighting, armed struggle. I was interested in these topics and I attended the meeting and I was very for the views that were represented at this meeting, and that's how I became interested in the whole group.
M.S.: The Iranian Students Association, the Confederation of Iranian Students, was a very powerful group, in terms of what it brought to people, the way it organized Iranians, but also the impact that it had on people in the United States. It helped bring a revolutionary edge to the movement. It really meant something to see students and people from Iran out in the streets demonstrating against the Shah and bringing out what was going on, but also taking up the struggle here. Tell people what it was like to be doing that in the streets here.
S.: The first thing that really got me interested in the group, in the confederation, was the revolutionary ethics, and how they carried themselves as revolutionaries. Also, the first formal course that I attended that was conducted by the confederation, the topic was 'Materialism and Dialectics,' which got me very interested in the whole group and the ideas.
M.S.: So your family was here, and you had this revolutionary activity, and for all intents and purposes you were living in the U.S. Then there was a point when you decided to go back to Iran. Why? What did you expect to find when you went back?
S.: The first thing that got me wanting to go back was that I felt responsible toward this change that was happening in Iran and I felt responsible toward the people who were in Iran and who initiated the whole process of bringing about the change. That's one of the main reasons that I thought I should go back. Another thing is that I believed in the leadership of the proletariat, and I believed that if we do go back we could participate in directing or guiding the masses there, and somehow contribute to the change that was happening.
M.S.: What did you find when you went back? What was it like in Iran in those days? It was right after the Shah was overthrown. When you left Iran, it was SAVAK and the Shah and just horrible. What did you find? What was it like?
S.: When I went back, I faced a very open environment. Politically, it was very progressive. People were having discussions all over the city. There were debates going on. It was a very lively and open atmosphere at the time when I returned.
M.S.: Was that in Tehran or all through the country?
S.: The progress that was going on was very prevalent in Tehran, but there were families all around the country who were involved in political activism, and had debates going on, whether it was in the houses or out on the street. The debates were usually going on between a group of religious people who were against the Shah's regime and who had helped get the revolution going and the leftist people, the communists, who always had arguments with the religious people, to try to persuade them that the way they were going wasn't the right way.
M.S.: And where did you fit in? What did you do when you were there?
S.: From what I had learned here in the fields of philosophy, politics, and economy, when I went back, I tried to relate my knowledge to the people. I tried to get lively discussions, and with those going on in the universities to talk about what I had learned and try to teach others as much as I knew.
M.S.: How long did that go on, and when did it start to change?
S.: Within ten days after the revolution there was an uprising of women against the idea of the hijab. And then afterwards there was the oppression started against the Kurds in Kurdistan, north of Iran. But the whole atmosphere, the more open atmosphere, was prevalent and did go on for almost two years after the revolution. During those years we had a book table in one of the workers' neighborhoods, and I was the person in charge of one of the tables to get people into discussions and debates, and show them the materials that we had, our books and anything we had to show them and to talk about.
We had daily contact with the Hezbollah, the religious people at the time—it's the Hezbollah people in Iran—whether it was physical contact or verbal contact.
They would either beat us or grab our newspapers and materials that we had, our tables, and would get into a fight, a physical fight.
What we saw was that they didn't have any uniforms. They were normal people but it was known to everyone that they were organized groups from the government.
M.S.: How long did that go on, that you had these kinds of confrontations? When did it become clear to you that Khomeini was beginning to consolidate his regime?
S.: First there was a huge protest by everyone who had started to see the things that were going to happen, and mostly the groups that had contributed to the revolution, they had a huge protest that turned into a confrontation. There were even shootings going on by the military, who shot some people from the protest. And it turned into a very gloomy protest. It wasn't a peaceful protest because of the confrontations that happened during the protest. That was in mid-June. And right after that protest there was repression of all the groups that had all the discussions going on, and the debates going on from different neighborhoods. They shut everything down and the atmosphere just got very closed afterwards.
M.S.: So what did you do then?
S.: We tried to organize ourselves as an underground group, an underground organization, and we weren't public anymore. We always had to hide when we had discussions or any kind of activity we had, we couldn't do it out in the public anymore.
The organization divided into two groups. One group was in charge of organizing the struggle that went on in Amol. The group was called Sarbedaran. That's the group that organized that and actually made it happen. I was one of the people sort of helping out with the whole thing, as someone helping out in the background.
M.S.: Can you explain the impact of the Amol uprising?
S.: The people in that region where the uprising occurred were influenced a lot by what happened in the way that they saw. They were familiar with the revolutionary ethics and the revolutionary way that they took on. It made people more aware of Maoist theories and the way that they took on this struggle. The North was isolated from other parts and there wasn’t much going on. But when that happened it got people very interested in such political activism. It made them more connected to what was going on in other parts of the country.
M.S.: So the regime defeated the uprising. What did they do afterwards to the revolutionaries and the people?
S.: The organization had failed deeply in their plan and everyone who took part in the uprising was executed. But then the impact that it had on the people was that people always remembered them as heroes. It was something that was one of its kind. They'd never seen such courage, and they just remembered them and the whole uprising always remained in the people's memories. They always remembered the revolutionaries who took part in it as heroes.
M.S.: Did the repression increase? What happened to you?
S.: The repression did increase as you said. People tried to stay underground and tried to do any kind of political activity underground, to hide and not be open to the public. At that time, I had a baby two months old. There wasn't much that I could actually get involved with. All I could do was sit at home and wait for news, wait to know what had happened.
M.S.: Your husband survived the Amol uprising?
M.S.: After the uprising, you were at home. Did you have more than one kid?
S.: Yes, after the Amol uprising, my daughter was one and a half years, and my son was two months old.
M.S.: How did you get arrested? How long after the Amol uprising did you get arrested?
S.: Eight months after. I was at home. They broke into the house and took the kids from me, took them away from me and just yelled at me and told me that I had to go for an investigation.
M.S.: And your husband was arrested too?
S.: He was arrested four months before I was.
M.S.: What did they charge him with?
S.: Because he was a theoretician, and he was very educated in the theories that led to the uprising. And they said that because he had all the theories and he did the educational part of it, he was charged with more, with a bigger of a crime than the people who took part in it were. And his sentence was death.
M.S.: Then four months later they came into your house. Tell me again what happened.
S.: I was taken to the jail where my husband was being kept, and as I was taken there, I just heard the voice of my husband for a minute and at that moment I was just so happy to hear him, to find out that he's alive, and right after that I was taken into a cell and kept there for eight months. It was solitary, the cell.
M.S.: What did they charge you with?
S.: They assumed that, because my husband was one of the leaders of the organization, I must have also had a very high position in the organization, and had contributed in many ways. They told me that because of that, there was going to be a death sentence for me, too. They had charts at the time, to figure out the hierarchy of each organization, who was the leader, and which people were operating under which group, under which leader. And in their charts, because I had been staying at home with my kids for about eight months before I was arrested, they couldn't find any actual documentation as to my status, and that's why I didn't get the death sentence that they told me about.
M.S.: What sentence did you get?
S.: The main sentence that they first gave me, they asked if I had a religion, and I said I had none, and they gave me 10 years imprisonment for that.
M.S.: What was done to you in prison by the regime?
S.: When I was in solitary confinement, there was no sanitation, there was no nutrition that we could actually live off of, and we were constantly hearing the pleas of the people who were being tortured.
Every morning they would take us for interrogation with our eyes closed up and as we went into the offices of interrogation, they would kick us and hit us and beat us to get us to say what they wanted to hear. And as we were there they would make people who had gone through tortures crawl by our feet to make us fear what was going to happen to us.
Because I refused to do the prayers, and I had told them that I didn't have a religion, I was kept in solitary as the others were taken into the public cells. I was kept in solitary, but because I had no new information to give them, I wasn't interrogated anymore. I wasn't tortured, because really they knew I didn't have anything new to tell them. I was just kept in solitary, though. Yet they would constantly put me in a situation where I would hear my dad's pleas as he was getting whipped. My father was kept in the same place. He had contributed to the Amol uprising. He had helped them a lot in many different ways. He was kept there also, and he was being whipped every day. He was going under a lot of torture. And I was constantly put in a situation as to make me hear him. And how they treated my mother, they would shout at her and curse her every day from somewhere nearby where I was kept so that I would hear and be mentally tortured in that way.
M.S.: What happened to your mother and father? Did they survive?
S.: Because all the people with whom my parents had been working and all the leaders with whom they had been cooperating, because none of them had given in to the torture, and had not said anything about anyone who was within those groups, the government did not have anything against them, did not have anything solid in their hands against my parents and so after three years they were both released.
M.S.: You said you heard your husband's voice when you first came in. How long did your husband live in jail, and did you ever see him again?
S.: Eight months after I was taken into jail, they gave us an appointment for me to meet my husband before he was going to be executed. That's the last time I saw him.
M.S.: How long did you spend in jail?
S.: Three years.
M.S.: Eight months, and then your husband was executed, and then they put you in the public cell. Did they keep coming at you to get you to capitulate? Did they keep trying to make you say prayers?
S.: There were many women who refused to do the prayers. When we refused to do the prayers, we were taken into an isolated room. It was room number 6, that was an isolated room from the rest of the whole prison. It was sort of like a quarantine, and we were kept there. We were treated as non-humans. It was like we were some sort of other animal like a dog because even like when we wanted to wash our hands, there is a concept in Islam, that when you are an atheist, when you don't have their religion, you are considered filthy.
M.S.: You were released from jail after 3 years.
Where did you go when you were freed from prison?
S.: My mother- and father-in-law, who were taking care of the kids at that time, they were waiting for me outside the prison. Because of cultural issues and atmosphere that was prevalent at the time, what really happened to me was I was released from the prison of the Islamic regime, to only go to another metaphorical prison of where I was living with my mother- and father-in-law.
M.S.: Explain to people what that was like. How did the country change between the time you were arrested and when you were released? What was that like?
S.: After repressing all revolutionary forces, Khomeini's regime had infused people with such fear, and such contempt against any revolutionary force, that we weren't even welcome in society anymore. We didn't feel welcomed by the people, because there was just so much fear going on that they feared any group that had anything to do with revolutionaries or any revolutionary ideas. People showed much contempt for them.
And as I was faced with so much contempt and this repressed atmosphere, I constantly kept trying to bring about a more lively atmosphere at home for my kids as I continuously tried to sing revolutionary songs to them and just show the joy of such struggle. But unfortunately because of patriarchal culture that people had at the time, I was repressed even at home by my husband's family. And I couldn't do much to bring about another change even in that little society that I was living in.
M.S.: When you talk about it being a patriarchal atmosphere, what did that look like? What did it mean for a woman like you to be living in this patriarchal society?
S.: An example of what I mean was, because I was a widow, I was condemned to wear black for 10 years. I was condemned to not express any opinions of myself, and I was condemned not to have any friends around, anyone to talk to, anyone who would sympathize with me. I was condemned to stay at home, and help out with housework.
I did not even have the right to take care of my children. I could not have any kind of relationship with them that was independent of my husband's family. Within the ten years that I was living there, what I thought I should do was to read books about psychology, to figure out what I could do with myself, my mental situation, my mental state at the time, how I could gain back my autonomy, my self-confidence. I tried to work on these ideas to rebuild my strength, to rebuild my character. After I successfully did that, I left their house, after ten years.
M.S.: Where did you go after you left their house?
S.: My father had a property that wasn't really inhabitable. There was a cellar at the place, and I went to the place and I was living in the cellar, and one of our family friends helped to find me a job, that was a very, very low-paying job, that paid very low at the time.
M.S.: How long did you live like that?
S.: I met a comrade who wasn't politically active any more but he helped me take some psychology classes, and some self-realization groups. I became involved with them and a woman in one of these groups was very sympathetic with me and she helped me get a job that did not require a background check, because if they did there was no way I could get a job. But she helped me get that job, and that's how I could move out of the cellar.
M.S.: How long did you stay in Iran until you left? When you got that better job, did you work at it for a while, or did you leave Iran soon afterward?
S.: For almost a year I worked at that job, because I was not allowed to leave the country for about 10 to 11 years after I was released from prison. I had no passport and I just couldn't leave the country. I kept working there. After a while I applied for a passport and they gave me a one-time passport. I could only use it one time to leave the country, and when I came back I was supposed to turn it in to them. And that's how I actually left after 12 years after I was released.
The only thing that made it possible for me to get a visa to leave the country was that I had a job, I had documentation that I could provide for them, and I had two children that were living in Iran, and that provided for some background based on which I could get the visa. I got the visa for a month only.
When I went to Germany, I still had not found the right organization for me, somewhere that I would fit in with my ideas, my Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideas. But everywhere I went, I would still have debate and discussions about my own ideas, about what I had learned with the confederation here, or during the revolution in Iran. I would always promote these ideas although I had not found an organization that had such sympathies.
My only belief that always gave me hope was that I always knew, and I always was sure that such ideology was the only way to emancipation. And now it's been five years that I have found the right group again, the Communist Party of Iran [MLM] and have been involved with them, have been politically active again.
M.S.: You left Iran in 1995. Tell me about the situation in Iran today, what's the oppression like?
S.: I think that, in the first place, I have to say that there is a characteristic that all Iranian women share, be it religious women, or political women, and I think it applies to all Iranian women. They have some sort of resentment toward oppression and toward anything that puts them down. They deeply have this resentment, even the women who are religious, who have religious sympathies. The main problems that they're facing is one, that the laws of society are against women, are anti-women laws that are enforced by the government, and second is that a lot of women do not see an alternative to the way they are living now. They don't have an alternative to their current situation.
M.S.: What are the laws you're talking about?
S.: Laws such as women not being allowed the custody of their children. They cannot go on vacation without the permission of their husbands. They cannot leave the country without the permission of their husbands. The whole system is designed in a way to treat women as means to patriarchism.
M.S.: What about things like 'honor killings'? Are they common in Iran?
S.: In the more modern cities it is not seen as much but of course in small villages it is very common, and it's even broadcast on the news. And on the news they either call it honor killings or they say that a woman has committed suicide.
M.S.: Would honor killings include things like punishing women for having affairs, or being in sexual relations when they aren't married? What happens to women in situations like this? Are they killed?
S.: For someone to commit these killings, it suffices for them being a father or a brother to be suspicious of either their sisters or their wives or their mothers. It suffices for them just to be suspicious. And it might be on no grounds, but as long as they are suspicious, they can go ahead and commit the murder, and there is no lawful process that this thing goes through. They just do it themselves and it's done. It doesn’t go through a process.
M.S.: Does the state play a role in any of this?
S.: Indirectly, the state encourages such behavior by promoting concepts from Islam that they preach about, or laws that make it possible for the men to commit such murders.
M.S.: Is this what's meant by Sharia law?
S.: What that amounts to, the Sharia law, is how women should consider the Islamic leadership of Iran, or the laws that they pass, as the holy laws of god, and also the promotion of the idea that, if women are not abiding by the restrictions set for them by their husbands, but most women do fight, even on a personal level, with such restrictions of such laws, from within their families, within the scope of the private life, or in the society in a broader picture. But there's a very, very small group of women who are submissive to such laws, and those are women who share the same fundamentalist ideas that the government promotes. And those women, because they have the full hijab and do abide with such Sharia laws, have no reason to get punished.
M.S.: You describe the regime as a woman-hating regime. What do you mean when you say that?
S.: What I mean is that the laws that they have passed and the ones that they're enforcing in the country right now are those that are to the advantage of men in the society, and the laws make it absolutely the case that women have to abide by all restrictions set for them by men in this society. They have to abide, and be obedient to men at their work or in their private lives, at their home or society in general, wherever they are, whatever they're doing, these laws make it the case that they have to abide by what is told to them by the men in society.
M.S.: Are many women still arrested and thrown in jail?
S.: Yes. it happens daily and for any kind of accusation, they keep them 24 hours, 48 hours, which usually ends up in the women being raped or somehow wounded or whipped, and also some of them are just kept for longer, without their families knowing anything about where they are or how they're doing.
M.S.: You said that women resist, sometimes in small ways at home, sometimes in big. Tell us what the resistance looks like.
S.: The main group who resist in a more active way are the groups of students who go to the main parts of cities, and organize protests along with the male students at universities. They also plan many peaceful protests, as well as protests that end up in confrontations. And many of those students are arrested and put into jail without any kind of sentence or news for their families about when they're going to get released, or why they're even being kept in jail.
An example of resistance by the students is just about a week ago, before the beginning of the Persian New Year, students were passing out, in the main part of the city, they were passing out—there's a tradition that for the new year, people set up a table filled with different symbols, different plants or seeds that symbolize something about their lives, or life in general. And one of the symbols is fish. They purchase little fish and they put it in a jar and they put it on the table. And one thing the students were doing, they were passing out black fish throughout the city, along with a very revolutionary poem to bypassers. There is a story called “Little Black Fish” by a revolutionary writer in Iran, Samad Bihrangi, which is a story about a little black fish. The fish goes on a journey. He symbolizes a revolutionary young student who never stops and always resists, always keeps on fighting, and although the fish was living in a very little river, he goes on with his journey and he finds the ocean and he joins the other fish and he never gives up in this whole process.
M.S.: You're involved in this campaign around the oppression of women, opposing both the regime in Iran and U.S. imperialism. Can you tell us about this campaign?
S.: Over the years after the revolution, women have come to know that change is not going to happen without them directly intervening and taking initiative to directly cooperate with any kind of change that is promised or that they see coming. And we have come to know that even socialism will not happen without women playing a very important role in the process of bringing about this change. We believe that socialism and the women's movement are complements of each other.
M.S.: People are told there are only two ways to go here—do you want to be part of the Islamic fundamentalist revolution or the U.S. imperialist fight for democracy. What are you saying about this, and what are people in Iran thinking about this? Can you talk about this other way, and how people in Iran are responding?
S.: We try to show the real face of both of these outmoded regimes and we try to convey the picture of a third pole, and alternative that is available to people, and alternative that does not take the side of either of these outmoded regimes and it determines its own—a third pole that is against war, that is anti-war and that no matter how small it is we have to promote it among people and we have to develop it into a bigger alternative that includes more people and we have to show that this is the only way—we have to promote our anti-war belief before a war happens against Iran. We want to show this alternative to the people of Iran and to women in general. But the organizations that get into our way by trying to get people to somehow go for reform of the Islamic regime, it is our responsibility not only to show the real face of these two regimes, but also show these reformist groups, what their ideologies will lead to and to show that, as happened to the revolution in Iran, such ways will go astray also.
I just want to say that in the past month when I have been here, and I have gone to many universities, many high schools, I have really enjoyed what I have witnessed, the passion that young people have shown—how many young people I have met have shown passion for learning about revolution—for bringing about change, how to make a new world—and it has encouraged me so much to continue this way. I have gained so much strength and I have learned so many lessons that I know I will return to Germany much more stronger than when I came, with much hope of a better world.
M.S.: Tell us some stories about your experiences here, going to the high school classes, and what happened.
S.: These are some examples of questions that high school students in Watts had for 'us, about Iran and revolution. About the situation of women and young girls in Iran.
M.S.: [reading] What does the typical family consist of? What are the duties of the house? What level of education are girls allowed to have?
Did people ask you questions about what it's like to be a revolutionary woman in Iran?
S.: There were three students at this high school in Watts whom I have pictures with. They were really interested in the issue of the tree that was cut down. Because of that they were very passionate. They kept asking questions about how one could be a revolutionary, how one could form an organization to get involved with and to do the kinds of things that revolutionaries would do.
M.S.: When you told your story to the students, how did they respond? Because you have a very powerful story, and I'm sure it's something they haven't heard before.
S.: They really sympathized with me and had a belief in what I was telling them, especially the African American students, because of their own struggle and what they have witnessed in their own society and the way they've been treated in their own society. They really sympathized with me, just wanted to know more and showed a lot of interest and sympathy.
M.S.: Give me an example of the experiences you'll remember the most.
S.: The march itself on the 8th of March, was great to see the combination of so many different people, and the diversity of the group that was present there. So many native-born Americans, so many African Americans and just many different people who were present and who showed support and who took the initiative to come to this event, although it wasn't a huge crowd, it was of great quality and I really enjoyed that day. What I concluded from that day, from what I saw, is that we cannot achieve our goal if we do not unite with each other, stand side by side, next to each other.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #176 Online Edition, September 14, 2009
A special feature of Revolution to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music and literature, science, sports, and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our paper.
In 1979 the Iranian people in their millions overthrew the Shah of Iran. The Shah had been put in power by a U.S.-led coup against the nationalist Mossadegh government in 1953, and this brutal government was one of the most important puppet regimes the U.S. imperialists had in the Middle East. The Shah’s CIA-trained secret police, SAVAK, was a bloodthirsty gang of murderers and torturers. In one day during the popular uprising that led to the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, his military and police murdered thousands of people. For a brief period after the overthrow of the Shah, Iran saw a flowering of revolutionary enthusiasm, creativity, debate, and hope. It was during this time that Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and exposed the role of the U.S. imperialists and their CIA in propping up the Shah’s regime from the beginning.
Soon after the overthrow of the Shah, Islamic fundamentalist forces, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, fought to gain power, and as they began to consolidate their power, people resisted. The Amol uprising in northern Iran, led by the Union of Iranian Communists (Sarbedaran), was the first attempt by Maoists to launch an armed revolutionary struggle in Iran. It was defeated, and it became the last serious resistance to the moves by the Islamic fundamentalist regime to consolidate their state power. A nationwide crackdown against revolutionary and other opposition forces was launched, and by the end of 1982 the Islamic fundamentalist regime was firmly in place. They slaughtered many thousands of revolutionaries, including much of the revolutionary leadership at that time. Many thousands more were arrested, tortured and imprisoned.
Anahita, a revolutionary who suffered horribly at the hands of the Khomeini regime, was tortured and spent eight years in prison. Today Ana is a courageous revolutionary opponent of both the Islamic fundamentalist regime and the U.S. imperialists. She was recently in Los Angeles with other women from Iran who participated in the International Women’s Day demonstration, in solidarity with the IWD march in Brussels organized by Karzar (see article on this page). The following excerpt is from an interview with Ana done by Revolution correspondent Li Onesto.
Li Onesto: Could you talk about your own personal story—what happened to you and your experiences being a part of the revolution in Iran and being imprisoned by the regime?
Ana: In 1979, my boyfriend was part of the people who organized an armed uprising in the North, in Amol. He was one of the political leaders. His name was Behroz. At that time I was working in a factory. During this time the Khomeni regime used all vicious and brutal means to crush the people’s revolutionary determination. Behroz was in the jungle fighting against the regime and I was underground, organizing in the factory. When Behroz came back to Tehran we reorganized the organization, the Union of Iranian Communists that had almost been dissolved. All the leaders had been killed, all the supporters had been arrested and killed, and all the people outside were pursued by the police. About 80% of the people in the movement were killed.
A hundred revolutionaries were in the jungle. From the people who took part in the uprising in the jungle, more than 70 of them were killed in Amol.
For reorganizing the party we moved to Kurdistan. Kurdistan was independent; the Islamic regime did not have a hold on Kurdistan then. Almost two months, we stayed there and we analyzed and tried to understand the reasons why the Amol uprising got defeated. Then we came back to Tehran and tried to organize ourselves again. It was in Tehran that me and Behroz, we got arrested together in the street.
Behroz was killed while he was being tortured by the regime because he kept all the secrets. After us nobody was arrested. So Behroz got tortured and killed but he didn’t give away any secrets. He was viciously and brutally tortured. I was also tortured brutally, but not as much as Behroz. I was also put under capital punishment, but my parents used friends and influence on the outside to get my sentence changed from capital punishment to life imprisonment.
In my own presence, they were punishing and torturing Behroz, like a football they were kicking him around between four to five people, kicking and pushing him—he was being kicked from one side to the other. I was blindfolded, but I could hear his shouting and I was also hearing the sound of punching and kicking. It is very difficult for me to remember this. Once they took me to the hospital and I saw Behroz bandaged all over because of his wounds and because of being tortured he was not able to talk properly, he couldn’t talk. Despite being brutally tortured, Behroz kept his revolutionary determination, and he was saying to the investigators, that you can kill me but you cannot defeat the whole revolution. I was there when they said to Behroz, that you are representing U.S. imperialism. And Behroz said to the investigators, history will prove who is the representative of U.S. imperialism, me or you. All the time, he was defending his ideology. He was defending it ideologically and he was defending it politically.
Revolution: What were you and Behroz charged with?
Ana: Just being members of an organization that had gotten involved with armed struggle was a crime by itself. One of the reasons that they made the decision to give me a death sentence was because I didn’t cooperate with them and didn’t give them information.
In prison there were a lot of things going on because the Khomeni regime wanted to defeat the revolutionary movement of the people, all the opposition parties, so they were arresting people from a wide range in society.
Revolution: Who were they arresting?
Ana: The Iranian people had been very much politicized so a large number of people were involved in a lot of different revolutionary organizations. So they were arresting all people who had been associated with revolutionary organizations.
Revolution: How many political prisoners were there at that time?
Ana: There were thousands and thousands of political prisoners. I was in one prison where they put about 50 people in one small, tiny room where we were not able to sleep and eat properly. The food was very bad, sanitation was very bad. We didn’t have proper food or access to newspapers or TV or anything. We didn’t have access to books. Every night they were at least killing about 100 political prisoners. And in the prison we were counting the sounds of the bullets to know how many people they killed each night. They wanted to push the revolution back because a huge number of people were involved in the revolution so they were killing thousands of people indiscriminately to enhance their rule over the country. At the same time, they were putting the names of the people they had killed in the newspapers, saying, we have killed all these many people. They were not hiding their deeds; they wanted the people to know how brutal the regime is, to cow down the people. Between 1979 and 1980 the regime didn’t use that much brutality, but the brutality and the viciousness got intense between 1981 and 1983. Then the regime stopped that kind of mass killing—then after that the killing got targeted, they were killing key leaders of the political parties, not the kind of indiscriminate killing that happened before
After eight years of being in prison, I got freed in 1991.
Revolution: How did the prisoners resist and keep their revolutionary spirit up?
Ana: We had very high revolutionary morals because we had come out of a revolution—we had defeated one government so we had the idea that if we could defeat one government we could defeat this one too.
In the prison they were also using brutal means, and crushing and beating us because we were reading books, because we were giving slogans, because we were reading revolutionary poems, so the regime was beating us because of our revolutionary activism inside the prison.
In 1988 the Khomeni regime killed all the political prisoners, hanged all of them during two months. They actually killed all the political prisoners, except among the leftist women, they did not kill all of them—they thought if they beat and tortured them they would eventually accept Islam and come back. But they killed all the men. There was another organization in Iran, an Islamic force—Mojahedin—the regime killed all their members, women and men, killed both.
Every day, three times, during the Islamic prayer times, they were beating the communist women, saying we had to pray. Every day, three times. Morning, noon, and night. This continued until some of the political women prisoners started committing suicide. They could not continue, it was very difficult. Some people who were tortured very much ended up in the hospital, but still the resistance continued. When the Islamic regime saw the women resisting, and that they were not being cowed down, the regime stopped that policy of beating the women. The regime changed their policy, saying we will free all political prisoners, but you should write down and denounce your ideology and political organization. If you denounce your politics, we will let you free. There was a small group of who did accept this policy, they did that and got free. But I was among those who didn’t denounce my politics. After three years, because the regime wanted to resolve the problem of political prisoners and also because of external and internal pressures, they were forced to let political prisoners free, and I was among those let free.
When I was released, I stepped into a big prison. Iran had become a big prison. There is much pressure and discrimination upon people, especially women. There is huge gap between poor and rich, so I continued to struggle.
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Revolution #176 Online Edition, September 14, 2009
Iranians are coming to New York City from all over the U.S., Canada, and Europe to protest Ahmadinejad at the opening of the UN session. A group of ex-political prisoners and families of political prisoners executed by the Islamic Republic have issued a call to join with their protest on September 23 & 24.
Be part of building internationalist support for this important protest and mobilizing people in New York to join the protest on September 23 & 24.
Revolution Books will also be hosting a forum: "IRAN: Support the righteous rebellion against the reactionary Islamic Republic! No U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran!" on September 23 at 7 pm – place to be announced.
We need your help to build the protest, publicize the forum, and welcome and host our Iranian friends.
Contact Revolution Books NYC to get involved. 212-691-3345 email@example.com
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Revolution #176 Online Edition, September 14, 2009
We received the following from A World to Win News Service:
September 7, 2009. A World to Win News Service. It seems there is no limit to the crimes that the Islamic Republic of Iran is committing against the people, especially youth who protested against years of repression and oppression.
One of the latest victims was 17-year-old Saeedeh Aghaee. She now lies buried with no name marker in Section 302 of the Behesht Zahra graveyard in Tehran. Her family held a memorial ceremony for her August 29, 2009. It is reported that Saeedeh was tortured, raped and then burnt in acid from the knees upward to destroy any evidence of the rape and other kinds of torture.
Saeedeh was arrested by plainclothes Basiji militiamen one night when she was shouting slogans on a rooftop. Her mother identified her body 20 days later in one of the refrigerated rooms where corpses are kept in south Tehran. But the authorities refused to hand over the body, according to an interview with a human rights activist in Iran published on the Deutsche Welt Persian website. They demanded a large sum of money to release Saeedeh's body, and her family could not afford it. After several weeks her family found out that she had been secretly buried in Behesht Zahra. According to some reports, the family was pressured to announce that her death was due to "kidney failure." But Saeedeh had no history of bad health or kidney problems. Relatives and friends were surprised by this announcement and suspected its validity. This led to an exposure of the facts and it became known how she was murdered.
Saeedeh's agonizing death may indicate that many of the unknown or unidentified bodies secretly buried in Section 302 are young women who were raped by the security forces and the Basiji. This is not the first such case to be exposed. Taraneh Mousavi, a woman of 18, was also raped and murdered while in custody and under interrogation. Her body was burnt and left in a remote area near Ghazvin (a city south of Tehran) Motorway. Taraneh was arrested at a June 28 protest. She was separated from the other detainees—a friend arrested with her was released the same day. There was no news about her whereabouts for nearly three weeks. Then her family received a call telling them that she had been admitted to a hospital for vaginal wounds, but when they contacted the hospital she had already been transferred to an unknown location. Around July 14, the www.peykeiran.com website reported that she was missing. The regime denied it until July 17 when her body was found.
The news of Taraneh's rape and death was so shocking that at first some people found it unbelievable. So the regime's TV went even further and claimed that Taraneh was still alive. The regime media used interviews with relatives of someone named Taraneh Mousavi who is living in Canada to strengthen their story. But both Taraneh as a first name and Mousavi as a family name are very common, and there could be many people with the same name. Even some Members of Parliament objected that the regime's claim was not credible. After weeks of dispute around this, finally Morteza Alviry, a member of the Committee to Pursue the Rights of those Arrested and Injured after the Election, announced that Taraneh Mousavi had been murdered by the authorities. He criticized the Islamic Republic's Channel 2 for broadcasting a fabricated story. There is no doubt that Taraneh's family has been under tremendous pressure not to talk. And they have not been allowed to be interviewed or talk publicly.
It seems very likely that Saeedeh and Taraneh were not the only victims of such vicious crimes. The exposure of secret burials in Section 302 and the news of the existence of a mass grave near the Behesht Zahra cemetery, followed by removal of one of the bosses at the Behesht Zahra graveyard, have provided even more grounds for suspicion.
Young boys have also been raped in prison over the last three months. As early as July 1, the Guardian, as "a project to trace those killed and detained during the unrest" in Iran, published the account given by Afshin, a shopkeeper in Shiraz, in southwest Iran. Afshin told the UK newspaper that one of his friends was beaten and repeatedly raped after being arrested. The friend went to see Afshin following his release. "His shoulder blades and arms were wounded. There were some slashes on the face. No bone fractures, but he was bruised all over the body… The doctor said only four of his teeth were intact, the rest were broken. You could hardly understand what he said… Then the doctor told me what had happened. He had suffered a rupture of the rectum and the doctor feared colonic bleeding. He suggested we take him to the hospital immediately."
The victim was so depressed that he told Afshin "not to waste money on him because he would kill himself." The Guardian wrote that it has been unable to independently verify the account. But the numerous reports from Tehran and other cities have exposed the rape of both young women and men as a systematic method of torture meant to smash the spirit of the young Iranian protestors who fought the regime so courageously.
One way these cases came to be widely known was through a letter from within the Islamic system itself that shook the whole ruling power. Mehdi Karoubi, one of the two opposition presidential candidates, wrote to Ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani (a central regime figure and factional opponent of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) about the abuse of prisoners. Since Rafsanjani did not respond, Karoubi made the letter public:
"Some of those people who have been arrested have said that some of the arrested girls have been raped so brutally that they have suffered wounds and ruptures in their vaginas. And further they have brutally raped arrested boys such that the victims are suffering depression and serious physical and mental problems, and have crept into a corner in their homes."
This letter provoked a counter-attack by several leading regime authorities. Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani denied that there had been any rape in the prisons and accused Karoubi of making accusations without evidence. Karoubi responded by accusing Larijani of taking a position without investigation. He said that he did have evidence but that he was waiting for a guarantee of immunity for the victims before revealing it. Finally a specially appointed parliamentary commission had no choice but to tackle the issue. Nobody is expecting that the regime's commission—made up of the main leaders and commanders responsible for this rape and torture—will genuinely investigate these cases. They will try to blur the facts while the security forces threaten even more victims.
In some cases where the facts are known, the victims have been threatened with the arrest and torture of their brothers or sisters if they talk about what happened to them.
A telling example is that of a young boy who was arrested and raped. He finally ended his life by throwing himself from the top of a pedestrian bridge because his interrogator had called him to come in again. The film of his body lying in a pool of blood while his father shouts and swears against the Islamic Republic of Iran has been posted on YouTube.
While the rape of young boys on such a scale may be a new phenomenon since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's coup d'état, the rape of women has been systematically used to torture women since the regime's early days. Hatred of women has always been part of the Islamic Republic's core identity. Among the members and supporters of revolutionary and communist organizations arrested then, the regime had those women believed to be virgins raped before being executed. Even more sickening, those young women were declared temporarily married to their torturer or a Pasdar (so-called Revolutionary Guard) or prison guard, to put the stamp of religious legitimacy on that rape. At the beginning this was done under a religious pretext, supposedly so that the executed young women could not enter "paradise" after their death. But after most of the political prisoners were murdered in the '80s, the Islamic Republic extended the use of rape as a method of torture to break the will of other prisoners as well, whether meant to obtain a confession or just to break the spirit of the prisoners as a whole.
The opposition leaders Karoubi and Mir-Hussein Mousavi are trying to give the impression that the rape of prisoners is something new. While it is now taking place on an even more shocking scale, the systematic rape of prisoners first became government policy when Mousavi was prime minister in the 1980s and continued when Karoubi was the head of parliament in the '90s. And it could not have been initiated or continued without the direct or indirect approval of the regime's founder, Ayatollah Khomeini. It was so widely used that Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, who at that time was slated to succeed the Supreme Leader, wrote to him on October 9, 1986 asking, perhaps rhetorically, "Do you know that a large number of prisoners have been killed under torture? Do you know that in Mashhad around 25 girls had to have their ovaries or wombs removed because of what happened to them in prison? Are you aware that in some of the Islamic Republic's prisons, the young girls have been forcibly raped during the interrogations?"
The practice of this crime continued over the following decades. One of the most infamous cases was that of Zahra Kazemi, the Iranian-Canadian journalist murdered in custody in July 2003. Lawyers who followed this case believe that judge Saeed Mortazavi ordered and directed her torture and murder. Another is that of Zahra Baniyaghoub, a medical doctor arrested by security forces in Hamedan. After she was raped and murdered, the authorities announced that she had committed suicide. Then there is the case of Atefeh Rajabi, a 16-year-old girl raped by the judges in the northern town of Neka. Despite her age, the judge Hadji Rezai hastily hanged her for "adultery" personally to cover up the crime. Rezai and a number of security forces officers were arrested in connection with that case, but most of them were released shortly after.
While the rape and murder of prisoners has been systematic since the start, what is new today is that these attempts to terrify the population and break the people's spirit have turned into their opposite. These crimes have outraged the masses, and the attempted cover-ups have provoked them even more. Now the authorities have promised to investigate and in desperation formed different kinds of committees and commissions, but it is far too late to cool the anger of a wounded people.
The fact is that many of those women who were raped were executed, and many of the others who made it out of prison were so broken or in fear of humiliation that they remained silent. Many saw no way out. Often they did not even tell their family and carried this torture within themselves for years. In some cases, they raised it with their husbands or a family member years later. In recent weeks, more women ex-political prisoners have found the courage to speak out about what happened to them.
Two women who were prisoners in the early 1980s, Azar Al-e-Kan'an from Sanandaj in Kurdistan, and Katayoun Azarly from Mashhad, have given interviews to Iranian filmmaker Reza Allamezadeh. (The interviews with English subtitles can be found on www.reza.malakut.org, or on YouTube by searching "rape in prisons of Iran.") Despite nearly three decades of silence, they have decided that they should expose the Islamic regime's crimes and open a new front of struggle against it, going against the old and reactionary tradition that the victims should be silent about their "dishonor" while criminals get away with their crimes.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
See also Revolution online for interviews with revolutionary Iranian women:
"A story of courage, vision, and determination to fight for a different world"
Revolution correspondent Michael Slate interviews S., an Iranian woman who traveled to Los Angeles to participate in the 2008 International Women's Day action.
* "Still the Resistance Continued…"
Anahita was tortured and spent eight years in prison at the hands of the Khomeini regime. Revolution correspondent Li Onesto interviews Ana, a courageous revolutionary opponent of both the Islamic fundamentalist regime and the U.S. imperialists.
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Revolution #176 Online Edition, September 14, 2009
This fall teams of revolutionaries will be hitting campuses around the country—challenging those who have been lied to about communism, those who have been told that the horror of this capitalist-imperialist system is "the best of all possible worlds."
A centerpiece of these efforts to bring revolution to the campuses will be a major speech by Raymond Lotta. 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.
The following is the leaflet announcing the first stop on this tour, on October 8, at the University of California, Berkeley:
EVERYTHING YOU'VE BEEN TOLD ABOUT COMMUNISM IS WRONG
Thursday, October 8, 2009
(Barrow Lane & Eshleman Road)
Presentation by Raymond Lotta:
EVERYTHING YOU'VE BEEN TOLD ABOUT COMMUNISM IS WRONG
CAPITALISM IS A FAILURE
REVOLUTION IS THE SOLUTION
You need to hear Raymond Lotta.
Because you've been lied to about communism.
You need to hear Raymond Lotta.
Because society does not have to be this way.
We can create a world in which there is no exploitation.
A world in which people can live cooperatively and solve problems collectively.
A world where individuals can flourish.
But wait a minute…isn't communism a totalitarian nightmare? Don't all the textbooks and experts and memoirs agree?
No, you've been fed distortions about communism…
By the same people who told you that the war in Iraq was about weapons of mass destruction...
And by liberal and even some progressive scholars who don't want to see the world turned upside down.
This is about the nightmare and horror that is THIS system.
This is about the future of humanity and the future of the planet.
You need to hear Raymond Lotta.
Because the new generation needs to learn about the actual and emancipating history of socialism in the 20th century.
And we need to go further and do better in the next round of communist revolution.
Raymond Lotta is bringing revolution to Berkeley and other campuses this Fall.
Indicting this whole system of capitalism-imperialism as utterly unreformable and unredeemable.
Talking about why the future of communist revolution is both viable and desirable because of the leadership and ongoing role of Bob Avakian.
If you yearn for a radically different world and want to learn about why communism will be a far better world…you need to hear Raymond Lotta.
If you want to defend this system and uphold the distortions about socialism, you should be there too…because Raymond Lotta is taking on all comers.
In October 2008, when the global banking system was facing possible collapse, the Agence France-Presse went to the German finance minister, a former U.S. Treasury official, and Raymond Lotta for comment. Raymond Lotta is a Maoist political economist and communist revolutionary. His book America in Decline was reviewed in Foreign Affairs. He has given talks at UCLA, Harvard, and Howard, as well as in London and Mexico, about socialist revolution in the 20th century. An activist-scholar, Raymond has been part of anti-globalization conferences and protests in India, the Philippines, and Canada.
Check it out!
Raymond Lotta exposes lies in anti-communist Mao biography, announces bold campus speaking tour on Youtube:
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Revolution #176 Online Edition, September 14, 2009
September 29, Tuesday, 7:30 pm EDT
"Behind the World Economic Crisis: System Failure & the Need for Revolution"
Then you need to hear Raymond Lotta and participate in a unique live webcast.
In October 2008, when the global banking system was facing possible collapse, the Agence France-Presse went to the German finance minister, a former U.S. Treasury official, and Raymond Lotta for comment. Raymond Lotta is a Maoist political economist and communist revolutionary. His book America in Decline was reviewed in Foreign Affairs. He has given talks at UCLA, Harvard, and Howard, as well as in London and Mexico. An activist-scholar, Raymond has been part of anti-globalization conferences and protests in India, the Philippines, and Canada.
Listen to Raymond Lotta on YouTube: "Everything You've Been Told About Communism is Wrong" at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ms99-3Nj81I
This interactive, live webcast is a fund-raiser for Revolution Books in New York City. You will be able to log on by donating $20 (go to www.revolutionbooksnyc.org and following the instructions to donate for the webcast). Details of how to log onto the webcast will be sent to those who donate. You will be able to ask questions via e-mail or possibly by phone.
Spread the word through e-lists, Facebook, etc. And let us know if you would like to help work on making this important talk get out to as many people as possible.
Revolution Books—New York City
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Revolution #176 Online Edition, September 14, 2009
We received the following from A World to Win News Service:
September 7, 2009. A World to Win News Service. The German commanders located on a base in the northern Afghanistan province of Kunduz were watching live images taken from a U.S. aircraft. Projected on the wall, the pictures showed two hijacked petrol tankers stuck in the sand of a shallow river. Milling around the lorries, they could see about 120 dots, each indicating a person detected in the darkness by heat-sensing equipment. Earlier they had watched similar footage taken by an overflight of a U.S. B-1B bomber that had happened to be nearby and was sent to film the site. This time, they were seeing a live feed from an American fighter they had called in. The German commanders asked that the trucks be bombed. Two minutes later, each truck was hit by a 500-pound bomb and twin fireballs lit up the night. The black dots vanished as the people died. Only a few dots indicating survivors were left to move away.
The German colonel in charge complained that the images were too grainy to see if the victims were carrying weapons or not, but that a telephone informant had assured them that everyone on the scene was a Taliban fighter. The Afghan Rights Monitor organization, which interviewed 15 villagers, said that 60-70 of those killed were children and other civilians who had come to fill jerrycans with fuel from the stuck tankers. A Pajhwok Afghan News service reporter who interviewed survivors on September 5 wrote that all of the fighters had left the scene before the raid. But the media debate about the percentages of fighters versus civilians among the dead is irrelevant and immoral. The occupiers deliberately set out to commit a massacre. This wasn't even a combat situation.
This incident has made the occupiers look very, very bad, not only in Afghanistan but among the Western public which is being asked to accept a further surge in the number of occupation troops even as support for the war in the West begins to evaporate. But the controversy itself is criminal and also shows just how criminal this war is.
The U.S. commander of the more than 100,000 American and European occupation troops has studied the lessons of other occupations and reactionary wars. General Stanley McChrystal recently announced new rules of engagement that he said would reduce the number of civilian deaths. But even if he would like to win Afghan "hearts and minds" to isolate the Taliban, this is impeded by two factors.
One is the reactionary goal of the war: to reassert U.S. supremacy in the region and beat back anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalism, not to free the people but to enslave them to Western imperialist capital. To that end, the occupation preserves major features of the country's oppressive economic and social system and subjugation, and ideological backwardness. The other factor is the way the imperialist armies fight and indeed must fight.
U.S. authorities blamed their allies, as though the Germans had dropped the bombs, as though the U.S. hadn't already bombed countless villages and wedding parties in Afghanistan, and as though the U.S. had not insisted on the presence of German troops in the first place. But the sharpest criticism aimed at the German commanders was their failure to send troops to the scene to "prevent the Taliban from coming out with their own version of events" (BBC, September 7). In other words, they should have done more to cover up the civilian deaths.
German military authorities rebutted that the attack was necessary because the hijacked tankers could have been used for an attack on a nearby German base. As for their lack of timely action afterward, even General McChrystal, with all his supporting firepower, didn't dare go to the site itself. But there was a major political factor in why the German military was so worried about protecting its soldiers. Several commentators have pointed out that any further German casualties might endanger the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, facing elections in late September. Although Germany's major parties support the war, including the supposedly anti-war Greens, most Germans do not. When soldiers are killed, this raises a question about what they are doing there.
The government has repeatedly declared that this isn't a war at all but a "stabilization effort." The Bundeswehr is portrayed as if it were an NGO carrying out humanitarian missions, not an army. "In Afghanistan, it is like a war, but for us it is not a war," explained a German Social Democratic parliamentarian. "It is an important distinction." Following this incident, other members of Parliament reacted angrily as if the Defense Minister had been concealing the fact that this is a war from them. (Washington Post, September 8)
In response to the American criticism, German military authorities claimed that the U.S. was endangering German lives by publicly admitting that civilians might have been killed, which the German authorities denied as long as they could. Again, there was a subtext—that if the U.S. wants Germany to wage a war in Afghanistan, it has to help the German authorities hide what is going on from the German people. And there is probably genuine resentment among German ruling circles. They had sent troops to Kunduz on the understanding that it was not a combat zone, specifically because they were afraid of public opinion. Now the north has become hotly contested. By extending the war to Pakistan, the U.S. has found its supply routes in the south under pressure, and is now resorting to bringing in the huge amount of supplies on which its war depends through Central Asia. That's why the fuel tankers were on the Kunduz-Tajikistan road in the first place.
The fact is that "death from above" is the preferred war-fighting method of all the occupiers because it allows them to bring to bear their greatest strengths—the airpower and other technology they have produced thanks to riches amassed through the exploitation of people all over the world. They also prefer it because they do want to limit the number of casualties on their side, not because they value any human life but because of how they are able to get the people at home to go along. In the case of Germany, it is to pretend that this isn't really a war at all. In the case of the U.S. and the UK, the first and second biggest suppliers of cannon fodder, it is by arguing that this is a war to save American and British lives ("the war on terror") and that Western lives are worth everything and those of oppressed peoples nothing.
As if anything more were needed to expose the nature of this war, three days after the bombing U.S. soldiers provided another example of why occupiers have trouble winning the hearts and minds of their victims. Soldiers from the U.S. 10th Mountain Division in Wardak province southwest of Kabul stormed into a Swiss charity-run hospital late at night. They kicked in doors, tied up four hospital employees and two family members of patients, and forced people out of their beds as they ransacked the facility for two hours, allegedly looking for "insurgents." (How were they going to identify them? Were they just planning to grab and torture everyone with an apparent bullet wound or any young men they could find?)
The troops warned the medical staff not to treat "insurgents" and to ask the permission of American officers before admitting patients. The hospital staff said they would refuse to comply, because this would violate their ethics, the rules of war and the agreements with the U.S.-led occupation forces under which they were operating—and turn the hospital and its staff into a target for the Taliban as well.
This follows an August attack on a hospital in the eastern province of Paktika by U.S. helicopter gunships.
A UN report issued in July said that civilian deaths had jumped by 24 percent this year, to 1,013 dead in the first half of 2009. Even if many of these deaths are the result of indiscriminate Taliban bombings, how does this justify the fact that the U.S., Germany and other countries are committing much larger scale atrocities—or that they are killing anyone in Afghanistan at all?
The background to this massacre is the widely ridiculed presidential election and the U.S.'s dishonest attempts to distance themselves from it. If the U.S. has suddenly discovered that the government of Hamid Karzai, whom they installed, is allied with the same warlords and drug traffickers the U.S. itself embraced to invade Afghanistan, and that elections held under occupation can't be very convincing—isn't this because their whole reactionary arrangement just isn't working out like it was supposed to?
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
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Revolution #176 Online Edition, September 14, 2009
We received the following correspondence from readers in Chicago who went to Nebraska to defend abortion provider Dr. LeRoy Carhart and his clinic.
During a recent conversation with a revolutionary-minded woman about abortion, she said, "Oh, I'm not worried. Abortion rights aren't going anywhere. The majority of people in this country are pro-choice, laws are being passed...it's really not a concern..." How many people have been holding onto such illusions? And then Dr. Tiller was murdered. A clinic defender was seriously assaulted by an anti-abortionist in Akron, Ohio. Attacks began escalating around the country. That same woman finally admitted: "I was way off on that, I need to seriously re-think this whole thing. People are dying and risking their lives for abortion rights, that is the reality..."
In the wake of the assassination of courageous abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in the foyer of his church on May 31, anti-women forces have now declared Dr. LeRoy Carhart "target number one." Operation Rescue and several other anti-abortion organizations called for a mobilization on August 28-29 to shut down Dr. Carhart's Abortion & Contraception Clinic in Bellevue, Nebraska. In just three weeks—mainly at the initiative of Kansas NOW, people in Wichita who knew Dr. Tiller, Erin Sullivan of Nebraska NOW, other NOW chapters, and World Can't Wait organizers—over 100 women and men traveled from 16 states to defend Dr. Carhart, his clinic, patients and staff from these patriarchal misogynists who want to keep women enslaved and subservient. Those who came to support and defend the clinic outnumbered the reactionary anti-women protesters by more than 2 to 1, in one of the largest national pro-choice clinic defense mobilizations in years. A group of revolutionaries and supporters from Revolution Books in Chicago and Cleveland went to Nebraska to defend the clinic and take out the statement "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have."
When we arrived at the clinic for the first time on Friday morning, we gathered at the corner of the clinic facing a well-trafficked street and across from a fake "counseling clinic" set up by the anti-'s. We set up a 5 foot tall poster with a picture of Dr. Tiller and a quote from the Statement:
"The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people, here and all over the world…when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness…those days must be GONE. And they CAN be."
We then unfurled a huge banner that said "Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!" and included the Revolution masthead. Many of the clinic defenders and monitors loved it, encouraging us to display it where no one could miss it. Struggle broke out over the banner, however—not with the anti-'s, but with a few of the clinic defense organizers who said that it "isn't the message we want to convey" because it would "be too controversial in this area" and so, they said, we had to put the banner away. This wasn't an isolated opinion but reflects a view dominant among national pro-choice leadership, which accepts the premise of the Democratic Party that abortion is somehow morally undesirable and thus cedes the moral high ground to these fascists. We responded that refusing to boldly uphold women's right to abortion without apology is exactly what has contributed to the continuing climate of shame and persecution of women seeking abortions, and we were not going to take the banner down. One clinic defender expressed the thoughts of many, "Oh yes, it IS the message we want! Abortion is not a bad word!! That's why Dr. Carhart has his big, bold sign on the clinic: ABORTION AND CONTRACEPTION CLINIC OF NEBRASKA. And his life is in danger because he is unapologetic about it. That's the whole point!"
Dr. Carhart held a press conference inside the clinic Friday morning with leaders of several of the groups who came out to defend the clinic, such as Erin Sullivan (President of Nebraska NOW), Debra Sweet (National Director of World Can't Wait), Terry O'Neill (President of NOW), Katherine Spillar (Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority Foundation) and Emilie Ailits (Executive Director of NARAL Colorado). While local NOW groups in Nebraska, Kansas, DuPage County, Illinois, and elsewhere have been on the front lines and mobilized actively to come out and defend Dr. Carhart's clinic, it took struggle and a direct appeal from another abortion provider to move some of the established national pro-choice organizations to endorse the action and issue calls to come to Omaha. This too is something to build on.
Later Friday evening, we went out to a street corner on 50th St. and Underwood Ave. in Omaha to take out "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" statement, the "Declaration on Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity," along with the "Abortion On Demand And Without Apology" banner. We got on the mic and challenged people to stand up and defend Dr. Carhart's clinic, and put out the call from the statement—that this is not the best of all possible worlds, and we do not have to live this way. Several people who were really supportive of us didn't know that Dr. Carhart was being targeted Saturday and wanted to come out to the clinic to defend it. A couple that we met decided on the spot to come to our meeting that night and offered their home for people to spend the night. We got into an intense struggle with a group of youth who were vehemently against abortion and disrespected some of the women comrades. As we called them out on the mic for their reactionary stance and continued to challenge other people on the streets to stand up for women's liberation, one of the youths came up and agreed to have a rational discussion. So we struggled with him about abortion, how fundamentally it came down to women, and women's ability to choose what to do with their own bodies and be full participants in society. We struggled over whether a fetus was a baby, and got into the science of it. One of the folks we had just met jumped in and started debating with the youth. Then the other youth came over to listen and get into the debate. Some passers-by would stop and listen for a bit, then throw in a few questions or statements. We talked about the history of women's oppression, how it is rooted in patriarchal relations, how the debate about abortion is not really about "protecting life" but about subjugating and controlling women. And the youth began to change their understanding. They still didn't fully agree that fetuses aren't babies, but they came to see that this was fundamentally about women and whether they are able to control their own bodies and be full participants in society. We insisted that it was important for them to get a copy of the "Declaration For Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity," and although they didn't have any money, one youth spent several minutes digging around in the seats of his car to find a dollar to buy the paper while we talked with the group about communism.
Members of the Unitarian Church where we stayed and others in the community worked 24/7 to feed and house those who came in from out of town, including one woman who was just in a car accident and broke her neck but was at the church every day helping people. Clinic defenders gathered each evening at the church, and the spirit of determination and resolve to strengthen the support for abortion providers and the movement to defend abortion rights was inspiring and profound. Several people who knew and worked with Dr. Tiller found great encouragement in the turnout, even as they continued to grieve his loss and knew the very real danger faced by Doctors Carhart, Susan Wicklund, and others who remain courageously devoted to providing abortion services to women. On Friday evening, a video of a talk by Dr. Susan Wicklund and Sunsara Taylor at an event sponsored by Revolution Books NYC spoke sharply about the life and death battle that is going on around the country. (If you don't know the extent of attacks going down now, check out the facts that were read to us by a woman who works at Dr. Carhart's clinic on the National Abortion Federation's website.)
Saturday was the main day for the anti-women group's mobilization, so we were out in force at the clinic by 5 am, lining the sidewalk in front of the clinic entrance. After holding the ground for several hours, the pigs came in and spray painted lines down the middle of the street and sidewalk, forcing all the clinic defenders to move away from the front of the clinic to give the area to the anti-'s—threatening to jail anyone who crossed over the lines. They then did the same thing on the street next to the clinic and its parking lot, forcing the clinic defenders to a small corner next to the driveway entrance and the back end of the parking lot. A large group of pigs in riot gear assembled at a school across the street from the clinic. And even though the entire street was blockaded by the pigs, they allowed the anti-'s to drive two of their trucks covered in gruesome images allegedly of bloody fetuses all the way down the blocked street to the edge of the parking lot. Clinic defenders had over 100 people there, and the pigs forced us out and gave nearly all of the sidewalk and streets surrounding the clinic to 50 anti-women protesters.
This was total bullshit, and shortly thereafter word came out from the clinic that Dr. Carhart had decided to let us come onto the clinic property to defend it. He donated dozens of blue t-shirts with the slogan "Trust Women" across the front and "This Clinic Stays Open" on the back, and we lined the edge of the clinic property with our backs to the anti-'s. Whenever they tried to shout at the patients coming into the clinic to try and shame them, we drowned them out with chants of "Welcome! Welcome! This Clinic Stays Open!" And we blocked their cameras as they tried to get pictures of the patients and their license plates to harass them.
Although the turnout of anti-abortionists at the clinic was paltry compared to what they had announced in advance, their presence was repulsive, menacing, and dangerous. Jennifer McCoy (who went by the name of Jennifer Patterson Sperle) was at the clinic on Saturday. She was previously sentenced to 30 months in prison for setting fire to abortion clinics in Virginia and has been visiting Dr. Tiller's murderer Scott Roeder in jail. Troy Newman of Operation Rescue bragged that an alleged patient of Dr. Carhart's clinic had been steered to their phony "counseling center" instead, and Newman tried to pass out sonograms of a fetus that they supposedly just "saved." A priest outside the fence surrounding the clinic property kicked one of the clinic defenders and some of our signs. Their usual huge bloody fetus pictures were everywhere. Some of the clinic defenders decorated a large SUV with pro-choice posters and banners right on the spot and drove it out into the blockaded street right in front of the anti-'s fetus porn trucks.
Meanwhile, Saturday was also the date of a military air show at Offutt Air Base, bordering Bellevue, and there was a steady stream of cars headed to that on nearby arterial. The contrast between Dr. Carhart's small struggling clinic, under siege by the reactionaries, and the billions of dollars of murderous military fire power on display above us could not have been more obscene, or more infuriating. What an upside down world, and what could WE do if we had state power?! People like Dr. Carhart and his courageous staff would have the backing and resources of proletarian power, and the science and resources that now go into imperialist firepower would be put to use transforming the world to emancipate humanity!
All day we also lined the main route to the air base with our banner proclaiming Dr. Carhart a hero, and messages like "women are not incubators" and "fetuses are not babies" and we got overwhelmingly positive responses from people driving by: lots of honks and fists waved in the air and thank yous, of course mixed in with "read your bible" and obscene gestures, but everyone was surprised by the overall positive tenor, including the locals.
We talked to many people who came out to defend the clinic. Brittany, a young Black woman, came from Chicago to defend Dr. Carhart and his clinic because, as she put it, "I HAD to come—because I'm a woman and I've had an abortion too. It's my voice and my choice!" She came with a whole group of young women who volunteer with a non-profit, Chicago Abortion Fund, that provides information on contraception and abortion primarily on the South Side of Chicago. Others with the Chicago Abortion Fund said they had seen some of the posters from Revolution that have appeared in the Englewood community in Chicago.
Bill, a lawyer who now teaches at a small private college in the Omaha area, said he had never been involved in clinic defense and doesn't know Dr. Carhart, but he too felt he had to come out this weekend. As a former prosecutor, he felt there was enough evidence to prosecute Operation Rescue in the murder of Dr. Tiller: "When you're telling people that someone ought to die and where to find them, that's aiding and abetting. I've seen people tried for a lot less." But, he added, "there's a different standard here, no doubt about it."
A woman clinic defender from Akron, Ohio, said she had gotten both the Statement and the Women's Declaration, and she loved the Declaration. She said she had read it three times and learned more each time about the depth and roots of traditional patriarchal relations, and the history of struggle in the women's movement; why it needs to be based on a revolutionary future. Of the statement on "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," she said she had read it but needs to go back and look at each paragraph and think more about the content. She said, "If you think it's just talk, then your eyes start to glaze over when you read it, but when you realize that this is a SERIOUS call, that requires real attention. And it sounds good to read that Avakian is the leader we need, but I need to read up on him, because I just don't know about him yet."
Doug Paterson teaches theater of the oppressed at University of Nebraska, Omaha, and did clinic defense and escort work at two clinics that provided abortions in Omaha in the 1980s. Now there are none in the city. The doctors retired and there was no one to replace them. He recalled protesting at an anti-choice rally at a Catholic college in South Dakota just when Roe v. Wade came down, in the early 1970s. Doug knows and admires Dr. Carhart and was "staggered by the murder of Dr. Tiller." He felt it's important to come out publicly at this moment.
A clinic defender who was one of three who came from Louisville, Kentucky, said that they are now having to defend their abortion clinic every day, not just Saturday, because of the continual presence of the anti's, screaming at, harassing, and attempting to shame women who seek services at the only clinic in an area including at least three states.
One woman who holds a local office in a state out west had a lot of pointed questions about how you can keep leaders from going bad, but she thought it might be a good idea to take state power away from the imperialist class. The conversation was the kind we were hoping for; getting people to think way past the terms that are offered by this system. In spite of, or perhaps because of, her experience in public office, she agreed that elections boiled down to a choice between "competing elites," as Bob Avakian puts it, and that anyone who truly stands with the oppressed would either never get elected or wouldn't last long. She raised disagreements about saying publicly that we need more abortions because she felt that this would be easily twisted by the other side to mean that we are all about "killing babies." But putting the emphasis on women's need and right to abortion under any circumstances, in the context of women's liberation, gave meaning to the point that we have to be out front and unapologetic about the FACT that abortion services are miserably inaccessible and becoming dangerously close to being illegal once again.
Another woman came out to the protest who had gotten an abortion at Dr. Carhart's clinic some years ago. While standing outside in front of the clinic, she recognized one of the providers as the person who had performed her abortion. She waved for this person to come to the orange fence and thanked her for giving her back her life. She told one of the revolutionaries that this was so emotional for her as she said she had not told anyone, not even her best friend, about the abortion until now. She said she used to be one of the people who thought it was murder, because she was raised in a very insular community. People have to get out into the world and be exposed to the truth. This is another example of the guilt and shame heaped on getting an abortion. But when she heard that the clinic was under attack, she was compelled to be part of its defense.
An older woman who has worked with Iowa NOW got copies of Revolution and felt that it was really important to look at this struggle in light of the need for revolution. She said, "I have been involved in the pro-choice movement for 38 years, and yeah we've had some victories, but mainly, it's the same old fight, over and over again. Something has got to change!"
All but a handful of anti-'s were gone by noon on Saturday, but the clinic defenders stayed on to defend the clinic till it closed. World Can't Wait brought a large banner that read "Dr. Carhart Is A Hero," and at the end of the day people signed the banner to present it to Dr. Carhart. People vowed that they would be back to defend the clinic. We had a celebratory dinner and organizing meeting that night at the house of the couple we met on the street corner, and started to build a local core of people to take on the defense of the clinic. Some at the meeting had been reading our literature and digging into the question of the need for revolution and Bob Avakian's leadership, and want to get Revolution newspaper out in Omaha.
Even though this was a significant victory for those who stand on the side of women and against those who want women forced to be subservient breeders of children, Operation Rescue and many other Christian fascists forces still have Dr. Carhart in their crosshairs as "target number one." They want to end women's right to abortion and birth control—and they aren't going away. As long as this system of capitalism-imperialism remains, women will never be able to cast off the centuries of oppression that prevents them from being full participants in society.
There is an untapped well of anger that burns within women all over the planet.
Bringing this to the surface, unleashing this fury, and tempering it as a mighty force for an actual revolution...
Taking up the fight for women's liberation as an essential part of the emancipation of humanity as a whole...
Building powerful and uncompromising resistance to every assault on women today...
Modeling a whole different and emancipatory morality, rooted in the goal, and struggle, to uproot all forms of exploitation and oppression…
Digging into and taking up the radical and truly liberating science of communism, which has been advanced by this Party and its leader, Bob Avakian...
All this is the responsibility—and the opportunity—of everyone who craves a different world.
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Revolution #176 Online Edition, September 14, 2009
New York City
Revolution Books is needed now more than ever, yet its future is in peril. Hunger faces over a billion people daily. War continues to rage in the Middle East, with little opposition. Black and Latino youth in the U.S. are incarcerated by the hundreds of thousands. The ecological future of the planet is in dire jeopardy.
Yet, there isn't an atmosphere and culture of defiance, resistance, and revolution. Critical thinking and radical discourse are suffocated.
Revolution Books has been stepping up to puncture and change this—emerging over the past year as a growing center of revolutionary ferment. People from all over the world come to the store and find the books and the deep engagement with each other about the possibility of a radically different way the world could be. When controversial issues arise, when no one else will speak out and provide a forum, Revolution Books does—in the store and at venues way beyond its four walls.
This is a moment in history when Revolution Books is needed to soar—expanding its unique collection of progressive and revolutionary books; producing even more cutting edge programs; and developing the capacity to broadcast these events on the Internet and cable TV. But without a major infusion of funds, the store could be lost. That is why we are launching a major campaign to raise $100,000 by the end of the year. These funds are absolutely essential for Revolution Books to not only survive, but thrive—reaching out broadly, providing ideological oxygen for a new radical, revolutionary culture and movement.
You are needed. Your support and involvement right now can make all the difference in launching this drive to save and expand Revolution Books. Donate generously. Get involved—contribute your creativity and energy. Find out about and become a member of "Friends of Revolution Books," a broad network of people who sustain, support, utilize, and volunteer with Revolution Books. This $100,000 campaign is about more than saving a bookstore, as crucial as that is in these times, it's about what kind of world there will be.
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Revolution #176 Online Edition, September 14, 2009
We received the following correspondence from Chicago:
September 10. Over the last ten days, hundreds of the Black people in Rockford, Illinois, have poured out in repeated marches and rallies, speak outs and vigils, town hall meetings, and church services, all expressing their outrage and demanding justice in the police murder of Mark Anthony Barmore, a 23-year-old African American killed by two white officers on August 24, 2009. Barmore was shot in the back by the two officers who pursued him into a local church and killed him in front of ten to twelve children in attendance at the day care center in the basement of the church.
According to the minister's wife, Sheila Brown, who is also the director of the daycare, Barmore was walking near the church after twelve noon that day. He was chatting with her because he was wanted in connection with a 911 call filed by a girlfriend in a domestic dispute and wanted Brown's advice. Brown then walked into the daycare center and she says that before the door could swing shut, Barmore ran into the building, shouting "They are coming after me." Brown said she was trying to shield the group of children, aged five to ten, when Officers Oda Poole and Stan North ordered Barmore out of a boiler room. According to Brown, he complied with their order. "Barmore had his hands up and his head down. He was totally submissive." But the officers went ahead and repeatedly fired their weapons into him, even as he lay face down on the floor, also endangering the lives of the children whose exit the police blocked. Brown and her 17-year-old daughter, who was also an eyewitness, deny the officers' story that Barmore had gotten a hold of the officer's gun, insisting that there was no such struggle. An independent autopsy done by the family of Barmore showed that Barmore was shot three times in the back, confirming the Browns' account and contradicting the police lies.
As news of the murder spread, family and friends of Barmore and others in the community converged at the church, quickly calling out the lies and demanding to be heard, especially angry that the Rockford police chief was declaring on the news that the officers' version was "the facts."
These two cops were known brutalizers. In 2003, Officer North shot Lataurean Brown during a traffic stop, claiming he had tried to back over him. In January 2007, his partner, Oda Poole, shot two men in a car and then also claimed that the men tried to run him over. A few months later, Poole shot and killed 66-year-old Louis Henderson, Jr, saying he approached with a gun – but it turned out to be a hammer in a sock. These previous shootings and the murder by these officers were all found to be "justified and appropriate" by the Winnebago County authorities, as was each and every case since 1992 of Rockford police using deadly force against people. In eight of these cases, people lost their lives at the hands of the police. In each case, the Rockford police officers were gotten off and allowed to go back out on the street. In response to an email from local media, Police Chief Chet Epperson admitted that this police force is trained to shoot to kill, "Shoot at center mass. We teach officers that when they are using deadly force they should continue on until the threat has been eliminated /minimized."
At one of the marches, hundreds blocked traffic on the city streets and proceeded three miles over the bridge from the predominantly minority westside of town (where racial tensions have built in recent months over a variety of issues) to end up at City Hall and police headquarters chanting, "The Blood is on the Badge" and "He Had His Hands Up." One woman expressed the sentiment of many people, "I just feel that enough is enough and something needs to be done." She drove an hour and half to be part of the demonstration, which was mainly Black but joined by whites and Latinos, including members of dozens of churches in Rockford. "This is a very worthy cause. I thought a church would be a refuge, that you would be safe in a church. He ended up in a church and lost his life." The tradition of taking refuge goes back to the Old Testament, according to Bishop John Senter of Faith Walkers Assembly. But Barmore was killed when he was running to a safe place. As one man at the rally put it, "There was no damned struggle, Barmore was surrendering! When is this gonna stop? Kids are getting killed!"
In response to this angry outpouring of the people, Rockford authorities for the first time called in a supposedly "independent" investigation by a task force composed not of the Rockford police but of investigators of the Illinois State Police and the Office of the Cook County State's Attorney. This is a sick joke and a crime in itself in light of the facts: that the Cook County State's Attorney justified huge numbers of police murders in Cook County; that they wrongfully convicted many an innocent man in other types of cases, and left them to rot on death row decade after decade until they won their own exoneration; that the Cook County States' Attorney helped unleash and covered up the outright torture by the infamous Area Two torture team and then gave honors to their commander, Lt. Jon Burge.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson soon entered the fray in this city of 150,000 people, which is 80 miles northwest of Chicago and has the highest unemployment rate in the state at over 15%. Jackson's involvement has called more attention to this terrible murder and has had the effect of many people in Rockford feeling that they have some backing in their demands for justice. But his overarching message (a la Obama) of declaring that both sides need to come together in a "positive healing of the divisions" (and for jobs and personal responsibility of Black people) has had the effect of channeling people's anger and determination to fight against the crime of police brutality away from the system which is the root cause and enforcer of not only this crime but of all the hardships of the masses in Rockford and the entire the planet.
Jackson is calling for a federal investigation to be conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice. But thus far, the feds, through the DOJ Community Relations Service, have only come in to—get this—provide public relations services to the City of Rockford! They are also offering "mediation, conciliation, training and technical assistance." But the Community Relations Services and the relationships it cultivates with members of the Black community to "mediate racial tensions" were exposed as an intelligence source for government counter-intelligence operations, part of the larger operations that tapped phones, monitored bank and tax records, blackmailed, beat up and framed people, in order to disrupt, destroy, and at times even murdering those who dared to raise their voices in the movements of opposition back in the 1960s, Malcolm X and Fred Hampton being just two examples.1
Many progressive forces at this point seem to be falling for all this crap about reconciliation and the like, putting forward that now they are confident that things are turning positive and that justice will be done. But this is wrong and dangerous too, when the dogs are in the street! Yes, the cops are now mounting their own upcoming rally, demanding that the two officers be taken off administrative duty. (This is the standard procedure of the Rockford police in police murders—giving the officers administrative duty, meaning desk work, pending the usual finding that the murder was "justified.") A hue and cry is now being raised that these cops are somehow being unfairly persecuted in this way. And it gets worse. Right-wing reactionaries full of passionate intensity and genocidal intent toward Black people are calling in the local radio shows, spewing out their racist garbage: that it is a good thing that Barmore was shot in the back and too bad more of them (translation; Black people) weren't shot down!
Of course, many Black people on the westside are not satisfied with the so-called solution through "healing" in the face of all that has been coming down. Says Steve Muhammad of New Life National, "There is a trust issue. Black people in the city of Rockford—we are having a trust issue." And many want to keep on taking up the gauntlet that has been thrown down. Some, including members of Barmore's family, pledge to fight to their last breath to see these killer cops brought to justice in the case.
There is another march on Saturday, September 12 which will be going through the westside, picking up forces to then head downtown to the seat of power. Revolution will be coming back there, to join with the masses in this significant battle, and to keep on engaging them with the statement "The Revolution We Need…the Leadership We Have." We got going with this last weekend, making it the hub and pivot of our efforts as we visited Rockford from Chicago, going out with the photo display on the back of our truck of the lives stolen by the police, which was swarmed by the people, who then grabbed up the newspapers and the statements. Everyone we met wanted to engage about all of this and learn about October 22, the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality and the Criminalization of a Generation. From teenagers in the projects, to the ministers, church staff, and parishioners of the churches in the community, to family members and neighbors of Barmore, to the owner of a hair salon driving a late-model car, to the white proletarians walking through to the waterfront concert. We will go to the march with the display, featuring the Call for NDP, and the words from the statement:
"It is up to us: to wake up...to shake off the ways they put on us, the ways they have us thinking so they can keep us down and trapped in the same old rat-race…to rise up, as conscious Emancipators of Humanity. The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people, here and all over the world…when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness…those days must be GONE. And they CAN be."
And we will keep you posted as new things unfold.
1. The Age of Surveillance, The Aims and Methods of America's Political Intelligence System, Frank J. Donner, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1980. [back]
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Revolution #176 Online Edition, September 14, 2009
There are today over 180 prisoners on the waiting list for a subscription to REVOLUTION. These prisoners, each and every one, should be getting this paper and other revolutionary literature—but they are not because there is not sufficient money to send papers to all those who want them. It is hard to sleep knowing that. It is an intolerable, and utterly unacceptable, situation.
The Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (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 the search for an alternative.
The PRLF urgently needs your help in providing revolutionary literature to prisoners like those whose letters we are publishing below. To donate, go to the PRLF website www.prisonersrevolutionaryliteraturefund.org.
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Revolution #176 Online Edition, September 14, 2009
Revolution received the following correspondence:
It’s been a week since we began taking Revolution to the campuses and we’ve begun to have a real impact, we have met a lot of people, learned a lot – and have a lot of lessons to draw in order to go forward.
All week we set up right across the street from the main building where freshman orientation was going on. We had a Revolution Books table with big red flags waving high up in the air and a vivid display of enlarged photos taken from the special issue of Revolution newspaper that featured "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have." These photos confront hundreds of people a day with the vivid nightmare that the world is today for literally billions. They show an eight-year-old girl in Bangladesh slaving away in a battery factory... a Black man somewhere in America with his face pressed into the ground as two police officers kneel on his neck... an old man carrying the limp body of a young girl whose life has been stolen by U.S. war planes and occupation in Iraq... a man in Guatemala reduced to scavenging amidst others’ waste and garbage to scratch out any kind of existence...
And, they show images of revolutionary China – a whole epoch of tremendous liberation that people have been lied to about – as well as a whole display of the works of Bob Avakian who has done the work over the course of decades to develop the framework to go even further towards liberation than even the best of the revolutions in the past and is leading this process today.
All this is quite a challenge to the students who walk past. We live in a society and a culture that systematically covers over – and encourages people to avert their eyes from – the horrors caused by this system of capitalism-imperialism. Further, we live in an intellectual climate where not only outright reactionaries spread the BIG LIE that communist revolution has led only to disaster, but where this has been picked up and repeated even by many progressive and radical-minded people. And far too few people among all sections of society have heard of, let alone substantively engaged, the work and leadership of Bob Avakian who has rescued this history and built upon it to figure out how we can do even better and go even further.
At times when the flow of people is greater and we have more people volunteering at our table, one of us will climb up on a chair and hold one of the enlargements and agitate, calling on students to look at the pictures and come check out the revolution.
Among those who stop (it is hardly surprising that most students don’t stop, but a significant number do), it is striking how much openness as well as how much ignorance exists about revolution and communism. Most express anguish over the things that are portrayed in the pictures and many let us know that they, too, have tried to figure out why these things happen and what can be done about it. Some have more developed theories and some are just starting to think about these questions. But almost no one, even among those who have read some Marx or other "Marxist scholars," has yet seriously engaged genuine Marxism or has any sort of dialectical materialist understanding of why the world is the way it is and how it can be changed.
Most students who express their theories to us for why humans suffer so much focus in on the level of the individual. One argues that, during their early development, children begin to be indoctrinated with society’s norms and that because the individual child will never achieve those exact norms, this is the source of suffering. Another student, with a different theory, is similarly rooted in examining society through the atomized experience of individuals. He argues that when children are very young they have no sense of self but as they grow they come to realize that they are separate from others around them. He argues that it is when the child realizes that they are not the most significant thing in their mother’s life, that the father is more loved by the mother than they are, that constant frustration is generated by never being able to fill their mother’s needs themselves the way they initially grew up perceiving that they did.
With each of these students – and others like them – we have gotten into great debate and discussion.
One of these students gives the example: "How many movies have you seen, or cards or commercials, where the image of ‘love’ is depicted by two lovers running towards each other on a beach?" But then, he goes on to explain, that idea of love that everyone is raised on doesn’t really correspond to how people really experience love in their lives. And it is this gap between the ideal and the reality that causes people to feel anguish and suffer.
I tell him that not only do I think he is grappling with something important, but that I think it is extremely important that he is striving to get to the root of the problems, not just dealing with things on the surface. But then, I go on to explain that while it is true that there often is a gap between societal ideals and what people’s real lives are and that this can be a source of suffering, that there are much deeper and more defining contradictions than this. For instance, I pose to him, why are the societal norms (or "ideals" as he put it) what they are in the first place? Why, for instance, was it considered "ideal" for whole sections of white people to become slave-owners and plantation-owners at a certain point in this country’s history? And why did that "ideal" change? Further, even when that was the ideal, the real problem was not that there was a gap between that "ideal" and the reality of many white people’s lives – it was the system of slavery itself that gave rise to that ideal that was the problem.
The guy listened really intently and asked for clarification at several points. Then he made clear that he thought slavery was a true horror, but that perhaps I wasn’t seeing that, "People create systems like slavery, or launch wars, or do other destructive things because they are unhappy because they cannot achieve an ideal that is defined by society rather than just being defined in relationship to themselves only."
I wanted to make clearer that he was getting these two things inverted (that really the "ideals" of any society and the gap between those ideals and most people’s lives, flow from and are shaped by what kind of system there is, not the other way around). And the more he laid out his thinking, the more it got me thinking further, so I gave a different example. I told him that sometimes what is considered "ideal" changes, including sometimes people fight to change this and sometimes the projection of new ideals does not add to people’s suffering, but helps to uproot it. I gave him the example of the Model Operas that were developed and performed during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. In particular, I focused on how women were portrayed in those works – as strong revolutionary fighters and leaders. For a country that was coming out of hundreds of years of feudalism where women were viewed as less than human, these new ideals – together with the new revolutionary society that corresponded to those ideals – were part of enabling women to be free in ways before unimagined.
He paused for a moment as he considered what I was saying and he said he’d never heard anything positive about the revolution in China. So we talked for a while about what this revolution was and how it changed things for a billion people. And we got into how that revolution was reversed in 1976, to make clear that we are NOT upholding the kind of "sweatshop of the world with pockets of obscene wealth" that China is today. I told him that this experience was the most liberating humanity has seen yet and he has to find out the truth about this that has been kept from him. Then I told him about how Bob Avakian has deeply summed up the experience of this and other revolutions – both the tremendous achievements and the shortcomings, as well as broader spheres of human endeavor – and advanced the science of revolution.
My statement that revolution and communism are a science brought out a whole new host of questions and controversies with him. He brought out questions about early childhood development, about how it is that young people get the message about what it means to be human or to experience different emotions. He wondered whether we are really in a position to say that the girl in the battery factory in Bangladesh is really unhappy if that is all she has known and maybe we are just imposing our own "ideals" on her. I told him this was completely outrageous and told him that, while it is the case that you will put up with a lot of horrors if you don’t think anything else is possible, it is not the case that any humans find it to be fulfilling to have to send their children into dark and dangerous slave-like work conditions or watch them starve to death. I went further and talked about how many people we’d met over the summer out in the ghettos and barrios who had looked at the picture of a Black man being brutalized by the police and said, "That’s what they do to us." During all this I was rather sharp, not unfriendly, but I challenged him to really confront the implications of what he was saying.
From here, he disagreed when I said that the conditions the majority of humanity is locked in are truly oppressive, degrading and squandering of human potential and happiness. He said that may be my opinion, but there is no such thing as an objective way to evaluate the conditions of humanity. So, I responded by starting with a basic fact: there are approximately 6.3 billion people on this planet. He acknowledged this. Over 2 billion live on less than two dollars a day. He agreed. In 28 countries there have been food riots in the last year and a half. True, again, he agreed. Many of these countries actually were food-producing countries and had plenty of food but wouldn’t give that food to their people because it was for export in an imperialist-dominated global economy. Here, he seemed at first like he was starting to get uncomfortable. Then, he said, "Okay, I get what you are saying. Those things are mathematically true." So we continued, at each step I would take him deeper into what causes all this to be the case – and at each point I made him acknowledge that my statements were of the type that could be verified by examining reality.
This last discussion, about whether objective reality actually exists and, further, whether we can understand it scientifically has proven to be a big recurring theme among many students. One big way this has come up is that over and over again we have struggled with students that there is a relationship between understanding why the world is as it is and figuring out how it can be changed. That communism is not just "our thing" that we want to convince people of – or that they should wish us luck with. But, that there is only one way to liberate humanity – communist revolution – and this is a statement they cannot dismiss because it sounds "dictatorial" of us to insist that only we have the answer. Instead, they have to actually examine what we are saying and hold it up against the real world – not in a simplistic or superficial way, but in a scientific way.
We went back and forth on this for a while and you could tell that this guy was enjoying the exchange as much as I was, and that he was coming at it from a genuine place of concern for humanity and the planet. In the meantime, many new people had been passing through and now several stopped near the table. He gave a donation for the paper and his phone number and email and hung around listening for a little while longer as I began to talk with the others.
With the other student I mentioned above I asked him what he was basing his theories on. He replied, "Psychoanalysis." I asked him to break down for me where he got that from and at first he got very defensive, "Well, if you don’t agree with psychoanalysis then you obviously won’t agree with what I am saying." I told him I don’t think that is the right way to proceed. It’s better for me to actually hear what he has to say and try to understand it, and he should do the same thing with me, and we should measure all of it up against the real world and evaluate and learn in the process. This seemed a little surprising to him – probably on one level he didn’t expect this from a communist but on an even deeper level this is not how most people approach the world these days and perhaps this was new to him overall. After he walked me through more of his thinking about how people’s suffering comes from discovering that their fathers are more significant to their mothers than each child believes they are when they are young and forming their identity, he explained that this is why communism – even if you get rid of all classes and relations of oppression – will never work. He kept insisting that the problem (which he was claiming to have identified) is "deeper" than just class society.
So, I posed back to him how he thought this could be the most defining thing about humanity when it has so clearly been the case that there have been all kinds of different ways that human societies have been organized. His theories were drawn from a certain period of human history where there have been certain forms of family relations. We talked about societies where the family was very different than we know it, where there was not nearly such importance placed on the paternity of the child and the elevated status of mother-child bond. After this, he admitted that his theories only applied to people who are generally "in the West" and fit the family structure he is describing.
But, when I pointed out to him that this meant that his theory does not disprove the potential of communism to overcome all social antagonisms as he claimed it did, and especially went on to explain the deeper dynamics of society that determine even what shape the family will take and how it emerged, he objected in a very similar way that the previously described guy did. He immediately objected to the notion that I could make such "macro" statements about the world as a whole. It was fine, he explained, for him to restrict his theories to our society and ones that are similar, because those are the only ones we really can understand. And, because there is not necessarily a link between, or there are not necessary deeper dynamics that are universal to, our society and the many very different societies that have been.
I recount quite a bit of the exchange with these two different guys because there is a lot that was fairly typical. They were very concerned about humanity and what was portrayed in the pictures, but they really weren’t even thinking in terms of a system to explain why things are this way. Further, while they recognize that the horrors in the pictures are real, the more we talked the more it became clear that they really underestimate, or probably are just completely ignorant of, how truly desperate and degraded and bitter the lives of the vast majority of humanity really are. Another thing was how deeply interested they were in hearing from people who were serious about understanding and changing the world. They seemed to appreciate both our perspective of being on the side of the wretched of the earth, but also that we struggled with them over questions of philosophy and meaning, epistemology and science, the need for political resistance and mass ferment, as well as history and the potential for the future. One of these students was the furthest thing from politically radical, but he was deeply concerned about humanity and eager to engage with people, even us communists, over how things could be changed. The other student was someone who considers himself extremely politically radical and is active in building resistance to globalization and state repression, but was similarly stuck in theories that are not radical and at first was much more reluctant to engage with real communists like us. But, in many ways, they were extremely similar in their ideological and political framework and in their need to encounter and really engage with scientific Marxism to even understand the very questions they were up against and grappling with.
Where we have set up there is a very good mix of people who come through, many of them students but also a lot of people from all around the city. This is very advantageous and we’ve been trying to maximize the strengths of what different people bring to this. At one point while I was up on the chair agitating about the need for revolution and for people to learn the truth about communism and find out about Bob Avakian, a young Black man whose girlfriend works in the area came right up and said, "Man, me and my friends were just talking about this." I gave a brief overview of what the statement ("The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have") gets into for him, but I did this loud enough so that others walking past could hear, and a few more people stopped.
I ask the young guy if he’s ever heard of Bob Avakian and he shakes his head no. So, I get down off the chair and I say to everyone, but especially him, that if he is for real about revolution he has to come over to the television we have set up right now and check out this leader. He grabs a chair and we turn on the Revolution DVD to its very opening, "Postcards of the hangings."
For about half an hour this young man sits rapt by Avakian’s speech. Behind him two other Black youth, a young woman and a young man who are both getting their G.E.D.’s nearby, stop by to listen too. Soon, two female students draw closer and listen in. The crowd itself became something of a magnet to others, many who stop just for a moment and keep moving, a few who stay for a little while. Watching this video with people seeing it for the first time, I get a renewed appreciation for how damning Avakian’s exposure of this country is. He speaks with great passion against the horrors of the lynchings, and appropriate disgust for a culture that celebrated such barbarity. Then, his phrase, "This is the history of this country. This is just a small part of the history of this country." It hits very hard and I see heads nodding.
After this section, the young guy says that everything he had heard was true and it made him sad and it made him angry and he really liked the guy who was talking. I took a minute to make sure we got his phone number and email address and then told him about what all was covered in the rest of the DVD and that the whole thing is available on line now. But, before he left, I insisted – and he seemed very happy to oblige – that he sit and watch another section of the DVD where Avakian imagines what a liberated society will be like. As he continued watching and others stopped in, I went to the other end of our set-up and climbed back up on the chair. When I looked back there were about fifteen people gathered around our table in various knots – some watching the DVD, others taking in the photo spread and some engaged in discussion and debate with the revolutionaries staffing the table.
This proved to be the biggest scene we’ve been able to create thus far around the table. It continues to be the case that most students just keep on walking as if we weren’t even there, as if they cannot hear our words at all or see our pictures. It is clear that a lot of students don’t want to look at all this, but it has also been important for us to recognize that even while we need to challenge people sharply, this challenge should not be merely to "get down with the revolution" but to actually critically engage the revolution and not accept the "received wisdom" that this is the best of all possible worlds. There is an importance to challenging people to THINK about the world and their responsibility to it and to engage the answers and the leadership we have to get out of this. It is the first week of school and students, especially freshmen, are quite overwhelmed by everything new they are encountering all at once – and revolution and especially communism are not exactly familiar or favorably looked upon territory for most students. Over time, we have seen that some people who initially walked by are stopping and engaging.
The second day three young guys came up to the table at the end of the day and said, "We’ve been walking past you over and over, now we want to come and find out what you are doing here." The next day, as we were walking up to one of the dorms several blocks away, a group of students passed us. One of them blurted out, "Hey, are you the communists? Let me get one of your fliers." He wouldn’t stop and talk because his friends all kept going without him, but this indicates something about some beginning impact we are having beyond the students we’ve yet spoken to.
Another student who stopped by the first day announced that he was "more of a Chomsky guy" and he wasn’t sure that the entire system needed to go, he considered himself more moderate. When I got into how the world will not fundamentally change without revolution and began to get into how it can change radically with a new revolutionary state power leading to communism, he immediately asked, "Are you an authoritarian?" I paused for a second and explained that I didn’t think that was the right distinction. The RCP is a vanguard party and I absolutely am convinced that it is only with a revolutionary vanguard that the masses can make revolution and that after the revolution, to not establish a new state power and defend what has been won, would be a criminal betrayal of the people. Further, I explained, in that new revolutionary society there needs to be the institutionalized leading role of the communist party or else you are still going to just be handing power back over to the imperialists to do their worst with. I explained that the question is not whether or not there will be leadership or state power or authority, but what is the content and nature of that leadership and state power and authority and where will it lead. Ultimately our goal is communism – that is a world without social antagonism and classes, without states and without any institutionalized leadership – but to get there you need a state of a different kind.
He kept saying that this notion of having a new state really made him uncomfortable. That if you really want to get rid of states and leaders you can’t be fighting for a new state and promoting a leader. I challenged him that the question cannot be whether something makes him uncomfortable or not, but what is really needed to get humanity free and this is a question of science. It is also from this perspective, of really developing both the most thoroughgoing method of science and scientific communism and of applying it to developing the strategy for making revolution and the framework for advancing the revolution after it is made, that the leader we have, Bob Avakian, really is precious. Avakian has dealt with the biggest questions of communist revolution, including one that this guy is putting his finger on – between leadership and led.
We got into the fact that socialism is three things: a new economic system, a new kind of state, and a transition from capitalism to communism. That there is a big contradiction between leadership and led all along the way and the fact that you have a Party leading and a new state power can be turned into its opposite, into something that reverses the revolution and represses the masses of people. However, it doesn’t have to turn into that and Avakian has really fought to maintain the orientation, and to deepen the scientific foundation of the understanding that, without revolution and a new state power the world will continue as it is and get worse under the rule of capitalism-imperialism. And, from this perspective and with these aims, Avakian has gone further than anyone before him (including building on Mao but going beyond him as well) in figuring out how to continue the revolution after the seizure of power and dig up the real roots for capitalist restoration and break down the division between leadership and led and lead to the withering away of the state when that becomes possible.
With this guy, and with quite a few others who raised similar questions (a LOT of people raised these similar questions) I took things back to the time after the Civil War in this country. We discussed how after that war, there was a need for federal troops to be posted in the South if the newly freed slaves were going to not be immediately re-enslaved. These troops weren’t doing the kinds of things that slave-owners and racist white mobs were doing – they weren’t raping the women of those they were suppressing or selling the children out of the arms of their parents. They were merely preventing the overthrown slave-owners from re-enslaving Black people. And, as soon as the troops were pulled out and sent West (to help carry out criminal acts of genocide against the Native Americans and to put down strikes of railway workers), the former slave-owners and Confederate Army regrouped and instituted over a hundred years of neo-slavery and KKK terror.
The need for a new state power does not arise because communists are "statists" or power-hungry. Communists want state power because we recognize that without it humanity cannot begin to set out on the process of freeing itself – ending police brutality and the criminalization of Black youth as a whole, putting an end to the terror and destruction the U.S. inflicts on the globe, launching massive campaigns against the violence against and degradation of women, beginning to repair the environment, establishing a whole new revolutionary culture, teaching real science in public education, and so much more. I told him that no one has dealt more thoroughly, though, with the element of what he was raising that is really important than Bob Avakian. Later that day, I looked up the clip in the online version of Avakian’s Revolution talk where he gets into why attempts to do away with the institutionalized leading role of the communist vanguard under the dictatorship of the proletariat would only lead to disaster ("Overcoming the Scars of the Past"). I sent the guy an email with it, telling him I took our conversation very seriously and that, just as I had said, Avakian has spoken to this very deeply and he needs to check it out.
The next day, this same guy came back. I didn't notice him at first until he was deep in conversation with someone else at our table. All I heard was him say, "Yeah, I got an email from you guys already," and then I saw that they talked for quite some time.
There were others, though it doesn’t seem to be quite as many, who approached us more from the end of a burning desire to see resistance to the outrages going on. One young white guy stared for a while at the image of police brutality and then asked if I had heard of the guy who was shot face-down on the subway platform in Oakland by police on New Years. I said yes, and showed him the centerfold in Revolution newspaper that week with Oscar Grant’s picture along with others who were killed by police. He got really excited and wanted to hang this up as a poster in his dorm and expressed a lot of interest in organizing for the October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality. He said he tries to pay attention to what is wrong with the world and that he grew up in a place that was mostly filled with Fox News drones.
I asked him what he knew about communism and he replied, "Not much, but it’s gotta be better than this system." He and several others, once we started asking people to support the revolution even as they were just meeting us, gave several dollars for his newspaper instead of just one. Then, he ran off to get his best friend and bring him back by the table to talk to us as well.
One of my favorite exchanges happened when I was up on the chair agitating. A young guy came up to look at the pictures and ask why I was associating those pictures with the need for communism. Obvious, they were very bad, he agreed – but he didn’t see how that meant we needed communist revolution.
Before I could get more than a few words out, another guy came up and started cautioning this young man that he shouldn’t listen to me. The second guy says, "Let me ask you. If there is a big stack of plates that has problems in it, what makes you think we should throw them all up in the air with the expectation that when they come crashing down to the ground again things will turn out any better than they are now." I calmly responded, "If I thought that analogy had anything to do with what an actual communist revolution is, I would answer that question. But really, society is not organized like a stack of plates and, while a revolution does spring all of society into the air, a communist revolution does not merely let things come crashing back down however they may."
I pointed again to the photos, but again before I could really get a thought out, the new guy was saying, "Of course I think those things are horrible, but that does not prove that we need the kind of revolution you are talking about." So, we went back and forth for a while about how these photos weren’t just "bad things" or products of human nature. I argued that they are rooted in the system of capitalism-imperialism and that these things have been overcome and can be overcome even more thoroughly in the future through communist revolution that socializes the means of production, re-organizes the economy and international relations based on meeting people’s needs and overcoming the scars of capitalism. This new guy then launched into a whole tirade against communist leaders making promises that they will change everything and then turning into tyrants and I went back at him with how wrong it would be to make revolution and not lead society forward. I got into the real dynamics that led to both the profoundly liberating experience in China when it was revolutionary as well as the dynamics that led to the restoration of capitalism.
Every now and then, the first guy would ask me a question, but the newer guy would cut him off and begin again to caution him about all the dangers he was sure would arise from communist revolution. Next, this newer guy began to advocate the path of Martin Luther King and Gandhi. We had quite a fierce argument over these guys. I told him that this is spoken to quite thoroughly in the Revolution talk by Avakian and then explained that India’s formal independence from Britain, while a very just and important thing, really has not liberated the people of India. Further, this independence wasn’t won by Gandhi. First, the British empire was in decline all over the world at that time, this was a larger dynamic than just the movement led by Gandhi (we walked through various places like Iran and parts of the Middle East). Further, there were other, much more decisive struggles for national liberation raging in India at the time of its independence, including armed struggles in which many people very heroically fought and sacrificed. This guy, even while he was extremely bent on preventing anyone from taking me seriously, himself had to step back and consider what I was raising about India. Clearly, he had never considered what was the larger context in which Gandhi was operating and that other factors might have played a bigger role. He acknowledged quite a bit of what I was arguing and then shifted his argument to Martin Luther King in this country. So, I argued forcefully that MLK was not the decisive force in the struggle to overcome official Jim Crow in the South. Finally, I argued that in both the case of Gandhi and MLK, the rulers of this system are the ones who have elevated and mythologized the role that Gandhi and MLK played precisely in order to keep people who see injustice and want to fight against it locked within the framework of their system.
At this point, the first guy asked how much the paper was and I told him. As he pulled out his wallet the new guy turned to him with more conviction than anything he had said yet and started wagging his finger, asking, "Do you know where that money is going to go? Are you sure you really know what it is that you are supporting?" The new guy kept reaching into his wallet and explained, "I just spent all kinds of money on all kinds of books because it costs something for those books to be made and it is worth it to me to learn what is in them. How would this be any different? She is saying a lot of stuff I have never heard and it seems to me that one dollar is definitely a reasonable amount to pay to find out more. Besides, after listening to you and her argue and argue, I have to say that this is the best dollar I have spent since I have been in this country."
Turns out the guy was a student from Israel and after he bought the paper he stuck around for another twenty minutes or so, checking out the photos, listening in at times on other exchanges and coming back again to ask a couple more questions before he left.
Another thing that was interesting, not on the level of an overall pattern or trend yet, but worth taking note of were two young Chinese women who we encountered separately but who both were very open to, if not semi-favorable towards, Mao. One was a freshman who grew up here and described herself as an anarchist. She said that, growing up, both her parents and her grandparents would constantly quote Mao to her and that they loved Mao. She said she felt that any kind of leadership was a problem and overall thought that there had been too much chaos and disruption in the Cultural Revolution and that this had been caused by Mao. When I asked her what she thought the Cultural Revolution had been about, it was clear that she really didn’t understand that it was both about preventing capitalist restoration and about transforming world outlook and breaking down the divisions inherited from class society. We spoke for quite a bit about how the contradictions Mao confronted in the GPCR (Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution) were not of his own making, but that he was responding to contradictions that any revolution will have to respond to and that abolishing leadership will not avoid those contradictions. She had an especially bad impression of Jiang Qing (Mao’s wife who has been slandered probably more than anyone else involved in the Chinese Communist revolution) and I explained some of what she had done that was so pathbreaking in forging a new revolutionary culture.
For a young woman whose first comment was that she is an anarchist who doesn’t like the idea of parties and leaders, she was remarkably open to grappling with what the nature of revolution is and why we say leaders and parties and revolutionary states are necessary. As she got ready to go, I posed to her that the kind of exchange we had been having needs to break out much more broadly among students overall, as well as resistance to the crimes of this system. She agreed whole-heartedly and said she was open to signing some of us into the dorms so that we can get out fliers and talk to more students.
The other young Chinese woman we met when we were going to one of the dorms. She was outside with a group of Asian students and they were not speaking English. We gave them the short statement and asked them where they were from. At first they were reluctant to talk and continued speaking to each other, but one by one they opened up. One kid announced to us that he was from Shanghai and then everyone laughed. A young woman looked at us and said, "He’s not from Shanghai. I am."
We explained that we are revolutionary communists and that we uphold Mao Tsetung and are getting out this statement. We made clear that while there are pockets of glitter and obscene development in China today, overwhelmingly things have gotten tremendously worse for the people as a whole since capitalism was restored. Immediately she started gushing about how divided China is, even Shanghai. She said some places people live so wealthy but then there is like a line that you cross and all of a sudden it is worse than poor. That everyone is talking about how great things are there but really most people don’t realize what it is like for the majority, including young women who are bought and sold. She quickly agreed that there needs to be a new revolution there and we began talking about what we are doing with the whole campaign around, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have." She didn’t stick around long (all her friends were breaking up and going other places) but she gave a way to be contacted and before the group completely left one of them suggested a place to go where we might find more people who are interested.
We have met a fair amount of "activist students" as well. These students varied a lot, but there tended to be among them a sense that they thought they already knew what we had to say. Or, that it is fine that we are doing "our thing" and they will just keep about doing "their thing." Some said, "Oh, yeah, I am involved already," and declined to even get the paper.
One group of three young men came up to ask if we would put fliers for an upcoming anti-globalization protest on our table. When we got to talking one of them says, "Okay, so why don’t you tell me what Bob Avakian’s new synthesis actually is. I am always hearing, ‘He’s got a new synthesis, he’s got a new synthesis,’ so what is it?" This was pretty interesting, both that he had heard about it a lot and that he didn’t really have any sense of what it is. Also, he seemed to only be partly asking, partly he seemed to be dismissing us as making claims with no substance. But, we took him seriously and framed our answer in the historic juncture described in the new Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party. That the first wave of socialist revolutions have come to an end and we are at the beginning of a new stage and Avakian has stayed rooted in and deepened the scientific understanding that communist revolution is needed, and that this requires both a vanguard party and the dictatorship of the proletariat to get to communism, and he has upheld and built upon the many tremendous achievements of the revolutions of the past, but he has also summed up the shortcomings and errors. That his new synthesis on revolution and communism includes ruptures in the political conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transition to communism that includes a greater role for dissent, ferment and a rupture from having an official ideology, ruptures in the realm of philosophy in terms of pragmatism, reification, and epistemology, and the development of a strategic approach to revolution in advanced imperialist countries in a world that has changed significantly since the time of Marx and even Mao.
With these students it was extremely difficult to get them to really engage, to stop and listen and not to just jump out and play "gotcha" every time I mentioned leadership or a new state. They posed that they didn’t want to lead or to follow and that people need to be able to unleash themselves. One of them posed that the state can only operate as long as everyone feeds into it and that if they pull out and others pull out and form alternative ways of organizing and being and defining themselves, it will lose its power to function without the need for a revolution or a new state. I picked up the photo of the 8-year-old Bangladeshi girl and asked how them "opting out" of the system affects her. Or how it affects the 80,000 cotton farmers who have killed themselves in the last decade after going so deeply into debt after structural adjustment programs forced on them from imperialist globalization. One of them acted very offended and acted like I was trying to win the argument by just appealing to emotionalism and sensationalizing this girl’s suffering. I argued back that I had made a substantive point, and went deeper at how the ability for people in this country to "unplug" has everything to do with being at the top of the imperialist food-chain and cannot be separated from the conditions of those like this girl and others in the sweatshops and fields and war-torn lands all over this planet. Further, even our ability to be engaging in ideas the way we are, debating theories and studying them, has to do with having had access to certain training and conditions of life that most of humanity is denied. Don’t we have a responsibility to include the rest of humanity in our discussions of theories and not erase them?
One student kept implying that I was just opportunizing off these people’s conditions to make my point, but another one of the students considered what I was saying. He argued that these people do matter, but went back to the revolution in China. He argued that, even if everything they did had been as good as I said, it really doesn’t apply to us in this country. That was a peasant country where women’s feet had been bound and life expectancy was 32 years before the revolution (points I had just made to him) and they carried out land reform and other measures, but this country is different and those lessons don’t apply.
I acknowledged that there are vast differences, but that there are also things that are universal, most particularly that one class or another will rule and it needs a state that enforces its form of economy and social relations. More particularly, that socialism is a transition to communism with a state that is different than any previous state in that its purpose is to enforce the ability of the proletariat, led by its vanguard, to abolish classes completely and along with that the need for such a state. Further, that until communism is achieved worldwide there is the basis for capitalist restoration and the roots of this, in the material base of society and the leftovers of capitalism along with imperialist encirclement external to the socialist countries, as well as the means for digging up these roots is something that Mao discovered and this applies universally. This is something that Bob Avakian has deeply studied and built upon, going even further than Mao including, in some ways, rupturing even with aspects of Mao.
This was all extremely difficult to get any of these students to engage and with three of them throwing questions out one on top of the other it was a bit of an unsystematic discussion. One of the students next threw out that he disagreed with the vanguard party so I asked him what he understands the point of a vanguard to be. He explained that it was to "provide a division of labor for making revolution" and went on to explain how this meant that some were leading and making decisions and some were carrying those decisions out. I told him he was completely wrong and really didn’t really know what he was talking about. I told him that a vanguard party exists because the scientific understanding of the basis for and methods for making revolution don’t arise spontaneously, they have to be studied and worked at and further, that those who most need revolution and most need to be the backbone of the revolutionary struggle are most frequently locked out of the ability to work with ideas and develop this scientific theory. So, those who do have their hands on this understanding at any given time need to be organized to continue to learn in the most systematic and scientific way collectively and to connect up this science and method as well as policies and political movements with the masses who need to and can be emancipators of humanity. This is not a contradiction we "willed into being" but one that we recognize and the vanguard party is a means of working our way through that.
He posed that if you have a vanguard leading a new society it can just turn into new oppressors. I posed back that if you don’t, you have the nightmare of capitalism and if you do, you have the danger of what he was describing but you also have the potential to resolve this contradiction in a forward-moving direction precisely because of the work of advanced revolutionary leaders like Marx, Lenin, Mao and now Avakian.
This discussion went for quite a while and began to involve others of us at the table. These students didn’t get won even to get the paper and frankly they were smug in a way that is really inappropriate for people who claim to be serious about wanting to change the world for the better. But still, as they were very politically engaged and came asking us to tell them what Bob Avakian’s new synthesis is, we felt it had been very important and worthwhile to go into things quite deeply with them. They began with an air about them that seemed rather dismissive and by the end they still were vehement in their disagreements, but there was some sense from them that they had encountered something of substance and not just the stereotypes of what communists are supposedly like.
Overall, among those who have studied some works of Marx (or, perhaps more often these days, who have studied the works of other scholars who claim to be Marxists), it is striking how much Marx’s works have been taken piece-meal and severed from the coherent science of Marxism that he founded. Whereas Marxism discovered the coherence of human history – with each generation inheriting the ways in which society organized itself to produce and reproduce the material requirements of life (food, clothing, shelter, the ability to rear the next generation, etc.) from the last generation and then transforming and passing them on to the next generation – many students see Marx’s work as only applicable in describing economic relations that more or less conform to forms of capitalism that were emerging in Marx’s time.
Whereas Marxism discovered that the there is a relationship and dynamism between the ways in which the economic modes of production are organized in any society and the culture and ideas and forms of governance and states that arise on that foundation, many students are convinced that Marxism has nothing to say (or nothing that isn’t crude and mechanical to say) about things like culture and ideas and art and love. Whereas Marxism established that the entire history of humanity has been the continual transformation of "human nature" – the overwhelming majority of students (those who have studied some Marx and those who haven’t) have had it drummed in to them that things are the way they are today because of some unchanging and unchangeable "human nature" that is narrowly self-interested, lazy and greedy.
Whereas Marxism discovered that the fundamental contradiction in the way human life is organized in the world today – the one that is most at the root of, and plays the most shaping role in relationship to all the other contradictions – is that between socialized production and private appropriation of what is produced, most students understand Marxism to merely be about getting better conditions and wages for those who labor. And, whereas Marxism discovered that the next revolution, the one that can resolve this fundamental contradiction in the interests of humanity, is the communist revolution leading to the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transition to the abolition of classes and the achievement of communism... and whereas the reality is that this dictatorship of the proletariat has been, and will be even more as Bob Avakian's new synthesis is taken up and applied in the world, an extraordinarily vibrant and lively society which not only meets people's most basic needs but also unleashes tremendous debate, dissent and intellectual, cultural and artistic ferment as people dig up the vestiges of capitalism and transform themselves in the process... most students have learned that communism is an idealistic utopian dream which cannot really be achieved and that the dictatorship of the proletariat is when the communist leaders try to impose their impossible ideals onto people with ever-increasing force and repression.
Overall, it has been necessary to ask people what they are talking about when they reference Marx or communism because it is really wrong to assume we are even talking about the same thing. And it is precisely by engaging what it is they think Marxism is that we are able to get them to recognize that they don't "already know" what we have to say, and to struggle for them to engage what Marxism actually is.
There were many other types of people that we met. Many international students are stopping, curious that there are communists and wondering how this is going in America. Many say, "We have communists where I am from," but are really referring to revisionist trends of various kinds. Quite a few young radical-minded people describe themselves as anarchist, or anarchist leaning even where they don’t seem to have studied anarchism deeply. Still, most of these young people are very open to hearing what we have to say about that and discussing it. One kid said to us about seven times that he is truly surprised that we have any hope at all in humanity.
A Pakistani guy came and we had a big struggle over what Bob Avakian has referred to as the "two outmodeds." (Bob Avakian has written, "What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these ‘outmodeds,’ you end up strengthening both.") This Pakistani guy hated what the U.S. had done to his region, including building up the Taliban in the first place, but now really supported the drone strikes and felt the U.S. had to take responsibility for ridding his people of what it had wrought. When I posed that the two outmodeds strengthen each other even while opposing each other he couldn’t help but agree. Still he insisted that the U.S. needed to get rid of the Taliban. I got into this quite a bit deeper, exposing how the U.S. is actually working through many of the clerics and Islamic fundamentalist forces, even elements of the Taliban, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. Then he backed up and said, "Well, I like the idea of revolution, but I am here on a U.S. scholarship. Basically, I know the hand that feeds me and got me out of that country where I could have been one of those kids caught up in this mess. So, I guess, I really can’t say anything about this country." He posed that maybe he could use his education to do some good for his country when he returned later.
At this point, I read him the paragraph on education in the Statement: "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." He paused for a long time and said, "I’m really going to need to think about that." He bought the paper and promised he would read the whole thing and come back if he agreed. He didn’t give any contact information and was clearly weighing whether he wanted to have any recorded contact with the revolutionaries.
On Friday night, after a week on campus, we called a meeting for all the people we had met to learn more, pose their questions, and begin strategizing about how to break out the debate and ferment over revolution on this campus. Among those we met were several of the people we had had the most in-depth discussions with. Five were the friends of the Israeli guy who said that buying the paper had been the best dollar he’d spent. They all had strong sympathies with the Palestinian people and half of them were Palestinians who had grown up in Israel. They themselves had just met recently and all seemed to have different takes on that conflict (one woman said it that we’ll never sort out all the history, we just have to look forward, another argued that history matters and that Israel has no right to exist).
The biggest questions that emerged were whether it is right to promote an individual leader and whether you need a revolutionary state, whether communism has proven itself to be a disaster. We began by making some remarks, basically along the lines of what is in the statement, walking through it but also the juncture described in the Manifesto and how this statement and campaign is part of making a beginning of a new stage and beginning to lay out why Bob Avakian is so central to that. Then we went around and everyone introduced themselves, said why they were attracted to revolution and the biggest question they had about it. Two art students had questions about why we make such a big deal out of Avakian, mainly from the perspective that we shouldn’t. One Palestinian guy explained that he was "the son of an ex-communist" and posed that he wanted to know what we are making revolution against. Later, he elaborated, "We are told that communism has proven itself a failure, how do you answer that?" A young Palestinian woman posed that she couldn’t see how you can get people who are under occupation to make revolution, the occupation just weighs so very heavy on everyone that it seems almost impossible, plus – this theme developed more as the meeting got going – all kinds of people have listened to all kinds of leaders promise change and revolution over and over again and it hasn’t made any difference and things keep getting worse. Basically, "Why should we believe you?," even though she was very interested and even hopeful that we would have a good answer.
The Israeli guy who had invited this group posed that he felt really strongly that he has only ever received one side of the discussion, and even observed that in academia they only teach you one side ever, about communism. He felt he had to know more about it and that listening to me and others debate that guy at the table the other day had been truly fascinating so he felt he needed to come and he invited his friends.
In the discussion, the question of whether revolution is really possible in a country like this came up. One art student posed that there are no people who really know they are oppressed or really want revolution bad enough. A young revolutionary who was there from off-campus disputed this by talking about the conditions of many of the masses we’d been out among over the summer. He did some important exposure about this, but then came back to the fact that the art student was raising an important contradiction. We went for a while into the strategy for revolution – and tied in how Avakian was key in developing this and this was part of the answer to their other question about why we put so much emphasis on him.
There was a big discussion about whether the solution to people’s problems was subjective (something that one of the art students posed) or whether the problem and solution are linked and exist objectively in the real world and must be studied. And there was a continuous fight on our end to make clear and give people a sense of what type of revolution we are going for, to lift people’s sights to what is really achievable with the dictatorship of the proletariat. We tried to bring that to life for people in contrast to the world we are in and to take people’s questions on in that context.
Also, there is a need with everyone – both at the meetings and then overall at the table, this is worth noting – to struggle with people that they have to get on the inside of making this revolution and solving these problems, including real ones they put their fingers on. We ourselves cannot accept, and we have to get good at making this case compellingly to others, the approach people spontaneously take where they want all their questions answered first before they get involved or want to go further in the engagement. More, the terms need to be – if you don’t want the world as it is, you need to be digging into this and helping spread it and any problems you come to along the way (for instance, the huge middle class in this country and how that makes revolutionary situations less frequent) need to be ones you get into with us, learning what this Party has to say about them and applying yourself to helping solve them. Difficulties and challenges about this revolution – including questions of the potential for capitalist restoration after the revolution, or contradictions bound up with the need for leadership – are things you should be helping to solve and to engage with the solutions that have been pointed to by Bob Avakian’s new synthesis, they are definitely not reasons not to make revolution. Obviously, there is not an absolute here and people will want their questions answered and we should go as far as we can with that, but there is a basic challenge that we have to be putting to people early on and consistently that communist revolution is the way out and get into it yourself and take up the problems posed in this from the perspective of helping to solve them, not as excuses to leave the world as it is.
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Revolution #176 Online Edition, September 14, 2009
Revolution received the following correspondence:
Guided by the overall orientation in the editorial in Revolution #174, "Bringing Revolution to the Campuses," we got an initial buzz and had an initial, but real, impact this week out at a local campus. Through summation and struggle we were able to do better as we went along and were able to carry out some important new things.
The editorial talked about saturation and blanketing with the statement, while, "at the same time, there should be consistent and high profile open-air distribution/agitation sites..." We did both but we were limited in our ability to have a bigger impact and create a much larger buzz because the team required further struggle in regards to "on the spot" organizing of the students to get out the statement with us, to take stacks to their dorms and classes and to struggle with students "to understand why this matters to prying open the possibilities and ferment over real revolution in these intolerable times." In other words, we summed up the first day that we need to further rupture with an approach of simply "meeting radical-minded students" and not aiming to "radically transforming the life of the campuses as a whole." As we summed this up, we were able to make ground in both meeting and organizing people and in creating a buzz in the atmosphere that the "revolutionaries are here" and they are saying, "you've been lied to about socialism and communism!"
Our open air distribution/agitation site had a large display of the statement, another display with the words: you've been lied to about socialism and communism, a banner with the title of the statement; and (on two days that first week) near our distribution/agitation spot we also set up the projector with the Revolution talk DVD playing on the wall and it was pretty loud. (Next to the projector we had the large banner which clearly displayed Bob Avakian as the speaker in the film.) This created a whole scene where hundreds of students after class would walk by and get the palm card and others would stop and check it out. And just nearby we were agitating around the statement and getting it out (and sending students to walk over to watch the DVD on the wall). So, I thought this was new, getting creative in terms of creating a buzz and an impact, where we are making Bob Avakian a "household word" and many are starting to ask who he is and those who have heard the name are stopping and asking questions (one person, a movement type, stopped and said, "I recognize that voice, I was hearing it yesterday on the radio" and a professor also said, "Is that Bob Avakian's voice I hear?" as she passed the film being played on the wall).
In aiming for saturation, we got out a little over 2000 flyers of the statement and 800 Revolution talk palm cards in total for both days and about 130 copies of Revolution newspaper. And it had an impact in drawing people out, even though more needs to be done to really saturate the campus. There were several instances where people got the flyer the evening before (on their car window for example) or earlier in the day and then came back and looked for us to find out more and (in at least one case) one young student came and said: "sign me up!" So, it seemed at some point we started to get that initial buzz and atmosphere where people were getting the flyer on their car window and hearing/watching Bob Avakian being projected on the wall, coming across the posters on the bulletin boards or running into our agitation/distribution spot and checking it out.
The student who said "sign me up" had gotten the flyer in the late morning and came to talk to us in the afternoon after he read it. He considers himself a socialist and wanted to find out more about our organization. He said his Dad used to be part of the CP in Mexico in the 70's. He said the statement struck a cord with him; that he agreed that the situation cries out for revolution, had not heard about Bob Avakian. So, we talked about this and he ended up taking posters for the Revolution talk DVD and he said, "I'll put them up on Monday in places that have been ripped down so more people can find out about him." He had no money then and had to leave for work he was starting that day, but asked, "Is there a limit to contributing to this organization?" So, we talked about fundraising (including struggling with him on contributing financially to this and not something else that's reformist even if well intentioned like Doctors Without Borders).
We also met this other Latino student who had met us somewhere else a while ago and had bought Away With All Gods! We challenged him to get with this. He said he's an atheist and liked what he had read so far in the book. He connected with the part around what the system does to the youth in the statement; he said his younger brother is in jail for some "bullshit" and that so many young people get caught up in bullshit but it's not their fault. He said, according to statistics, "I should also be in jail" but "I'm lucky I'm here" and was trying to figure out how to help his brother. He asked about the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund and about sending his brother the Away With All Gods! book in jail. We talked to him about getting a whole thing going on the campus.
We met a young woman student who recognized the statement because she had seen us in the projects a few weeks back and had gotten the newspaper. She remembers hearing the statement and agreeing with it but she thought Joe Veale's voice was the voice of MLK! So, we played it for her again and told her what this was and what it was all about. She also liked the part on the youth and agreed with much of it. She had read the article in Revolution newspaper about the racist arrest of Henry Louis Gates. She seemed new, did not know too much about socialism and communism, but was open to becoming a part of this.
There are more stories but I wanted to highlight these people we made contact with, and also our experience shows how the message and call—and Bob Avakian—are starting to get out there in society (not just on campus) on some level and something we need to build on and make further leaps on.
We also got some back and forth with the reactionaries. At one point we had a student wearing a "Jewish Defense League" shirt and so we got a debate going but in the main they didn't come out and get loud—at least not yet. We should probably have a sign that calls on people to debate us and to try to refute us...and to the revolutionary students—to join us and to sign up here! (The Libertarians had a table out on Thursday and had a sign that said: "Libertarians and Conservatives Sign Up!") I do think our "You've Been Lied To..." display did play a role in the buzz and made people do a "double take" and we should continue to use it.
A few patterns we noticed: there were a number of students that came up and said they considered themselves socialists. I think we need the stickers that explains what socialism is because some who said this were coming at it from the point of view that Obama is a "socialist" and others were more "democratic socialists" so we have to make sure that we clear up any confusion on this and not assume we are talking about the same "socialism." I was watching Glenn Beck today and he had Horowitz on the show attacking Obama as a "socialist" and saying the Democratic Party has been taken over by "communists"! I wonder how much this is related to students saying they're socialists. We should keep our ears open in regards to this and speak to it more sharply.
We also ran into a number of sociology and film students that came to the table to get literature and papers. (We had put up posters on bulletin boards in those departments.) One film student had gotten the flyer the night before (on her car window) and came to the table and ended up buying the Manifesto [Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage] from the Revolutionary Communist Party. She said she had read the original Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and wanted to know what the new one was all about. She was open, but also a feminist and has a different idea of what the problem and solution to this society is, but was supportive.
Week 2 at the same campus:
One important development since last week's experience was that at least 4 students joined us in distributing the short version of the "Revolution We Need... the Leadership We Have" flyer to other students on campus. We were trying to sum up and proceed with the orientation that people don't have to be in 100% agreement with all of it to join in the effort of putting this on the map (even while they grapple with and as a part of sharpening the questions up for themselves). In the editorial on "Bringing the Revolution to Campuses" it makes the point that students should see why getting this out is an important part of breaking things open on the question of revolution and possibilities. The students who joined us varied in their understanding and agreement and came at it from different places, but felt this was important to get out to students for this reason. One young Salvadoran student joined us for a short time because she liked what we were saying; but part of what was driving her also was the fact that she wanted to see our literature that spoke positively "about communism" circulating more on the campus than the "fascist" literature (as she called them) of the "libertarians and conservatives" and the "La Rouche-nuts." Then there was another student who went to the bookstore and recent fund-raising picnic for Revolution newspaper with his girlfriend who joined us for about 30 minutes (after hanging out around the table and talking for an hour) to distribute the message and call. Even though he tried to engage people he mainly passed out the flyer and the palm card and did a good job at going up to everyone. He commented it was a good thing that people had said they had already gotten the flyer before. We seized on this to draw him out more on his thinking on the statement and our aims and objectives with this campaign. We talked about how it is important to hear and learn more from students who had already gotten it –we wanted both comments and disagreements. He said he personally agreed with the thrust of the statement and liked the beginning indictment of capitalism and imperialism and the need to tell people the truth. We learned that one of the things compelling him was the need to want to "educate young people" to make better "choices" (or the correct one) instead of what happened to him as a younger man who didn't know about "another choice" and ended up in the military. He remembered how he once was pumped up about fighting the so-called "terrorists," which he realizes now was "all lies." He got injured; we're not clear on whether he went overseas or not. Regarding the special high school issue he wanted to take it out to his former high school (in a more Latino and poorer area of a suburb) where he feels students are faced with the same decisions to make and feels that access to this newspaper issue will help them make the "right choice." So, this was, in part, where he was coming from and what was motivating him. He's also starting to grapple with Bob Avakian. He has been posing the question of wanting to know more about why the promoting of Bob Avakian is a key part of what we are doing. We told him this is the question we want millions more asking themselves and getting an answer to. And if this happens it could potentially have a big impact on the political terrain in terms of the thinking of millions of people and how they see the possibility of a better world, what they are willing to do and doing what needs to be done now in preparation for when it is time to go all out for revolution and state power.
Then there were students who this week (and last week) took small stacks of flyers to distribute (including to get out in the dorms). A young woman who sat in on a discussion around Away With All Gods at a high school near another major university where we've spoken in the past and is now a freshman in college took a stack of the short version of the message and call to distribute to one of her political science classes. Before we mentioned it, she had already decided to do that on her own to help spread the word.
Like we summed up from last week, we are on the map to some degree on the campus. We are running into people who have read the flyer and a small (but important to note) handful who have begun to watch the Revolution talk online because they got the palm card (or heard the agitation on the bullhorn or saw a short clip of it when we were projecting it on the wall) last week. One white foreign student had gotten the palm card last week and went to check it out online and came back this week to talk about it. He introduced himself and told us he was happy to see us on campus. Before we knew that he had seen the Revolution talk we spoke about the campaign around the statement. He said he agreed with what we have said so far but thought that revolution was not possible in the U.S. but it would be possible in the "third world"; he talked about Belize where, "people are living in socialist ways working the land and getting back what they need in order to survive." We got into the aims of this revolution—to emancipate humanity and to bring into being a communist world. We read from the statement "the ultimate goal of this revolution is communism..." not just providing people with basic needs as many people tend to perceive this from the lens of Cuba. This revolution is about more than that: yes, it is about overcoming the wounds and scars of the past, but it is also about bringing the masses forward with the knowledge and means for really understanding, and acting to change the world. He followed this up with, "I'm with you so far but how do you intend to make this revolution when this system is very powerful." We asked him to think about that as we read the section in the statement that got at the heart of his question around the strategy we have to make that revolution. We also handed him the Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, which he didn't buy, but we did get to talk about it. We talked about the "the long darkness, the scientific basis and political and ideological questions confronting this revolution," and particularly, we raised the importance of a recent polemic against Alain Badiou. That got his attention because of how we were comparing and contrasting the two lines.
Another student (who joined in and got flyers out with us and also donated $20) is someone who is grappling with some of the bigger questions and being challenged by what is being brought to them. In other words, what we are unleashing on campus is having an effect and an impact on those gravitating to revolution and we shouldn't overlook that. Even though this is a beginning and more work needs to be done to fully break things open broadly on campus. This student in particular seemed to be saying the following: "before I ran into the revolutionaries I was just going along with things and I had no idea there was something like this and now that I met this movement I like it and I have questions." In other words, he's starting to re-evaluate what it is that he's doing with his life up until now and it seems to us is thinking about how to relate to this revolutionary movement and organization and leader. He made the point that he agrees that this "for profit" system is fucked up and he was asking questions in regards to what happens after the revolution and what will this new society look like, to which we highlighted the excerpts from the Revolution talk in issue #176: "Imagine What the Future World Can and Will Be Like." In part, this question is coming from the fact that in the short time he got flyers out with us he was asked some of these questions about socialism and communism (and because he has these questions and is trying to work through this). So, I think this "living a life with meaning" and the quote from Bob Avakian in issue #176 about your life will be worth something or nothing is something that students who are honestly and seriously engaging this (or are more rapidly attracted to this on some level) are coming up against right away and are trying to answer—and we need to help them answer this as we go out there and continue to change the world!
There has to be an edge to what we're bringing that'll attract the advanced and infuriate the opposition (reactionaries and "liberal" anti-communists). Some of the things we did this week (along with showing the Revolution talk on the wall of a building on campus last week) were important. For example, we did some agitation on the bullhorn that worked well, especially when there was a mass of students going to class and they would pass by the agitation/distribution spot. And, so far we've had some freedom on the campus in terms of sound. The big visuals (banner with the title of statement, the placard that said "you've been lied to...," and a few other things) and the bullhorn helped us sharpen things up for the students, including the points in the "Bringing Revolution to the Campuses" editorial where it talks about how students have played a catalytic role but right now they are not and that needs to change. We also challenged students to see that they've been "lied to," that there is no alternative to capitalism because the reality is that we have done this before and we can do it again and even better because of the leadership of Bob Avakian. It seemed that many took the flyers and came up to the table when the agitation was connecting. More students wanting to know why we think they have been lied to about communism. One person said that the only other thing on campus that has gotten attention as much as we have has been the Christian fascist nut that once a semester comes with a really big sign saying homosexuality is a sin, etc, etc. So, this is interesting because it tells you that all other trends have "collapsed" and that most of what you got out there are tables from libertarians and conservatives and "La Rouche-ites" and the only thing causing noise in a provocative (and reactionary way) is the Christian fascist guy. So, there seems to be a thirst for something revolutionary and bold like what we are bringing in the style of "being completely outrageous and eminently reasonable" and attracting students who want to see this get out there and want to be a part of getting it out there. There is a need to systematically work with people we are meeting through this process and bring them around the Party.
We are beginning to attract more of these questions from both honest people and others, including reactionaries. A 17-year-old student (in college already) said she read Animal Farm by George Orwell, and that made her question communism and whether it could work. She also posed a question in regards to the "gulags" and whether, for example, someone like her father (who is libertarian) would be jailed for disagreeing with communism. In this we used Avakian's interview on the Michael Slate radio show where he discusses Stalin and also Raymond Lotta's article which responds to the New Yorker article about how intellectuals and artists back then were seduced by Mao but now "we know better." ["The New Yorker, Mao, and Twisting the Numbers"] These are important articles to read and use and they provide a basic orientation and method for getting into these questions. Otherwise you'll get drawn into a whole discussion about "numbers" killed on their terms based on lies and slanders and with no context. There was a white Christian student who had a worked out thing on Mao and Stalin and on his lap top had a page on Stalin ready with numbers and figures about how many died in the gulags and "labor camps." This student wanted to get into the numbers of people that Mao and Stalin killed—under Mao it was between "15-60 million" and under Stalin it was some other bigger number. And he was also putting forward that communism was the same as nazism and this was ridiculous! In a discussion with Raymond Lotta, some important points were made about the numbers and gulags and the "labor camps" and it would be good to return to these with everyone going to the campuses since this is bound to come up more by both friend and foe.
Another new thing we did was to go to the dorms on this campus. There we talked with a group of Black students (some of them had seen us earlier so when they saw us again they said, "Oh, yeah, the communists!") The person who talked to them summed up that they were open to the question of revolution; apparently they said something to the effect of: "Yeah, we're down with revolution, but what do we do now?" From this we were grappling with how to make the "revolution REAL" as it says on the front page of the special high school/middle school issue #176. How to make it real on the spot. In other words, when they see us, they need to see the revolutionaries who are against all this bullshit (including police murder and brutality) and we are taking this shit on as a part of making revolution (and not reform). Even as they are grappling with communism and revolution, we need to be fighting the power and they need to become a part of that right now. We need to discuss the point on the back page of that issue about how the time should be long past when they can keep doing what they are doing and the masses are not organized and inspired to put a stop to this.
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Revolution #176 Online Edition, September 14, 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 #176 Online Edition, September 14, 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 #176 Online Edition, September 14, 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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