Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #178, October 4, 2009
This Time It’s Chicago
“I looked up the block and there was a truck and an arm was out the window with a big gun and it was firing. I took off running.... because that’s what you do. Bullets have no name on them.”
An eyewitness to the shooting of Corey Harris.
2009 started off with the New Year’s Day police murder of Oscar Grant—shot in the back as he lay face down on a train platform in Oakland. This year, many more have been murdered by the police. Recently, on August 24 in Rockford, Illinois, two white cops shot and killed 23-year-old Mark Anthony Barmore. You might have already guessed before you read this sentence, that Barmore was a Black man.
Now, another unarmed Black youth has been murdered in cold blood. This time it’s Chicago with the latest case in the nationwide epidemic of police murder.
Friday, September 11 marked the end of the first week of school in Chicago. Seventeen-year-old Corey Harris got out of class at 2:56 pm. Around 3:30 he was at the corner of 69th and King Drive where an altercation broke out among some youth. After one young man was shot in the leg, people started running in all directions.
On that same corner was a man in a truck with a gun. That man was an off-duty Chicago cop. According to witnesses, the truck screeched through the intersection chasing down Corey Harris, one of the youth who started running after the shooting on the corner.
Eyewitnesses said a few minutes later, in an alley a block and a half away, Corey Harris fell to the ground, tried to get up, and then collapsed and died. He had been shot by the off-duty cop. Corey Harris died from a gunshot to the back, according to the coroner’s report. Eyewitnesses and the police themselves say that Harris was unarmed when he was killed. As of this writing, the name of the killer cop has not been released.
Corey Harris was a junior at Dyett High School. He was captain of the baseball team and a star small forward on the basketball team. College scouts had attended his sophomore year basketball games. Corey Harris was a young man who had a lot of hopes and dreams. He had his whole adult life ahead of him and was looking forward to a bright future. He had an 8-month-old daughter who now will never know her father.
In TV interviews the principal at Dyett High School spoke highly of Corey Harris. The varsity basketball coach said, “He had natural leadership abilities and we had high accolades for the kid. We thought he was going to be a tremendous asset for us, not only on the team but in the school as a whole.” The basketball team is devoting their upcoming season to Corey Harris.
Corey Harris’ family wants to fight for justice and has exposed and denounced the police justification for the shooting and called the killing out for what it is: cold blooded murder.
There was a huge outpouring of hundreds of people at the wake and funeral for Corey Harris, including youth from many different high schools. This was a statement of how much Corey Harris was loved and respected. Hundreds of youth had T-shirts with Corey’s face and personal messages on them. People testified to how much Corey Harris was liked—by teachers, coaches, the principal, and all kinds of kids from many different neighborhoods.
Some who actually witnessed the murder of Corey Harris have been especially outraged. One man said he never heard anyone identify themselves as police. He saw the murderer, who turned out to be an off-duty cop, come and stand over Corey after he shot him. The cop was wearing a black bulletproof vest and there was no indication of “police” any where on it—no badge, no “police” written on the back, no name tag, nothing. Another witness said Corey Harris did not have a gun when he was shot and that there was never any gun pointed at the cop.
Another eyewitness described how the police cordoned off a large area and wouldn’t let Corey Harris’ family in to see his body. This witness felt that this was because they were trying to cover up evidence and get their story straight. He also said there was no gun near Corey and described how, as people began to push their way back into the alley and get “unruly,” someone from the police said, “Cover it up, cover it up,” referring to Corey’s body. This witness was outraged that the police didn’t even talk about Corey Harris as a human being.
Monday morning, the first day back to school after Corey Harris was murdered, students expressed shock and grief. Revolutionaries came to the school with the special high school issue of Revolution, black armbands of protest and a flyer with Corey’s picture with these words, “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.” (From the statement, “The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have,” Revolution #170, July 19, 2009)
Students took up black armbands as a way to protest the murder, and some took them into school to get to other students. Students also took newspapers, with many focusing on the back page poster for the October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. Some students cut Corey Harris’ photo and name out of the flyer and put it on their backpacks. Students from nearby schools who passed by also took armbands and flyers. In the school students filled a 30-foot banner with messages about Corey Harris.
Students walking by from the nearby college prep high schools said, “You need to come to our school and talk about this, all they talk about there is going to college. They never talk about what we face in our lives.” We opened up the paper and looked at the centerfold that features the “Imagine” section from the Revolution Talk by Bob Avakian (Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About), where he talks about what things would be like in a revolutionary society, including how the schools will be transformed.
We took out the special middle school/high school issue of Revolution (#176, September 13, 2009) and the flyer about Corey Harris to several other high schools. At one alternative school several school security guards inserted themselves—uninvited—into a conversation we were having about police brutality and revolution with a number of young women. The security guards tried to lie to people, telling them that the revolutionaries were “taking advantage of their ignorance.” There were some young women there whose friend was killed by the police and they had marched with us in protests around it. They got into the faces of the security guards saying, “Fuck the police.” One security guard responded by quoting from the Bible that “there is a time to live and a time to die” and that this was “Corey’s time to die.” This infuriated the students and one shouted back at the guards as she walked away, “God didn’t kill these people, the fuck-assed police killed them!”
At another alternative school on the north side, where some students had gotten the special middle school/high school issue of Revolution, what started out as a 20-minute discussion about the murder of Corey Harris and police brutality turned into a two hour intense engagement. Students spoke of their bitter experience with the police and their outrage at the murder of Corey Harris and widespread police brutality. Many felt that society and older people are against them. They described how they are criminalized, and not just by the police. They got into the violence that is perpetuated on and among the youth, how this is their reality. And there was big debate over what is the cause and solution of all this. Is it racism and white people? Or, as the revolutionaries argued, is there something built into the foundation of this capitalist system—a system that cannot do without national oppression and a police force that enforces that with brutality? People debated revolution and communism and whether that is what’s needed or can we solve these problems with just things like better education.
There was struggle at another school about whether or not students are going to stand up and act against the police murder of Corey Harris and others. Some students said: “Yes, I know what they did to Corey Harris was wrong. I know about police brutality. But I don’t know if I’m going to do anything about it.”
The revolutionaries challenged them, saying, “What is your life going to be about?” and read the quote from Bob Avakian’s memoir that says: “If you have had a chance to see the world as it really is, there are profoundly different roads you can take with your life. You can just get into the dog-eat-dog, and most likely get swallowed up by that while trying to get ahead in it. You can put your snout into the trough and try to scarf up as much as you can, while scrambling desperately to get more than others. Or you can try to do something that would change the whole direction of society and the whole way the world is….”
Before Corey Harris’ funeral, revolutionaries had a discussion with a representative of the family about how what happens at the funeral could be a powerful statement of their call for justice. Family representatives welcomed the idea of forming an “honor guard” lining the sidewalk outside the funeral home.
As people arrived for the wake and funeral they passed this silent “honor guard” made up of posters of the faces of people whose lives have been stolen by the police in cities all across this country, interspersed with posters of Corey Harris. This visual indictment of the police murder of Corey Harris and for the whole epidemic of police murder was widely appreciated. Many people shook hands down the line and said, “thank you for doing this, this needed to be done.” Family members took some of the posters of Corey Harris inside, others put them on the back of parked cars, where they could be seen from the street. There was a markedly positive response to the October 22nd National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation.
The police who serve this system of capitalism-imperialism use their armed power to maintain and enforce this whole oppressive setup—that offers the masses of youth no kind of future. In a revolutionary, socialist society—with the goal of communism and the emancipation of all of humanity—the youth would be valued for their lives and contributions, and the security forces would do everything possible to solve a situation, including risking their own lives before they would take the life of the people.
We cannot tolerate the unacceptable. We cannot accept the epidemic of police murder of Black youth in cities all across this country. We cannot accept a situation where there is no future for the youth. We need to “Fight the Power, and Transform the People, For Revolution.” As we wrote in an article about the protests by the people against the murder of Oscar Grant in Oakland, “Powerful resistance can change the equation in society where too many people accept the unacceptable. It can give heart to those put under a constant death sentence by this verdict. It can call forth many more people to join in taking this on. And it can be a powerful force in building a revolutionary movement aimed at getting rid of this murderous system.” (“People Demand Justice for Oscar Grant!,” Revolution #153, January 18, 2009).
We say NO MORE! No More Stolen Lives!
Justice for Corey Harris!
Stand up and Resist!
Indict, Convict and Jail the Killer Cop!
The Whole System is Guilty!
Send us your comments.
Revolution #178, October 4, 2009
The Right Wing Populist Eruption:
On September 12, several tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Washington, D.C. ostensibly against the Democratic Party healthcare proposal in Congress. In fact, this march represented a major political statement by a fascist movement.
To give a flavor of this, one reporter noted that “a burly Pennsylvania correction officer named David McElwee held up a poster of Obama photoshopped as a half-naked African native in a hut with a grass skirt and a bone in his nose.” Two days earlier, in Scranton, Pennsylvania: “All around were satanic representations of President Barack Obama in whiteface, as a Nazi, an African witch doctor; a Marxist; a Muslim....” Signs depicted Obama as Osama Bin Laden. A woman in the crowd told a reporter that Obama was putting himself at a godly level, and that she was praying “for his conversion.” Was Obama a Muslim she was asked? “Only he knows.” Adding to her fury: she heard that Michelle Obama had a six hundred dollar pair of shoes. (Descriptions from “Who Is Barack Obama? And why do people say such loopy, ugly things about him? The enduring rot in American politics,” by Philip Weiss, New York Magazine, September 28, 2009)
Barack Obama is Not a Socialist or a Communist… But WE Are
Reactionaries have attacked Obama as a socialist or a communist. He’s not—Obama is chief executive of the capitalist-imperialist system. Neither side of the mainstream “debate” over healthcare has anything to do with REAL socialism. Socialism is a whole different system, brought into being by a REAL revolution, aimed at doing away with all exploitation and oppression, and as part of that, truly meeting the needs of the people. To learn more about communism and socialism:
The atmosphere at the healthcare town hall meetings over the summer included numerous incidents of people openly displaying guns. One man wore a loaded 9mm pistol as he stood outside a town hall meeting on healthcare held by Obama in Portsmouth, N.H. His sign read: “It’s time to water the tree of liberty”—a reference to a quote by Thomas Jefferson—the full quote is: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
In another widely reported incident, a Hagerstown, Maryland man held up a piece of cardboard upon which he had scrawled: “Death to Obama, death to Michelle and her two stupid kids.” The Arizona Republic reported that “A man, who decided not to give his name, was walking around the pro-healthcare reform rally at 3rd and Washington Streets, with a pistol on his hip, and an AR-15 (a semi-automatic assault rifle) on a strap over his shoulder.”
While some (but not all) of these people showing up with guns and threats have been questioned or taken into custody by authorities, there is clearly an atmosphere where they feel they can get away with this. Compare that to incidents like one at a Bush campaign rally in West Virginia in 2004 when a couple was arrested for wearing T-shirts that said “Love America, Hate Bush.”
These reactionary forces are being orchestrated and whipped up by powerful voices in the Republican Party and media. Glenn Beck rants that Obama (who in reality has avoided any criticism of racism throughout all this) “has a deep-seated hatred for white people.” (See box below for more on Glenn Beck’s particularly odious role.)
And it was not some anonymous good ol’ boy blogger, but a prominent South Carolina Republican Party operative, Rusty DePass, who wrote on his Facebook page that a gorilla that escaped from a zoo was “just one of Michelle [Obama]’s ancestors.” DePass was co-chairman of Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 campaign in the state’s largest county, and a former state elections commission chairman. After DePass excused his posting as a “joke,” he got a free pass from the state Republican Party. Eric Davis, another South Carolina Republican official, said, “Everyone says stupid things they regret later. I think the world should move on.”
South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint, an up-and-coming force in this mix who is energetically being promoted, told the Washington crowd, sprinkled with swastikas and signs that said “Don’t Tread On Me,” that he was more comfortable with the protestors there than his fellow senators.
The “town hall meeting” atmosphere erupted in Congress itself, when South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson, shouted, “You lie” when Obama told Congress his healthcare proposal would not cover undocumented immigrants. (For the record, all healthcare reform bills heartlessly exclude undocumented immigrants from receiving any healthcare benefits.) With straight faces, most of the mainstream media dismissed the idea that Wilson might be racist. Really? Wilson is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group that celebrates those who fought for slavery in the Civil War, and as a state legislator voted against taking down the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capital. If that’s not racist, what is?
It is not a great stretch or exaggeration to compare those at these meetings to a lynch mob in the making. One thing that must be said up front here: While Barack Obama—as the head of the U.S. capitalist-imperialist state—does not represent anything progressive, any kind of move against him along the lines of what is being promoted by these kinds of forces would be a reactionary outrage.
Mainstream media analysts have argued this eruption is a rebirth of populism, and not about race. In a column entitled “No, It’s Not About Race,” conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks argued that the furor erupting at the healthcare hearings was driven by populism, not racism. He insisted that the roots of this movement lay in the thinking of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, and how could that be racist?
To which an insightful letter writer replied:
“...Ironically, by invoking the names of Jefferson and Jackson, [Brooks] calls attention to two of our nation’s leaders most identified with racism — one who benefited directly from slavery and one whose purge of native people from their lands opened the doors to unchecked American expansionism in the West.
“Moreover, in his outline and glorification of populist movements throughout our country’s history, Mr. Brooks doesn’t mention the connection between racism and populism. The two do not stand in isolation.
“Historically, racism has served as the underlying thread that has sown our populist movements — and it continues to do so today.” (Letter to the Editor from Angela West Blank, New York Times, September 21, 2009)
From its very beginnings, there has been a great American myth propagated: that this country has advanced through the ingenuity and hard work of its citizens (that is, its white male citizens), and that the superior position of white people in this society—and the privileges they have—are the rewards of hard work and supposedly superior “culture” and ethic. And that if Black people and other oppressed nationalities have not, as a group, attained these things it is not because of the hundreds of years of enslavement, not because of the century spent living in legal segregation and lynch mob terror, not because of systematic discrimination in every sphere of life that still goes on... but because “they are inferior, do not work as hard and their culture encourages them to be criminal, and immoral.” A cruel lie, and an easily refuted one—but one that has justified oppression and inequality for those who’ve drawn benefits from it.
Jefferson promoted the vision of a society based on small landowning farmers, independent individuals who would participate equally as the most just, the best kind of society. But in reality, he presided over, acted in the interests of, and fought to spread a society founded upon the twin crimes of slavery and the brutal dispossession and near genocide of the Native peoples. The literal dehumanization of Black slaves (and free Black people) was enforced by white supremacist laws and racist thinking. And central to the social and ideological glue which has always cohered this nation was the shared identity of white people of all classes and strata.
From the beginning, white people were mobilized—as white people—to see their interests in opposition to, and threatened by, Black people and Native Americans. And the foundational divide between the classes that own and monopolize the means of production needed to produce the great wealth, and those who do not and were forced, either by the whip or by hunger, to produce that wealth—this basic division was obscured.
It is this appeal to the common (white) man that has been the basis of almost every populist movement in the U.S.—from Jefferson’s time to Andrew Jackson, who not only led in the removal and near genocide of the Native peoples, but fought to expand slavery—right down through the Ku Klux Klan and now the movements of today. Racism is indeed “the underlying thread.”
This whole historical development, which we have only been able to touch on here, has tremendous implications for communism, and revolution in this country. We strongly urge all our readers to get their hands on and dig into the work of Bob Avakian on all these questions including Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy.
The last decades have been a period of great instability and uncertainty. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the emergence of the U.S. as the world’s sole superpower, there were major geopolitical changes. These include the sharp challenge to U.S. domination from the rise and growing strength of the Islamic fundamentalists in the strategic Middle East. There have been great shifts in the world economy, with the globalization and further internationalization of production and of speculative and other parasitic activity by capital. Within the U.S., this has been reflected in radical changes in the economy. As capital chases around the world to exploit men, women, and children for pennies a day, many of the relatively high paying “blue-collar” jobs (which overwhelmingly employed men) are no more. Small businesses and independent farmers have come under extreme pressure and huge numbers of family farms have gone out of business. And there have been, accompanying these shifts and the impact that has had on millions, major changes in the broad mass—and especially youth—culture in this country. Some of these cultural changes were initially very positive, promoting a more critical and communal and anti-hypocrisy spirit, but in the last few decades especially these have more tended to fragmentation, commodification of sexuality, a certain nastiness of spirit, selfishness, and the perverse mirror-image capitalist mentality of gangsta-ism. In any case, all of them have had the effect of loosening the cohesion of “traditional small-town (and extremely suffocating and narrow minded) American values.”
And now, the current economic crisis hits very hard. Over 70% of those who have lost their jobs are men. More and more families are dependent on women working—and all this seems to further “undermine the traditional family.” Homes, which provided much of the wealth—and “security”—for non-ruling class white people in this country, are being lost in record numbers. The general stability and the privilege that people from these strata have enjoyed on the basis of being either white, male and/or living in a country which feeds off the rest of the world and have, on that basis, been given crumbs—all that is being threatened.
And the problem as these “common people” are being led to see it? Not the system of capitalism which has wrought all these dramatic changes in its search for ever greater profit (and, by the way, a system that has throughout its history brought much worse suffering to millions and millions in the inner cities of this country, and billions around the world). But the elites—of Wall Street and Hollywood—and the dangerous “others” who are taking over the country and supposedly collaborating to deprive hard working, white Americans of the privilege they have enjoyed, their prosperity and rights. These “elites,” they are told, want to attack their values and undermine their whole way of life, and to give what is supposedly rightfully theirs to the “undeserving” masses in the inner cities.
It is true that “elites” manipulate huge blocs of finance capital and with the push of a button can cause misery for people all over the world. But those so-called elites are the inevitable product of, and stewards over, a system. That system is capitalism-imperialism. And it must be emphasized and understood that these decisions, including in this current crisis, affect the masses worldwide—and in the inner cities in this country—in the most bitter ways imaginable. In addition, those decisions are now wreaking havoc and suffering in the lives of many people who once thought they had finally made it. The problem is not that some people are cheating or refusing to play by the rules. The problem is the rules—that is, the basic functioning and dynamics of capitalism itself.
Most of all, these movements resent and hate the changes of the 1960s. The 1960s were a time in which the Black masses—joined by many others—waged a tremendous struggle and a time when concessions, like affirmative action, were made to this struggle. A time when a powerful movement was mounted against the unjust war the U.S. waged in Vietnam. It was a time in which laws were changed (or the Constitution interpreted) in ways that vitally affect women, including particularly around abortion. Gay people began to come out of the closet, and assert their rights. And these were times, as Bob Avakian has summed up when “...millions of people in the U.S. broke with the prevailing conventions and established authorities and took up the challenge of fighting for new relations among people and new cultural expressions that were not centered around careerism and battling for position in the cash nexus and the social pecking order and that consciously rejected ‘America number one with god on our side.’ A great many people came to understand that the common source of all the evils they were fighting against—and the obstacle to the things they were fighting for—was the capitalist-imperialist system.... And through the course of those tumultuous times, those who were rebelling against the established order and the dominating relations and traditions increasingly found common cause and powerful unity; they increasingly gained—and deserved—the moral as well as the political initiative, while the ruling class dug in and lashed out to defend its rule, but increasingly, and very deservedly, lost moral and political authority.” (Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones: We Need Morality But Not Traditional Morality by Bob Avakian, pages 24-25)
In the decades since, much of what was accomplished back then has been undone or overturned. But in the world view of these populists—only a thorough overturning and burying of all of what was brought forward through these struggles will suffice. What these right wing fanatics aim for is to fully return and restore America to, its white, Christian roots... and its destiny... as divined by god.
Meanwhile, how have the Democrats and Obama responded to all this?
By essentially denying that there is a problem and refusing to challenge this fascist movement.
When Jimmy Carter and a few others dared to say that this was a case of racism, Obama’s spokespeople and Obama himself raced to say “no, no, these are just policy differences.” Policy differences?! Look again at the first section of this article, or look at that YouTube of Glenn Beck described in the accompanying box—Glenn Beck who has become the new “rising star of the Right” and “man of the moment”—and tell us that this is a case of some disagreements over how health insurance is to be sold and delivered.
But this is nothing new. The Democrats for a good 20 years, and Obama himself, have over and over again allowed these fascists to run wild, unchallenged, and ceded the high moral ground to them. Take another example: how many Democratic office-holders, or other Party officials, attended the funeral of Dr. George Tiller, the courageous abortion doctor murdered last May by Christian fascists? Answer: none. The fact that Obama and the Democrats actively prevented any attempt to get abortion funded in this healthcare program underscores the point.
To understand why this is so, we want to turn to the very important—and still extremely relevant—work by Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the RCP, entitled “The Pyramid of Power and The Struggle to Turn This Whole Thing Upside Down.” This work was taken from the question and answer section of Avakian’s 2004 DVD, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About. He describes the Republicans and Democrats as, roughly, representing two sections of the ruling class, sitting atop a metaphorical pyramid of society. He describes the kind of fascist movement and tactics that were going on at that point—including the links of that fascist movement into the military—and then goes on to say:
So, let’s look at this whole picture and look at what they’ve been putting in place and then think about this: what do the Democrats—from their own position within the ruling class—what do they have to counter this with?
Here’s the pyramid, and here are the Republicans over here (on the right) with their shit going down to this right-wing social base of religious maniacs and fundamentalist fools... [T]hese forces are quite willing to call into motion this fascistic kind of force that they’ve built up when they feel that they need it, and they’re willing to bring it all the way into motion and turn this into a whole other kind of religious, fundamentalist, fascistic society if they feel that’s where they need to go.
On the other hand, here are the Democrats at the top of this pyramid (on the so-called “left”). Who are the people that they try to appeal to—not that the Democrats represent their interests, but who are the people that the Democrats try to appeal to at the base, on the other side of this pyramid, so to speak? All the people who stand for progressive kinds of things, all the people who are oppressed in this society. For the Democrats, a big part of their role is to keep all those people confined within the bourgeois, the mainstream, electoral process...and to get them back into it when they have drifted away from—or broken out of—that framework. Because those people at the base are always alienated and angry at what happens with the elections, for the reason I was talking about earlier: they are always betrayed by the Democratic Party, which talks about “the little man” and poor people and the people who are discriminated against, and so on. And at times they’ll even use the word oppression. But then they just sell out these people every time—because they don’t represent their interests. They represent the interests of the system and of its ruling class. But they have a certain role of always trying to get people who are oppressed, alienated and angry back into the elections. You know: “Come on in, come on in—it’s not as bad as you think, you can vote, it’s OK.” This is one of the main roles they play. But the thing about them is that they are very afraid of calling into the streets this base of people that they appeal to, to vote for them. The last thing in the world they want to do is to call these masses of people into the streets to protest or to battle against this right-wing force that’s being built up.
Think for a minute what it would unleash if Obama were to say what is obvious to almost every liberal—that yes, there is a huge and driving element of racism involved in this “tea bagger” movement, that as a Black person in America he’s known all along that this poison was going to surface, that this is part of and being folded into a whole fascist movement with support from the highest sections of the ruling class, and that anyone with a decent bone in their body should not only vociferously oppose this but put themselves on the line against it? And what would happen if some major figure in the Democratic Party were to then call people into the streets against these fascists? This is exactly the picture—the possibility of people actually getting into the streets to stand up to these reactionaries—that gives these Democratic politicians nightmares. Because once that genie is out of the bottle—once the oppressed people and the more enlightened people begin both to see and feel their potential strength and at the same time begin to investigate and debate why all this shit keeps happening and what can be done to really change it—then all kinds of possibilities for radical, and even revolutionary, change could open up and for every section of the ruling class this is a far worse nightmare than letting these fascists continue unimpeded.
One of the reasons, in fact, that such a large section of the ruling class rallied behind Obama is precisely to avoid and indeed prevent such a scenario. And now there is a certain irony—who “better” than a Black president to rule charges of “racism” out of order, even as he is himself targeted with a racism that grows increasingly more venomous with each passing day?
But there is a question as to whether and how long these contradictions can be contained. And there is the related question as to what revolutionaries, and people who want to see real change, do to transform the reality we face—to expose what is developing, to win people to see the deep roots in the system of both these ugly fascist movements and the capitulation to these movements promoted by the Democrats, to inspire people to resist this and the other crimes of this system—including the rampant police brutality and murder; the unceasing attacks on the right to abortion (and on women’s rights more generally); denial of the rights of gay people, including to marry; the ongoing codification and use of torture by the government; the escalation of the war in Afghanistan (and continuing occupation of Iraq)... all of which are being presided over and furthered by Obama and the Democrats... and to do all this as part of repolarizing society, to make revolution.
Those are questions now being answered every day, by what we do—and do not do.
JUST HOW SERIOUS ARE THESE RACIST, RIGHT WING POPULISTS—AND HOW FAR WILL THEY GO?
In February, an episode of Beck’s show on Fox “News” was called “ War Room: ‘Bubba Effect’ – Martial Law, Looting, Hyperinflation, Depression, Chaos, America Implodes.” It repeatedly posed a scenario that was essentially an armed fascist uprising against those responsible for “disenfranchisement and suffering” and to take back America, restoring its white, Christian roots...and its destiny...as divined by God. This would be an uprising that would replace the current U.S. government. And, Beck posed as the likely scenario, that this would have the support of the U.S. Army. Look at the YouTube of this—Beck’s face shines with a sort of manic glee as he urges his listeners to prepare for this. (Search for “Glenn Beck” and “Bubba Effect” at YouTube.) This is only a very slightly cleaned up—updated—version of the infamous book, The Turner Diaries, which “envisioned” a race war in the U.S. with the righteous, fascist forces lynching Black people and whites who wanted integration. This book has been the inspiration for many reactionary survivalist militias for decades.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #178, October 4, 2009
From A World to Win News Service
September 21, 2009. A World To Win News Service.
On September 18, Iranians once again poured into the streets to express their hatred for the regime. It has brutally suppressed any kind of opposition for the last six weeks and has not authorized any demonstrations for the last three months, but this time it was faced with a contradiction that meant it could not deny people this opportunity to protest.
Since shortly after the revolution 30 years ago, this date has been called Quds (Palestine) Day. Every year the regime mobilizes thousands of people to march. Supposedly this is in support of Palestine, but in fact it is an attempt to promote the Islamisation of Palestine and the strengthening of their own trend and organizations there. Given this situation, the regime could not prevent the people from marching on this day. But that didn’t mean that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the top military commanders and security forces did not threaten the people with the harshest retaliation if they used the occasion to express opposition. They warned that “wrong” slogans would be punished. At the same time, since they knew that many people would come out to protest anyway, they did their best to mobilize their own supporters. They even paid expenses and a little more for people in remote villages and towns to be brought for the pro-regime rallies in Tehran and other large cities.
But the day turned out to be a political failure for the regime. There are contradictory reports abroad about the number of the anti-government protestors in Tehran, but at any rate it seems that the protestors “stole the day” with numbers far larger than expected under the circumstances of extreme repression. Their “daring stunned some observers.... ‘We asserted ourselves and changed the agenda of the day,’” a student told an LA Times reporter(September 19, 2009).
Sometimes ignoring pro-government demonstrators and often shouting them down, they took over the large Seventh of Tir Square. Increasingly emboldened by their success, they clashed with security forces as they tried unsuccessfully to march towards Enghelab Square, where the pro-government forces were concentrated.
Anti-regime protests took place in other cities and towns as well, including Tabriz, Shiraz, Isfahan, Mashhad, Ahvaz and Uroumeih.
In the previous protests the main participants were young women and men. Given the torture, rape and murder of some of those arrested, the regime expected that parents would not let their children take to the streets anymore. But on the contrary, this time parents and in some cases grandparents joined the protests. People from every section of society came out to denounce the regime and its authorities. They chanted, “Rape and torture don’t scare us anymore,” “Down with the dictator,” and “Rape, crime, death to Velayat-e Faqi” (the “rule of the jurisprudent,” or in other words, both the role and the person of Khamenei).
Another feature of this protest was that the Green movement was more organized than on any previous occasion. (This movement is associated with the reformist faction of the regime, led by the presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, and Mohammad Khatami, president in 1997-2005.) The Greens did play an important role in the first protests after the June elections, but their control over the protests was gradually reduced as the street actions became more radicalized by the rebellious youth. However, this time once again their presence was more apparent, signalled by green banners and T-shirts and some of the slogans. There were more slogans specifically in support of Mousavi and Karoubi, and the organizers led people in chanting “Allah-u Akbar”(God is great) and other religiously-inclined watchwords.
Some dangerous and wrong political slogans such as, “Not Gaza, not for Lebanon, I give my life for Iran” were propagated to strengthen Iranian and Persian chauvinism and clearly reject the internationalism that is a necessary part of any movement that serves the basic interests of the people. The chanting of these slogans was organized in Tehran and other cities. These sentiments were also supported by prominent rightwing Iranians abroad who are close to the U.S. That the people are willing to repeat such slogans shows their frustration with the tiring and boring slogans of the fundamentalist section of the regime in defense of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. This wrong reaction was also strengthened by persistent rumors that the regime has used Hezbollah militiamen from Lebanon to attack demonstrations. Similarly, when regime loudspeakers blasted out “Down with the U.S.,” many people in the crowds responded with “Down with Russia” and China, countries that Ahmadinejad says have supported his regime. This shows how people were spontaneously reacting against whatever they see as favorable to their enemy.
But none of this—even if the rumors were true—can be a justification for such wrong and chauvinist slogans whose effect is to split peoples who share the same just cause and pit them against each other. The people’s movement will be strengthened if it takes an internationalist line, supports other oppressed nations and wins over their support, and at the same time struggles against reactionary trends such as Hezbollah and Hamas who are trying to lead the people into the same kind of hell as that established by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
There is no doubt that the masses of the people have a just cause and reactionary elements once again are trying to steal the people’s movement. This is why a revolutionary leadership is of such vital importance.
On the other hand there were plenty of good slogans in different locations too, such as “Iran has become Palestine, people why do you stand idly by,” “Free all political prisoners,” “The blood that is in our veins is a gift to our people,” “Palestine! We are in the same situation as you are,” and “Death to the dictator.”
Members of the pro-regime Basij militia were organized to physically assault reformist leaders like Khatami and Mousavi. There were clashes between demonstrators and Basiji and plainclothes forces. In some cases the Basiji were forced to abandon their motorcycles and run away. Streets were littered with burned-out two wheel vehicles the protestors set on fire. People were arrested too. While the regime confirmed the arrest of 35 protestors, some sources say up to 400 people were arrested.
Overall the participation of a massive number of protestors marked the people’s return to the streets. This protest gave a clear message to the rulers that the people have not backed down despite the reign of terror launched by the regime’s Basiji thugs and so-called Revolutionary Guards, and the rape, torture and murder of protesters. One of the regime’s last and strongest pillars—repression—has lost a great deal of its effectiveness. This could create more fear, demoralization, infighting and crisis within the regime itself.
This is good news for the people. However the regime will not sit idle and do nothing. It has not used all its cards yet, including its bid for international support. The international summits on Iran scheduled for the next couple of months will give some indication of the relations shaping up between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the imperialists and other big powers.
Overall it can be said that there are possibilities and dangers for the people. What will happen to the movement largely depends on whether the revolutionary and communists forces can come to fore and are able to lead it or at least increase their influence. Otherwise once again reactionary classes will continue to mislead the people and dissipate their movement.
(Go to revcom.us for another A World To Win News Service article about this demonstration, “September 18—live reports from Tehran”)
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 #178, October 4, 2009
For two days, thousands of Iranians protested in New York City against the hated president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and in support of the struggle of the Iranian people. On September 23, protesters, including some who traveled from all over North America and beyond, rallied at the U.N. where Ahmadinejad was speaking. The next day there was a march across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall with banners signed by tens of thousands in the U.S. and Canada who want to see an end to Ahmadinejad’s rule. Among the protesters were many young people who were born after the rise of the Iranian fundamentalist regime and who have just awakened to political life. And there were many older people who had gone through the struggle to overthrow the Shah in 1978-79, only to see the reactionary mullahs take control and impose a horrific theocratic regime.
|Above: People carried photos of those murdered by the Islamic republic government and denounced the torture and other crimes committed by that regime. An Iranian teenager said, “They raped him again, they beat him again, a 16-year-old boy, my age. And he’s not the only one. They killed children my age, younger than me, they raped them, they beat them, they hanged them. For what? Because they are not afraid of Ahmadinejad.”
Photo: Li Onesto/Revolution
|Right: Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA translated into Farsi—over 140 of these preview copies were distributed at the demonstrations.|
The upsurge of resistance in Iran has been full of heroism. At the same time people have been influenced by the official “opposition” forces like Mir Hossein Mousavi who seek to reform—and to preserve and strengthen—the Islamic state, and there is the widespread thinking that a Western-style “democratic republic” is the solution. All this was reflected in the NYC protests. Into this mix came Iranian revolutionary communists, joined by supporters of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, and others—pointing to the need for a real revolution in Iran. Hundreds of copies of revolutionary communist publications in Farsi and Revolution newspaper got into people’s hands. A team of Iranian and other youth reached out to young people with Revolution and Bazr, a revolutionary communist youth publication out of Iran.
The revolutionary communists stirred up tremendous, sometimes heated, debate—sharply pointing to the need and pathway to open up a different way in opposition to BOTH Islamic theocracy and Western imperialism. There were some deep discussions over the lessons of the first wave of communist revolutions in the world, and the possibilities of a new stage of communism. More than 140 copies of the forthcoming Farsi edition of Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, and 90 copies of Haghighat, publication of the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) were distributed. People are risking their lives on the streets in Iran, and here at the NYC protests people were grappling with where this struggle could go and ought to go and what kind of world could be brought into being.
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Revolution #178, October 4, 2009
We received the following from A World To Win News Service:
September 21, 2009. A World To Win News Service. Following are excerpts from two reports on the September 18 protests sent by Tehran activists to the Iranian student newspaper Bazr (www.bazr1384.com)
It's a little past 10 a.m. The streets are filling up with people who've come to protest. Some are going towards Enghelab Street, some up the street I'm on. Some towards the side roads and side streets. They're trying to join another demonstration without being dispersed. People are smiling at each other, as if we all knew each other but just didn't remember from where or when. Some are flashing the V-for-victory sign. An old man sitting in his parked car is smiling with satisfaction. A young boy has hidden his mobile behind his hand and is taking photos. Maybe we will see his report on the Internet later on. A woman says, "Don't go that way, that's where they'll attack." People in cars are honking their horns.
The women in this country are so brave. You can see them all over the place no matter their age. They seem so determined. Sometime they smile… It is true, as the saying goes, that "You can find rebellion where there is more oppression." A young girl is shyly showing the victory sign; it seems this is her first demonstration. There are so many middle-aged women with young men. Probably it's because mothers are going to the battlefield with their sons. There are so many groups of women of different age groups and also women just on their own.
When I get close to Vali Asr square everyone is going up the road. In any case the crowd has come to protest. People have no intention of taking part in the Friday prayers, especially when the imam leading them is Ahmad Khatami [a cleric closely associated with the regime]. On the contrary everybody is violating the Ramadan fast by eating. This is also part of the protest and a sign of the volatility of the religion the ruling power is based on.
The quantity of people in the streets protesting against the regime has made everyone happy. However, the slogans are not always so great and encouraging. Some people tentatively shout "Death to China and Russia." Slogans of two and three months ago are making their reappearance. "Down with the dictator" is more general and so it is echoing stronger. I hear some women say, "The real religion authorities are Montazeri and Saneei" (referring to the supposedly opposition ayatollahs Hossein Ali Montazeri and Saneei). I am surprised that instead of questioning the whole concept of reactionary religious authority, they want to replace one set with another.
The people have poured into the streets but the reformist leadership has reduced the power of this massive crowd. The slogans are often meaningless and are repeated by people who have doubts about them. The people have poured into the street but there is not the kind of strength that enables them to face the ruling power's thugs. There are hidden hands behind the scene. Something is happening. But the people who are in the streets have no role in those decisions. The future is not ours yet. Not yet.
Contrary to some assumptions, the Green movement has not been defeated. Today's events show that they have the power to take more control over protestors, acting in a more organized way than before, strengthening the religious aspect of the demonstration and defending religion authorities such as Montazeri and Saneei in opposition to the Supreme Leader Khamenei.
Once the most important condition for the internal fights between the two factions of the Islamic Republic was that both agreed to keep the people out of it. But after the election, the rules of the game have changed, and both factions are looking for ways to deal with the new situation.
As we approached Karimkhan Street, we could hear the slogans more clearly: "Down with the dictator," "Iran has become Palestine, people why do you stand idly by?" We could see hundreds of the hands held high and clapping. It promised to be a massive march. We joined the protest under the Karimkhan Bridge. To be honest some of the slogans were not so pleasant to our ears.. "Hi Hossein, Mir Hossein" in support of Mir Hossein Mousavi. "Not Gaza, not for Lebanon, I give my life for Iran."
It was clear that in the absence of advanced and revolutionary forces to put forward correct slogans, wrong slogans had spread and would have a very negative political and ideological influence on the movement: once again the clerical apparatus of ignorance and superstition would be strengthened and reactionary Iranian and Persian chauvinism would replace the solidarity of the oppressed people of the world....
The bridge is packed with people. The crowd has created a beautiful scene... suddenly from the north side of the square we notice a new crowd of protestors consisting of young women and men. Here the slogans are more radical. "Rape and torture don't scare us anymore" they chant as they try to join the protestors pouring into the Seventh of Tir square from the south... Basiji, plainclothes police and security forces have appeared between them. Clashes between demonstrators and the regime forces are imminent.
After a period of pressure, the people have revived. Their morale is clearly very high. All this promises a very hot start of the semester in the universities and schools, a hot new educational year and big school of struggle for everyone.
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 #178, October 4, 2009
Revolution received the following correspondence:
We went out all week to some schools in Harlem, getting out the special middle school/high school issue of Revolution newspaper (#176, September 13, 2009) and the statement "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" (#170, July 19, 2009). One thing that was very controversial in the special issue was the "Dear Bella" letters. These letters from "Jay" were addressed to the main character in the Twilight books that have become a craze and obsession for millions of young women (70 million books have already been sold). Bella is in love with Edward, a vampire—and her attraction to him is based almost entirely on his intense, almost overwhelming desire to drink her blood and take her life. The Twilight film based on the book has the tagline: "If you could live forever what would you live for?" These books and the movie, which are so popular, reinforce the view that the answer to this question should be that the most important thing for women to live for is to be a good wife and mother; that this is what "true love" and "romance" is all about. In one letter to Bella, Jay writes: "I have no problems with human/vampire relationships. It’s just that I have a problem with relationships in which one partner dominates and controls the other."
By Thursday, quite a few students had gotten the special issue of Revolution and read the Bella letters and some had discussed it with us. So we decided to invite students to come discuss/debate Twilight and the "Dear Bella" letters in Revolution. That day, one student who had read the "Dear Bella" letters from Jay gave us her own "Dear Bella" letter. It said:
I used to think that Twilight was the best series I came across. I adored Edward. How protective and handsome he was, and how smooth and easygoing he seemed to be. I used to be so into the book that I even dreamed some parts of the story. You could say that I was in love with Edward. I was so into him that I wanted my very own Edward, one that would protect me and love me. I was blinded by his beauty and perfection and I didn’t notice or give thought to the things that matter.
Then, I came across Jay’s notes to you and I couldn’t help but react. (Sorry.) Those notes really got me thinking. I started to read them and each one opened my eyes even more. Until I was finally free from the blindness I had. I started to finally notice how controlling Edward really was and how he kept you monitored by Alice because he wanted to know every place you were every single second. I also started to notice how he kept you restrained from your friends. One was a family friend, Jacob Black. Edward used as an excuse; he loved you too much, that he could not loose you. When inside him, he was at battle from two sides, to kill you or not to.
Bella listen to Jay!
On Friday, as school is getting out, I set up a table in the park with a big sign: "Twilight Story—Liberation or Domination?" Four young Latinas from a nearby middle school stop. "Twilight!" one shouts. "Twilight Zone?" another asks. "No, the book, stupid." They all laugh.
I ask them if they have seen the "Dear Bella" letters. They step up to the table and start talking about why they like the Twilight books and movie. "It’s a good story." "It’s a good love story."
I ask them what they think about the relationship between Bella and Edward. One of them says, "They love each other... and he is protective of her."
I challenge this, pointing out some of the things in Jay’s letters to Bella—like how Edward tries to dominate and control Bella. Some of them argue back, "It’s just a story" or "It’s not real"—which doesn’t deal with the effect Twilight actually has on people’s thinking.... female and male. People start jumping into the discussion and there’s lots of back and forth. It becomes apparent that almost all of them have read the "Dear Bella" letters in Revolution.
I recognize D, a 15-year-old Black kid who had read the statement, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," and talked with us earlier in the week. He steps up to the table, acknowledges me and starts listening in on the conversation. Soon three or four other guys join in and before long there are nine or ten people standing around the table discussing Twilight, oppression, emancipation, the liberation of women and what all this has to do with revolution and communism.
I ask people to step back for a moment. To not just think about the characters in Twilight, but think about the kind of society and social relations represented in the story. At this point, even those who want to defend Twilight have to admit that Edward does have the power to protect Bella from other men—that he tries to dominate and control her and uses his power to kill her. So... what kind of relationship is this? And is this good or bad that millions of young women are seeing this as an example of "true love"? One of the young women asks, "Are you saying this is like domestic violence?" A couple of others say they know of these kinds of relationships—where the girl loves the guy but is also afraid of him. I talk about the dominant social relations between men and women—and how this is a reflection of capitalist society, of class society.
The semi-circle closes in around the table as I hold up the special issue of Revolution #158,"A Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity" (March 8, 2009). I turn to the centerfold photographs of the terrible oppression women face all around the world. Sexual slavery in China. Sweatshops in Haiti. Women in U.S. prisons. Little girls in beauty pageants. Prostitutes in Mexico. A woman in Pakistan, another in the U.S., burned by their husbands.
The dozen young faces look and listen with deep concentration. None of them say a word as I describe the photographs. The young women are the first to speak about the beauty contests for little kids. They are disgusted. I flip the page to the Declaration and read the section that begins with, "Women need emancipation. Women need liberation from thousands of years of tradition’s chains." I ask if the portrayal of male/female relations in Twilight are based more on the vision from the centerfold... or on the vision in the Declaration. At least one young woman agrees with me, "No. It’s the opposite." What’s in Twilight is the opposite of what’s in the Declaration. Another says she basically agrees with what I’m saying and adds that this applies to how women are depicted in rap videos. But, she argues, what’s in Twilight is different. Before I’m able to respond, D interjects his question: "How will communism make things different between men and women?"
I start off by saying it is more than a dream that things can be different—that in fact, communist revolutions had been made before and achieved great things, including in the extremely important struggle to get rid of women’s oppression. I talk about the great strides made in socialist China (before the death of Mao Tsetung) in liberating women to be equal participants in the struggle to revolutionize society. I describe how before the revolution, many women in China had their feet bound (their foot bones crushed and tied up) because men considered this a sign of "beauty." The communist revolution put an end to this.
At this point, some who have been silent get drawn into the conversation. I ask them why they think such a hideous practice existed. We talk about what is considered "beautiful." I describe how peasants in China had to eke out a living working in the fields. The kids come to the conclusion that poor women would have to work in the field and probably wouldn’t have bound feet. One youth with discovery in his voice exclaims, "She can’t work [if her feet are bound]!" We work our way through this to the conclusion that foot binding was a status symbol for the men. It meant, "I have so much money my women don’t have to work." I bring up the old feudal, traditional saying in China that, "A woman married is like a pony bought, I can ride or whip her as I please." To this, one of the guys says, "That is fucked up."
D says, "I think there is a way to change this without communism." Okay, I say, we agree that the way things are is totally unacceptable, but we don’t agree what the root of the problem is and how to dig up those roots. I asked him to say what he thinks is the problem and the solution. He doesn’t offer an answer, even though he’s still not convinced that we have to get rid of capitalism. But he agrees to go revolutiontalk.net to listen to Bob Avakian’s talk Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About and come back next week with an answer.
The discussion has been going on for about a half hour. Before it ends, there is one last burst of opinion from one of the young women. She grabs her head with both her hands as if she is in agony and says, "Love it’s unexplainable. It makes you crazy. It makes you do things." Everybody laughs.
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Revolution #178, October 4, 2009
Spreading Revolution and Communism
Readers of Revolution will find eye-opening, thought-provoking, and often surprising experiences, inspiration and insights from readers at the “Spreading Revolution & Communism” section at revcom.us. Recent posts include a report on a celebration (in Spanish) of the publication of a Spanish edition of Bob Avakian’s book, Away With All Gods!… a letter on revolutionary exercise at a Curves gym… and correspondence from readers on watching Bob Avakian’s film, now online, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About … Several substantial letters share experiences taking out “The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have, A Message, and A Call, from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA” (Revolution, #170, July 19, 2009) at venues ranging from the inner city street corners and high schools, to the Warped Tour. Following is an excerpt from a posting describing experiences spreading revolution and communism at a university.
From “Taking Revolution to the Campuses” (posted September 13, 2009)
…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...
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Revolution #178, October 4, 2009
Case of Mark Barmore, Black Youth Murdered by Police
On August 24, Mark Anthony Barmore, a 23-year-old Black man, was murdered, shot in the back, by two white cops in Rockford, Illinois. The cops had chased Barmore into the day care center of a church, and shot him down in front of 10-12 children—including three shots to the back, as he lay on the floor. The cops claimed that Barmore had wrestled one of their guns away; but witnesses contradicted this story.
In last week’s Revolution, we went into the official attempts to cover up, and the increasing resistance of the people of Rockford to this outrage. (See “Masses Rise Up Against Police Murder in Rockford Illinois,” Revolution #177.) For the next 10 days, hundreds of the Black people in the city poured out in marches and rallies, speakouts and vigils, town hall meetings, and church services, expressing their outrage at the brutal murder. Then, on September 12, one thousand people marched through the streets of Rockford to the police station, demanding justice. While overwhelmingly Black, this march also included whites and Latinos, some brought out by labor unions and churches, and some who were just outraged by accounts they read in the mainstream news.
But a reactionary response was not long in coming. On September 19, a crowd estimated by the main Rockford newspaper as numbering 1,000 people, almost all of them white, marched to “support officers Poole and North,” the two cops who shot and killed Barmore. The paper reported that “Marchers burst into applause and cheers as they walked past the Winnebago County Public Safety Building, the headquarters of the Rockford Police Department.” One of the cop’s wives wrote an editorial in the local paper celebrating her husband, including offering as “evidence” of his innocence that he has been involved in four shootings, and that “Each use of force was deemed justified and appropriate by grand juries.” In fact, what this underscores is that the whole court system is set up to put a stamp of approval on these police murders.
The very next day the guardian of Mark Anthony Barmore woke up to find that her van and two other cars on the block had been smashed up and painted with swastikas, vulgar language, “KKK,” and a gun with a bullet coming out it. She has also received harassing phone calls to her home including one that directed her to an online classified ad on Craigslist that shows Barmore’s “criminal record” and calls him “a dead thug” in hell.
This kind of reactionary mobilization in defense of murdering cops—not even a month after Mark Barmore’s killing—does not go on every day. The fact that such elements feel both emboldened and compelled to not only take to the streets, but then to engage in cowardly and vicious KKK-style intimidation, is an ominous development for the people. It is very much connected, in spirit and impulse if not organizationally, to the reactionary, white supremacist mobilization that has gone on all summer under the banner of “taking back our country.” (See article on page 3 for more on this movement.) This move actually raises the stakes of what is involved in Rockford even higher—for everybody.
This has not quelled the anger and outrage of the people over the brutal murder of Mark Anthony Barmore—and the overall oppressive conditions Black people face under this system. It is very important that the struggle for justice continue, and intensify, in the face of these attacks. And—especially now that there has been a racist counter-attack—it is very important that Black people not be “out there alone” in this. It is very important that progressive-minded white people, from Rockford and elsewhere, not only continue to join in this struggle for basic justice, but that now, with the stakes raised even higher, even more people step forward to visibly show their support.
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Revolution #178, October 4, 2009
On September 24 and 25, top government officials from the 20 largest economies in the world imperialist system descended on Pittsburgh for the latest G20 summit meeting. Thousands of protesters were met by militarized police state repression and nearly 300 were arrested. A letter circulated by The World Can’t Wait denounced the Pittsburgh government for: “[C]ombining domestic and military agencies for the purposes of surveillance of the protesters; riot squads on bicycles, and military troop transports; use of agent infiltrators into political groups, and provocateurs on the streets; revocation and denial of permits to assemble and mass arrests of protesters & bystanders alike, with weapons of mass destruction used on the people who only stand to exercise their freedom of speech.” Revolution will have further coverage.
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Revolution #178, October 4, 2009
From the Buffalo Soldiers, former slaves who were sent off to fight in the “Indian Wars,” to Vietnam in the 60’s, to Iraq and Afghanistan today, there is a long legacy of Black youth fighting in America’s wars. Carl Dix is coming to Atlanta University Center as part of a campus speaking tour to deliver an urgent message: DON’T BE A BUFFALO SOLDIER.
October 1, Thursday, 6:30-9 pm
Clark Atlanta University
Thomas Cole Science and Research Center Auditorium
Sponsored by: Political Science Department, Clark Atlanta University and Groove Phi Groove, Ma’at chapter at Morehouse College
CARL DIX: a founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA; one of the Fort Lewis 6—six GI’s who refused orders to go to Vietnam in 1970; co-founder of the Oct 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality; recently participated in a dialogue with Cornel West on “The Ascendancy of Obama...and The Continued Need for Resistance and Liberation.”
More Info: email@example.com
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Revolution #178, October 4, 2009
Question: Why during that time, during those 10 years of the Cultural Revolution, was there no effort made to purge the Communist Party of the right-wing capitalist roaders? Why was nothing done to purge the different apparatus of the Party of the capitalist roaders?
Dongping Han: That's a very good question. This question has been asked many times. The Cultural Revolution was not to purge people, it was to educate the people. Many of the capitalist roaders had fought for the revolution and made important contributions to the Chinese revolution. It was an accepted traditional idea that those who fight for the revolution should enjoy the privileges when the revolution succeeded. It was not enough to purge these people. The problem was the old traditional ideas. So the Cultural Revolution was to do away with the traditional ideas and educate the people through mobilizing the farmers and the workers. I think if there was no coup in 1976, I doubt that this government apparatus would have changed by itself. It happened because there was a coup. But I don't think to purge people is a solution either. I remember during the Cultural Revolution there were some high officials in my county who encouraged their own children to work with the farmers and to ask for the most difficult assignments and tasks to build their character. It seemed that these high officials did change with the change of social climate during the Cultural Revolution years. But when the social climate changed, they changed back.
Most people were not aware that there was a coup in 1976. Mao's wife and three other important leaders were arrested. And there was a very extensive purge throughout China. Hundreds of thousands of people who supported the Cultural Revolution were arrested right away. Some people argue that Mao should have killed Deng Xiaoping and a few others to prevent the arrest of the Gang of Four. Maybe he should have, but he did not.
Question: I really enjoyed hearing your speech. My question is: could you paint a picture comparing what the average daily life was like for you and your family during the Cultural Revolution compared to, on the one hand communism before the Cultural Revolution, and then compared to your family now in capitalist China?
Dongping Han: The Cultural Revolution was launched because the Great Leap Forward1 failed. It failed partly because there was a 100-year natural disaster on the one hand. On the other hand, it failed because communist officials in the villages were not really socialist yet. They ordered farmers to do too much and they themselves didn't want to work hard. There was not enough to eat during the Great Leap Forward because of the natural disasters on the one hand and mismanagement on the other. So the reason I think the Cultural Revolution was launched by Mao was that he realized at the time that the Chinese officials needed to be educated and that the Chinese people needed to be educated through a socialist movement. That's why he mobilized the Chinese farmers to criticize the officials in the village. And of course, I was too young, I don't remember too much about the Great Leap Forward. But during the Cultural Revolution, I remember very well. I was working in the fields with the farmers and at that time in the rural areas, each village had a production brigade, and each brigade was divided into several production teams. In my village there were eight production teams. Each production team had about 40 families. We elected five production team leaders each year. We had a production team head, a woman leader, an accountant, a cashier, and a store keeper. Before the Cultural Revolution these people were appointed by the village leaders and the village leaders were appointed by the commune leaders. It was not democratically elected. During the Cultural Revolution years, these production team leaders were elected by the farmers.
We worked in the fields together. Everybody came out and worked together. And at the end of the day the cashier would record how many people worked that day. And at the end of the year, when the harvest came in, the village accountant, together with the production team accountant, would develop a distribution plan. Seventy percent of the grain was distributed according to how many people you had in your family. Thirty percent was distributed according to how much you worked in the collective. So if you did not work in the fields, you were still entitled to 70 percent of the grain from the collective. That was the distribution on the production team level. There was also distribution at the production brigade level. The village owned many enterprises. After putting away money for a welfare fund, money to purchase new equipment and so on, the village would distribute its income according to how much you had worked in the collective. The collective also produced vegetables, fruits, peanuts and we also raised pigs. These would be distributed to villagers regularly according to the same distribution schedule as grain was distributed. We also purchased fish, wine, cigarettes collectively with the money earned by the village enterprises, and this was distributed to each family on important occasions like Chinese New Year and other holidays. We got almost all our supplies from the collective.
After the Cultural Revolution years, I went to college and my two sisters who used to work for the village, found jobs in a state-owned factory in the early '80s. Now the factory has been sold and my two sisters have been unemployed since 1996. My younger sister is still working in the village, as the village cashier now. My village is doing well compared with other villages. Life has changed dramatically in the countryside. I think for most working class people, life has changed for the worse. Even though they may get more money, they have lost benefits like free medical care and free education of the socialist past. They now have to pay for their education. They have to pay for their medical care. Most farmers cannot afford the medical care. If they are sick for a small problem, they just endure the problem. If they are sick for a big problem, they just wait to die. Many of them say they do not want to leave a big debt for their children by going to the hospital. The medical care is very expensive now and it is beyond the reach of most farmers and working class people in urban areas.
Question: Could you talk a little about what the cultural life was like in your village and how that changed?
Dongping Han: The Cultural Revolution was truly a cultural revolution. The changes that took place in the field of culture were revolutionary. Before the Cultural Revolution, Chinese performing arts were mostly about talented young men and beautiful ladies, kings, generals and so on. That's what the Chinese traditional plays were about. During the Cultural Revolution, there was a surge of a new kind of art. Every village at the time had a group of farmer artists and they played instruments, sang revolutionary songs, danced revolutionary dances, and staged revolutionary plays. There was some kind of performance in the village almost every night. These performances became educational tools. Revolutionary ideas spread because of these revolutionary performances. And it was very powerful. But of course today you don't see that anymore in the countryside. But if you go to China today, you can still see older people singing the revolutionary songs in parks and public spaces to entertain themselves.
Question: In the movies that we see about China and the Cultural Revolution, there is a representation of people being picked up and tried by popular tribunals and paraded around town, punished. My question is: where does this image come from, did you hear about things like this in China, how widespread was this?
Dongping Han: That image was from the Cultural Revolution years. For a few weeks in the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, many Chinese officials were being criticized on the stage. That was very common. I saw it many times. I would say most government officials went through some of that at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. At the same time, I would argue, many of these people deserved some kind of punishment. They had made mistakes in their work. And because of their mistakes, people suffered. People were looking for ways to air their anger. In the villages, the struggle against village leaders was more gentle and peaceful.
These public struggle sessions to deal with officials who committed crimes and made mistakes were different ways of dealing with these people. After they were struggled with for a day or two, they were allowed to go free. They were taught a lesson by the people. In the U.S. people are sent to prison. I still think this public education during the Cultural Revolution was very effective, not only to educate the village officials, but also everybody else. After the session, they were free. So I don't think that was a bad practice. I think it was a very good practice.
Question: Your presentation was mainly about the Cultural Revolution, but I wonder if you could spend a few moments talking about the situation in China now, particularly the economic crisis and how you think that's working itself out, especially in the rural areas, but more generally?
Dongping Han: The Chinese government is faced with a huge challenge today and the Chinese government officials themselves have admitted that on many occasions. Some people estimate that there are 100 incidents involving more than 100 people challenging the government and 300 incidents involving less than 100 challenging the government each day. I read in a document about an incident in Guangdong province where three police officers stopped a car without a license plate and upon further check they found the driver without a driver's license. But the three people came out the car and yelled that the police are harassing people and about 2,000 people came out. They turned the police car upside down and set it on fire. The government is warning the police to be careful because the tension between the people and the government is very high. And there are a lot of people in the countryside who are very angry with the township government. I was told by a farmer about an incident in a rural township. The party secretary was taking a nap one day. But about 100 farmers ,who were angry with the township government's decision to move the market to a different place, went to his bedroom. They actually dragged him by his four limbs into the marketplace and threw him up into the air for a half hour. They didn't hit him. They just toyed with him for a half hour. In the end the government had to remove him from office because he had become an embarrassment for the government. This happened last year. There was another government official who was beaten by the farmers. The villagers wanted him to take a patient to the hospital. He refused. He said that not everyone could ride in his car. The farmers almost killed him, but the government didn't punish the people who did it. So I think the government realizes how tense its relationship is with the masses.
In the old days, the Chinese government officials came to the village and worked with the farmers. And today they don't do that. They come to the village in big cars, only to get money from farmers and to enforce the one child policy... I think the government has a legitimacy crisis. The Chinese government was able to survive the challenges of the Great Leap Forward posed by unprecedented natural disasters and mismanagement by its officials because of the socialist legitimacy. I don't think it will be able to survive any challenges close that of the Great Leap Forward.
Question: Thanks for coming. I'm really looking forward to getting into your book. I have two questions. First, you mention the coup in 1976. Could you talk about what happened and also how that whole period was being understood where you were? How did people understand the struggle that was going on that led up to right before Mao's death and up to the coup? My second question is: in describing all the upheaval right now in China, what kind of revolutionary thinking is there, are there any trends that are looking towards Mao or towards Maoism, how is that developing, what are the ideas that are capturing people in this period?
Dongping Han: I still remember where I was on September 9, 1976. At 4 o'clock that day, I was walking with my friend outside the village when the loudspeaker said there was a very important announcement. And we immediately realized something was wrong. And they said Chairman Mao had passed away. I don't know how I walked home that day. I remember that everybody around me was crying. Finally I reached home. My father cried all the way home from his factory. When my grandpa died he didn't cry. He gathered the family together and he said, today our poor people's sky has fallen and we do not know what life will be like tomorrow. At the time, I thought, in my heart, how could that be possible? We have built the socialist state. How could the poor people's sky fall just because Chairman Mao died?
It turned out that my father was right. When the Gang of Four was arrested, the Chinese government said the people were really happy. That was not true. In my hometown many young people really respected Jiang Qing because of an incident that happened in a neighboring commune. On Chinese New Year in 1975, the village leader played over the loudspeaker a traditional drama which was criticized during the Cultural Revolution. A young man in the village criticized the village leader for playing that over the loudspeaker. But the village leaders accused him of causing trouble in the village. He called the police and the police took him away. While he was in prison, he wrote a letter to Jiang Qing, and in less than five days, Jiang Qing responded to his letter. Jiang Qing ordered that the person be released. And the village leader was dismissed from office. Young people in my area loved Jiang Qing. When the Gang of Four was arrested a few weeks after Mao died, we knew things were going to be different. We still don't know the details why Hua Guofeng, who was appointed by Mao, decided to arrest the Gang of Four. We didn't know then. Today, looking back, I think Hua Guofeng was the person who was responsible for this. There were some people who have talked about how at the time, before Mao died, Mao had the intention to appoint Jiang Qing to be his successor, and that Hua Guofeng apparently was not supposed to succeed Mao. And I think probably he arrested the Gang of Four not because he had a different agenda, but he had his own personal ambition for power. But I don't think he intended to change Mao's line. But by arresting the Gang of Four, Mao's wife, he had to justify why he arrested these four important leaders. By doing that he had to condemn the Cultural Revolution—because the Gang of Four were the crucial leaders of the Cultural Revolution. And by condemning the Cultural Revolution he paved the way for Deng Xiaoping to come back. Of course, that's what happened. I think that the workers and farmers were not actually, like the government said, happy when the Gang of Four was arrested. Hua Guofeng did two other things after he arrested the Gang of Four. He decided to preserve Mao's body, against Mao's will. That was a popular thing to do at the time. Because the Chinese people, working class particularly, considered Mao their greatest leader. So by doing that they thought Hua Guofeng was still continuing Mao's legacy. And he also announced he was going to publish the fifth volume of Mao's works. That was also very popular as well. He did some very smart things. But he did the most damage by arresting the Gang of Four as well.
In terms of the situation now, it's very hard for me to give you a full picture. Two years ago, Deng Xiaoping's elder son said in response to a question by an Associated Press reporter that the Cultural Revolution was not only tragic for himself and his family, but also for the whole Chinese nation. He said that on December 10, but within 20 days, there were more than 35,000 people who responded to his comment on line. About 90 percent of these responders condemned him for slandering the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese government was able to get away with condemning the Cultural Revolution before. Now it is hard for them to get away with that anymore. It seems that the Chinese people are really waking up about the Cultural Revolution. Now, people say, they lied to us for 30 years. History proves that Chairman Mao was right, from the very beginning. The Chinese officials are very corrupt now. People understand that Mao launched the Cultural Revolution to prevent that from happening. Mao realized before he died that without an empowered working class to serve as watchdogs, the officials were bound to be corrupt.
The crisis in China is very serious. During the Cultural Revolution years, we did not have much corruption. From little corruption to a lot of corruption, people tend to perceive the problem as more serious. To be fair, I think the Chinese officials are not more corrupt than American officials. For example, if The Big Dig in Boston was taking place in China, there would be a huge public outcry, but here there was no public outcry about it at all. People are used to it in the U.S.
Question: When you were talking earlier, you were saying that the 10 years of the Cultural Revolution were the most exciting of your life. Could you give some examples of that spirit that you felt?
Dongping Han: The way that I felt at that time was that I had a strong sense of security. I was not alone in this world. My neighbors, my production team leaders, the village leaders would take care of anybody if they needed help.
In 1998, one of my friends who worked with me committed suicide. When I received the news from my village I cried. The reason I cried was because I felt that if the collective had not been disbanded he would not have died; he would not have committed suicide. And this person was about my age. When he was young, he couldn't get up early in the morning. So every morning my production team leader told me to go to wake him up. When I went to wake him up the first time, he answered me, and got up. The second day, he said, I'll get up but he never got up. So I had to drag him up from his bed. The third day his grandmother was very upset that I woke him up every day. She told me that her grandson needed more sleep. But the production team leader said to me: "Do not mind his grandmother. Wake him up. He needs help." So he came to work with us with my help. He worked every day. He was a very good worker. He was very talented as well. He played the Chinese instrument, the erhu very well and he also painted well. But after the collective was disbanded, nobody went to wake him up anymore. He was able to sleep as much as he wanted. So eventually his wife left him. And by 1996, 1997 he became mentally disturbed. And the last time I saw him was in 1997 when I went back home. I saw him walking naked on the street. He saw me and ran back home. I followed him to his house. I asked him why he walked naked in the streets. He said that life was bad for him. He did not want to live any more. I told him that he had to change his mindset, that he needed to face the challenges. I asked him why he didn't go back to painting if he could not do anything else. I told him that I would be in the village for another 10 days, and I would like to buy a painting from him. He promised that he would do it. But the next day, he came to see me. He said that he could not do it now. He told me that he would do it for me the next year. I told him that it was him that I was interested in not the painting. I wanted to see him stand up and take control of his life. But three months after I left the village, he committed suicide. He hung himself. When I learned of this news from my younger sister, I cried very hard. I felt that if the collective were not disbanded, he did not need to commit suicide. The community was no longer there. Your friends and your neighbors became competitors and strangers to you. The security network had been taken away. For Americans you're used to this kind of competition. But for Chinese farmers who lived under the socialist system before, the change was too dramatic for many people.
Question: Like everybody here, I really want to thank you for sharing, especially the last story you told. I have two questions. My first question is: the Cultural Revolution sent shock waves around the world. Do you have a sense in your village, how much were you aware of the international situation, the influence this was having internationally?
Dongping Han: That is a very good question. At that time when I was in the village, I really felt we were part of the international revolution. We were young and we were part of a big picture. I remember in 1971 there was a huge drought in our area. The county government held a huge rally in the marketplace. At the rally, government leaders and representatives of farmers and workers said that we were fighting this drought not just for ourselves. We were fighting this in support of the Vietnamese people's fight against U.S. imperialism. We were fighting this drought to support oppressed people in Africa and so on. After the rally, everybody in our school wrote a pledge to join the fight against the drought. The school was closed for two weeks. We went back to the village to fight the drought with the villagers for two weeks. Everybody worked very hard. I felt that I was doing something significant to help the revolution. At that time I didn't really understand what it meant. It was standard language. I believed what we were told by the government that we had friends all over the world. After the Cultural Revolution was over, the Chinese elite told us that it was government propaganda. But it was not simply propaganda. I found this out when I studied in Singapore. When Mao died in 1976, China did not have diplomatic relations with Singapore. So the branch bank of Bank of China decided to hold a memorial service for Mao for three days. Ordinary Singaporeans and seaman from all over the world came to show their respect for Mao day and night. The line was so long, the staff at the Bank of China had to extend the memorial service from three days to ten. I realized then that our fight in China was connected with the struggle of oppressed people all over the world.
Question: This is a kind of a follow up question to what was asked earlier. I know that the Cultural Revolution went through different phases. And in the year or so that led up to Mao's death and then the coup, it was in a different kind of phase, it wasn't a high tide of big character posters and demonstrations all the time. But there were those of us who were out in the world and the world revolution looking to China and reading things. And I read a magazine a lot that was called Peking Review at the time. And you talked about the effect of Mao's essay, "To Serve the People" in the villages. But there were things in Peking Review that were kind of telling people in the world that Mao wasn't going to cut off the head of Deng Xiaoping. But he was saying very sharply that there were two lines at the top of the Chinese Communist Party. I remember there was a thing on the cover that said, "You are making the socialist revolution and you don't know where the bourgeoisie is. It's right at the top inside the Communist Party, the capitalist roaders taking the capitalist road." It talked a lot about the difference between the capitalist road and the socialist road. Was there any sense of that? How did people receive that in the village? Or had the Cultural Revolution gone to a point where those things weren't really being heard?
Dongping Han: I talk about it in my book, what does it mean, the capitalist roader? Some have a hard time understanding this. But for the Chinese farmers, the workers, it is easy to understand. The words "capitalist roaders" were used all the time during the Cultural Revolution and two line struggle was always talked about during the Cultural Revolution years. The capitalist roaders were the people who did not want to continue the socialist revolution, who aspired to the capitalist lifestyle and who didn't want to work. They became parasites. There were very clear examples in the village before the Cultural Revolution years. They didn't work. And they got more. Their families got more back but they didn't work for others. The farmers knew exactly what they wanted. They wanted the leaders to work with them. They did not want to go back to the old society. Farmers and workers did not want to go back to the old capitalist society of the past. They did not want to do private farming.
Question: Do you have a sense of any organized movement today among the workers and peasants?
Dongping Han: I don't know much about this. But there are some various small groups working to get people organized. In one province in early 2000 there was a group of young people, farmers, who organized a group around Marxism and Maoism. And the government arrested about 200 leaders. I heard that the group grew very fast, to more than 2,000 people in a matter of few months. The Chinese government keeps a very close eye on these people. There have been some people who have tried to organize demonstrations and protests. There are some things like that. But I don't see nationwide strong organization at this point.
Question: Are there rumors or reports of large rebellions in China fighting against the police? Can you tell us the extent of this and what the reason is?
Dongping Han: The New York Times reported a couple of years ago about two large protests in Sichuan province against the government. A migrant worker who worked in the city as a porter was carrying stuff in an urban street. He was carrying a pole and going through the streets. His pole touched a woman. And the woman was angry with him and slapped his face and then called her husband. Her husband was a low-level government worker and came to the scene in a government car. He beat the man again. He said that he could kill the man and it would only cost him $20,000. And all the onlookers heard him and became very angry. About 100,000 gathered up and set his car on fire. They marched to the local government and surrounded it for three days. The government had to send about 100,000 police to pacify the crowd. And a couple of months later, also in Sichuan province, there was a fight for land and the report said that the farmers actually held the provincial governor for a couple of days. And the government had to send a large number of police to pacify the farmers. I think this kind of thing is going on a lot in China, mostly not reported to the outside world. As I said before, the tension with the government and the government's ability to deal with these kinds of things is more and more limited. In the eyes of the people, the government is on the other side, the rich people's side, and is trying to suppress them. So I think this kind of rebellion is going on quite widely in China today.
Question: I heard of one instance of an expropriation of an economic development, that they moved people off the land so they could build a factory.
Dongping Han: That kind of thing goes on almost everywhere in China. The Chinese local officials want to make more money. They always want to open new development zones. So whenever new development zones are being developed, the residents have to be moved and they sell the land to the developers. So in many cases the people don't want to move and the local officials hire thugs to force them to move. And in many cases the farmers fight back. So the contradiction between the farmers and the local officials is very serious in China today.
Question: I want to step back to your experience in the Cultural Revolution, in 1966 you were 11 years old, you traversed from 11, you grew up, came of age. You describe how the People's Liberation Army came and read these three articles; the people saw their interests represented and everything changed and the entrenched officials were challenged and you as a young person were writing the big character posters and all that. You were able to go to school, you grew up and became an educated youth in the countryside, and yet there was this political campaign that was going on for 10 years. How did this intersect with you, how much were you continuing to follow it?
Dongping Han: My whole value system was changed very dramatically. Before the Cultural Revolution, my father never allowed me to talk back to him; that's how the Chinese family was. He never allowed me to talk back to him. Whenever there were guests in the house I was never allowed to say a word. But during the Cultural Revolution years that changed. I said, "Chairman Mao said I can talk back to you!" But many people in this country think that the revolutionary campaign is an interruption of life. No. The revolution did not disrupt most people's lives, particularly in the village. During the day most work continues, and at night people went out to the streets and there was a lot of debate; different groups debate in the streets. My cousin and I went to shops at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution to propagate Mao's ideas. The government-owned shops extended their hours until 10 at night at the time. So we went to the shops to read Mao's teachings and perform the plays, and so on. We loved that.
I do not know how to describe the change in the rural areas. Maybe I can give you an example to illustrate the change. Before the Cultural Revolution years, people in my area never gave blood to anybody. If you needed a blood transfusion, you went to your family: your wife, your father or your brothers. People thought that if you gave blood to another person, you would lose your own vitality in life. But one day, one of my colleagues was sick and needed a blood transfusion. Most of the factory workers were working in fields harvesting. It was a busy time in the village. Twenty young people who were working in the village went to the hospital. The nurses checked our blood types. I was the only person who qualified to give the blood. I knew at the time any one of the 20 people would give their blood to save my colleague. The village party secretary asked me what to do. I said that we needed to save the patient. They took more than 700 cc from me and after that I couldn't walk and they had to take me home in a wheelbarrow. And the next morning I woke up and my mom and my two aunts were all crying. They actually cried the whole night. They thought I wouldn't be able to get married, nobody would marry me. But life changed, and it wasn't just me. All the people who went to the hospital that day would have happily given blood to that person that day.
Whenever there was a storm, even at midnight people would get up to cover the collective crops. If it snowed we would get up to clean the streets. We did not have bulldozers. Everybody would get out to clean the streets. Another important change in the rural life was that there were almost no crimes during the Cultural Revolution years. For 10 years, we did not have any crime in the village. In my commune of 50,000 people, I did not hear of any serious crime for 10 years. But now, crime has become so common in China.
Question: Could you compare your daily life during the Cultural Revolution to what the daily life would have been like for your grandparents before 1949?
Dongping Han: My grandparents on my mother's side came from very a poor family. But my grandparents on my father's side owned a lot of businesses at the time. But my grandfather's mom died. He had a rough relationship with his stepmother. So he ran away with two horses from his father. He set up a small factory and did pretty well in Manchuria. He came back to his hometown and got married. Later on he took my father, my aunt and my grandmother to live with him in Manchuria. He was a businessman, and like most other businessmen, he smoked opium and visited prostitution houses. My grandmother was very sick of his lifestyle. So she decided to go back to the village. And she came back to the village without telling my grandfather. And her family in the village thought she came back to the village with my grandfather's knowledge, and expected her to bring back some money to the family. But she did not have money to give her family because she ran away. So my grandmother's family was angry with her so when the family divided up the assets, they didn't give my grandmother anything. That's why my father had to work for the capitalists as a child worker from 1942 until the communists came to power in 1949. The reason why my father was so supportive of the Communist Party was that he had to work 18 hours a day. He had to pick up the capitalists night soil and did household chores beside long hours of work in the workshop. When the communists came to power, the workday became eight hours, so my father's life changed for the better under socialism. My father used to believe in Buddhism. After the communists came to power, he no longer believed it any more. On the Chinese New Year, my mom always asked to kowtow to the gods of the family. My father would always tell me not to do it. He was told that he was suffering because he did something wrong in the previous life. He changed his previous life, but his life suddenly changed for the better with the Communist Party in power.
Both my father and my mom begged before 1949, and were hungry all the time. Both my grandmothers died in their 30s in 1944, without any medical care. But ever since I could remember, I never felt hungry. I always had enough to eat. My father never bought any toys for me when I was young. I often compare my childhood with my son's in the U.S. At the time, we had a lot of kids in the neighborhood to play with and we made toys for ourselves. We played a lot of games ourselves. We worked on the collective farm during the summer, spring and fall. In winter we played popular games in the streets when there was nothing to do in the fields. And I always ask my son which childhood is better. Of course it's very hard for him to imagine. But I strongly believe that my childhood was much more healthy, much more creative than that of my son who has nothing else but toys and video games. We had community, and we learned how to interact with one another; we learned how to build up leadership skills and things like that. And my son didn't have those skills. When I first came to the U.S, I had a class on the Cultural Revolution. And the professor said that Cultural Revolution education was a disaster, and most students in the class agreed with him. In the end, I told the class that I was a product of the Cultural Revolution education. I challenged the whole class to a competition with me to see who is better educated. Nobody was willing to take on the challenge.
1. The Great Leap Forward, launched in 1958, was a movement to revolutionize economic and social relations in China’s countryside. Over the course of three years, peasants organized into communes, which created more advanced collective forms of work, education, health and child care. The Great Leap Forward saw the expansion of industry in the countryside and large scale irrigation and other infrastructure. And it involved the struggle for socialist consciousness, working for the common good and combating feudal, bourgeois and patriarchal ideology. [back]
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Revolution #178, October 4, 2009
The following is a correspondence from readers:
Before writing more specifically about what we've been doing the last three days on this campus, I want to indicate how helpful—actually, essential—last week's editorial on how making the Raymond Lotta tour of campuses a REALLY BIG DEAL was. As part of taking our work on this particular campus to a whole different level, and with a better overall direction, a group of us really steeped ourselves in that editorial and struggled to grasp what it was calling for in opposition to lesser visions and other methods. While there is a LOT in that editorial that we found helpful and necessary to follow, almost paragraph by paragraph, the most essential thing was for all of us to confront the historic moment we are in, as captured in the Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. The editorial begins with a quote about how, when it comes to the subject of communism, it is as if the creationists have taken over society as a whole... including the biology department. We really have to confront this and set our sights on taking this on, turning this around, and not trying to side-step it. In particular, we had to really dig into and "get with" the part where that editorial compares and contrasts:
"In such times, it would be much more important to have hundreds on campus actively taking notice of and entering into debate around the viability of communism, than to just attract a few score or so of the already interested to hear Raymond Lotta. Of course, we do want those who are already interested to come as well—but our point in putting it this way is that these speeches need to be part of creating a situation where the 'already interested' are part of a larger mix of ferment, mass debate and intellectual excitement that is simmering and bubbling...and where that situation, even on several campuses to begin with, spreads to other campuses and to society as a whole. We're aiming at getting a whole different dynamic going, on campus and in society overall."
We had to shift, even more fully, from a conception of just going out and finding the people who were interested and organizing them to get into the movement for revolution – and really aiming to change all of society, starting with a major breakthrough on the campuses as a whole, and bringing forward a core in the context of that. This really does have to do with whether we are confronting what it means to fight to begin a new stage of communism, or if we are just falling into old routines and ways of doing things and "doing our thing" on campus or anywhere else.
On this basis—in just a few days we have begun to accomplish a great deal...
The campus we've been at is particularly open and there is a tremendous amount of freedom in this. We've been able to walk into classes and make announcements to hundreds of students at once. Some professors let us do this and sometimes we just do it after most students have filled in their seats and before professor arrives. Some don't let us make an announcement and so we flyer and move on.
We picked out classes with hundreds of students each, many in subjects that might attract progressive students, others that are just big and/or likely to have many freshman. We've been quite successful—making agitational announcements in probably 15 classes in the last three days and speaking to probably 2,500 students who were seated and listening. In a couple classes, small numbers of students applauded. Our announcements have varied, but also gotten better. We use the title of Raymond Lotta's talk, "Everything You've Heard About Communism Is Wrong. Capitalism Is a Failure, Revolution Is the Solution," and we make a big deal about who Raymond Lotta is and what it means that he is coming to this campus. We make the point that if you dream of a better world and wish it were possible, come with your toughest questions; if you want to defend capitalism or to argue that communism has been a disaster; you should come too because Raymond Lotta is taking on all comers. We make the point that it is not acceptable what passes for "intellectual discourse" on campuses—including by many professors—when the subject is communism and that you, the students, have been lied to about the things that matter most.
We give out flyers for Raymond Lotta's talk with the short version of the RCP's statement, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" printed on the back. We also distribute the new survey/quiz testing people's knowledge of communism with no answers but with a place for people to leave their email address and phone numbers. We tell students we'll collect the quiz after class and email them the answers and other information.
The first two days, I sat in on a number of classes—both to learn more about the terrain and in hopes of finding ways to speak up or engage from the floor.
While we are looking to challenge lies being told by professors about communism, we have not allowed ourselves to get bogged down doing extensive research on everyone who teaches and what they have written. More, we've gone out very broadly with what we are doing and are seizing on the openings that emerge when various professors or other people on campus dismiss or denounce what we have to say.
Already, it is becoming the case that people are frequently coming up and saying, "Yeah, I've heard about this." Or, "You were in my class the other day,"... or, "in my dorm"... etc. Most are not super into what we are doing, but some are provoked and interested in coming and helping to spread the word. Beginning saturation can be discerned. One student today told one of us, "Yeah, my frat brothers were telling me about this," and took a stack of flyers.
The first day we went to campus, there was no plan and so no table. The next day, we had a table on the main campus walk and did a lot of flyering. But it is hard to make a big deal on this walk, where there are scores of clubs and tables competing for the students' attention. Today, we made a much bigger deal of ourselves. We got out in the walk during high traffic class change and started agitating and we had other people flyering and many more students stopped and took flyers. It was still a minority, but we were much more taken seriously because we were taking ourselves seriously. Students responded better both because we were making this program by Lotta "A Very Big Deal" and because by now many students had run into this multiple times.
Two young women came up and one said, "Yeah, I took the quiz in my class the other day. I am so glad you are doing this." They agreed that they've been lied to and should find out the truth about communism. So, I got into how the lies are just repeated and repeated, even in the academy and that this shouldn't be allowed to be taught. One woman backed up, "No, people with different views should be allowed to teach." I quickly clarified that it was fine for people to teach different perspectives and opinions, but that is not what I was talking about. I walked thru what Raymond Lotta does in his youtube on Chang/Halliday book, Mao, the Unknown Story (how they take a quote from Mao completely out of context to make it sound like he didn't care if half of China died, when actually he was warning against exactly that), and the two women gasped, "WOW." Then they agreed, "Yeah, lies shouldn't be taught."
We also had made a poster that had the quote from the statement, "The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have": "...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."
Then at the bottom of this poster we put a big box with the speech title, Lotta's name and the time and place of the event. I brought the women to the table and had them read it. They really agreed and nodded. One took four of these posters to put up around her next class. Both gave their email addresses. One said she was so disappointed in school, she thought it would be more radical but it is not. At one point I told them that Raymond Lotta is the leading expert in the world on the actual history and how to sum it up of the Soviet Union and China when they were revolutionary, that he has extensively immersed in this for decades. One of the women looked up and asked, "Well, what about Bob Avakian. Isn't he your leader?" This was great and unexpected. I told her it was a great question and then got into how Avakian is analogous to Marx, he has forged a deeper framework of the whole science and revolutionary movement of communism, and this new synthesis is something that has and needs to even more set a framework for revolutionary work and advance of millions. Lotta is someone who, having studied and taken up that framework, has gone into this particular history with a depth and rigor and having dissected the charges and excavated the history in a way that is unique. I made the analogy of his work more to Engels who wrote The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. Engels couldn't have written this work without taking up Marx's overall breakthroughs and framework, but then Engels did that particular work, not Marx. These women were really taken by this. It seemed they were getting an appreciation for communism being a science in a new way, not just, "Which leader are you most adherent to and most promoting?"
Another guy came up and said, "Okay, what are the lies I have been told?" I again used the lie that is taken apart in Lotta's youtube video. Then the guy raised a lot of particulars of the Great Leap Forward in China in 1958 and about the communes and cooperatives. He actually knew quite a bit of particulars about the Soviet Union and how they did agriculture and China and how they did, but was fundamentally wrong. He insisted that Mao Tsetung killed millions and that the Great Leap Forward was a total disaster. I responded by digging into the many things that came together during the Great Leap (the biggest climatic disruption and drought that China had experienced in 100 years, the Soviet Union pulling out their experts and blueprints and equipment that completely disrupted the development of infrastructure, as well as some real shortcomings in the leadership provided by Mao which was NOT flowing from his lack of concern for people's hunger, but from this being the first time anything like this had been attempted anywhere), but that the communes formed during the Great Leap did lay the basis for being able, through adjustments and learning off that, to solve China's hunger problem for the first time ever. This was more real than he seemed to anticipate and while he wasn't won over he did stay a lot longer than he had clearly intended to. At the end, he looked at flyer for the date and said he would try to come.
We had the Raymond Lotta youtube clip set up to show on a TV all day and showed it to students. Overall it was a minority of students who stopped to watch it, but those who did were very impressed with it. This youtube has double impact: people get a concrete sense of having been systematically lied to on a scale and with blatancy that they never imagined, and they get a sense of who Raymond Lotta is, which is very essential to building a buzz and having people get exactly what a big deal it is that he is coming to their campus.
A lot more is being, and needs to be, done to plug Raymond Lotta and the date of his event to make these a big deal themselves. Sometimes we just call out the date and say "Raymond Lotta, right here on this campus. Then we add the title of the speech and various other riffs. Mostly it is just a fast stream by us at class-change time, but agitating this way has the effect of people feeling they need to know what the big deal is about this person and this date, then they get the mention of communism and capitalism from the title. But the fact of an event, something coming in particular, grabs them more than just topic would alone.
One students said, "I've been wondering how long it would take for me to attend my first communist meeting when I got to this campus." So, then we got into who Raymond Lotta is and what the speech will be. We got into the importance not only of the topic in some general sense, but that this is THE event to be at, for the already-interested and those who weren't before.
The in-class announcements have had big impact. Some students commenting that they were really impressed by the passion and wanted to find out more (seems mostly the moral certitude that strikes some of them, content as well as general curiosity about communism among some, others think we are off the deep end, but all seem pretty respectful and hear us out). We make a big deal about taking on all comers... this is both provocative and lends credibility to the whole atmosphere, that Lotta is not afraid of any challenge.
One professor said, "Communism, that's worse than Nazism." He has 250 students and we decided to go back to his class next week when it meets again with the fact sheet contrasting communism to Nazism from the Set the Record Straight project and say, "Your professor said communism was worse, this is an outrageous lie." Then we'll hand out the factsheet and event flyer and publicly invite the professor to attend Lotta's speech and make his argument there.
We decided also that we need to more take this event to the department of Asia Studies. We will put out a flyer from the STRS website about the economic and social achievements under Mao together with the flyer for the speech and hand it out to all the Asia studies classes we can find, hoping to provoke response and interest which we will then further relate to as part of blanketing more broadly.
Today a young woman told us her professor made a comment in his class that, "There are people handing out some flyer about communism and they are crazy and you should just ignore them." She said this made her more curious about our flyer and she got one and told us time and place and name of professor. We'll be visiting that class.
There is the beginning saturation and a beginning sense of profs feeling need to respond which we aim to take further.
There are a few students who are becoming very active in helping build for this, but we need to really pay attention to involving these guys not just in doing things but engaging more fully and wrangling with the campaign and how to involved other students, etc. Also, there are many new students we are meeting every day and we need to be better at involving them in spreading this even as they learn more.
There will be a challenge to figure out, we are starting to get real traction, how this continues to escalate and get greater traction and crescendo at the event and not crest sooner than that or lose momentum or die down. We have to stoke the controversy beginning to break out and work with many more students to take this up. Really involving students is key to getting to places we cannot be and in having other students begin more and more to see this taken up by their peers, not just from outside. Even things like writing Raymond Lotta and date on white board before class makes a big difference (this is an idea one student came up with when we asked what he thought he could do).
Another way we intend to build momentum is with a big release of the quiz results—both on campus and in the student newspaper.
—Addendum from another person who was at the table a lot:
Our table had the youtube of Raymond Lotta taking on Chang and Halliday playing for hours. The enlargement of the "Think you know about communism and capitalism?" quiz enlarged to poster size, attracted attention, as did the literature with Revolution newspaper, including prominently the issue featuring "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," and literature from Bob Avakian. The title of Raymond's upcoming speech, "Everything You've Heard About Communism Is Wrong. Capitalism Is a Failure, Revolution Is the Solution," was enlarged on a posterboard. Sometimes we carried it with us as we went out into the crowds of students to agitate and to talk to them.
Too many still passed by, eyes averted, not even acknowledging we are there. But there are many who are open to engaging on one level or another and from different angles. We are starting to stir up a response from students who vigorously disagree with us and advocate for backward positions—at least some seem to be at the point where they can no longer ignore us, and are coming to argue. One guy was incensed at question #6 on the quiz:
"Before the Holocaust, the majority of the world's Jews lived in east-central Europe. What was the only country in this region during the 1930s and World War 2 where Jews were not persecuted, deported, or exterminated—and where official government policy was to outlaw anti-Semitism and protect the rights and safety of Jews?"
The fact that the answer was the Soviet Union infuriated this guy, who argued and then came back the next day with 4 or 5 others who wanted to debate. The ensuing discussion over what approach the Russian revolution actually started with toward the Jews—and other oppressed nationalities in old Russia, the prison house of nations—and how the communist revolution in its early days systematically attacked all of those inequalities and the chauvinism that went with them (complicated by the fact that all of that has long since been reversed with a vengeance) was something these guys had never heard and had a hard time believing. The point here is not to get deeply into the complexities of this (we told them to come and bring their question to Lotta), but that this kind of debate stirred things up and drew others into the mix.
The fact that "Raymond Lotta is coming" is beginning to percolate through the campus – one woman student came to our table and told us that her professor has warned her political science class about our leafleting classes on the campuses. Word seems to be circulating among and it seems at least some of the professors feel that this cannot be ignored. In this case, the professor's "warning" had actually piqued this student's interest in just what these leaflets were saying, and she now wants to help take this up.
It is strikingly true even among most of the students who are glad we are out there and who think that what we are doing is good, that they tend to identify "socialism" with government intervention in the capitalist economy and with social reforms—that the radical vision of rupturing with capitalist relations and ideas is something they have never heard of. We talked to one student who, after hearing the title of Raymond's talk, said "I'm a libertarian." We asked whether he was a rigid, hard core libertarian or someone who would consider other ideas and thinking. He said he was definitely the latter, and we went off into a whole back and forth about his views of "ideal capitalism" vs. the reality of this system. After a while, we posed to him that part of what he did not understand was how liberating and good the real socialist societies had actually been—that this has been completely suppressed and buried and his generation knows almost nothing about it. We talked about what the revolutionaries were trying to do in the Cultural Revolution—and what that had to do with their aim to go beyond all classes and states. He had never heard of all of this, and though he still had basic disagreements, he said that he found the whole discussion very exciting, and that he would probably come to hear Lotta. We asked him to talk to his friends and to bring them—that he should tell them why he thought these ideas should be engaged and that Lotta was "taking on all comers" and they should come with their questions. He agreed to take a small stack of flyers.
In another interesting reflection of the times, a business student from Japan looked at our flyer and said that he really didn't think socialism was right, that he liked and agreed with capitalism, including morally—but he added, "there is this big crisis right now with the U.S. banks and that makes me think—without that I would not even be talking to you." And after promising to seriously consider coming to hear Lotta, he said that he had to run—he smiled and said he had to go attend a lecture on business economics.
The more we got out there with the table—the better and sharper our agitation (which focused around come hear Raymond Lotta, and the title of his talk), and the more of a scene we created the more students took our flyers and came forward to engage with us. We summed up at one point that for the program to be a success we needed to enlist many students to be part of this—and that many of these would not take this up on the basis of anything close to full agreement with Lotta, but on the basis of recognizing the importance of understanding the failure of capitalism, beginning to confront the lies told about communism, and revolutionary solutions, they could take up bringing others to this event. And we have started to enlist people to do just that.
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Revolution #178, October 4, 2009
Think you know about communism and capitalism? Then take this quiz...and think again.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
4:00 pm - 6:30 pm
Lipman Room, 8th floor of Barrows Hall on
the UC Berkeley campus
(Barrow Lane & Eshleman Road)
Contact Revolution Books Berkeley 510-848-1196
NYU, New York City
Monday, October 26, 2009 7:00 pm - 9:30 pm
Cantor Film Center- NYU, 36 E. 8th Street, NYC
Contact Revolution Books NYC 212-691-3345
UCLA, Los Angeles
Thursday, October 29
UCLA: Humanities Building Auditorium, on "A" level
For more information call: Libros Revolucion at 213-488-1303
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Revolution #178, October 4, 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 #178, October 4, 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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