Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
The following is an updated, shortened version of an article posted at revcom.us on January 19:
Think about it: A whole city that once had two million people. Now, mile after mile of buildings are collapsed after a huge earthquake. Many, many bodies sandwiched between layers of heavy concrete slabs lying in huge heaps. But thousands, still alive, trapped, are crying out. But help from the outside doesn't arrive and desperate relatives dig at the rubble with their bare hands. Amazingly, even after three days, human voices are still emanating from the ruins. But then, there are fewer and they are softer. Eventually a deafening quiet surrounds the crumbled buildings as the city of Port-au-Prince becomes a vast tomb.
One woman has been hitting the concrete with a broom. She believes her four missing relatives are buried inside. But her hope eventually turns to grief. "There's no more life here," she says.
In New York City, in the Haitian community of East Flatbush, many hearts ache with intense sorrow and worry, not knowing if their loved ones in Haiti are dead or alive. A young woman says, "I've been crying for three days. This is the first time I've been out of the house." In a laundromat two older women sit waiting for their clothes to dry, staring up at TV scenes of the carnage in the city that was once their home. They look to be in a state of shock and softly say they have been trying to call home but no phones are working so they have no idea what has happened to their family.
No human being could have stopped the earthquake that hit with such killing force on January 12. But so many of the people who have already perished DID NOT HAVE TO DIE.
Thousands who in fact could have been saved died because the United States—the richest and most powerful country in the world—failed to provide such aid in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. In fact, the survivors who against all odds were rescued only underscores how many more people could have been saved—but instead died—because the U.S. did not do everything possible to get rescue teams and equipment to Haiti right away. This amounts to nothing less than mass murder.
The Economist wrote: "[T]he majority of victims did not perish during the 35-second tremor. Ted Constan of Partners in Health, an American NGO, says that some 200,000 people were probably injured or trapped but not killed by the quake. He estimates that an additional 25,000 of them have died on each day that has passed since the tremor, as a result of treatable ailments such as bleeding, dehydration, suffocation and infection." (economist.com, January 18, 2010)
But U.S. efforts have NOT been focused on organizing and helping to facilitate the thousands of medical people, rescue workers, and others from the U.S. and around the world who want to help. Instead the U.S. has mainly concentrated on occupying Haiti with thousands of soldiers.
The U.S. quickly took control of the Port-au-Prince airport. And this has been a key way that the U.S. has prevented food and medicine from being delivered.
In the crucial days right after the earthquake, the U.S. was not only not delivering aid but actually sabotaging the efforts of others who were urgently trying to get medicine, food, water and teams of doctors and rescue workers into Haiti.
UNICEF tried to send a plane full of medical kits, blankets and tents, but was denied permission to land and was forced to return to Panama. On Saturday, January 16, the World Food Program was finally able to land airplanes with food, medicine and water—after being diverted for two days so that the U.S. could land troops and equipment, and lift Americans and other foreigners to safety. Jarry Emmanuel, the air logistics officer for the agency's Haiti effort, said, "There are 200 flights going in and out every day, which is an incredible amount for a country like Haiti. But most of those flights are for the United States military."
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a statement demanding that priority must be given immediately to planes carrying lifesaving equipment and medical personnel. This was in response to the fact that an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince on Saturday. It was re-routed to Samaná in the Dominican Republic and the material then had to be sent by truck from Samaná. It needs to be asked—how many people died because of this 48-hour delay in the arrival of the mobile hospital?
Twelve days after the earthquake there are still reports that tons of food, water and medical supplies are stacked at the airport but not getting to the people who need them.
The U.S. media and government narrative has been that the real problem is the danger of looting and chaos. This is being used, in effect, to blame the Haitian people themselves for the U.S. delay in delivering aid.
But here it needs to be asked: What is the definition of "looting" in an extreme crisis like this? Is it a crime for people who are desperately in need of food and water to go inside a store and get what they need? Should people be shot if, in the midst of a total breakdown of commerce and services, they take what they need to prevent themselves and their children from dying?
And the actual truth is that the whole time the U.S. has been saying this, there has been very little violence among the people. Instead, and despite getting no help, the masses of people have been working together to try and rescue people, digging at the rubble with their bare hands, trying to tend to the injured and help each other survive. There were reports of many Haitians walking from other areas of Haiti for hours to get to Port-au-Prince to help people. It was the Haitian people themselves—many who were injured—who did everything they could in the first life-and-death 72 hours to save those who were trapped under the rubble—while the U.S. was not even on the scene.
When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Port-au-Prince on Saturday, January 16, she argued for an emergency decree in Haiti that would allow the imposition of curfews and martial-law conditions by U.S. forces. Clinton explained: "The decree would give the government an enormous amount of authority, which in practice they would delegate to us."
On Friday, January 15, two military officials were quoted in the press explaining that U.S. forces in Haiti will be operating under an adaptation of standard military rules of engagement—which means they can shoot people in self-defense. As the January 13 statement from Revolution (p. 3) said: "The Haitian People Need Emergency Assistance—NOT Suppression and Further Domination!"
On January 22, Amy Goodman reported that preparations were being made for a massive relocation of survivors from Port-au-Prince; that some 400,000 people will be moved to camps outside the city. She went on to say: "As thousands of well-equipped U.S. soldiers pour into Haiti, there is an increasing concern about the militarization of the country, supporting the soldiers and not the people. Or, as one doctor put it, 'We need gauze, not guns.' Relief workers continue to report dire shortages of food, aid and medical supplies, amidst fears the dire conditions will spark outbreaks of infectious disease."
The U.S. has put in place a naval blockade and announced that Haitians trying to get to the U.S. in this crisis will not qualify for TPS (Temporary Protected Status)—which means they will be deported immediately. Homeland Security announced it would move 400 detainees from the Krome detention facility to an undisclosed location, to free up space in case any Haitians manage to reach U.S. shores.
The U.S. has tremendous resources to take in all the people trying to leave such a horrible and unlivable situation. But instead it is already getting tents ready for Haitian refugees at the U.S. military facility in Guantánamo—just on the other side of the base where the U.S. has been torturing people.
The U.S. is giving—or at least has promised—just enough aid so it cannot be criticized as it was after the Sri Lanka tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But even this was not delivered in the most crucial days right after the earthquake. As Toby O'Ryan asks in his article, "Seven Questions on Haiti" (online at revcom.us): "Are you giving this aid in such small amounts and so slowly because you are more concerned to maintain the repressive government authority in Haiti than you are about meeting the urgent and immediate needs of the Haitian people by getting the aid directly to the people and allowing them to collectively organize to distribute it in a time of crisis, when the ordinary authorities are not totally in control?"
The hearts of people around the world ached as they watched the horror unfold in Haiti. Contributions of money, medicine and supplies have been pouring in. And thousands have been trying to come to the aid of the Haitian people. Doctors, rescue teams, relief workers and ordinary people are all coming at this situation from the starting point of the urgent need to save human lives. People might ask, what could be more simple than recognizing that people are dying, they need help, and especially rich countries with so many resources should do all they can to save lives?
But all the evidence shows that saving lives is NOT the concern and calculus governing the actions of the U.S. in its response to this horrible human tragedy.
Its response to the earthquake in Haiti shows that first and foremost what the U.S. is concerned with is maintaining the status quo of existing oppressive economic control over Haiti and the repressive political relations required to enforce that. It is concerned with keeping control and stabilizing the situation so things don't develop in a way that threatens U.S. domination. It is concerned with preventing uncontrolled immigration to the United States. It is acting to safeguard and further its economic and geopolitical interests in the Caribbean region. Every move the U.S. is making in Haiti right now is governed by these cold imperialist calculations—not regard for human life. When the U.S. Marines take control of the airport in Port-au-Prince, the message is: The U.S. is in charge and we're going to be setting the terms for everything that goes on here.
With the eyes of the world on Haiti, many people are seeing how intense poverty severely multiplied the earthquake's toll. People need to ask, WHY is Haiti so poor? And WHY did you have a city like Port-au-Prince where so many people were so vulnerable to the devastating effects of such an earthquake?
First of all, Haiti is poor and impoverished because of a long history of U.S. domination and oppression. U.S. Marines invaded and occupied Haiti from 1915 until 1934. The U.S. seized land and distributed it to American corporations. And the heroic resistance that arose against the U.S. was brutally crushed. Starting in 1957 the U.S. propped up the pro-U.S. dictatorial Duvalier governments—first Papa and then Baby Doc Duvalier—and the murderous Haitian military, along with the Tonton Macoute gangs that terrorized the people. After popular uprisings ousted these dictators the U.S. maneuvered and intervened—opposing any forces that threatened U.S. interests and working to keep a puppet government in power. In 2004, the U.S. was directly involved in overthrowing the popularly elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. (For more on this history see "The U.S. in Haiti: A Century of Domination and Misery," pp. 8-9.) Through all this, the economic and social structures of Haiti have been distorted and geared toward serving the needs of foreign, especially U.S., investments. All this is why Haiti is so poor and dependent.
Over 80 percent of people in Haiti live in abject poverty. Over half the population lives on less than a dollar a day. Over 80 percent of the people do not get the minimum daily ration of food as defined by the World Health Organization. Less than 45 percent have access to potable water. Life expectancy in Haiti is 53 years. Only one in every 100,000 Haitians has had access to a physician.
Speaking of the U.S. role in Haiti, Bill Quigley, Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said: "We have kept the country dependent. We have kept the country militarized. And we kept the country impoverished. We have dumped our excess rice, our excess farm produce and that stuff on the country, thereby undercutting the small farmers who would make up the backbone of the place... We didn't create the earthquake, but we created some of the circumstances that made the earthquake so devastating...." (Democracy Now!, January 14, 2010)
The extremely impoverished conditions of Haiti, including the lack of infrastructure—that created a situation in which the earthquake was so devastating—is due to the long history of U.S. domination.
Thirty years ago the Haitians subsisted on corn, sweet potatoes, cassava and domestic rice—along with domestic pigs and other livestock production. Then in 1986 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loaned Haiti $24.6 million—but only on the condition that Haiti reduce tariff protections on Haitian rice, other agricultural products and some industries. This was aimed at opening up the country's markets to competition from outside countries. Haitian farmers could not compete with rice growers in the U.S., who were being subsidized by the U.S. government. Some of the cheap rice that flooded into Haiti was in the form of "food aid." The local rice market in Haiti collapsed and thousands of farmers were forced to move to the cities to look for work.
Around this same time the U.S. insisted that the Haitian peasantry do away with its huge and valuable pig population—due to a supposed threat to the U.S. pig population.
In 1994 the U.S. made it possible for Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been forced out of the country, to resume his presidency—but only on the condition that he implement IMF and World Bank policies aimed at opening Haiti's markets even more to international trade.
This is how Haiti's agriculture was destroyed and how it became dependent on imported food, especially rice from the U.S. And in only a few decades hundreds of thousands of people were driven from the rural areas into Port-au-Prince—and forced to live in the most impoverished living conditions, where unemployment in some areas is as high as 90%.
Port-au-Prince used to have only 50,000 people in the 1950s. But when the earthquake hit, over two million people lived in this capital city, many in shantytowns, substandard housing, schools and other buildings that collapsed because they were so badly and cheaply built.
Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, talked about why so many people lived on the hillsides where they were vulnerable to the effects of an earthquake: "They got there because they or their parents or grandparents were pushed out of Haiti's countryside, where most Haitians used to live. And they were pushed out of there by policies thirty years ago, when it was decided by the international experts that Haiti's economic salvation lay in assembly manufacture plants. And in order to advance that, it was decided that Haiti needed to have a captive labor force in the cities. So a whole bunch of aid policies, trade policies and political policies were implemented, designed to move people from the countryside to places like Martissant and the hills—hillsides that we've seen in those photos [of the devastation]." (Democracy Now!, January 14, 2010)
In the wake of this huge tragedy in Haiti, the U.S. continues to press forward its plans to further dominate and exploit the Haitian people. Obama put George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in charge of U.S. aid to Haiti. Bush's resume for this job is that he is the one who presided over the crimes against the people in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Bill Clinton's credentials are that he is the point man for a much-praised plan for Haiti that involves setting up tourist areas and sweatshops where Haitians will be paid 38 cents an hour.
If you really want to talk about looting—and on a grand scale—this is what Bill Clinton had to say after the earthquake: "Once we deal with the immediate crisis, the development plans the world was already pursuing have to be implemented more quickly and on a broader scale. I'm interested in just pressing ahead with it. Haiti isn't doomed. Let's not forget, the damage from the earthquake is largely concentrated in the Port-au-Prince area. That has meant a tragic loss of life, but it also means there are opportunities to rebuild in other parts of the island. So all the development projects, the agriculture, the reforestation, the tourism, the airport that needs to be built in the northern part of Haiti—everything else should stay on schedule. Then we should simply redouble our efforts once the emergency passes to do the right sort of construction in Port-au-Prince and use it to continue to build back better."
In other words, Clinton now sees the massive destruction in Haiti as an opportunity to press forward with his plans for setting up profitable sweatshops and tourist areas.
The earthquake has revealed even more powerfully that the Haitian people urgently need a revolution. A revolution to kick out the U.S. and other imperialist countries, that overthrows the Haitian ruling class tied to and serving imperialism—all of whom created the impoverished conditions that made this natural disaster so unnaturally devastating. A revolution that rids Haiti of a system that sees such a horrible tragedy as an opportunity to tighten the chains of control and exploitation. A revolution that sets out to build a socialist society with the aim of a communist world.
The system of capitalism-imperialism will not and cannot put human lives before the necessity to preserve its ability to dominate and profit. But things don't have to be this way.
As the RCP's statement, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" (Revolution #170, July 19, 2009) says:
"It is this system that has got us in the situation we're in today, and keeps us there. And it is through revolution to get rid of this system that we ourselves can bring a much better system into being. The ultimate goal of this revolution is communism: A world where people work and struggle together for the common good...Where everyone contributes whatever they can to society and gets back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings...Where there are no more divisions among people in which some rule over and oppress others, robbing them not only of the means to a decent life but also of knowledge and a means for really understanding, and acting to change, the world."
A huge earthquake would be a huge struggle and a complex challenge for any society, including a new revolutionary society. I will be writing more about this in Revolution newspaper. But here are some initial points on how a socialist society would treat such an event completely differently than what the U.S. is doing in Haiti:
There would be an urgent need for leadership to mobilize the people to deal with everything from conducting relief and dealing with severe health needs to maintaining the cohesion and functioning of society. The utter devastation of infrastructure would be a big problem to solve—but this would not be fettered by the demands of profit and empire that today stand in the way of dealing with the crisis in Haiti. Society's resources, most especially the knowledge, creativity and bravery of the people, would be mobilized and organized immediately to do everything possible to save lives. The outpouring of support from people around the world would be facilitated, not sabotaged—while guarding against attempts by imperialist powers to take advantage of such a disaster to weaken and overthrow the new society. Scientists would play a role in understanding and predicting earthquakes, and together with the masses, figuring out ways to prepare for such a disaster. In the construction of buildings, safety would be a premium concern—not increasing profitability by using cheap materials. In Haiti we have seen the tremendous heroism and spirit of the people coming together to do everything they can to help each other out. A socialist society would fully appreciate and rely on such efforts. And in a revolutionary society tens of thousands would not have to die needlessly as is happening in Haiti today.
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Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
January 13, 2010
From the Editors of Revolution,
The world's eyes are riveted on scenes of horror in Haiti. The world's hearts are straining. People everywhere are trying to support the Haitian people in any way they can. Meanwhile, the clock ticks very urgently, as people literally die beneath the rubble and perish on the streets as well for lack of medical care, water, food, and shelter.
The means exist to rescue and aid the Haitian people! These must be made immediately available by the governments of the world and, first and foremost, the United States. While some governments have sent doctors and other forms of aid, as of Thursday morning the United States has focused on sending paratroopers and militarily securing the area. While Obama has now promised $100 million, the U.S. government is above all concerned with ensuring the continuation of the repressive government order and controlling and/or suppressing the initiative and efforts of masses to deal with this horrible situation. ($100 million is less than 1/10 of 1% of U.S. yearly military expenses in Iraq and Afghanistan.) The U.S. government must immediately focus its resources on getting aid directly to the Haitian people, putting supplies on the ground and marshaling the many doctors, engineers, construction workers, etc. who work for the government, as well as the many many people who would volunteer to help any way that they could. THIS IS A HUMANITARIAN EMERGENCY, AND MUST BE DEALT WITH AS SUCH.
The Haitian people themselves must be assisted, and not suppressed. The media – just as it did in Katrina – is already portraying the Haitian people as animals and criminals. In fact, the masses in Haiti – as they did in New Orleans during Katrina – are in the main mobilizing to collectively deal with their situation. These efforts must be supported in all aid programs, and there must be no suppression by the U.S. troops of those who are trying with all their might to save themselves and their people. Volunteers coming from other countries must be assisted by the governments now sending aid to Haiti, and not suppressed.
History shows that there will be, and must be, a struggle against this system to demand that the needs of the masses actually be met and that there NOT be suppression of the masses. As part of this:
There must be no harassment, prosecution or deportation of Haitian immigrants within the U.S. attempting to locate, or aid, their loved ones and friends. Instead, government assistance must be made available to those trying to communicate to the island with a guarantee of at least temporary amnesty for any attempting to go through U.S. government agencies to do so.
There must be no attacks on Haitian people attempting to flee their situation through boats. Instead, the Coast Guard must help people attempting to flee to safety and if they are trying to get to the U.S., must help them do so.
The disaster in Haiti is neither the result of the so-called "will of God" nor the fault of the Haitian people. It is the result of centuries of imperialist domination, occupation and isolation. The news reports talk about Haiti's poverty, but they don't tell you why Haiti is so poor. Very few people know that Haiti was the scene of the only successful slave revolution in history – when the heroic descendants of African slaves drove out the strongest army in the world at that time, the French. Very few people know that the world's powers – especially the U.S., which at that time feared the influence of Haiti on the slaves in this country, and France – embarked on a policy of isolating and impoverishing Haiti. Very few people know that for nearly 20 years in the early 1900's the U.S. marines occupied Haiti, suppressing a liberation struggle and implanting puppets. Very few people know that the U.S. backed the infamously cruel tyrant "Papa Doc" Duvalier, and then his son "Baby Doc," in the middle of the century. And all too few know that it then conspired to overthrow the popular president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the 1990's and then again in 2004. All these criminal actions – this long criminal history of oppression – flowed from the economic and political needs of the U.S. ruling classes during the time when the U.S. was run, first, by a coalition of capitalist and slave-holding classes, and then more recently by the ruling capitalist-imperialist class. Throughout the last two centuries, the U.S. has backed up reactionary ruling classes within Haiti as part of this.
In other words, the fact that the Haitian people live in terrible conditions and now must face this disaster with little resources other than their own hands and minds, and up against an extremely repressive set of social relations, is the result of a worldwide system. As the message "The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have," from the RCP,USA puts it:
Throughout the world, as a result of this system, a billion people or more go hungry every day...with many facing the threat of starvation. Hundreds of millions of children are forced to work like slaves and to live in putrid slums, in the midst of garbage and human waste. Waves of immigrants, unable to live in their own homelands, travel the earth in search of work--and if they find it, they are worked until they can hardly stand and are forced into the shadows, with the constant fear that they will be deported and their families broken apart. Growing numbers of people cannot find work at all now, with many losing their homes as well as their jobs, while others are worked even more mercilessly. Everyone is lured and driven to consume more and more, at the cost of ever mounting debt and the loss of any sense of larger purpose or meaning to life or any deeper connection with other human beings. Many are being pushed to the edge...growing numbers are going over the edge, often lashing out in crazed desperation.
Now this system makes a terrible disaster even worse. Imperialism, of course, did not cause the earthquake. But the system of imperialism dictates how that earthquake is responded to and dealt with.
In sum: this is NOT the best of all possible worlds. We do NOT have to live this way. To again quote the message:
And it is through revolution to get rid of this system that we ourselves can bring a much better system into being. The ultimate goal of this revolution is communism: A world where people work and struggle together for the common good...Where everyone contributes whatever they can to society and gets back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings....Where there are no more divisions among people in which some rule over and oppress others, robbing them not only of the means to a decent life but also of knowledge and a means for really understanding, and acting to change, the world.
As we work and struggle side by side to fight for the urgent demands of the Haitian people, we call on people to also engage with us in discussion on why things ARE the way they are, and wrangling over how to get to a whole different, and much better, world and to get into the work that our leader, Bob Avakian, has been doing on the kind of revolution we need and the ways that such a revolution could be made.
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Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
EDITED TRANSCRIPT OF A TALK BY BOB AVAKIAN, CHAIRMAN OF THE REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNIST PARTY, USA, FALL 2009
[Editors' note: The following is the seventh in a series of excerpts from the text of a talk by Bob Avakian in Fall 2009, which is being serialized in Revolution. The first six excerpts appeared in Revolution #184, #185, #186, #187, #188, and #189. The entire talk can be found online at revcom.us/avakian/driving.]
The last point I want to speak to, in this first part of this talk—under the general heading "Once More on the Coming Civil War... and Repolarization for Revolution"—is the importance of what's captured in the metaphor of the multi-layered, multi-colored map. This metaphor is speaking to the fact that the development of a revolutionary movement is not a simple and linear process. It is not one which is going to be built in an essentially economist way by going to oppressed and exploited people and appealing to them on the narrowest of bases, and in fact deluding them, or reinforcing illusions along the lines of thinking, that it's possible to redress and address their conditions, their oppression and their fundamental needs and interests, under the present system. But a revolutionary movement also isn't going to be built by just going to the lower and deeper sections of the proletariat with the notion—or really the illusion—that they are going to come forward in a straight line and basically in a self-contained way to take up the position of revolution and communism, and then that in turn will by itself, or in a linear sequence of events, lead to winning over many of the middle strata. Building a movement for revolution is a much more complex process in which there has to be a correct synergy between what we've called the "two maximizings": maximizing the development of a political movement and a revolutionary current, with communism at its core, among the basic masses, including what's embodied in "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution," while also doing essentially the same thing among the middle strata and developing the correct synergy—or the dialectical interplay back and forth—between these two elements, maximizing each of these aspects and the development of the revolutionary movement overall.
As we have very correctly and importantly emphasized, only in doing this will it be possible to bring forward a revolutionary force among any section of the people; this cannot be done in boxed off and self-contained ways. Society doesn't exist and reality generally doesn't exist in that way, with self-contained compartments—and therefore neither can the building of a revolutionary movement proceed in that way.
At the same time, what is being gotten at with this metaphor of a multi-layered, multi-colored map is that there are contradictory trends and tendencies—or, if you will, strengths and weaknesses—among different sections of the people. This is not to deny the basic and bedrock role of the most exploited and oppressed sections of society as the backbone of the revolutionary movement. But it is to emphasize once again that all this will not be a straight line and simple process.
For example, if we look at the "social and political configuration" today, one of the reasons why it's unfavorable is that you have a certain strain of enlightenment among the democratic intellectuals, in opposition to religious obscurantism and other kinds of reactionary, even lunatic, political trends and expressions; but there is at the same time a great deal of paralysis among these democratic intellectuals, and similar "progressive middle strata," including for the reason that these people don't want to get "outside of their comfort zone" and, to a significant degree for that reason, they resist pursuing to their logical conclusion many of their own positive inclinations. They are not going to be the first and most decisive force to move to take on everything that has to be taken on, even as we have to continually—and, in a certain sense, unrelentingly—work among them, and struggle in a good way with them, to win them to do that.
On the other hand, among Black people and Latinos and other basic masses, there is very deep hatred for oppression, a certain recognition of the ways in which they are oppressed in this society and of the fact that the dominant forces in this society regard them as having no value, other than to exploit them when that is profitable or to utilize them in wars; that these ruling forces would just as soon kill off many of them as do anything else with them—or even better, from the standpoint of the ruling class, get them to kill each other. But, at the same time, there is among these basic masses a great deal of confusion and even some wrong inclinations or tendencies around a number of decisive questions, including questions of "enlightenment"—in other words, tendencies to be deep into religion and even religious fundamentalism, which has a very strong pull, particularly in today's circumstances, among the basic masses—Black masses, Latinos and others.
If you look at this just in terms of what is apparent on the surface, it can definitely seem like the worst of all worlds. But if you grasp the multi-layered, multi-colored map metaphor and what it is speaking to, you can understand the ways in which precisely—and, in fact, only—on the basis of a revolutionary communist line and the work of forces dedicated to the revolutionary cause on the basis of that line, there is the potential for repolarization, for the moving of the plates (to use a geological metaphor) and a realignment in line with the fundamental interests of the exploited and oppressed masses; and there is a basis to win over broad sections of the middle strata in line with those interests. Through the lens of this metaphor, you can see the possibility and potential for this, through all the contradictory motion that will be involved.
A phrase here is important in confronting the present situation, a phrase that another leading comrade of our party has been giving voice to a number of times: "It is what it is." What's out there in society and the world is what we have to deal with. You can go out there and run into all kinds of difficulties, including backward ideas and trends among all these different sections of people that I've been speaking about. We know that the basic masses, besides religion, are caught up in a lot of other bad shit, because of the conditions that they are subjected to under this system and because of the logic, dynamics and momentum of how this system operates—and not fundamentally for any other reason. But "it is what it is." At the same time, however, especially in today's situation—in order to fully reflect reality in its contradictory character and motion, and in order not to encourage the already existing and far too prevalent determinism and defeatism among many who are opposed to the way things are—we must immediately add: "and it can be transformed."
It is what it is... and it can be transformed—through struggle.
What is being emphasized in this formulation is the materialist approach of proceeding from the objective conditions that we have to work with—and work on and transform—and that there is, within those same objective conditions, the material basis—not a certainty, not some supernatural process or force, but an actual objective material basis—which makes possible repolarization for revolution.
All this underscores very sharply the crucial strategic importance of repolarization: working on those objective conditions, and working and struggling with people, to transform them in radical ways, not in line with some idealist dream or utopian vision but in line with the actual material reality that exists and, as a crucial part of that material reality, the fundamental interests of the masses of people here and all over the world, which lie with revolution and the ultimate goal of communism.
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Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
In the wake of the earthquake, the U.S. is posing as the greatest friend of Haiti. But the whole history of the U.S. in Haiti shows just the opposite.
The native people of the island of Hispaniola (what is today Haiti and the Dominican Republic) were exterminated by the Spanish conquerors in the 1500s and 1600s. In the 18th century, the French colonialists who took over Haiti set up a system of slavery so harsh it was assumed new slaves would die from overwork. The blood of slaves poured into the capitalist world markets of coffee and sugar, making Haiti the most profitable colony in the world.
In 1791, Toussaint L'Ouverture led a slave rebellion which over 13 years defeated, in succession, the slave-owners of Haiti, armies from Spain and Britain (who saw the revolt as an opportunity to seize Haiti for themselves), and then the army of Napoleon, the French leader who at that time had conquered most of Europe.1 Toussaint was captured after agreeing to negotiate a peace with the French, and taken back to France in chains, where he died in prison. But the rebellion flared up until Haiti was independent, and slavery abolished. This was the first and only successful slave revolution in history.2
The Haitian Revolution set off a panic among the rulers of the U.S. and the European powers, who refused to recognize the new Haitian Republic. The French navy imposed a total embargo on Haiti. In 1805 the French foreign minister wrote to U.S. Secretary of State James Madison that "The existence of a Negro people in arms, occupying a country it has soiled by the most criminal acts, is a horrible spectacle for all white nations."3 The U.S. honored the embargo and refused to recognize, assist or trade with Haiti.
The embargo had a crippling impact on the island nation, whose agriculture had been devastated by warfare. It remained in effect until 1825, when France agreed to end it, in return for a Haitian commitment to "compensate" them for the loss of their "property"—i.e., their SLAVES.This "debt" was set at 150 million francs—roughly the annual French budget.4 Haiti was forcibly enmeshed in a network of debt and deep poverty. In the late 1800s, debt payments amounted to 80% of the Haitian budget.5
In the 20th century, the U.S. asserted itself as the dominant power in its "backyard." In 1915 it invaded and occupied Haiti. U.S. Marines went straight to the Haitian national bank and removed its gold reserves to Citibank in New York City. The Haitian constitution was rewritten to allow foreign ownership of Haitian property; land was seized from small peasants to create large plantations;6 the economy was reorganized so that 40% of Haiti's gross domestic product flowed to U.S. banks.7
The Haitian people fiercely resisted the occupation in a series of revolts which the U.S. military ruthlessly crushed, murdering leaders, burning villages to the ground and killing 15-30,000 Haitians.8 The occupiers did not leave until 1934, leaving behind the brutal, U.S.-trained, Haitian National Army to repress the people.
In 1957, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier came to power in a fraudulent election and set up his own army of thugs—the Tontons Macoutes. The Duvalierist reign of terror—supported and backed by the U.S.—killed roughly 50,000 people.9
When Papa Doc died in 1971, U.S. warships were stationed just off the coast of Haiti to oversee a smooth transition of power to Duvalier's son, Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc"). Baby Doc was closely associated with the "American Plan," 10 which explicitly aimed to cut the ground out from under peasant agriculture by large-scale imports of cheaper U.S. goods, driving hundreds of thousands of peasants into the cities and shantytowns, desperate for work in U.S.-owned assembly plants being set up by the likes of Disney and Kmart, which paid workers 11 cents an hour to make pajamas and t-shirts.11
In 1985-86 a powerful uprising swept Haiti, forcing the U.S. to rescue Baby Doc and fly him to the French Riviera, in order to preserve their basic control of the country through the Haitian Army. A series of military governments followed, known to Haitians as "Duvalierism without Duvalier." In 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a radical priest and a leader of the Ti Legliz ("Little Church," the Haitian expression of the Liberation Theology movement) and of the anti-Duvalierist movement, was elected president. Though Aristide did not have a plan to break out of the framework of U.S. domination, he was not totally subservient to it nor to the pro-U.S. local ruling classes and repeatedly clashed with them over both foreign and domestic policy. Haitian reactionaries hated him, the U.S. saw him as "unreliable" and from even before his inauguration worked to overthrow him.12 On September 30, 1991, after just nine months in office, the CIA collaborated with local military forces to stage a bloody coup d'état, and in ensuing waves of repression unleashed soldiers and Macoutes to rip up the networks of mass organization, especially in slums like Cité Soleil, that were Aristide's base of support. Thousands of his supporters were killed, up to 300,000 went into hiding, and another 60,000 fled the island in makeshift boats.13
But this did not quell resistance or establish a "stable environment" for the U.S., so in 1994 the U.S. brokered a deal to restore Aristide to office, returning him from exile on a U.S. warship, accompanied by 20,000 U.S. troops who proceeded to protect the violent paramilitaries from the people and allow them to keep their arms, while they reorganized the army to more effectively suppress the people. The troops remained for over a year. The terms of a deal (known as the Governors Island accords) was that Aristide abandon all resistance to the U.S. plan for Haiti and to the Haitian Army and ruling class.14
Aristide largely honored this agreement but continued to fight for whatever concessions he could find, which the U.S. found unacceptable. On February 29, 2004, after many months of political and military preparation in which the U.S. was directly involved (through the CIA and the International Republican Institute—IRI) a second coup was carried out. The U.S. military literally kidnapped Aristide and his family and put him on a plane to the Central African Republic, where he was kept as a new regime consolidated.15 By March 1, hundreds of U.S. Marines again controlled the capital, and new waves of attacks, often by U.S. soldiers, were unleashed on the people. In June they were replaced by a force of 7,000 UN troops (mainly Brazilian) who have been cited by Human Rights groups as widely practicing "Summary Executions."
From that time until the earthquake, there has been no serious challenge to U.S. economic, political and military control of Haiti.
1. In an inspiring example of internationalism, many European troops—including a whole battalion from Poland—deserted to the Haitian Revolution when they realized that they were fighting to restore slavery. [Damning the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment, Peter Hallward, Verso, London, 2007, p. 350, note 45.] [back]
2. The U.S. initially supported Napoleon; then-President Thomas Jefferson told the French that "nothing will be easier than to furnish your army and fleet with everything and reduce Toussaint to starvation." Later, as it became clear that Napoleon saw Haiti as a stepping stone to rivaling U.S. control of North America, the U.S. withdrew active support and took a position of neutrality. ["Haiti's Tragic History Is Entwined with the Story of America," Robert Parry, Consortium News, January 15, 2010.] [back]
3. Bellegarde-Smith, Breached Citadel, p. 65, cited in Hallward, P. 14. [back]
4. Hallward, p. 12. [back]
5. Hallward, p. 12. [back]
6. Hallward, p. 14. [back]
7. "The Haitian Earthquake: Made in USA," a syndicated column by Ted Rall, January 13, 2010. [back]
8. Alex Dupuy, Prophet and Power, p. 39, cited in Hallward, p. 15. [back]
9. Hallward, p. 15. [back]
10. The "American Plan" is not a loose term, but refers to an actual plan for the "development" of Haiti drawn up by U.S. AID in the late '70s. [back]
11. Hallward, p. 5. [back]
12. Hallward's book documents this in great depth. [back]
13. Hallward, p. 40. [back]
14. Hallward, P. 48-49 and elsewhere. "... the accords gave Cédras [the General who led the coup] almost everything he wanted in return for a promise to restore democratic rule." [back]
15. See Hallward, Chapter 9, "The Second Coup", pp 200—249. [back]
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Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
First, six questions for the politicians, generals, commentators and columnists who now profess such deep sympathy for Haiti:
ONE: If you are so concerned about the catastrophe in Haiti, and feel so sympathetic to the terrible plight of the Haitian people, then why has President Obama promised a mere $100 million in aid, which is barely 1/10 of 1% of what this country spends on its military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq each year? Why has it taken so long for the most powerful country on earth, a mere few hundred miles from Haiti, to deliver the badly needed teams and technology which can remove people from rubble, the fresh water which people so desperately need, the food and medicine and medical personnel so urgently required? And why does the U.S. Coast Guard still insist on turning back any Haitian attempting to seek refuge in the U.S.?
Are you really so concerned? Or are you in fact giving just enough so that America cannot be criticized for its callousness as it was after the tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina? And are you giving this aid in such small amounts and so slowly because you are more concerned to maintain the repressive government authority in Haiti than you are about meeting the urgent and immediate needs of the Haitian people by getting the aid directly to the people and allowing them to collectively organize to distribute it in a time of crisis, when the ordinary authorities are not totally in control? Are you thereby, despite your professions of sympathy and urgency, sacrificing lives to the maintenance of the repressive social order you back in Haiti?
TWO: If you are so concerned about Haitian "political culture," if you are so desirous of "helping Haitian democracy..." – then tell us WHY you supported a collection of gangsters, military men and proven torturers in their overthrow of the popularly elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 2004? Why did the U.S. armed forces kidnap Aristide, flying him into exile in Africa, against his will? Why did the U.S. support the ban on the political organization led by Aristide – Lavalas – and why does the U.S. still insist on banning this organization and preventing Aristide from returning to Haiti to mobilize this group to help deal with the suffering now going on?
Are you really concerned to "spread democracy"? Or is it really the case that your system is NOT about "spreading democracy," but creating structures and instruments for capitalist exploitation and imperialist domination?
THREE: If your army is now the main vehicle you are using to deliver aid, then please inform us as to how this army will be different than the one you used to invade, occupy and dominate Haiti from 1915 to 1934? How will it act differently than that army did, when it militarily suppressed the Caco uprising of peasants, an uprising which demanded an end to the occupation and, in some cases, more equitable agricultural relations in Haiti's countryside? How will it act differently than the army which enslaved Haitian people to work on its projects and bases, and which then forced a constitution, and a new ruling elite, down Haiti's throat during that occupation? And how will it be different than the one which gave assistance and training to the military of the hated tyrants Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier? Indeed, how will it be different than the army that now rages through Afghanistan and Iraq, kicking down doors and killing from the air, and imprisoning and torturing people without charges by the thousand in prisons like Bagram?
Will your army really be used only for aid and assistance? Or is it really the case that the army that defends and fights for your system will, in the guise of delivering aid, actually suppress the will and efforts of the Haitian people to deal with this crisis and their overall situation, and will carry out this suppression with maximum brutality and no mercy whatsoever, in order to further dominate them?
FOUR: If you are so sympathetic about how Haiti has been deforested and turned into an ecological disaster area, how its agriculture has been ruined, how it now has half of its population in a city where in some sections unemployment runs as high as 90% (!), then how did it come to be that it was the U.S. itself which insisted that the Haitian peasantry do away with its huge and valuable pig population back in the 1980s, due to some supposed threat to the U.S. pig population...and how did it happen that U.S. agribusiness during that same period dumped surplus rice into Haiti at below cost, and thereby severely crippled and in some senses ruined Haitian rice growers? And why does Bill Clinton's much-praised plan for Haiti, which we are told will bring hope to Haitians, actually involve setting up sweatshops in which Haitians will be paid 38 cents an hour?!
Do you really want to aid Haitians in developing self-sufficiency? Or is it really the case that America decided in the early 1980s to crush any elements of the economy in scores of oppressed countries, Haiti among them, which might be a basis for self-sufficiency, and to do so in a way that made the economies of these nations even more dependent on the needs and actions of the U.S. imperialist economic system, and that your plans now entail even more fully using the brutal and terrible impoverishment of the Haitian people as a way to pile up even higher profits?
FIVE: If you are so overwhelmingly concerned to just help Haiti, and criticize those who would speak of the U.S. role in creating the conditions that have made this disaster so much worse than it had to be, then why do you grant a megaphone to certifiably insane ignoramuses like Pat Robertson who claim that Haitians made a pact with the devil, or to vicious morons like Rush Limbaugh who stirs up hate and resentment against Haitians among his audience? Why do you have your think tanks like the Heritage Foundation write up ideas for using this disaster to even further take over and reshape the Haitian economy to imperialist needs, and then hurriedly have them remove this blueprint from their website once they are discovered? (Listen to Naomi Klein on Democracy Now!, 1/14/10) Why do your hired slime-merchants like David Brooks of the New York Times spout off about how the reason for Haiti's suffering is that its "culture" is inferior to that of the country which first, in 1804, isolated Haiti and put vicious economic sanctions on it for daring to rise up and overthrow slavery and French colonial domination (and this policy was the brainchild of that great American "father of democracy" Thomas Jefferson)...inferior to the country which invaded Haiti and occupied it and plundered it, backing tyrants and overthrowing (twice) popularly elected presidents...inferior, in other words, to the "culture" of the imperialist system for which Brooks so slavishly propagandizes?
Or are you in fact concerned only that some political explanations – those which point to the actions of your system – not be allowed out, but that other political explanations – those which blame the Haitian people and absolve American imperialism – be circulated 24/7?
SIX: If you are so eager for people to give to charity and want people to believe that such charity is more important than and should even trump mobilizing politically to fight for aid, then please explain how it came to be that the tons and tons of aid collected by people in 2008 to aid Haitians hit by a series of four hurricanes sat in a warehouse in New York for months, with food and medicine literally rotting there, as government officials shirked responsibility and went back on promises? Please, dear sirs and madames, explain how this won't be like so many other crises where the huge efforts of people to assist are channeled into ways that dissipate their feelings of solidarity, where governments make huge promises which then are never delivered, once the TV arc lights go away?
Or is this in fact just one more crisis for your system to snake its way through, distracting people from the root causes, taking their highest aspirations and channeling them into harmless dead ends, as your system continues to create conditions and preserve social relations which make the cost in human lives of such crises far beyond what they need to be?
And then, one question for the people:
When will we see through these lies and fight the power? When will we penetrate into, and show others, the root causes of the problems we face? And when will we build a movement to fight for a whole other way, a revolution, and bring in a new system and society – a communist revolution – that could actually put an end to the ways that these kinds of situations just amount to horror upon horror, agony upon agony, insult upon insult, trauma upon trauma?
Is NOW too soon to begin working to bring into being the conditions where such a revolution could be made? Or is it time, and past time, to be about this? And will YOU take what you have learned in your agonizing over this crisis and your activity to deal with it to join those who are dedicating themselves to this work?
Send us your comments.
Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
On his January 14 700 Club Christian Broadcasting Network television show, Christian fascist Pat Robertson offered his opinion on why the Haitian people were stricken by the devastating January 12 earthquake: "[S]omething happened a long time ago in Haiti and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. Napoleon the Third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you get us free from the French.' True story. And so the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' They kicked the French out, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor. ... They need to have, and we need to pray for them, a great turning to God."
So, according to Robertson, the Haitian people have only themselves to blame for the January 12 earthquake and the fact that "they have been cursed by one thing after the other" for two centuries. Why? Because from 1791-1804, the slaves there carried out an armed rebellion and—with no help from an imaginary devil—overthrew their French overlords and declared themselves a free people. (Why is it, by the way, that the Pat Robertsons of the world always proclaim that people who rise up against slavery in one form or another have made a "pact with the devil" and, by extension, that the slave masters and oppressors always have "god on their side"?)
Ever since, the people of Haiti have been made to pay for their defiance, including a murderous U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934, while today Haiti remains a destitute U.S. neo-colony, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere whose flimsy homes and buildings quickly crumbled when the earthquake struck, burying tens of thousands under the rubble and severely injuring many more.
This is the horror that Pat Robertson argues is of the Haitian people's own making. And this is the kind of reactionary utterances this Christian fascist has made many times before, in the service of empire. Here are a few of them:
Over the years, the U.S. mass media and ruling class politicians have treated Robertson's insane, and insanely reactionary, opinions as legitimate, and have given space for them in public discourse, even as they sometimes issue tepid criticism, wondering aloud whether he may at times go "too far" and be "off-color." Robertson's "pact with the devil" comments after the Haiti earthquake drew less-than-withering criticism from President Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, who told reporters that "at times of great crisis there are always people who say really stupid things." Are these merely "stupid things," Mr. Gibbs?
No, they are the views of a longtime apologist for the crimes against humanity committed by U.S. imperialism, and at the same time a well-connected political operative for the Christian fascist movement, which seeks to bring about a theocracy based on a literal interpretation of the Bible. This is a person who ran for president in 1998 and was considered a viable candidate.
At the same time, the U.S. media have directed much attention to how large numbers of Haitians have turned to god for an explanation of the earthquake. There have been reports of how tens of thousands of Haitians have been spending the nights in the streets, singing hymns and calling out the Gospel. The New York Times describes singing going on in the streets of Port-Au-Prince on January 13: "One phrase in Creole could be heard repeatedly... 'Beni Swa Leternel,' they say. 'Blessed be the Lord.'"
And each time someone is pulled alive from the rubble, U.S. politicians and commentators shout about "a miracle," downplaying or completely ignoring the fact that the saving of lives is not due to any "miracle" but to the Herculean, collective efforts of the Haitian people themselves, often digging through concrete with nothing but their bloodied bare hands. One article tells of a Haitian woman, Anne-Marie Morel, raising her arms to the sky after a neighbor is found alive, saying "it's a miracle." But another neighbor, Remi Polevard, who tells the reporter that he has five children buried under nearby debris, shouts back at Morel: "Nonsense, there is no God and no miracle."
You are correct, Remi Polevard. There is no god, and people need to understand that the earthquake is the result of natural causes, but that what is happening now is not at all "natural" and instead is a powerful example of the workings of the capitalist-imperialist system. And it is essential for the oppressed people of Haiti, and all oppressed peoples, to climb out of the ignorance and superstition into which they have been driven and kept by their masters—to examine and understand the world as it really is, and on that basis to radically transform the world as they radically transform themselves, so that the very man-made oppression and misery are things of the past and humanity has truly emancipated itself.
As Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, says in Away With All Gods! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World, referring to the centuries and centuries of horror that the masses have suffered, and who are told by their oppressors that it is all due to a god "who works in mysterious ways": "How much of this has to go on, and how long does it take, before it becomes clear that if such a god existed, it would indeed be a cruel, vicious, sick, twisted, and truly monstrous god? That no sane and decent person would want to bow down to or follow such a god. And that it is very fortunate that no such god exists—and very liberating to finally come to that realization."
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Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
Letter from a reader
We received the following letter from a reader:
I can distinctly remember the first time I saw a clip from Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, a film of the talk by Bob Avakian.
I had grown up both immersed in politics and really looking for change. My parents were immigrants from the Third World. In our travels back to their home, all throughout my youth I was horrified and bewildered by the enormous poverty facing people there. And my parents had always talked about coming to the U.S. for us, me and my sister, and the kind of life we could have here. So from a very young age, I was struck by the inequalities of the world but was also a big believer in the American dream. I really thought that you could get it all—the white picket fence, everything—if you worked hard and if we got the right politicians in place.
After a while, I stopped being such a big believer in the dream. In my late teens and early 20s, I joined up with people speaking out for racial, gender and sexual equality. But I still had a really hard time letting go of the belief that this country offered people opportunity. And I was holding out some hope that maybe it was possible to elect a president or someone who would make a big difference, who would even out the playing field. "What about Abraham Lincoln?" I would think. "Wasn't he that kind of president?"
That's the sort of question I was struggling with the first time I started watching the DVD of Avakian's talk with a group of friends I had met through an event held by Revolution Books. My friends were excited to share this DVD and kept telling me what a difference it would make to watch it and get to really know the work of Bob Avakian.
The first thing we watched was the "Imagine" section of the DVD, where the chairman really gets into his vision for what a new society could look like. When I watch this section of the talk now, I am moved by how powerful it is. But at the time, I thought Avakian was just talking about free healthcare and better jobs and schools, and I wondered: "What's so special about that?"
"Well what do you think?" my friends asked. I could see that watching this part of the DVD had really gotten them fired up. One of them said it still blew his mind, even though he'd watched it several times before. I could see that they hungered for a radically new world.
But as I sat there in the midst of their excitement and passion, all I can remember thinking is: "I don't get it."
"Who was this guy Bob Avakian and why was he any different?" I thought. People and politicians had been telling me to imagine things my whole life. Obama talked about imagining change and one of the Beatles had a song about it and even Samsung and Intel had spent millions in advertising to slap the world "Imagine" on my television screen. I really, really didn't get it.
"But just think about what it would be like to live in a really different world,'' my friend said. "A world where society was structured in a way to end oppression and liberate all of humanity."
That's when I realized no matter how I tried, I couldn't. I couldn't really picture at all what a world like that would look like. But my friends definitely could and I wanted to be able to do that.
So we started the DVD from the beginning.
Avakian opens his talk with a lyric from a Bob Dylan song—"They're selling postcards of the hanging,"—a reference to the horrific lynchings that happened all over this country well after the Civil War and decades after the end of slavery. Now, I had taken enough history classes to know about lynchings. I'm sure I even got an A on the test that asked me about them. But what they don't emphasize in schools these days is the postcards. Or the fact that these lynchings were, as Avakian said, made into "picnics." Days of merriment for the white people and members of the American Legion who came to watch and buy mementos, postcards to show their friends afterward. It was sick.
It was sick to think that I lived in a country that was built on this. Sick to think of all the atrocities that Avakian described: whether it was the horrors of slavery and lynchings, the strategic elimination of the native population, or right down to the world we live in today where Black and Latino youth are brutalized by police, killed by officials of the State and where a woman is assaulted and raped every second of every day.
I knew horrible things happened in the world. I had seen extreme poverty and I had experienced firsthand the ugliness of racism. But it wasn't until I watched the DVD and listened to Avakian break these things down step by step, horror after horror, that I was able to think about them all at once and realize that not only is the world we live in today horrendous, but it is truly intolerable and criminal. There was no way any white picket fence was going to help any of this.
I kept getting together with my friends and watching about an hour or so of the DVD every couple weeks. I was also going to discussions at Revolution Books and had started reading Revolution newspaper regularly. I found that doing all of these things at the same time really enhanced my understanding, but the DVD became my "Communism 101" guide. My tutorial that broke things down in an easy way, but was still very deep in its analysis and which opened up a lot of further discussion.
I remember standing on the subway one day as a group of school children shuffled in and sat down in front of me. They were laughing and joking with each other, and basically being adorable. I heard the words of Avakian echoing back to me as I watched them. "Our youth deserve a better future."
As I looked at them, I began to be filled with a sense of outrage as I thought of the future that this system and this world would provide: Which one would be stopped and frisked on their way home from school the next day? Which one of these young girls would have to live with the unbearable weight of a decimated body image, starving herself to feel some value? Which one would be raped? Which one would be lynched, gunned down by the police? I couldn't bear to look at their faces any longer. I had to get off the train.
Once I got off the tracks this system lays out, I had no desire to get back on. But it's not just a matter of realizing that truly horrible things are happening all the time and everywhere; anyone who can go through any day in this society without realizing that these horrible things that are happening is fencing off the world around them. To really get off the tracks, you need to have a concrete understanding that the world doesn't have to be this way.
This understanding doesn't happen spontaneously or divinely; it happens through a material analysis of the world and the way it can be.
The most compelling thing about watching Avakian's talk isn't the way he exposes atrocities, or even the very real compassion he conveys for the people of the world; though both those things are extremely important. But what really makes Avakian stand out from the droves of other people telling you to "imagine" is that he isn't simply creating a vision in his head—he's getting there through a very real science, the science of communism.
Fundamentally, to make real change in this world and to emancipate all of humanity we need to have a different system. A system that isn't dependent on the exploitative production relations that keep people down and lower their sights of what can be. We need a system that doesn't rest on the shoulders of the millions in sweatshops, on the backs of Black people and other minorities and that doesn't discount one half of our global population as a gender that is somehow "inferior." When you watch Avakian break down how all these modes of oppression are spurred by and grounded in the capitalist system, you can't help but feel furious that this system hasn't been done away with yet. You realize that this system is a failure for all of humanity.
But watching this DVD fills you with more than just fury. Avakian's words are poignant and exhilarating. They allow you to really get deep into the wrangling and vision of what it would mean to have an entirely different world—something this system, with all its dreams of white picket fences, never allows for.
As my friends and I continued to watch the DVD, we eventually came back up to the "Imagine" section. And I have to admit, at the time, I felt a little worried. Was everything I had come to understand and learn going to lead to a different reaction when I saw this section again, or would I just come back to where I was before: Obama, Samsung, Avakian?
It was entirely different. I felt like I was watching something I had never even seen before. Avakian wasn't just talking about healthcare or jobs. He was describing what it would mean to have a totally new set of production relations, a socialist society working towards overcoming all exploitation as part of reaching a truly classless communist society. He was talking about radically changing everything: the way people interacted with each other, giving people voices and encouraging them to contribute to the whole way things are run and organized, giving people work they could really believe in and that was motivated by the purpose of increasing the common good. He was talking about a whole new world with a new ethos, culture, art and life. A world where the kids I saw on the subway would have a far better future in store for them.
Looking back on the first time I watched the "Imagine" section, I think the reason I didn't get it is because the vision of the future that Avakian lays out is so far outside the framework of this system and its dominant ways of thinking that it didn't compute for me. But as I watched and discussed more and more of the DVD—and as I reflected on the world around me—the complete intolerability and needlessness of this system became real to me... and the world Avakian was describing began to become real to me as well.
It was then that I understood the hunger that I saw in my friends' eyes, the first time we watched the DVD together. Because once your sights had been lifted, once you started to realize that the horrors of this world aren't the only way things have to be, it fills you with an immense sense of liberation and desire to achieve that vision of a new world. But I also understood that you can't achieve that desire without a real material analysis of why the world is the way it is now.
This DVD is a precious, rare and enormous tool. Whenever I get into discussions with people about the world and what it could be, I can't help but wish that everyone could have the experience of watching this talk—that everyone could feel that sense of liberation and deep hope for a new and better world. But it shouldn't just be a wish. It needs to be something that we can achieve, bringing out this talk broadly to the masses. To spread this hope as much as possible. To start discussions all over the city and the country about why we need a revolution and how this talk will begin to show people everything that means.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
I was having a conversation with some friends in my city about the work we've been doing to promote the Revolution talk from Bob Avakian online and while we've been out doing a lot of important stuff, it struck me they didn't fully understand the conception of this particular promotional plan. The materials that we're getting out – the Revolution talk postcard, the stickers people are taking from us, the posters being put up in stores and those great quote sheets – are all geared to drive people to watch the talk online, and to spread it in different ways themselves. While there needs to be promotion online in its own right (and I understand there has been some advertising on Facebook), we're working to make a big deal out of this talk online, by making a big deal out of this talk wherever people are at. We want people to be intrigued and provoked to go find this for themselves and to be introduced to Bob Avakian through the materials, and then mainly through the talk itself. (The editorial from Revolution newspaper talks more about the strategic importance of all this, which I also encourage folks to return to.)
In terms of spreading this, one of the interesting things about social networking online is the degree to which people do share things they find with their friends. People retweet things, they post videos on their Facebook pages and they talk with each other. And becoming a fan of the Revolution talk page on FB is a way people can be plugged into the revolution in a more mass way, regularly getting quotes from the Revolution talk, updates about the promotion and announcements of new plans. I encourage people to go check out the page (facebook.com/revolutiontalk), which you can do without having a page yourself. There are currently over 600 fans and some initial discussion is being kicked off with people who are just being introduced to Avakian, and coming from different perspectives. This is exactly what we want.
Because of the particularities of this plan, we decided to focus in on having a visual impact – people seeing the logo everywhere, getting those quote sheets up and asking stores to put up the poster. (The quotes are powerful in particular because they introduce people to Avakian right off the bat.) Also, while returning to the areas we've focused saturating materials in before, we're also spreading out to different parts of town (in particular where there's more of an arts and music scene) and to shows that are happening throughout the week. (There are also a bunch of benefits for Haiti we're going to with the talk cards and the statement from Revolution on Haiti.)
I want to emphasize there are a lot of things people can do to spread the talk online: they can become fans of the page, invite their friends to become fans, subscribe to the youtube channel, post the clips on their FB pages, and contribute money to promote this further (they can do this in person or with the paypal button on the FB page or the donate tab on revolutiontalk.net). We should talk with people we're just meeting about this, and people we know who have some kind of online presence (things like going online to find all the students you know and find them on FB). There are a lot of people who don't have access to the internet and we should talk with them about engaging and spreading this talk in other ways (while this is geared to the net, we shouldn't be mechanical about that and the more people are getting into this talk, the better). But in most places we've been, the youth usually have FB pages (even if they only access it on their phones).
I'll end with a quick anecdote: there's an artist I know who I've been talking to about Bob Avakian's work for some time though he's yet to really engage it himself. When I saw him recently, he said he'd been seeing his name all over the area he hangs out in. He was interested in the talk and said he was curious to find out who Avakian is, and what he's like. This wasn't only because of the visuals, but it did make Avakian, and the revolution he's about, more real. The importance of this can't be overestimated.
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Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
In a three-sentence unsigned order, the United States Supreme Court has reversed a decision of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that had found Mumia Abu-Jamal's original death sentence to be unconstitutional. The case has been sent back to the Third Circuit "for further consideration" in light of another decision by the Supreme Court that changed the Supreme Court's established precedent governing imposition of the death penalty.
This recent Supreme Court action is an ominous development in a 28-year battle over whether the rulers of this country will be able to execute the revolutionary journalist, author, and former Black Panther, Mumia Abu-Jamal. FBI files show that Mumia was under government surveillance for years. He was a crusading Black radio journalist in Philadelphia in 1981, who was also moonlighting as a cab driver when he was involved in a street incident in which a cop was killed and Mumia was shot and severely wounded. From the very beginning, every stop was pulled out to convict Mumia of the shooting and to effect an execution, all based on the grossest violation of legal procedures and fabrication of evidence.
Mumia was convicted and sentenced in a trial where almost all Blacks were excluded from the jury, where police officers were allowed to "remember" (three months after that fact) that Mumia had loudly confessed to shooting the cop (even though a written report—unseen by the jury—from that evening said Mumia made no statement), and where Mumia was barred from the courtroom during half of his own trial because he continued to assert his right to refuse a court-appointed lawyer and to conduct his own legal defense.
In the sentencing part of Mumia's trial, prosecutors overtly made Mumia's politics a factor in arguing that he should be executed—invoking the fact that in the context of exposing the nature of the rulers of this system, a teenage Mumia had quoted Mao Tsetung's statement that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."
In the years since Mumia's railroading, new evidence has continued to come forward. New witnesses have described a different person, who fled the scene, as the shooter. Evidence of police coercion of trial witnesses has been amassed. Newly surfaced photographs show that the police claim of Mumia repeatedly firing down at the fallen police officer could not be true.
In these same intervening years, Mumia has finished his college education and earned a master's degree, he is the author of six books, and he continues to publish a weekly column—and he's continued to stand with the people and write columns exposing the system. All from a death-row cell where he is confined 23 hours a day and restricted from seeing family and lawyers except in shackles and chains from behind a plexiglass window.
Most importantly, Mumia has never recanted his belief in the criminality of the system and the need for revolutionary change.
The U.S. Supreme Court is part of the ruling class state apparatus in this country. That is why what is constitutional one day can be found unconstitutional the next, as the needs of the more dominant sections of the ruling class dictate.
For example, during the Jim Crow era, when Black people in the South were exploited under slave-like conditions, the Supreme Court found the legal standard of "separate but equal" was constitutional. That ruling was reversed in the 1950s. Not because the U.S. Constitution itself changed, or because the Supreme Court justices developed new and deeper insights into the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. "Separate but equal" was, in the view of the Court, no longer in conformity with the interests of U.S. imperialism. Segregation was being challenged by powerful protest movements in the U.S. And global outrage at overt, legally sanctioned racial discrimination in the U.S. was proving to be a serious obstacle to U.S. moves to portray itself as a champion of democracy, for the purposes of supplanting European powers' neocolonial domination of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and in contending with revolutionary movements—particularly in the Third World. And so, under these circumstances, the court overturned the "separate but equal" standard that had been constitutionally legal for decades.
Over the past 50 years, the U.S. ruling class has faced different freedom and necessity in regard to the death penalty. During the upsurges of the 1960s, the death penalty was widely (and accurately) perceived as a violent means of keeping Black people, Latinos, poor people, and political dissidents and revolutionaries oppressed and suppressed. In the context of unprecedented uprisings within the U.S. and international condemnation of the death penalty in the U.S., it was effectively suspended for the decade of the late 1960s through the late 1970s. Since then, while the reality of how the death penalty is used has not changed, the death penalty has been reimposed with a vengeance. In 1994, President Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that expanded the federal death penalty to include some 60 crimes.
And there has been struggle—both movements against the death penalty, and some debate within the ruling class—over the use of the death penalty.
In the context of a worldwide movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, and a wider struggle over the death penalty in the U.S., Mumia's death sentence was ruled unconstitutional by lower courts. The legal basis for this ruling was that the judge's instructions to the jury during sentencing deliberation violated the guidelines set down much earlier by the Supreme Court in Mills v. Maryland. Most states that have the death penalty have a balancing test whereby the jury weighs mitigating and aggravating circumstances in deciding whether to impose the death penalty. The imposition of a death sentence must require a unanimous decision to do so. Requiring unanimous agreement for aggravating circumstances is consistent with this. But if deciding on mitigating circumstances also required a unanimous agreement, that would allow a single pro-death penalty juror to block agreement on any mitigating circumstances, allowing the aggravating circumstances to then predominate and force a death sentence.
Jurors are instructed by trial judges on how to apply the law. The Supreme Court held in the Mills case that "[t]here is a substantial probability that reasonable jurors, upon receiving the judge's instructions in this case, and in attempting to complete the verdict form as instructed, well may have thought they were precluded from considering any mitigating evidence unless all 12 jurors agreed on the existence of a particular mitigating circumstance." Hence Mills' death sentence was overturned.
This is what happened in Mumia's trial. The form given to the jurors on which to record their findings was worded in a way that any reasonable reader would have concluded that they had to be unanimous on mitigating circumstances. Thus Mumia's death sentence was overturned by a federal district court—a decision that was upheld by the Third Circuit—because the Mills precedent was clearly established federal law.
But the Supreme Court has moved to reverse this standard through a ruling in the case of a neo-Nazi from Ohio named Spisak. Spisak's death sentence had previously been voided because of a violation of the Mills precedent, and that ruling was recently overturned by the Supreme Court. This is a device frequently used by reactionary forces bent on taking away established rights: they use the cases of individuals who have no public support (racists, Mafia, rapists, etc.) to reverse established precedents and establish new weapons against the people.
In this Spisak case, 19 state attorneys-general submitted a joint amicus brief to the Supreme Court, asking that the Mills precedent be watered down to make it easier to get death sentences imposed. Not surprisingly, this brief was initiated by the attorney-general of Pennsylvania and it cited the Mumia case as an example. The Supreme Court then decided 6-3 to modify the Mills decision and let Spisak's death sentence stand.
This ruling has broad and ominous implications in a system where the death penalty is applied to enforce racial, class, and political oppression. And this ruling has urgent and dangerous implications for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The situation is now very dangerous for Mumia. While the Supreme Court did not explicitly find the Third Circuit to be in error, it did vacate the Third Circuit decision and ordered that court to "further consider" Mumia's case in light of their Spisak decision. Technically, the argument before the Third Circuit will entail whether the facts in the Mumia case are different from the Spisak case. A recent letter from Mumia's attorney, Robert R. Bryan, states, "Now we must resume litigating the issue of the death penalty in the lower federal court. It previously ruled that the trial judge misled the jury and thus Mumia was entitled to a new jury trial on the issue of death or life. That is still the issue. What occurred in Mumia's case is different both procedurally and factually from the jury instructions in Spisak."
Forces ranging from Amnesty International to the European Parliament have expressed concern over the fraudulent nature of Mumia's conviction and sentencing. Yet the Supreme Court not only denied Mumia's appeal for a new trial, but has now blatantly reversed existing principles and openly implied that the Third Circuit should come up with a new finding that would sanction Mumia's execution.
Mumia was railroaded to jail because of his revolutionary beliefs. It would be a terrible thing if the U.S. government is able to execute him. Anyone with a basic sense of justice, and anyone who aspires to a much better world, must oppose and resist the oppressor carrying out the ongoing persecution and the attempted "legalized murder" of Mumia. All this occurs within a broader climate of reaction and an Obama administration that continues to sanction torture, rendition, and large concentration camps (like Bagram in Afghanistan), pushes the war on Afghanistan, launches a brazen occupation of Haiti, and continues to uphold and defend in court the reactionary contempt for the rule of law so massively expanded by the Bush administration. A mass movement, reaching far and wide in society and around the world, was an important factor in stopping the rulers of this country from executing Mumia Abu-Jamal in the 1980s and '90s. At this moment people must come together behind the demand to free Mumia Abu-Jamal.
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Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
In January 2009, Barack Obama took office amidst an unprecedented outpouring of optimism: He was the nation's first Black president, and he had promised "hope" and "change" after eight nightmarish years of the Bush regime. At the time, the viewpoint put forward by the Revolutionary Communist Party—that Obama's presidency would not represent "the change we need" but rather a new face on the same old system—was generally greeted with jeers, sneers, and plugged ears.
Fast-forward to December 2009, less than a year later. There Obama is at West Point, repeatedly invoking 9/11 as he announces he will send 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. With this surge, Obama is now tripling the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan since taking office, from 31,000 to 101,000. And, in just one year, he increased troop levels in Afghanistan by more than twice as much as George W. Bush did during his entire eight-year presidency.
Following Obama's escalation of the war, Revolution set out to investigate how college students are reacting to this development. In the history of this country, students have been on the front lines of resistance against the crimes of their government. This resistance has been a particularly potent force in instances where it has fused with the uncorked fury of those most viciously oppressed, as happened in the 1960s and early 1970s. In particular, the sustained struggle against white supremacy and vicious national oppression and for Black power was a tremendous inspiration to—and combined powerfully with—the student movements of that time, including the student movement against the Vietnam War.
It is not without this historical precedent in mind that many radical and revolutionary-minded people today have found themselves asking, in an era where our government openly launches murderous wars of aggression, tortures, and spies: "Where are all the students?" Obama's recent escalation of the Afghanistan War is an instance in which this question has once again posed itself very sharply.
Early last month, in the hope of shedding further light on the political landscape of this country's colleges and universities, Revolution interviewed students on two campuses in New York City; the student body of the first campus is predominantly white and middle class, while students at the second college are mainly people of color from lower-middle-class and proletarian backgrounds. For the purposes of avoiding confusion on the part of our readers, we will refer to these schools in the order in which we visited them: The predominantly white school will be campus 1, while the school whose student body is mainly students of color will be campus 2. Between the two schools, we spoke to a total of 14 students. While this is not nearly a large enough sample to make definitive statements about the political terrain of college campuses in the United States, it does provide a glimpse into that terrain and some of the contradictions, necessity, and potential contained therein.
At the beginning of our conversation with Taso, a freshman at campus 1, he expressed dismay at Obama's pronouncement that the U.S. would begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in 2011.
"The thing I don't understand," Taso said, "is why he hasn't withdrawn yet. I mean, yeah he wants to make sure there's a stable government and everything, but honestly we shouldn't be there."
The very next question Revolution posed to Taso, asked mainly to solicit clarification and elaboration, was whether he considered the U.S. war in Afghanistan to be just; whether he thought the U.S. should be in Afghanistan.
"I think that we should be there," Taso said. "But we're not taking the right way of solving the problem. We're solving it in a completely wrong manner."
In the space of roughly one minute, Taso had gone from opposing the U.S. presence in Afghanistan to essentially supporting it. This exchange captures as well as any the extremely contradictory nature of students' reactions to Obama's escalation of the war.
On campus 1, three of the nine students we spoke to expressed some variation of the argument that the U.S. military should never have gone into Afghanistan to begin with, but since it did invade, it must now remain there to enforce "stability." Another indicator of this contradictory thinking was the fact that three out of the nine students we spoke to expressed that they felt more positively about the war under Obama than they did about that same war under Bush.
Within the significant complexity of students' responses, however, some notable themes did emerge.
It was striking that among the 14 students we spoke to, not one expressed enthusiastic, unwavering, unqualified support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan and the escalation of that war.
To differing degrees and for varying reasons, students expressed some level of discontent with the war itself and/or with Obama's decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
On campus 2, students generally expressed their opposition to the war in clear moral terms.
"I don't agree with it," said Ryan, a second-year psychology student. "At the end of the day, there is no need for bloodshed. War never justifies the means. I can speak for a couple of my peers in saying the war is really unjust."
• Angela, an African-American/Panamanian-American math major at campus 2, agreed. "No, I don't feel it's a just war at all," Angela said. "Now that we have Obama in—'the saint'—we're blinded."
On campus 1, by contrast, students' positions on the war were more contradictory, often wavering quickly between support and opposition. Here is a brief account of some of the conversations we had there.
• A senior, who preferred not to give her name, initially voiced doubts about Obama's troop surge on the grounds that it was not founded on a solid strategy and diverted money and resources away from where they were needed. However, this argument did not seem to stem solely from an American way of thinking. "We can't even spend 30 cents on zinc pills to provide to an African country," the student said, "but we're spending billions of dollars to stay in Afghanistan. It doesn't make sense to me."
A bit later in the conversation, we put forward the viewpoint of Revolution newspaper—that the war in Afghanistan is a war for empire motivated by a U.S. desire to control not only land and resources but also the region as a whole. We asked the student for her reaction.
"I agree with that," she interjected. A moment later, she added: "I think that if we're looking at it idealistically, we do have a reason to be in Afghanistan, because we were attacked, but in terms of whether it's just in terms of our colonial sort of behavior, no I don't think that's just in that way."
So then, we posed a simple question to the student: "If it were up to you, would the U.S. have troops in Afghanistan tomorrow morning? If the three options are keeping the troop levels before the escalation, escalating like Obama's doing, or taking the troops out?"
"If the decision were up to me," she replied, "I would just stabilize it, leave it where it is, and just finish it. I would not add more troops. I would not do any of that."
Despite her unease with the "colonial" mindset of the U.S., this student did not seem to view a complete and immediate U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as an option.
• George, a freshman, articulated a similar mixture of conflicting sentiments. When we asked him if he thought the U.S. should be in Afghanistan, his response was firm. "Absolutely not," George said. "It's a war about resources. It has no moral value whatsoever. And we're just wasting our time."
"I do agree we shouldn't be there to begin with," George said, "But since we are there right now, it's good that he [Obama]'s thinking about the future and about withdrawing. And 2011 is pretty soon, so I think that's a good idea."
But George's feeling that the war has "no moral value whatsoever" was not accompanied by a sense of anger at commander-in-chief Obama for extending this war. In fact, George acknowledged he viewed the war in Afghanistan differently under Obama than he did under Bush.
"Being [as] I just registered as a Democrat and I was never very fond of Bush and his policies, I was kind of hopeless under his regime and thought that the war would never end," George said. "I'm not exactly sure what Obama will do, but I think he's giving the people some sort of hope."
• Layla, a sophomore whose parents are from Iran, told us:
"I think if anything good can be done, it's worth it. And this whole Gandhi and 'the countries can do it for themselves' crap should be done with...They're not strictly there to help them...In theory, I'm not against it. But in practice, it's probably not going to do anything good for Afghanistan."
We put forward the view of Revolution newspaper that the Afghanistan War is an imperialist war.
"I don't think it matters whether they're imperialists is what I'm saying," Layla responded. "I think the Americans could go wherever they want, and if they improve the conditions for the working person then I'd be ok with it."
But isn't the nature of imperialism, by definition, to exploit and murder—rather than to "help"?
"That's true," Layla said. "That's true. That's why it's tricky. I don't think it's as black and white as it's being painted. I don't think it has to be bad; I think in most cases it is."
• Evelyn and Mira, two politics students, had been closely following the news about Obama's troop surge and had a lot to say—to us, and to one another—as they sought to sort out their perspectives on the war.
"I actually feel really conflicted about sending 30,000 more troops," Evelyn said.
Evelyn went on to describe the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region as "highly dangerous," and implied that perhaps the U.S. military was needed there. But she also suggested the war was diverting money from needed social programs in the U.S.
Mira was more clearly unsettled by the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
"I'm pretty ideologically opposed to militarism in general," Mira began, before adding, "I mean, obviously I'm not a foreign [policy] expert, so I can't say with certainty or with conviction that it's a bad idea foreign-policy wise."
"But just in terms of my own conviction," Mira continued, "I don't support sending troops and certainly not sending any more troops to the region when I feel like if troops were the answer, the conflict would not still be to the extent that it is."
Evelyn and Mira went back and forth on the related questions of whether the U.S. had a "responsibility" to stay in Afghanistan in order to "rebuild" the nation, and what the actual role of the U.S. military is.
"An invasion of a country is an absolutely inappropriate response to terror," Mira said, "and in fact is counter-productive in that the sentiment and hostility that drives terror is fully encouraged by the enormous suffering inflicted on civilians when you carry out an invasion against a country when you're looking for a non-state actor."
Evelyn responded by citing the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai (the alleged perpetrators were Pakistani) in repeating her argument that the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is highly volatile.
"I'm not disagreeing with you that it's really easy to umbrella-ize a people and it becomes a conflict not only directed towards one group of actors, but towards an entire population and the entire population suffers as a result," Evelyn said. "But still it's a region that really deserves international attention and concern."
"I agree certainly that there's a problem that needs to be addressed," Mira said. "But my feeling is that because that problem involves non-state actors, the response should be one that does not target an entire state and certainly not the civilian population. And I think you [Evelyn] also mentioned before that part of the reason you see for going into Afghanistan is to implement democracy in the region. And I just don't see that as the role of the military or what the role of the military ought to be, actually."
However, Mira's sentiments of opposition to the Afghanistan War did not translate into the demand that the U.S. leave Afghanistan.
"I don't necessarily believe that the government should be acting the way that I wish that they would act," Mira said, "because I understand that my role as a citizen is different from the role of state actors in terms of the decisions that they have to make as agents of the state. So I guess what I'm trying to say through that is that I don't believe that it is necessarily my role to stop the escalation or to get the government to change its policy, especially because I think there's a feeling on the part of people who are involved in those decisions that military issues should be decided by people in the military and the commander-in-chief."
(Editors' note: This concludes Part 1 of this article about students' reactions to the escalation of the Afghanistan War. In this section, we have aimed to give a sense of why we endeavored to explore the mood on campuses as well as some of the contradictions and unevenness we encountered in doing so. In Part 2 of this piece, we will explore this unevenness in much greater depth, by highlighting some noteworthy themes that stood out in our conversations, analyzing the implications of what students told us, and illuminating the contradictions all this poses in terms of our work as revolutionary communists—and the potential to transform those contradictions through struggle.)
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Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
At precisely 10 am on December 31, 2009, a dozen or so "tourists" moved swiftly into eight lanes of traffic in the middle of a main thoroughfare through the center of Cairo, Egypt. Hundreds of signs in English and Arabic emerged from suitcases and backpacks: "End the Siege!" "Free Gaza!" This was the signal. Within seconds, hundreds of other "tourists" poured into the streets to join them — the Gaza Freedom March was on! After an hour of pandemonium, security forces had managed to push the protesters to the sidewalk, where they were surrounded and detained by phalanxes of riot police for seven hours. The Gaza Freedom March, which was already front-page news in Egypt and the Middle East, became a living call to the world: Free Gaza!
I participated in the Gaza Freedom March and covered it for Revolution newspaper. This series is the story of how the Gaza Freedom March came to be. Why it took place in Cairo, instead of Gaza, Palestine as intended. It is the story of people who came from around the world to take this stand, and what light the whole experience sheds on the urgent and vital stakes of breaking the siege of Gaza and the struggle for freedom of the Palestinian people.
* * *
The Gaza strip, a region of Palestine, is among the most crowded places on earth—1.5 million people, living in cities, towns, farming and fishing, are packed into an area the size of Chicago. Since the coming to power in 2007 of Hamas, an Islamic fundamentalist party, Israel has enforced a crippling siege on Gaza, blockading the ports and land crossings.
At the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, using the pretext of primitive rockets launched from Gaza, Israel launched a massive invasion and massacre. Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, apartment buildings, schools and hospitals were destroyed. Today, Gaza remains in this state, with any attempts to repair the damage shut down by the Israeli blockade. Some 62 percent of Gaza's inhabitants have had a family member injured or killed. After Israeli air strikes, artillery shelling, ground invasions, and jet flybys that simulate bombing raids, the vast majority of Gaza's children exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The call for the Gaza Freedom March (GFM) declared: "The conscience of humankind is shocked. Yet, the siege of Gaza continues. It is time for us to take action! On December 31, we will end the year by marching alongside the Palestinian people of Gaza in a non-violent demonstration that breaches the illegal blockade. Our purpose in this March is lifting the siege on Gaza. We demand that Israel end the blockade. We also call upon Egypt to open Gaza's Rafah border. Palestinians must have freedom to travel for study, work, and much-needed medical treatment and to receive visitors from abroad."
Gaza is almost completely surrounded on land by Israel, which also enforces a naval blockade of the Gaza coastline on the Mediterranean. In addition, a small trickle of commerce goes through the Egyptian border town of Rafah. But Egypt has closed the border with Gaza, and recently the Egyptian government announced plans to build a wall that will seal off illegal tunnels that provide the only real avenue for commerce between Gaza and the rest of the world.
It was through the Rafah border crossing that our Gaza Freedom March intended to enter Gaza. Before most of us left from countries around the world for the march, Egypt announced the Rafah crossing would be indefinitely closed due to "tensions" at the border. However, those of us who committed to the Gaza Freedom March had declared that we understood and were willing to take the risks involved in crossing the border. And despite Egypt's insistence that we would not be allowed into Gaza, overwhelmingly we showed up in Cairo, determined to force the issue with the Egyptian authorities.
On the morning we were to leave Cairo, Egyptian officials threatened the bus company that was to take us, and they cancelled our buses. Alternate transportation options were shut down as well—no bus company in Cairo would provide buses. Taxis were not even allowed to drop people off at the departure venue. Those few dozen of us (out of over 1,300 people) who made it to the departure point were surrounded and detained by Egyptian security forces—a precursor to what would be several days of being followed, harassed, beaten, and detained in the streets whenever we gathered in public. The Egyptian authorities banned us from congregating in groups of more than six.
In the face of these repressive and challenging conditions, people searched for creative ways to meet, to get organized, to protest. One thing that lifted our spirits and broke through the efforts of the Egyptian authorities to isolate us was hundreds of people occupying the sidewalk outside the French embassy in Cairo—a protest that lasted several days.
In the wake of the French embassy action, a delegation of people with U.S. passports visited the U.S. embassy in Cairo to insist that the embassy intercede with Egypt to allow us to go to Gaza. The delegation was rudely and violently attacked by Egyptian security forces, who pushed and shoved people into a holding area. One person was lifted up by Egyptian police and physically tossed into this holding area. The whole group was surrounded and detained on the sidewalk by Egyptian police.
A couple of representatives of the Gaza Freedom March were inside the embassy when all this happened outside. They complained about the brutal treatment of the 40 or so GFM activists outside. U.S. embassy staff claimed that these detentions were being carried out by the Egyptian government and the U.S. Embassy had no control over them. But all the while, a U.S. embassy "observer" was overseeing the operation outside, without identifying himself to the detainees. And the Egyptian police commander outside the embassy told those being detained that it was the U.S. embassy that was directing things.
After being roughed up outside, GFM delegates with U.S. passports were finally allowed to go into the U.S. embassy, in small groups, to register their grievances before the lowest levels of embassy staff. Again, they were told that this was an action of the Egyptians—that blocking the GFM's entry into Gaza was a decision by the sovereign state of Egypt and it would be inappropriate for the U.S. to interfere.
That absurd charade was emblematic of the relationship between the U.S. and Egypt, where the U.S. issues the orders, and a fiction of Egyptian sovereignty is promoted for public consumption. Egypt is one of the countries to which the U.S. sent detainees to be secretly tortured under the "rendition" program. The Mubarak regime is the third largest recipient of U.S. "aid" in the world (after Iraq and Israel)—some $50 billion since 1975. That money has paid for "Egypt's stability, support for U.S. policies in the region, U.S. access to the Suez Canal, and peace with Israel." (Christian Science Monitor, April 12, 2004)
Egypt is a critical link in the chain around the necks of the Palestinian people, and in particular a link in tightening the choke-chain around the people of Gaza. In refusing to let us into Gaza, Egypt was collaborating with the U.S. and Israel in keeping the world from knowing about the unbearable conditions being imposed on the people of Gaza.
In addition to detaining the GFM, the Egyptian regime placed obstacle after obstacle in the way of a humanitarian mission led by British Member of Parliament George Galloway.
And the wall being planned to seal the border with Gaza, reportedly with the "assistance" of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—poses a terrible threat to the very survival of people in Gaza.
But ordinary people in Egypt—very broadly—have close ties to the Palestinian people, and overwhelmingly support their struggle. Over and over people on the street, from all walks of life, would stop us to support the Gaza Freedom March, and to express outrage or shame at the actions of the Egyptian government in collaborating with Israel. And so the regime has a need to portray itself as a friend of the Palestinians, and not a flunky of the U.S. and Israel. While we were in Egypt, several news stories emphasized how Mubarak (and other U.S. flunkies in the Arab world) were "insisting" that Israel follow "international agreements" and move towards Palestinian statehood, all the while these rulers were complicit in great crimes against the Palestinians.
A critical part of the "job description" for being a puppet of the U.S. in the Middle East is support for Israel. Israel occupies a "special place" in the operation of imperialism in the strategic Middle East and beyond. Israel is unique among U.S. allies in the region, in that public opinion in that country—unfortunately—is currently not outraged by Israel's crimes against the Palestinians.
Today, in the context of the clash between U.S. imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism, the U.S. and Israel seem determined to bomb and starve the people of Gaza into some kind of "regime change" that would replace the Hamas government there with one more compliant with U.S. and Israeli interests. On another level, the Egyptian regime has its own fears about the potential for anti-U.S. (to one degree or another) Islamic fundamentalism "spreading" from Gaza into Egypt.1
For all these reasons, Egypt is currently playing a particularly criminal role in squeezing the people of Gaza, and putting them in an increasingly desperate situation.
Our presence in Egypt put the regime in a very uncomfortable spotlight. If they let us into Gaza, we would shine a light on the terrible crimes being committed by Israel, with the backing of the U.S. If they kept us in Egypt, the spotlight zoomed out to reveal the role of the Egyptian government in these crimes.
Protests in Egypt are illegal—there's no such thing as a permitted protest. Egyptian dissidents are routinely abducted for weeks of torture. But for whatever combination of reasons—some created by our presence—Egyptian forces called a public protest while we were in Cairo, and asked us to join them. The impetus for their protest was a meeting in Egypt between Mubarak and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on December 29.
The protest was held outside the Journalists Syndicate hall, an impressive building in downtown Cairo. Before the Egyptian-called protest, Hedy Epstein, an American delegate on the GFM and an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, launched a hunger strike at the same location, demanding the GFM be allowed into Gaza. She was joined by over a dozen others, and her press conference there broke into the New York Times ("Protestors Gather in Cairo for March to Gaza," December 29, 2009).
As early winter darkness set in, and a chilly, smoggy Cairo evening arrived, the hunger strikers and other GFM activists were joined by hundreds of Egyptians who erected their banners. For much of the night, the crowd chanting on the steps outside the Journalists Syndicate was roughly half Egyptians and half internationals. The demands: LIFT THE SIEGE OF GAZA! STOP THE GENOCIDE! FREE PALESTINE!
We had become used to being shadowed and harassed, detained, and sometimes violently assaulted by plainclothes Egyptian security forces who jumped out of pickup trucks like the Islamic regime's thugs in Iran. But the police presence at this protest was more intense—rows of riot police with helmets lined up in front of the protest. Trucks to haul in police and haul people away were lined up at the end of the block.
But the atmosphere was electric—almost literally, as bright spotlights lit up the packed steps of the Journalists Syndicate building. One student told me that he and his fellow students were watching what was happening in Iran, and that he had a feeling an eruption like that might be not too far beneath the surface in Egypt.
Another man at the protest, a professor in his 60s, told me he had been following our march closely—he seemed amused that I didn't realize how big a deal we were in the Egyptian media: "I know, I know," he said when I described what the authorities were doing to keep us from getting to Gaza. "It is important that you people go to Gaza."
"It's a police state here," he added: "If you foreigners weren't here we'd be getting clobbered bloody right now." And he reminded me: "Your embassy is calling the shots in all this, you know." I assured him that I was doing my best to make people aware of that fact.
Two college-age women were discreetly passing out flyers in Arabic. They introduced me to another person who spoke English. "You are a journalist?" he asked. Yes. "You should be at the press conference, go in the building to the 4th floor." I went inside the Journalists Syndicate and found myself in a crowd of 700 people. A young man responded to my plea for a translator. The event, he explained, had been called by the Journalists Syndicate along with other groups. The crowd was composed of lawyers, journalists, and other professionals, he told me. "And me," he added, "an accountant."
The first speaker introduced the meeting: "Today, a terrible crime is being committed. A war is being waged against Gaza in the form of a wall. Mubarak is building it. Egypt can wait no longer to stand with Gaza!" Another speaker was an attorney who indicted the Mubarak regime for war crimes. He said that Egypt was an early signer of the Geneva Conventions, and that the wall, which will kill civilians in Gaza, is a war crime. And then he told the audience about how the regime is detaining the Gaza Freedom Marchers in Egypt. He demanded: "They must not be turned around at Rafah [the border crossing into Gaza from Egypt]." "Today," he said, "is a different feeling for us. We are standing up together as Muslims and Christians. I find no polite words but am trying. People are angry. The wall is going up, people in Gaza will die. We can talk all night about utilizing proper procedures but that won't change anything!"
I was filled with emotion when another speaker said, "We appreciate people from other countries who stand with us and we welcome them and their sincere activism."
I was at the Journalists Syndicate when I heard from someone in the Italian delegation that the Egyptian government had offered to let 100 people go to Gaza. I hurried to a hotel, wondering what the exact terms of this deal were. When I arrived, an intense debate was in progress. March organizers had accepted an offer by the Egyptian regime to allow 100 selected people to go to Gaza on buses, not under the auspices of the Gaza Freedom March but as a humanitarian mission. As word spread, delegations from a number of countries hurriedly met and several took formal positions opposing the deal.
Hundreds of people converged in hotel rooms and lobbies to debate whether to accept the deal. Proponents argued that this was the best we could do in a very difficult situation, that it was "a start," and that "the siege will not be broken all at once." But as the debate raged, a strong consensus emerged that accepting this deal would undercut, not advance, our mission of breaking the siege on Gaza. Many participants in the Gaza Freedom March work with NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and humanitarian projects in Palestine, courageously trying to do what they can to help people in desperate situations. But they were on the Gaza Freedom March because they felt more was required. As one person who works with an NGO put it, they were here because "putting another band-aid on cancer" was not enough.
Debate and struggle raged all night in many languages. There were moments when it appeared the whole Gaza Freedom March might just splinter and collapse. Eighty-four people ended up getting on the buses, but the deal was overwhelmingly rejected. From the chaos, a higher level of commitment was forged around the need for a powerful political protest that would stick to the basic call for the March: to break the siege of Gaza.
I will have more to say about this important political debate, and its lessons, in a future article. But for now, I'll note that for many students and young people from around the world, this was their first big political struggle within the movement, and it was tremendously unleashing for them. Sarah, a 19-year-old who took time off between high school and college in England to be part of the GFM, told me: "The fact that there were ... people rejecting the opportunity to go to Gaza made us remember what it is that we really came here to do, which was not to go to Gaza. That was a means to an end. So after that, we were just completely refocused, reenergized, and it was like, 'Right, let's do some protesting.' And we moved from doing kind of, very, what I felt to be half-hearted demos where we kind of stood around, waved placards feebly and got summarily ignored by all involved, to a demonstration where we were occupying the main road in Cairo. And that's, that is a fantastic achievement, you know, in a police state."
1. For a concise analysis of why the U.S. is so determined to back every Israeli crime right now, see the section "Israel and Its 'Special Role' in Relation to U.S. Imperialism" in "Bringing Forward Another Way," by Bob Avakian. That entire talk is a critical work in understanding what is driving the wars being waged, and wars being threatened, by "our government," and the nature of the conflict between Western imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism, and the need to bring forward "another way" opposed to both. The talk is available at revcom.us. [back]
* * *
In the future installments of this series, I'll tell the story of how that "fantastic achievement"—the Gaza Freedom March—came off in Cairo, and the impact it had throughout the Middle East and beyond. And I'll describe the people who made the sacrifices and took the risks to go on the Gaza Freedom March, and what their experiences—in many cases in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel—reveal about the nature of Israel, and the struggle of the Palestinian people.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
Upcoming Major Effort:
Bob Avakian's major talk, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, was posted online in its entirety several months ago, along with four three- to five-minute clips on YouTube in English and Spanish.
Having this talk available online makes Avakian himself accessible to potentially millions of people that could not be reached otherwise. It can go a long way to making Bob Avakian a household name and making this revolution known. But just having the talk available does not in and of itself drive people to watch it; there is a huge potential audience which must be reached, made aware of it, and drawn to it.
This whole effort really has to grow exponentially beginning now—and that is what we are aiming to launch during the week of January 18-25.
We are calling for a week of getting out many tens of thousands of posters, palm cards, and other materials as part of driving people to check out the talk online. In order for this week to have the high impact it needs to have and to involve all kinds of people who would want to be part of this in different ways, we have to start now making concrete plans and getting to people with this vision and purpose, getting their ideas and enlisting them. On-the-ground and creative saturation with the content of this talk has to synergize with mass campaigns on Facebook, online advertising and reviews. Everyone can contribute—those with and without Internet knowledge.
We want to go all out during that week, and then sum up how to keep going from there.
This is the most radical, and most liberatory video you can find online. There really is nothing else like it in answering deeply the three questions in the title, three of the most important questions of our time.
And through this talk, you get to meet Bob Avakian—America's most radical revolutionary... his sharp intolerance for the suffering brought onto the masses of people, his deep understanding of the cause of this suffering, and what can be made possible with a revolution made by those same people. He breaks down an understanding that is hidden, letting people in on the secret workings behind this system... and more than that, breaks down a scientific method so they can apply and understand this themselves. He lays out what this revolution is about, challenging people to step out of the world this system has us locked in, articulating a radically re-envisioned socialism and communism. And he does it all with heart and humor.
Right now, millions of people are watching different kinds of videos online that lay out various theories on what is wrong today. Some of these are reactionary and downright poisonous; others get at part of the truth or provide crucial information but without the analysis that enables people to get to the heart of the matter. There are whole online movements surrounding many of these. While these lines have to be spoken to in their own right, they are tapping into a deep desire among millions for answers and for analysis, to go "under the hood," the hidden truth behind the workings of this system. Through struggle, the truth concentrated in this Revolution talk can cut through—can intrigue, illuminate and inspire.
By getting out massive amounts of materials, we intend to make a serious, if initial, leap in the reach of this talk. People who want to see this happen should make plans and set goals that are commensurate.
There should be saturation in neighborhoods, high schools and campuses where the revolutionaries have had some presence and there should also be well planned forays to neighborhoods where artists, musicians and "the digerati" (the digital literati) hang out. Palm cards and posters should be up and out in boutiques, record shops, used clothing stores, and Internet cafes.
Different materials will make use of the powerful Revolution talk logo and this slogan:
Some of these graphics will be in the next issue of Revolution newspaper and will be available as a download at revcom.us. There are some materials already available, which can be ordered at Revolution Books in New York.
Along with palm cards, longer quotes from the talk itself can be put on 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper with the Revolution talk logo. These can go up all over college campuses, bathroom stalls, elevators in dorms and housing projects, cafeterias, laundromat bulletin boards, etc. Or imagine a busy Friday night by the projects, a campus, or artists' neighborhood—a big projection goes up on a wall with a short quote and the Revolution talk logo with the website address. These kinds of dramatic displays can capture people's imagination, and the more people are getting the same thing from different angles, the more their curiosity will be piqued, and potential controversy stirred.
There are lots of people, from different strata and with different levels of unity, understanding and commitment, who would actively want to help this talk reach more people. We have to talk with them, and enlist their participation now.
This should include people we've been meeting over the last few months, and people who have known about and appreciated this talk and Avakian's work over the years. There are lots of people who respect Avakian and his work in different ways, people who have seen parts of this talk, or sat and watched the whole thing. There are people who work with the Engage Committee to Project and Protect the Voice of Bob Avakian. There are students, shop owners, artists and professors who have taken up revolutionary work in different ways. If you think about it, there are a whole lot of people who are not necessarily working that closely with the revolutionaries right now but who would want to see this talk, and Avakian, having a much bigger impact. Let's go talk and plan with them!
Everything people do can make a difference, and will contribute to the overall, multilayered impact this has to have. People can send out emails to their friends, post on their Facebook page, share this through other online social networks; talk about it on Twitter, take a stack of materials to their theatre, church, school; give materials to select individuals they know who have some influence in society. They can have a house party, show the talk to a few friends, and even just raise suggestions about ways they think this can spread. There is not a one-size-fits-all in this, and the more kinds of diverse activity that take off, the better.
Also, there's strategic import in amassing much bigger email lists (and phone lists), and growing the number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers through follow-up with contacts as well. Only a minority of these people may follow up with you right away or may want to get active right away, but people are asking to stay connected. They are hooked in to the revolution, receiving updates as the world changes, and as they change.
People broadly watching, discussing, and spreading this talk themselves is a critical goal to meet early on. This will be in conjunction with the all-out and multifaceted efforts of the revolutionaries, but it will not break out in the way it needs to without that buzz and without people being moved to let others know.
The saturation efforts will synergize with online advertising and fundraising—online and among people you know. $5,000-$10,000 needs to be raised for online and print advertising, along with the cost of promotional materials. A lot of this fundraising will go on online, but there will need to be conscious and active follow-up and struggle.
Important: the Facebook page (facebook.com/revolutiontalk) will become much more of a destination and organizing center. It will run regular quotes from the Revolution talk itself—provoking regular debate and discussion, and these quotes will also run through a Twitter feed so people can re-tweet them. It's where people will go to get updated on how the promotion of this talk is going, what difference we're making and what kind of response we're getting. And it'll be how people will get organized in the planned online blitzes, fundraising, etc.
And we really want to learn from other ideas people have—what kinds of blogs and message boards we should be entering into discussion on, potential for excerpting the Revolution talk for radio play, online seminars about the talk.
There are a lot more ideas, and a lot of creativity that needs to be applied. And we should be learning from experts, admen, madmen and marketing media mavens. This first week will kick off these major efforts to make this talk seen and spread—by hundreds of thousands, and in the process we'll learn more fully what it will take to make that happen. Let's put ourselves to really making this known—go all out, have fun, and learn all we can.
Go online to revcom.us for letters from readers on
Letter from Cleveland:
More letters available at the "Spreading Revolution and Communism" page at
Send us your comments.
Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
Videographer Arrested at Behest of Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago
From a reader:
Officials of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago and the Cook County State's Attorney are continuing to press charges against a videographer simply for videoing Revolution writer Sunsara Taylor as she made a statement at the Society premises on November 1, 2009. In her statement, Taylor protested the Ethical Humanist Society's shameful withdrawal of their invitation for her to speak. Instead of doing the right thing, the Society's president called the police, who used brute force to stop the man documenting these events (previously reported in Revolution, available online at http://revcom.us/a/182/news_flash-en.html). The unjust nature of the charges against the videographer is being debated more broadly, but much more is needed.
The Chicago Reader, a free weekly, just published an article about the case ("Party Crashers" at chicagoreader.com), which has made it a bigger issue in the city. The Ad Hoc Committee for Reason & Dropping the Charges has set up a website (dropthecharges.net). The Committee organized an important event on January 20 in Evanston, just north of Chicago, that featured a panel of Bill Ayers (professor of education at the University of Illinois in Chicago), Marc Falkoff (professor of law at Northern Illinois University and lawyer for Guantánamo detainees), and Sunsara Taylor (participating via video conferencing). The three share the common experience of being disinvited from speaking engagements, having their views distorted and maligned, and facing attempts to marginalize their voices. About 50 people attended and dug into questions of evaluating the nature and causes of the "ice sheet" of censorship drawing over this country, the role of the media, what individuals and relatively small forces can and should do in the face of the great challenges facing us, and more. The entire exchange will be available soon on YouTube. A statement from the videographer and a short clip on the importance of fighting the charges are on dropthecharges.net.
The battle now moves to the courtroom on January 28, when responses to subpoenas served by the defense will be argued in court. It is expected that a date for trial will be set at that time. The Committee is calling for people to urge the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago and its parent organization, the American Ethical Union in New York, to drop the charges. They are requesting that emails be sent to EHSC at firstname.lastname@example.org and to the AEU via a form online at aeu.org/index.php?case=contact; copies to adhoc4reason@gmail and email@example.com are appreciated. The Committee asks that donations to the legal defense fund can be made to Scott Frankel, Attorney at Law, 77 W. Washington, Suite 1720, Chicago, IL 60602.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
We received the following letter from a reader:
The event was held Sunday, January 17, 2010 at Full Gospel Apostolic Church in Los Angeles. This is a small, storefront church in Central LA, apparently the main Haitian church in LA (Los Angeles has a relatively small population of about 10,000 Haitian people—there are approximately 530,000 Haitians living in the U.S.). Usually, it looks like one or two score may come to church on Sunday's (more or less), but on this day there were several score during the service and then attendance swelled to about 250-300 in this small church once the 1 pm program began, featuring U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters. There was a lot of media.
The statement from the Editors of Revolution newspaper "The Haitian People Need Emergency Assistance—NOT Suppression and Domination" was warmly welcomed, and had a significant impact on the event. This was definitely the place to be in LA on this day. The moment the religious service ended we got up and distributed 250 leaflets to every single person in attendance.
People were very hungry for this information and exposure. Many people came up to us and wanted to talk and said they liked the statement, including pointing to certain parts of it, such as: "The Haitian people themselves must be assisted and not suppressed..." and people told us "there is all this 'surface talk' in the media" but never do you hear why people are so poor and specifically the history of U.S. domination, and what this history specifically and directly has to do with the magnitude of the loss of life from the 7.0 earthquake that hit Port-au-Prince on January 12.
In the church, a roomful of Haitians applauded when Maxine Waters hailed the Obama regime for its efforts to help the Haitian people. Then, conversely, after we spoke some truth to them about the history and present-moment reality of what the U.S. is doing, with its military and media for example, people spit outraged bitterness about U.S. imperialism's role over this past century, and two, wanted to discuss what we thought needed to be done. Right now, there is a battle for the truth to wage intensely in the face of powerful forces who want to absolve the U.S. of not only 200 years of domination and suppression, but of what the actual priorities of the U.S. government have been, and are, since the quake hit: not rescue, not water and food, not medicine and fighting to save lives; actually, just the opposite: preventing tens of thousands of lives from being saved and committing towering crimes so horrendous they should, for many, many people pose anew, or pose for the first time, the urgent necessity for revolution and a new society here and around the world.
We met a number of Haitian people and spoke at length with some of them: ministers, professionals, artists, grassroots types, writers, and athletes. There was an intense thirst for the materials we had. People knew of the history of imperialist domination—and there was among some seething anger during the discussion of the magnitude of the loss of life—however, among others, there was some confusion over Obama and thus, by extension, the role of the U.S. right now—and not a crystal clear understanding of the role of the ruling class media either. At the same time everyone agreed that they hadn't heard on TV or radio or seen in print truthful reporting on decades of U.S. domination (except on alternative radio like Pacifica). People very much appreciated how the materials broke down the actual history of embargo and economic strangulation of Haiti by France and the U.S. after the successful Slave Revolution of 1804; the intervention and occupation of Haiti in the early part of the 20th century; the support—more precisely the installation—of tyrants "Papa Doc" and "Baby Doc" Duvalier from 1957-1986 (including, during this period as well as after, the U.S. backing of reactionary paramilitary TonTons Maucoutes and death squads); and the kidnapping of democratically elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide just six years ago.... This history tells us why people are so poor in Haiti. People had personal stories, such as one professional athlete (a karate champion), who spent time in detention in this country as an "illegal alien," and who now wanted to tell his story to everyone he could. This subject looms large as the U.S. now plans to "capture" and place Haitian's leaving the destruction by boat—people who are fighting to survive—into concentration camps in Guantánamo.
We had substantive discussions with a couple of artists about revolution and communism and distributed the Bob Avakian Revolution on-line DVD palm cards to those in attendance. With some there was spirited, friendly and contentious discussion, for example with a special guest at the event, a Haitian Catholic Bishop, about the need to face squarely the U.S. role all these years, and right now. We listened, but also made our understanding and position clear on how the earthquake, scientifically, occurred (it was "not the will of god") but also how the extent of the lives lost has everything to do with this capitalist-imperialist system and that what is unfolding urgently points to the need for revolution in this world, and a genuine communism, not belief in the supernatural or in a god that will somehow take care of things and make Haiti and the world a different and better place. In other words there was friendly philosophical debate in the midst of this crisis that has bearing on truly understanding what is the problem and the solution.
The statement not only brought people some welcome truth, but objectively contended with the central thrust of U.S. Congresswoman's Maxine Waters' comments about the U.S. government and the role of U.S. imperialism right now, at this moment, in the immediate period since the earthquake. Congresswoman Waters spoke of being very "proud" of the U.S. response. She exposed historical wrongs. However, Congresswoman Waters actually obfuscated current realities that let U.S. imperialism off the hook for their responsibility for the horror that is transpiring in Haiti. Her talk made clear she has programmatic differences, at times, with certain imperialist policies, for example U.S. imperialism's kidnapping of Aristide and more overall efforts to degrade the influence of his Lavalas social base in Haiti ("Lavalas" is Creole for "the flood" or "avalanche"—a biblical reference—Lavalas is the political party, and social movement, headed by Father Aristide). But her comments at this event, and in the media since the earthquake, uphold and even extol Obama, Hillary (and Bill) Clinton and the overall role of the U.S. This is not true and is doing harm.
On the one hand, Maxine Waters exposed how Haiti is "paying the price" for the successful slave revolution of 1804 up to today. Truthful, progressive literature on Haitian history thematically discusses how Haiti has "paid the price" for it's successful Slave Revolution, or as Randall Robinson and others have put it, is being "punished" from that time of 1804 forward until today for the only successful Slave Revolution in the history of the world. Ms. Waters also spoke of the "taking out of an elected President" and told the story of her accompaniment of Aristide with Randall Robinson back to the Western Hemisphere (Jamaica) after he was kidnapped by the U.S. and taken to the Central African Republic by U.S. operatives in 2004. She spoke of her conversations with Haitian President Préval, insisting that he "open up opportunities for all political parties to participate" and discussed her own role in debt relief for the country.
However, she said she was "proud" of Obama and Hillary Clinton. There is clearly a theme overall of the U.S. imperialists making efforts to "get over" Katrina, with Obama an important focus. Maxine Waters said "if Bush and Clinton can get together god has given us another chance after Katrina" (!) Then, she made clear—from her perspective—the U.S. necessity to take over the airport right now; of USAID to take over coordination of the overall effort; she said the Haitians didn't wait for the U.S. and had fought to dig themselves out; however, food and water hadn't actually yet reached the people—so, there is a necessity for USAID, State Department, and the Army to be there "for food distribution and not security" (which is patently in conflict with reality).
We'll write again soon and report as we take the Revolution newspaper out into society during these urgent, heart-wrenching times.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
From A World to Win News Service
We received the following from the A World to Win News Service:
January 18, 2010. A World to Win News Service. On December 26 millions of Iranian people once again came into the streets all over the country in a continuation of their struggles against the tyrannical and reactionary Islamic regime. They ignored the advice of the "Green movement" (Islamic opposition) leaders, certain liberal intellectuals and the pro-imperialist media to keep quiet in the face of brutal violence. The protestors defended themselves when they were attacked by the reactionary forces and even targeted them. For example when police cars and vans ran over protestors, on at least three occasions that day people set fire to the vehicles and attacked the repressive forces.
That date marked Ashura, a Shia religious holiday commemorating the day when the third Imam, Mohammad's grandson, Hussein, was killed in a fight with another faction of Islamic believers. For centuries this day has become emblematic of Shia identity and is its most important day of mourning. After the Iranian revolution, the Islamic regime used Ashura every year to strengthen Shia Islamic ideology and tighten the grip of backward religious ideas over the masses. Now protestors have been taking advantage of religious holidays and other occasions to come into the streets.
During the Iranian revolution in 1978, people also came out on Ashura to protest against the Shah's regime. But that day was marked as a day of conciliation. Ayatollah Khomeini and other Islamic leaders asked the protestors to give flowers to army soldiers. These Islamic leaders asked the people to chant the slogan, "The army is our brother." Army commanders, for their part, ordered their soldiers to sit back and let the demonstrations go ahead. This was a clear indication that secret negotiations were going on behind the scenes between the Islamic leaders and the imperialist powers. It could be said that in 1978 Ashura was a turning point in the Islamic regime's soft creep to power.
However this year Ashura was very different. Many people were no longer in a mood to go along with one-sidedly non-violent protest. The people and the youth gave a taste of their fury to the brutal repressive forces and also showed their clear frustration with the Green movement and its leaders.
The preface to Ashura was the National Student Day demonstration December 6. The radical protests of the students shook the whole system.
The rulers and the Green leaders had assumed that because it is an Islamic holiday Ashura would not go out of their control. But all their predictions and expectations turned out to be wrong. The regime's severe threats and extreme brutality used to dissuade protestors proved counterproductive. The protestors came out anyway. The ruling clique could see for themselves the seriousness of the people's opposition. And they have decided to get even tougher on the people, maybe because they see no other way out of this spiral.
However the Green leaders and other bourgeois forces were shocked by the people's violence. They panicked and hastily reacted. For the most part they fell short of condemning the regime's violence against the people—the killing of at least eight people and the injuring of many more in Tehran alone, and the thousands arrested, according to regime sources. Their main concern was that people were fighting back and targeting symbols of the regime, and chanting anti-system slogans. "Down with Khamenei" became one of the main slogans of the protestors.
A few days later various sections of the Green movement who had been horrified and alarmed by the people's struggle made statements, most seeking "a way out of the crisis" that would leave Islamic rule intact. Green leader Mir-Hussein Moussavi, in his statement no. 17, for the first time indirectly recognized the Ahmadinejad government. Then a few days later, five "Islamic intellectuals" known as "reformists" issued a statement once again proposing a way to resolve the "crisis." A few days after that, the other failed presidential candidate and one of the main Green leaders, Mehdi Karoubi repeated the same thing. Then "reformist" former president Mohammad Khatami, reacted to the day's protests by attacking those chanting anti-system slogans.
These reactions to the people's protest on Ashura show anxiety and fear of the people's real struggle and their frustration with people who had not followed the rules for opposition conduct that they had tried to lay down. They hastily rushed to rescue the system they had come from and are there to protect.
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 #190, January 31, 2010
From A World to Win News Service
We received this from A World to Win News Service:
Following is a statement analysing the Ashura protests put out by the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) on 31 December 2009. (www.sarbedaran.org, postfach 900211, 51112 koln, Germany, Haghighat@sarbedaran.org)
You rose once again in millions all over the country on December 26. You challenged a contemptible regime with your courageous struggles.
The uprising is the festival of the masses and you victoriously converted a day that was established to fool the people and strengthen superstition into its own opposite. For the first time in Iran's history, instead of the old stupefying religious traditions and methods and without the presence of deceitful and blood-sucker clerics, you turned Ashura into a festival of the oppressed masses against a reactionary religious system. This is the first lesson and achievement of your battle.
There is no doubt that the blood shed by the people will water the tree of revolution. Let the sadness and sorrow of losing comrades in street battles be turned into a big fury against the whole ruling system.
You showed that it is possible to shatter the barriers and obstacles one by one. You went on the offensive. And this is the second achievement and lesson from your struggle. You correctly targeted the heart of the system. Your message was clear and explicit. By chanting the slogan "'Down with Khamenei!", you targeted the totality of the criminal system and called for its overthrow. You showed that the main question is not the right to vote in the presidential election or removing Ahmadinejad and replacing him with Moussavi. Your upsurge has inspired the oppressed people of the world and has made them proud.
Your struggles have shown that seeking peaceful approaches in struggle with a sworn enemy is a fantasy. For months all the media, whether national or international, representing small and big powers, from the Voice of America to the voices belonging to former leaders who are removed from the power structure, such as the Green movement and the nationalist-religious forces, advocate non-violence in the face of bloody repression. But the truth is that freedom can only be achieved in the light of fearless sacrifice, in the shadow of a brave offensive against the palace of oppression and injustice and in the brightness of an uncompromising approach towards the Islamic Republic. The history of the class struggle is the history of bloody battles between the ruling reactionaries and the oppressed toilers. Your struggle once again shone a light on that fundamental truth.
Your struggle added to the contention and confrontations within the enemy camp. In the last few months many people thought that it was possible to widen the cracks within the Islamic Republic forces by supporting one faction against the other, but the main reason for these divisions among the heads of this system is that the system's main pillars are breaking down and different factions within the system are looking for a way to save it. The system is no longer capable of controlling you or the increasing discontent in the whole society. Your struggle proved to be the only way to tear apart the united and unified body of the enemy camp. And this is the fourth lesson and achievement of your struggle.
The leaders of the ruling clique wanted to gain control of your fury by removing a few secondary pawns (officials) such as the Judge murderer Saeed Mortazavi [the notorious judge said to be responsible for keeping the arrested protestors to Kahrizak prison. He is also accused of involvement in the death of Zahra Kazemi, the Iranian-Canadian journalist]. But it is too late now, and the Islamic Republic must go. It is time for the ruling power to sacrifice bigger pieces and such a move would seriously strain the relations between their various camps. Some of the clerics have already started to murmur about conciliation. But at the same time the ruling faction has launched a campaign to arrest Moussavi's advisers and supporters, killing those close to him and preventing the speech of Khatami (Mohammad Khatami, the reformist ex-president of Iran.) [Every year he speaks at Ashura in Jamaran, where Khomeini used to live. This year the ruling clique did not allow it. Also many of his speeches have been interrupted and ended by an attack of plainclothes forces.]
In the last few months the revolutionary upsurge has gone through twists and turns. Our struggle has developed to new stages, and serious and acute battles are developing that need more conscious preparations.
On the one hand the stage and the aims of the struggles are more clear: not only has the temporary nature of the government of Ahmadinejad and company become more obvious, but the existence of the Islamic Republic has been brought into question.
On the other hand the struggle has become more complicated: the different sections of the bourgeois political forces are struggling to seriously confront the deepening struggle and the clear and basic demands that it is putting forward. The religious-nationalists have become terrified. They ask for forgiveness because the people have chanted slogans against the murderer Khamenei and desperately want to go back to the earlier stages of the struggle, i.e. to remove Ahmadinejad, or as they put it the "coup government". They are asking the deceitful Rafsanjani [a central regime figure who was the first president of Iran after the Iran-Iraq war and an opponent of Ahmadinejad] to involve himself more seriously. In Iranian history the bourgeois opposition factions and discontented bourgeois-liberal intellectuals have always been terrified by the radical upsurge of the masses, and with cowardly contempt they have resorted to the defense of the rotten pillars of the rule of the reactionary class.
When the rule of a reactionary clique comes to an end, all the protectors of the old system on a national and international level will try to save the main structure of the system, i.e. protect the state machinery of suppression from the reach of the people's struggle and deck it out in new clothes.
It is not enough to prepare ourselves to resist the regime's repression. More importantly we should not let the aims and goals of our struggle be traded away and let one of the region's most reactionary regimes once again be amended, or allow another regime of the same nature to come to power and rule the oppressed and exploited people more effectively.
The most important question facing the revolution and revolutionary struggle is seizing political power—how to shatter the old state power and replace it with a new state power based on the realization of the basic needs of the majority of the people. The minimum is to get rid of the religious shops, to separate the state and religion, ensure freedom of opinion, outlook and expression and communities, the abolition of formal and informal discrimination against women and other citizens [based on sex, religion or nationality] and the defense of the rights of workers and toilers in the urban and rural areas. Only if the people become more conscious of the nature and characteristics of this new state power can the continuation of struggle to the end and final victory be ensured. The streets should not only be the scene of battle against the oppressor; they should also become a place for crucial discussions. This is how it will be possible to organize for deep social transformations and chart a new way for the future.
The more the regime resists the will and demands of the people, the more it will give rise to new fronts of struggle and in turn, the responsibilities of the revolutionaries and communists will increase. Because more than at any other time, the people need revolutionary and communists' consciousness and organization. Without consciousness and organization and a clear horizon it is not possible to achieve any stable victory.
Long live the memory of the martyrs of the recent revolutionary upsurge! Long live the people's bravery! Death to the Islamic Republic! Long live revolution!
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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