Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #191, February 7, 2010
Hearts around the world continue to ache for the Haitian people. So many dead and dying. Most buildings in Port-au-Prince completely flattened. The rest uninhabitable. Hundreds of thousands living in the streets, coming together to help the sick and injured, sharing what little they have. Tent cities amidst the indescribable stench of death.
Revolution sent a correspondent to Haiti who has told me stories of the incredible spirit of the people—struggling to not only stay alive but to keep their dignity and humanity toward each other. People trying to go on with life, even as they bury the dead. "It is quite something," he says, "to see people living in unbelievably unlivable conditions and then to hear the sound of children still playing in the street... It is incredible to see how generous and caring people can be in the most utterly miserable conditions."
Some of the people now living in the streets of Port-au-Prince are angry that the U.S. has sent more soldiers with guns than doctors with medicine. At the same time people argue the situation in Haiti is now so desperate that the only way to rebuild the country is to bring in and completely rely on the United States.
In fact, this moment in Haiti—where the whole future of the country and the people hangs in the balance—poses sharp questions. How did Haiti come to be so poor? Why was there no infrastructure in the country? Why were 2-3 million people out of a population of 9 million living in the capital city of Port-au-Prince? And will the aid and economic development that the U.S. is offering really help the people and rebuild the country?
One way to begin getting at these questions is to look at the history of Haiti.
Isolation and Enforced Underdevelopment: The very birth of Haiti set into motion a long period in which it was isolated by the U.S., France and other imperialist countries.
In 1791, Toussaint L'Ouverture led a heroic slave rebellion, which over 13 years defeated the slave owners of Haiti, armies from Spain and Britain, and finally the French. This was the only successful slave revolution in history and the U.S. ruling class feared the spread of such a contagion—especially to its own slave population. The U.S. and the European powers refused to recognize the new Haitian Republic. The French navy imposed an embargo on Haiti that remained in effect until 1825 and the U.S. refused to trade with Haiti. The French demanded Haiti pay a massive price for its independence, reparations to compensate France for its loss of slaves! And because of this Haiti immediately became immersed in foreign debt. By the end of the 1800s Haiti was using 80 percent of its national revenue to pay this outrageous debt.
In these conditions of economic and political isolation, Haiti remained severely underdeveloped and poor. What developed in this context was an oppressive sharecropping system in which the peasants became increasingly exploited by powerful forces in the countryside who had economic relations with elite classes in the cities.
U.S. Invasion, Occupation and Domination: Going into the 20th century, U.S. imperialism continued to keep Haiti politically isolated—and backward. The world was on the brink of World War 1 and the U.S. was increasingly worried about the threat of German imperialism making inroads in Haiti. Inside Haiti, the U.S. faced an increasingly unstable situation—where different sections of the ruling classes were clashing and the impoverished were waging a growing liberation struggle. It was in this context that in 1915, the U.S. invaded Haiti and the Marines occupied the country for almost 20 years until 1934.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. was expanding and integrating its empire and had big concerns about the spread of revolution in the world, including in Latin America and the Caribbean—what the U.S. considers its "own backyard."
It was in this context that starting in 1957, the U.S. propped up the dictatorial government of Papa Doc (Francois) Duvalier—an utterly corrupt and brutal regime that used its military, along with Tonton Macoute gangs, to terrorize and murder people.
In this whole period, the U.S. continued its policy of keeping Haiti politically isolated and backward—cooperating with and using both light-skinned elites in the cities as well as reactionary black nationalists. The U.S. tried—mostly unsuccessfully—in economically penetrating and profiting from the development of agricultural production and the development of small industry in the cities.
From Destruction and Distortion of Haiti's Economy to Sweatshop Dreams: After Papa Doc died in 1971, his son Baby Doc (Jean Claude) Duvalier followed in his father's bloody footsteps, with the continued support and backing of the United States. U.S. imperialism continued to try and extract profits from Haiti. But by the beginning of the 1980s there were only about 200 mostly U.S.-owned or subsidiary companies employing only 60,000 Haitian workers.
The government of Baby Doc served U.S. interests, but it was also widely hated by the people and he was forced to leave the country after a massive and ongoing rebellion. Following this was a series of military governments known to Haitians as "Duvalierism without Duvalier." Then in 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a radical priest and a leader of the anti-Duvalierist movement, was elected president. Aristide did not seek to break with U.S. imperialism, but he did try to bring about certain economic and social reforms that conflicted with what the U.S. wanted to do in Haiti. And the mass, popular movement that arose in support of Aristide threatened political stability. The Haitian reactionaries hated Aristide, and from the viewpoint of protecting their interests, the U.S. saw him as undesirable and unreliable. After just nine months in office, the CIA collaborated with local military forces to stage a bloody coup d'état that overthrew Aristide—thousands of his supporters were killed.
But this did not quell resistance or accomplish a "stable environment" for the U.S. So in 1994 the U.S. brokered a deal to restore Aristide to office, returning him accompanied by 20,000 U.S. troops who remained in Haiti for over a year. The U.S. demanded that in return, Aristide end his resistance to the Haitian army and ruling class and the U.S. plan for Haiti. But mass struggle against the brutality of the Haitian army and Tonton Macoute thugs continued. In 2004 the U.S. military literally kidnapped Aristide and his family and put him on a plane to the Central African Republic, as a new regime consolidated and hundreds of U.S. Marines once again controlled the capital.
Over the last several years the U.S. has been advancing new plans for attempting what it has as yet been unable to do—to develop Haiti as a base for highly profitable cheap assembly sweatshops. And this is a big factor in how the U.S. is now discussing its plans for "rebuilding" Haiti in the wake of the earthquake.
Some people might be thinking: Now is a real chance for the U.S. and its military to do something good for a change. Instead of going around the world shooting people and dropping bombs—maybe they can actually help people in Haiti. And looking back at the history of all the harm the U.S. has done in Haiti (which includes military invasions and "regime changes")—the argument could certainly, morally, be made that it's about time for the U.S. to repay the Haitian people back by helping them rebuild their country in the wake of this tremendous disaster.
But to understand whether or not this is actually possible requires going beyond the good intentions of individuals—whether it's compassionate doctors or even a U.S. Marine who feels good about handing out food to hungry people or Obama who has said he cares about Haiti.
Bigger things determine what the U.S. will and can do in Haiti. Bigger things set the terms for what kind of aid will be distributed to the Haitian people and in what ways the U.S. will "rebuild" Haiti.
The truth is this: What is possible for the U.S. to do in Haiti has nothing to do with wishes and intentions. It has everything to do with the system of imperialism in which the United States is a powerful imperialist power and Haiti exists as an oppressed Third World country.
There are rules to this system—and like in a game, each of the players that is part of this system has to play by these rules. And for anyone to actually work outside of the rules would require upending the whole game.
So what are the rules of the system of imperialism—that govern the relationship between Haiti and the United States?
Rule Number One is that the whole point of everything is for someone to make a profit. And where does that profit come from?The capitalist class—the relative handful which owns or controls the means of production (the land, resources, factories, etc.)—extracts that profit from the proletariat—the worldwide class of people which owns nothing but its ability to work, and therefore must work for others to survive.
What does this rule mean in Haiti?
It means workers are paid $3-$5 a day. It means they work in horribly unsafe and unsanitary conditions. It means they have no rights to organize. It means women workers face constant sexual harassment. It means workers end up suddenly unemployed when factories pick up and move to another Third World country where workers are paid even less. It meant that when the earthquake hit, 500 workers—perhaps 1,000—in the poor area of Carrefour were crushed to death next to their sewing machines.
In fact, to imperialism Haiti's biggest "asset" is the fact that people impoverished and desperate—and even more so now after the earthquake—can be forced to work for the lowest wages and in the worst working conditions.
Bill Clinton—who together with George W. Bush has now been put in charge of U.S. aid to Haiti—has been the point man for a whole plan to expand the Haitian economy by pushing policies that give U.S. capital greater access to different sectors of the Haitian economy and developing "free trade zones" for garment sweatshops and tourism. This plan came out of a report prepared for the UN in 2009 that openly discussed Haiti's poverty as its number one asset in the global capitalist economy. Haiti occupies a certain place in the global imperialist division of labor. Investments are geared to light assembly (sweatshops), and the production of agricultural goods for export, not the development of large industry.
Oxford University economics professor Paul Collier, who prepared the report, wrote: "Due to its poverty and relatively unregulated labor market, Haiti has labor costs that are fully competitive with China, which is the global benchmark." Translation: Haiti can match or better the lowest wages and the most horrific working conditions in the world—and generate very high profits for foreign capital.
Rule Number One, carried out by an imperialist country like the U.S. in a poor country like Haiti, has particular, extreme and grotesque expressions. It subordinates the economy of the whole country to the needs of imperialism.
A very sharp example of this is how Haiti went from being basically self sufficient in food to becoming totally dependent on imports. Due to the workings of imperialism and conscious policies by the U.S. and U.S.-dominated financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, domestic agricultural production in Haiti has basically been ruined and thousands of peasants have seen their livelihood destroyed.
Thirty years ago most of the food eaten by the Haitian people was domestically grown. Then in 1986 the IMF loaned Haiti $24.6 million. One of the conditions of this loan was that Haiti reduce tariff protections on Haitian rice, other agricultural products and some industries. This made it possible for other countries, especially the U.S., to compete in Haiti's markets. But the Haitian farmers could not compete with U.S. rice growers who were being subsidized by the U.S. government. And some of the cheap rice that flooded into Haiti came in the form of "food aid." Before long the local rice market in Haiti collapsed and thousands of farmers were forced to move to the cities to look for work. As a result, Haiti is the fourth largest market for U.S. rice exports.
Subordinate to the needs of U.S. imperialism, Haiti's agricultural economy was dramatically changed—and in a way that deepened the country's dependency, disarticulation and misery among the people. In 1970 agricultural production still accounted for about half of Haiti's gross domestic product. By the beginning of the 1990s it had dropped to less than a third. Haiti is now dependent on imports for more than half of its food consumption.
Around this same time, the U.S. insisted that the Haitian peasantry do away with its huge and valuable domestic pig population—supposedly due to fears that the swine flu would infect the U.S. pig population. And this had a devastating impact on many peasants.
Rule Number Two is that individual capitalists (or "blocs of capital") must battle each other for survival.Those capitalists who do not constantly expand run the risk of being driven under by others.
One way this expresses itself is that everything the U.S. does in Haiti must take into account the geo-strategic concerns of the United States in the whole region and the world. The U.S., while it is top dog, confronts rivals in this region—such as France and China. And this means that a BIG concern of the U.S. is the need to keep Haiti under control and maintain stability. This is because instability in Haiti or in the region could provide openings for other countries to take—and gain an—economic and/or political advantage.
Rule Number Three is that anything that gets in the way of America being the number one empire in the world must be brought to heel, or crushed.
Go back to the beginning of this article and look at how Rule Number 3 has been applied throughout Haiti's history. U.S. domination, exploitation and dependency in Haiti have all been facilitated by a long history of brutal U.S.-backed regimes and U.S. invasions and occupations. And in particular, the suppression of the resistance of the Haitian people has been central to both maintaining and managing this oppressive relationship.
Anti-U.S. sentiments have fueled a whole history of resistance and rebellion among the Haitian people. And this is a big reason U.S. imperialism has needed to develop and prop up a whole class of collaborators who enforce and serve U.S. domination—and at the same time have their own exploitative class interests.
Our reporter in Haiti tells me that there is a lot of anger, hatred and mistrust of the government. And people point to the brutality, corruption, and long history of a small elite and privileged class looting the economy and government treasury and living in luxury while the masses of people suffer.
At the same time, this is sometimes given as a reason for why now, after the earthquake, it is only the U.S., not the Haitian government, which can rebuild the country. But a hugely important truth is being missed in this argument. And that is that the Haitian government has been and remains totally subservient to the United States. It, too, has and must march and act to the heartbeat of imperialism. The corruption, the brutality, the elitism is real enough. But this doesn't get to the heart of the problem—which is that the ruling class in Haiti maintains power in order to—and only so long as it is able to—serve and maintain the economic and social relations that serve U.S. imperialism.
It is not enough to look at the situation in Haiti and come to the conclusion that what Haiti really needs is infrastructure, food, medicine, doctors, schools, etc. Yes, Haiti needs all these things. But, imperialism must play by the rules. And this not only is the reason Haiti is so poor—but why the U.S. can do no good in Haiti.
Yes, Bill Clinton may come in and build some schools and orphanages along with the sweatshops. And maybe Haiti will be able to get foreign loans to rebuild its infrastructure. But none of this will fundamentally change the system that keeps Haiti impoverished. And none of this will even begin to address the deep economic and social problems the Haitian people confront. For THIS to happen, it will take a REVOLUTION. A revolution that kicks out imperialism and overthrows the Haitian ruling class that's tied to and serves imperialism. A revolution that sets out to build a socialist society with the aim of a communist world (of which I will have more to say in Part 2).
The situation in Haiti right now underscores—with such great urgency and profound truth—the opening paragraph of the Manifesto of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, "Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage":
"Despite what is constantly preached at us, this capitalist system we live under, this way of life that constantly drains away—or in an instant blows away—life for the great majority of humanity, does not represent the best possible world—nor the only possible world. The ways in which the daily train of life has, for centuries and millennia, caused the great majority of humanity to be weighed down, broken in body and spirit, by oppression, agony, degradation, violence and destruction, and the dark veil of ignorance and superstition, is not the fault of this suffering humanity—nor is this the 'will' of some non-existent god or gods, or the result of some unchanging and unchangeable 'human nature.' All this is the expression, and the result, of the way human society has developed up to this point under the domination of exploiters and oppressors...but that very development has brought humanity to the point where what has been, for thousands of years, no longer has to be—where a whole different way of life is possible in which human beings, individually and above all in their mutual interaction with each other, in all parts of the world, can throw off the heavy chains of tradition and rise to their full height and thrive in ways never before experienced, or even fully imagined."
Every sentence here speaks so profoundly to the whole history of Haiti as a neo-colony of the United States and to the terrible situation faced by the Haitian people right now. It speaks to the fact that the Haitian people need revolution that breaks the chains of imperialist domination—NOT more of the same system they have been suffering under for so many years.
Revolution #191, February 7, 2010
EDITED TRANSCRIPT OF A TALK BY BOB AVAKIAN, CHAIRMAN OF THE REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNIST PARTY, USA, FALL 2009
[Editors' note: The following is the eighth 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 seven excerpts appeared in Revolution #184, #185, #186, #187, #188, #189 and #190. The entire talk can be found online at revcom.us/avakian/driving.]
To begin, I want to re-emphasize a point which is by no means an exaggeration and certainly not hyperbole: the communist movement in the world at this juncture is truly at a crossroads, with the stakes really being "vanguard of the future, or residue of the past." We have to be fully aware of this in all we do—fully recognize the reality and implications of this and act accordingly, including with regard to our internationalist responsibilities. So I want to speak briefly to a few points with that understanding and in that framework.
The task with regard to the existing communist forces in the world, particularly the organized communist forces, is, again, one of repolarization through struggle. The question of whether there are going to be organized forces in the world which are, in fact, basing themselves on communism in its most advanced expression is one that is going to be determined through struggle; the only way there is going to be a positive resolution is in fact through very systematic and determined ideological struggle on the part of those who do adhere to this communist viewpoint, and we have to find the best and most appropriate forms for that struggle to be waged.
At the same time, there is another significant dimension to the forging of the communist movement on this basis, which is bringing forward and winning to revolutionary communism new forces, people who are not at present affiliated with or organized into a particular communist grouping in this or that country, and people who may not even at the present time be advocates of or won to communism.
Both these aspects—both repolarization of the existing communist forces and the winning to communism of new forces—present themselves as important challenges in the context of the framework which I began this discussion with—that the communist movement, without any hyperbole or any exaggeration, is truly at a crossroads and the stakes really are vanguard of the future, or residue of the past. This is not just some abstract formulation, not just some moral injunction nor still less some sectarian concern of a few vestigial forces left over from the high tide of the 1960s revolutionary upsurge. It is a matter of profound importance for the masses of people in the world. If you think back to what was being discussed in terms of the "two historically outmodeds"—that whole dynamic and the logic and momentum of that, and the overall trajectory of things in the world now, which offers no way out for the masses of people other than being shackled more deeply within the confines of this horrific world as it is—you can understand why the question of whether there is going to be a vanguard of the future, or only a residue of the past, is truly a world-historic challenge, one which we have to confront and meet.
There are particular parts of the world where the absence of communist forces especially stands out, but on the world scale as a whole this is a very stark phenomenon—the lack of, or the real weakness of, the communist forces, and the struggle between communism and revisionism within the communist movement, as well as the need to reach out to, to influence and to draw toward communism, new forces. Now, with regard to the aspect of bringing forward and winning to revolutionary communism new forces, there is once again a particular importance to people among the intelligentsia. There is the necessity for the shifting of allegiance, the winning over to revolutionary communism, of even a small—but nonetheless in today's context, a significant—force among the intelligentsia.
Here it is important to recall and apply to this situation and this challenge Lenin's point on "masses" and "masses." Lenin emphasized that the definition and meaning of "masses" differs according to differing objective situations. At certain points, when the objective and subjective factors are not particularly developed, in terms of favoring revolution—when the communist forces are weak, when there is not a great deal of revolutionary upheaval more broadly in society and in the world—the term "masses" can legitimately apply to even a few score or a few hundred people. In periods when there is massive social upheaval, and particularly when society as a whole is convulsed in a profound crisis, "masses" means not only thousands but hundreds of thousands and millions.
It is important not to have a static or metaphysical understanding of "masses," as a category that always constitutes a majority, or in any case a very large part, of society. It can be meaningful to speak of "masses" in terms of scores of people in a certain context, and specifically in terms of the disproportionate—and in this case disproportionately positive—influence that can be exerted by a small core of intellectuals, even a few score, or certainly a few hundred, in the world today who are won to, and become ardent and active advocates and fighters for, communism. Winning over a core of such people at this point, both within a particular country such as the U.S., but also on an international level, is an extremely important challenge that has to be taken up.
In all this, it is important to grasp that the New Synthesis is the basis on which the struggle must be waged and the basic framework within which people must be won to communism. At the same time, the Manifesto of our party, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, is pivotal in this. The Manifesto includes a concentrated presentation of the New Synthesis. Of course, the New Synthesis is addressed in other works,1 and there is the larger body of work of communist theory, as it has been developed up to the present. But within all this, this formulation is important: The New Synthesis is the basis and the Manifesto is pivotal.
Here, again, we can see the tremendous importance of polemics—and in particular a crucial role for Demarcations, beginning with the very important and substantive polemic against the political philosophy of Alain Badiou—in relation both to repolarization of existing communist forces and winning new forces. This is important not only within the U.S. itself, but has much broader application and importance in the international dimension, as a key aspect of repolarizing forces around revolutionary communism in its most advanced expression.
1. For a discussion of the New Synthesis, in addition to the Manifesto (Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, Revolution #143, September 21, 2008, also available online at revcom.us) see "What IS Bob Avakian's New Synthesis?"—which is serialized in Revolution newspaper, beginning with issue #129 (May 18, 2008) and continuing through issue #133, and is available in its entirety online at revcom.us—and "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity," a talk by Bob Avakian, also available in its entirety (Parts 1 and 2) online at revcom.us and serialized in Revolution newspaper, beginning with issue #105 (October 21, 2007) and continuing through issue #120. ("Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity" is also included in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008.) [back]
Revolution #191, February 7, 2010
A little over a year ago this week, millions of people in the U.S. greeted the inauguration of Obama with hope. For years people had watched in revulsion as Bush overrode massive public opposition to launch totally unjustified war against Iraq. They watched as he occupied Afghanistan and declared that the U.S. had the right to go to war against anyone it perceived to be even possibly "threatening" it. They saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib and some heard the tales out of Guantánamo... they watched the basic rights that are supposed to be guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution shredded... and they saw a country rapidly heading in a direction that revolted them.
The chart on this page shows what Obama has done about those outrages. In almost every case, he has maintained the course first charted by Bush. In the egregious cases of Afghanistan and Pakistan, including his Wild West use of drone missiles to assassinate any people he wishes (and in the process also kill scores of other people), he has "doubled down" on the vicious course undertaken by Bush.
In some cases, Obama has "only" maintained the measures taken by Bush—but far from being "neutral," this makes things far worse. For now, what were unprecedented outrages perpetrated by Bush—for instance, widespread unwarranted wiretapping, or the suspension of habeas corpus (the right to trial) on the say-so of the president, or the assertion that the president can forbid trials on the basis that they might touch on "state secrets"—are transformed into the norm and the status quo; from being unprecedented, these outrages become the precedents for the future.
Why has this happened? Many Obama supporters will say that "he has to do it." To the extent they are pointing to the fact that there are larger forces dictating what any president does, they are right. But to the extent they use this statement to absolve Obama—and themselves—of any responsibility, they are wrong.
During the Bush years many people who became Obama supporters would look at what Bush was doing and say, "We are better than that." "We" may well be—and how we confront these challenges will be part of what decides whether that is true; but they—those larger forces who Obama does in fact represent when he formulates his policies, makes his speeches and enforces his decisions—most assuredly are NOT. This kind of shit—the crimes you hated under Bush—are what they, and their way of doing things are all about. These crimes are in the service of something very specific—"keeping America number one," that is, in a position of dominance over the rest of the world. This is the goal animating both Bush and Obama, as much as they may differ in how to do this. The fact that Obama explicitly framed last week's State of the Union address with this goal illustrates that point.
If the outrages that drove you to support Obama were wrong under Bush, they are still wrong today. If those abuses led you to pour your efforts into the Obama campaign, then there is a responsibility to confront and work toward finding ways to change these now. Yes, this will require hard work... and hard thinking. AND yes, this may make you uncomfortable—uncomfortable in doing new things, and uncomfortable in thinking about this country in ways that can pose challenges to what you take for granted intellectually, how you live and what you dream about.
That requires a significant degree of bravery. But there is no other morally viable course.
Bush seized on September 11 to launch the "war on terror"—an unbounded war for greater imperialist empire, which involved committing war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale, including the unjust, immoral and illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and a global campaign of assassinations, illegal and indefinite detention without due process, and torture.
Obama no longer uses the words "war on terror," but he's continuing—and in many ways escalating—the global war Bush began. He is tripling the number of troops in Afghanistan to over 100,000 and escalating the war in Pakistan. In 2004-2008, Bush authorized 46 drone attacks. In the year Obama's been in office, he's authorized at least 63.
He has escalated and expanded CIA operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries.
He has continued Bush's policy of targeted killings of U.S. citizens without due process, with a "hit list" of U.S. citizens he's personally authorized to be killed.
Bush created a legal framework for torture and carried it out on an unprecedented scale, while claiming "the U.S. does not torture."
In his State of the Union address, Obama claimed, "We've prohibited torture." Obama banned some interrogation methods, while allowing his CIA director to reserve the right to use them. Obama has fought for immunity for Bush torturers and has continued rendition of prisoners to countries where torture is carried out.
Bush expanded the policy of "rendition"—seizing people without charges and taking them to secret prisons for torture and interrogation. The U.S. prison at Guantánamo became the hated global symbol of these brutal and illegal practices.
Obama formally ended CIA renditions and promised to close Guantánamo. Yet he retained authority to use renditions, authorized the CIA to continue rendering suspects to third countries for detention, torture and interrogation, and continues to operate secret prisons in Afghanistan where prisoners are detained indefinitely without charges. Guantánamo remains open.
Bush authorized massive, widespread illegal wiretapping and spying, including on millions of U.S. citizens.
Obama has left the Bush surveillance program intact and embraced the Patriot Act. He argues presidential "sovereign immunity" means U.S. officials can't be sued for violating federal surveillance laws.
There is a place where epistemology and morality meet.
There is a place where you have to stand and say: It is not acceptable to refuse to look at something—or to refuse to believe something—because it makes you uncomfortable.
And: It is not acceptable to believe something just because it makes you feel comfortable.
Revolution #191, February 7, 2010
Howard Zinn—historian, radical activist, and teacher—died at the age of 87 on January 27. He was an important thinker who spoke unsettling truths about America—and who joined ideas to action. He will be sadly missed.
Howard Zinn wrote more than 20 books and plays. His most famous and influential work, A People's History of the United States, has opened the eyes of countless readers to the realities of America's founding in genocide and slavery and America's arc of brutal expansion. It has opened the eyes of countless readers to the resistance of the exploited and dominated.
This is history that gives voice to Native Americans, Blacks, women, immigrants, poor laborers, and others whose lives and spirit counted for little in mainstream histories. This is history that tells the story of the Spanish-American War from the side of the Filipinos who fought U.S. colonial conquest.
Howard Zinn stood for a truth-seeking craft of history that challenged the official and self-serving narrative of America—and that challenged people to learn from history, to act on history, to become a force in the struggle for a better world. In this, I was inspired by Howard Zinn; and, as a committed intellectual, I also felt a kinship with him.
He was a very special kind of teacher. In his political memoir You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, he explained:
From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, to be prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This of course was a recipe for trouble."
Howard Zinn did not fear that "trouble." At Spelman College in Atlanta, where he joined the faculty in 1956 and later served as chairman of the history department, he became involved in the civil rights movement. He was active in the 1960s with the more radical wing of that movement, represented by SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). He encouraged students to take part in the struggle against segregation—and criticized the campus administration for not doing enough to support that struggle. He was fired.
Howard Zinn was an engaged intellectual who did not shrink from calling out and opposing the crimes of the U.S. empire, even as that carried heavy risk. He acted with principle and integrity...and called on others to do the same.
In the mid-1960s, as the U.S. escalated war in Vietnam, he joined with other progressive and radical intellectuals to go against the tide. He criticized the government and organized against the war. He summoned young people to resist and supported those who did. In the 1980s, he condemned U.S. intervention and U.S.-sponsored terror in Central America. In 1991, he stood against the Persian Gulf War.
In the 2000s, he was a forceful critic and opponent of the Bush regime's program of war and repression. And in late 2002, as the U.S. readied for war on Iraq, he helped break open resistance in the post-9/11 era as one of the signers of the "Not In Our Name" Statement of Conscience.
For some five decades, Howard Zinn's engaged scholarship and moral example influenced academics, activists, and new generations of the young.
And it was to the young that he felt a special responsibility. As he said in an interview in this newspaper in 1998: "beneath the surface of 'youthful ambition,' 'need to graduate,' 'need to make a career'—beneath that surface, I believe there is always among young people a hunger to do something worthwhile and important." Even as his health weakened, he continued to speak at high schools and colleges.
I had the privilege of meeting with and sharing in discussions with Howard Zinn. I was struck by a deep knowledge matched by a capacious open-mindedness. I felt Howard's warmth, his curiosity, and a generosity of spirit. I felt his abiding sense of principle.
Howard Zinn's passing is a great loss. At a time when intellectual courage and conviction are in short supply, his commitment to expose the lies and confront the injustices of this system stands as a powerful example. His was indeed a life well lived.
Revolution #191, February 7, 2010
Part II – Marching in Cairo
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!
Egyptian security forces, with plainclothes thugs in the lead, kicked, punched, shoved, tossed, and beat the protesters—who sat down, linked arms, threw themselves on top of their comrades to protect them, and struggled to hold their position. Security forces finally 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!
This is the story of how the Gaza Freedom March came to be. Why it took place in Cairo, instead of Gaza, Palestine as intended. Who were the people who came from around the world to be part of it? And what light the whole experience sheds on the urgent and vital stakes of breaking the siege of Gaza, and the struggle for freedom for the Palestinian people.
There are things in this world you just are not supposed to question. There are assumptions you are not supposed to challenge, and relations you are not allowed to oppose. And the moral legitimacy of the state of Israel, and its crimes against the Palestinians, are among those assumptions.
And in that light, the audacity of the Gaza Freedom March (GFM) continues to grow on me.
Many people participated in the Gaza Freedom March, coming from all kinds of political and philosophical perspectives. But speaking for myself, my appreciation of the spirit and accomplishments of the GFM was deepened the other day when Barack Obama was challenged by a student in Florida as to how could he talk about "human rights," and yet not condemn "Israel and Egypt's human rights violations against the occupied Palestinian people?" In reply, Obama, as commander-in-chief of the U.S. empire, laid out the basic parameters of acceptable discussion, questioning, protest and action in relation to the state of Israel:
"Israel is one of our strongest allies, it has... let me play this out. It is a vibrant democracy. It shares links with us in all sorts of ways. It is critical for us and I will never waver from ensuring Israel's security, and helping them secure themselves in what is a really hostile region.... So I make no apologies for that."
And then, he laid out the parameters and limits of what is supposed to be legitimate concern for the Palestinian people:
"What is also true, is that the plight of the Palestinians is something that we have to pay attention to, because it is not good for our security, and it is not good for Israel's security if you've got millions of individuals who feel hopeless, who don't have an opportunity to get an education, or get a job, or what have you."
It is important that those who care about the Palestinian people (as well as people who are becoming disenchanted with Obama generally) not just dismiss Obama's response as "two-faced bullshit." If you listen carefully, Obama's response reveals much about the level, and unwavering commitment of the U.S. to Israel. And Obama makes "no apologies for that."
On the other hand, if you listen to what Obama is saying, in the calculations of U.S. imperialism the only reason to even worry about the "plight of the Palestinian people" is that if they are backed too far into a corner, something might happen that is "not good for our country" or "Israel's security."
Out of bounds in this set of parameters is any exposure, analysis, or understanding of the origins and thenature of the state of Israel. The creation of the state of Israel was originally sponsored by European colonial powers—mainly Great Britain—who deemed it necessary and, through a Zionist state, possible to have a militarized outpost in the Middle East. Today, Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world, and has carried out military missions on behalf of the U.S. not only in the region, but on behalf of brutally repressive pro-U.S. regimes from Central America (Guatemala) to Africa (the apartheid regime in South Africa). Recent research by Israeli historians has documented, through first-hand sources, how fundamental terrorist ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population was to the establishment of Israel. And Israel today viciously oppresses and subjugates the Palestinian people, on whose land it is built—something I'll have much more to say about in upcoming installments of this series.1
Over 1,300 of us from around the world came to Cairo, Egypt, intending to march in Gaza, to stand with the million-and-a-half Palestinian people who are being held hostage by Israel, backed by the U.S. in an isolated, hell-on-earth, outdoor prison.
Did I realize how "out of order" this was? On one level—intellectually—I understood this before I left. But the stakes of what we were doing became more and more clear as the Egyptian authorities not only barred us from getting to Gaza, but surrounded and detained us just about every time we congregated in a group of more
Israel's massacre of Gaza last year targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure. And the ongoing blockade is calculated to produce widespread civilian suffering and death particularly on the very young, the old, and the sick in Gaza. The more people see Israel for what it is, the more basis there is for people to not only understand the real implications of Obama's statement that Israel "shares links with us [sic] in all sorts of ways. It is critical for us," but to politically oppose Israel's crimes against the Palestinians, and the role of the U.S. in backing that.
Israel, and Egypt—backed by the U.S.—have done all they can to isolate the people of Gaza and cover up what is being done to them. (See Part 1 of this series, for example, for the role of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the wall Egypt is building to seal off Gaza, and the role of the U.S. Embassy in preventing the Gaza Freedom March from getting to Gaza. Embassy officials informed GFM representatives that it is against U.S. policy to encourage Americans to go to Gaza.) When former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and others attempted to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza, their boat was rammed and forced away from Gaza by the Israel military. United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, Richard Falk, who condemned Israel's siege of Gaza as amounting to a "crime against humanity," was detained in harsh conditions in an Israeli prison while investigating human rights abuses. The Goldstone Report, commissioned by the UN, concluded that the blockade that preceded Israel's assault constituted "violations of international human rights and humanitarian law," and that in the war itself, Israel's target was "at least in part ... the people of Gaza as a whole." That report has been suppressed by the UN.2
And in this context, the powerful forces in the world were determined that there would be no Gaza Freedom March.
There were daily GFM actions and protests in Egypt. We were not at all just "sitting around and waiting" to see if we would get permission to go to Gaza. And as it became clear the Egyptians were being very intransigent in not allowing us to go to Gaza, there was growing impatience among those of us in Cairo. At the same time, we were increasingly becoming an embarrassment to the Egyptian regime, whose role in the siege of Gaza was becoming more and more of an issue in Egypt, in the Middle East, and worldwide. The Egyptian foreign minister, for example, complained that Egyptian embassies around the world were being flooded with angry emails.
It was under these conditions that the Egyptian regime, in the form of the offices of Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of Egypt's "president for life" and also the head of the Egyptian Red Crescent (the equivalent of the Red Cross in the Muslim world), offered to allow 100 of us to go to Gaza on December 28, as a humanitarian mission, and under the auspices of Code Pink, not as the Gaza Freedom March. Code Pink initially accepted this offer.
Egypt had allowed small humanitarian missions into Gaza in the past. Regardless of the intent and work of those involved, allowing a trickle of humanitarian aid to reach Gaza could be, and has been spun by the Israelis and Egyptians as supposed proof of their humanitarian "concern" for the people of Gaza.
On the other hand, the mission of the Gaza Freedom March was an unprecedented political protest of over 1,300 people from around the world joining with Palestinians (and with an Israeli component on the Israeli side of the Gaza border). In the words of the Call for the march: "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."
As I briefly noted in the first installment of this series, on the evening of December 27, as word of this deal spread, all-night debates broke out. In the largest gathering, representatives of several delegations announced that they had rejected the offer, and would refuse to participate.
While some people supported this deal, most of the people on the GFM—for a variety of reasons—opposed it. Those who negotiated the deal argued that it was the best that could be done under the circumstances, that "the siege is not going to be broken in a day," and that "this is a start." There were also concerns raised that alienating the Egyptian regime would imperil future humanitarian missions.
But the overwhelming consensus from the beginning was that this was not acceptable. That position grew in numbers and substance as the debate developed. There was a general feeling that accepting this offer would be giving up on our basic mission. As one delegate was to put it later, we were not here to "put another band-aid on the cancer." And most people felt we were not in a hopeless situation, that we were breaking the silence around Gaza, causing a big uproar in the Middle East. People raised concerns—which turned out to be well-founded—that the Egyptian regime would use the buses as a face-saving cover to whitewash their role in the crimes against the Palestinians. And in fact, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit was later quoted in the Egyptian media as saying those selected to go on the buses were "good and sincere," while those remaining in Cairo were "hooligans" who were "acting against Egyptian interests."
The debate was passionate, as befits such an important decision. Delegations stormed out of the room, and came back. But overwhelmingly the debate was waged with substance, and through the debate, a stronger understanding of, and commitment to the original mission of the Gaza Freedom March emerged. By dawn, a consensus was forged, and Code Pink itself adopted a position that it had been a mistake to make this agreement.
As a consensus emerged that we would not take the buses deal, a vision and plan for a powerful, defiant march in the streets emerged. Energized and unleashed by the great debate, people sprung into action to mobilize for the Gaza Freedom March to be a powerful statement, in Cairo on December 31.
We took measures to anticipate repression by the Egyptian police state—we did not announce the exact location of the March online or through email, and we stashed bags of banners to drop out of windows at the hotels and hostels where people were staying, in the event that we were placed under house arrest on the morning of the 31st. As it turned out, the Lotus Hotel, where many of the prominent leaders of the GFM were staying, was sealed off by authorities who did not allow people to leave that morning. However, that action did not end up preventing most people from getting to the march location.
Egyptians who tried to join the march, however, were dragged out immediately by the authorities. The fact most of us were from North America or Europe put some constraints on the brutality of the Egyptian police. That said, people who came from around the world to take this stand felt they were taking real risks. "Don't get me wrong," one student from the U.S. told me, "I've been through serious actions before and risked arrest many times." But, he added, "We were in a country where people have no rights. It just seemed to me that the police reaction could be anything from brutal to lethal."
Outside the cordon of police, for seven hours a stretch of Cairo that is as busy as Times Square in New York City was dominated by a living billboard to Break the Siege, Stop the Genocide in Gaza, and The World Says: Free Gaza! Despite the constant threats of police, Egyptian drivers, cabs, and pedestrians stopped and expressed strong approval.
On January 1, "flash mob" tactics similar to those on December 31 were employed in a successful protest at the Israeli Embassy, where again it took some time before Egyptian authorities were able to corral the protest and isolate it from the street, and from Egyptians passing by. And on January 3, GFM activists joined with Egyptian activists in a protest associated with a a lawsuit filed in Egyptian courts against the treatment of the GFM (some GFM activists are litigants in this action).
* * *
The Gaza Freedom March in Cairo, and the week of activity that preceded it, had a significant impact on world public opinion, particularly in the Middle East. In Egypt, the events received daily front-page coverage in opposition or independent newspapers while semi-official and government-owned or pro-government media tried to ignore the protests, but then in some cases ended up running front-page stories. Newspapers I picked up from Jordan and Syria had front-page coverage of the GFM. And Al-Jazeera carried news of the Gaza Freedom March in Cairo throughout the Arab world and beyond.
A young Palestinian-Canadian had these thoughts on the impact of the Gaza Freedom March: "People are now asking, 'Is the situation that terrible in Gaza that 1,400 foreigners buy tickets to Cairo, aren't allowed in and decide to cause havoc on the streets of Cairo?' Yes, it's that important. ... [The Egyptian government] thought, 'Okay, don't let them into Gaza, they won't do anything about it,' but we did. We gave hope to the Egyptian people and to the Palestinian people as well. Despite the world being silent, they know that there are people out there willing to help them, and we will recruit more and continue our efforts to help them until we break the siege, end the occupation."
And an emergency room nurse, who was part of a delegation from a Middle Eastern country, told me, "We are all making history here. Each of us, now, must go back to our own countries and tell everyone what is happening here."
This is happening now, as participants in the Gaza Freedom March are speaking out and spreading the word of what we did, and learned.
In future installments of this series, I'll share the stories of people who participated in the Gaza Freedom March, their motivations, and lessons learned during experiences many of them had in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.
1. For first-hand documentation, from Zionist sources, of the origins of the state of Israel in the terrorist ethnic cleansing, see "The Nakba: Ethnic cleansing and the birth of Israel," from A World to Win News Service, available at revcom.us. For a discussion of the role of Israel in the imperialist world order, see "Bringing Forward Another Way," by Bob Avakian, particularly but not only the section "Israel and Its 'Special Role' in Relation to U.S. Imperialism." That talk is available at revcom.us. [back]
Schedule Alan Goodman to speak about his experiences at
Alan Goodman was a participant in the Gaza Freedom March on December 31, 2009 and is corresponding on the experience in Revolution newspaper. He is currently available for "report-back" presentations that bring to life the critical situation for the people of Gaza one year after Israel's massacre, and the importance of the struggle to break the siege of Gaza. Clips from the presentation are available at: www.youtube.com/alanxgoodman.
To schedule a presentation, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Revolution #191, February 7, 2010
Editors' Note: This is Part 2 of "Obama and the War in Afghanistan... One Year Later: Where Are Students?" Part 1 appeared in Revolution #190.
In Part 1, we explained why we explored how students were reacting to Obama's escalation of the war in Afghanistan. We will continue in this article, and speak to some of the assumptions underlying those comments, and suggest some of the challenges, necessity, and potential this poses for revolutionary communists in this political moment.
We ended Part 1 with the comments of Mira, a student who expressed opposition to the Afghanistan war and to "militarism" in general, but then added:
"I don't necessarily believe that the government should be acting the way that I wish that they would act, 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."
Let's examine this statement, since it reflects something well beyond simply Mira's personal beliefs. Let's look at the assumption underlying this comment...
In order to argue that decisions about America and its role in the world are best left to the U.S. government and military, one must accept (consciously or otherwise) a basic underlying assumption: That even if the U.S. does "some bad things" in the world, it is ultimately—and in an overall, basic sense—a force for good. Without accepting that premise, it makes no sense to argue that the future of the Afghanistan war and America's role in the world should be left up to U.S. politicians and generals.
And the argument that America is (at least mainly) a force for good in the world in turn reflects a lack of understanding about what the U.S. actually does around the world and why it does it.
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, has made the succinct yet profound observation that: "The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism. What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism."
At campus 1, when we asked students why they thought the U.S. is in Afghanistan, they generally gave some variation of one (or both) of the following answers:
1) The U.S. is in Afghanistan to bring "stability" and "democracy" to the country.
Even in instances where students viewed this mission as misguided, unnecessary, or unrealistic, they still believed it is indeed the mission the U.S. is pursuing. And, even if students acknowledged to some degree that "fostering democracy" is not what the U.S. is actually doing presently in Afghanistan, they seemed to hold out hope the U.S. military is capable of playing this role in the future.
A conversation with Sophie, a sophomore, concentrated these sentiments.
"My personal feeling is that from the beginning, I thought that it wasn't really our position to make sure that democracy is stable in Afghanistan, but that's kind of the angle that Bush went on," Sophie said. "So, I don't think that it's particularly our job as Americans to make sure that the whole world is democratic, even though that's kind of our historical position that we take with all the wars that we go into, especially in Vietnam and the Cold War and stuff like that—the Cuban missile crisis."
A short time later, we voiced Revolution newspaper's analysis.
"I completely agree with that," Sophie answered. "In the other cases, and in other wars that we've entered, we really have imperialist intentions but we kind of cover it up with this whole idea that we're bringing democracy to the world and we're enlightening the world. And I think that in the first place we shouldn't have ever been there."
But then Sophie repeated: "I think to pull out without establishing democracy would probably make it all for nothing."
2) The U.S. is in Afghanistan to fight terror.
Students who gave this answer either said that the U.S. invaded Afghanistan because of the 9/11 attacks, and/or they said that the U.S. was in Afghanistan for the purpose of fighting al-Qaeda and the Taliban and fighting terrorists.
This narrative too is premised—again, perhaps not consciously—on the belief that the U.S. military are the "good guys" in the world who are fighting to eradicate the "bad guys."
To argue the U.S. is a force fighting terror, you must argue that it is not inflicting terror, or at least not with the level of intent, or to the extent, as the force it is fighting.
In actuality, the history of the U.S. in the Middle East is one of repeatedly and systematically inflicting unspeakable levels of terror on innocent people in the pursuit of empire, on a scale unmatched by any other force in the world.
Let's look at just a few examples of what the U.S. is actually doing in Afghanistan. Consider this excerpt from an article by New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall.
"Cellphone images seen by this reporter show at least 11 dead children, some apparently with blast and concussion injuries, among some 30 to 40 bodies laid out in the village mosque. Ten days after the airstrikes, villagers dug up the last victim from the rubble, a baby just a few months old. Their shock and grief is still palpable." (www.nytimes.com/2008/09/08/world/asia/08afghan.html)
Oh, but that airstrike was when Bush was still in office. Now we have Obama. Which has led repeatedly to scenes like this one:
"Villagers brought truckloads of bodies, most of them women and children, to the provincial capital... Mohammad Nieem Qadderdan, the former top official in the district of Bala Baluk, told AP by phone he saw dozens of bodies when he visited the village of Gerani. 'These houses that were full of children and women and elders were bombed by planes. People are digging through rubble with shovels and hands.' Qadderdan said the civilian casualties were 'worse than Azizabad.'" (www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/may/06/100-feared-dead-afghanistan-raids)
Does that sound like "fighting terror"? Or inflicting it?
And what about Bagram Airfield, the infamous U.S. prison and torture chamber in Afghanistan? One year into Obama's presidency, the U.S. is still holding at least hundreds of detainees at Bagram in secrecy, without charges or trial. (www.aclu.org/national-security/bagram-foia)
Does that sound like "fighting terror"? or inflicting it?
The examples given of U.S. conduct in Afghanistan go hand in hand with the actions of the U.S. military more broadly in the Middle East—with the middle-of-the-night home raids, in which U.S. troops kick in doors and drag innocent people away at gunpoint in front of their children; and the use of unmanned drones, controlled remotely by pilots sitting in the United States, to blow away people in Pakistan.
While the U.S. rulers continue to argue that they are motivated by the "fight against terror," their actions tell a different, and horrifyingly immoral story. And, we would point out that clinging to an idea that the U.S. is in Afghanistan to "fight terror" can easily lead to arguing that the Afghanistan war was wrong initially, but is necessary currently, in order to bring "stability" to the country and the region.
This is precisely the argument made by Daniel, a Ph.D. student. Daniel said that as a principle he is generally opposed to war, and that he also opposed the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in particular, because he considered it to be "sort of done hastily, decided by emotion."
However, Daniel defended Obama's latest troop surge.
"I didn't agree initially with the war," Daniel said. "But the fact that U.S. and NATO forces are currently there—because of that, escalation is a necessary evil. Because the current strategy isn't working and unilateral withdrawal would lead to far worse repercussions."
What "far worse repercussions"?
"Greater instability in the region," Daniel answered.
At campus 2, there was generally more suspicion, if not a full understanding, of U.S. motives and objectives in the Middle East.
"My opinion is it's all smoke and mirrors," Ryan said. "It's really over oil. There's billions of dollars in revenue if the U.S. is able to control Middle Eastern oil."
"I think it's a territorial thing," said Angela, an African-American/Panamanian woman. "It's the same as Panama. The same as Puerto Rico. The same as Cuba."
Later in the conversation, when we articulated Revolution newspaper's analysis, Angela responded: "America is just a bully... The only countries they are not going to be able to bully is the European countries. They gonna try to take over the quote 'third world' countries... They gonna continue on and on until there is nothing left to conquer."
Clearly, the quest for control of oil and territory are key elements of why the U.S. is in Afghanistan, but this is not the essence of the matter: The U.S. seeks oil and land not as ends in themselves, but as the means to furthering and expanding an empire and an economic system of capitalism-imperialism. Similarly, while there was a sense at campus 2 that the U.S. is not a benevolent force bringing democracy to the lands it occupies, there was not a fundamental understanding of why the U.S. military bullies and terrorizes people around the world; that is, not just because it can, but because the system of imperialism that it is enforcing depends on it.
Returning to a point we made at the beginning of this piece, it was after all Obama who formulated and announced the recent escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Given that so many youth in this country believed Obama's presidency would bring a dramatic change in how the U.S. related to the rest of the world, it was natural to wonder to what degree the troop surge had altered this perception.
Students' responses to this question varied from one interview to the next, and sometimes within the same interview.
At campus 1, some students were willing to make excuses for Obama they acknowledged they would not make for Bush; nearly half said they felt differently about the Afghanistan war with Obama at the helm.
Other students, however, expressed feelings of frustration, disillusionment, or disappointment with Obama's escalation of the war and said it had negatively impacted their view of him.
"I'm not happy with that [the surge], and I don't think he's doing anything very much different than what Bush is doing in a lot of different areas," said a senior at campus 1 who preferred not to give her name.
On the other hand, Mira acknowledged she was making excuses, "I realize this is silly, because I have no basis for it other than my feelings about them as people and as politicians," she said. "But I feel like if Bush had made the same decision, I may not be saying 'Oh, maybe they are making the right decision and I just don't have all the information that the government has.'''
But, Mira continued, "I think this decision makes me rethink my image of Obama and what type of politician he is compared to what I imagined he was. And I think that's something the whole country is going through now and with health care—we're kind of comparing the real Obama to the idealized Obama that we kind of wanted him to be."
Interestingly, at campus 2, there was less ambivalence about Obama: people were pissed, and felt Obama had betrayed them.
"I supported him," Ryan said. "But it's making me wonder who exactly did I vote for? He was preaching change. It's been a year, and there hasn't been any change."
"I think it was trickery," Angela said. "I think that him trying to come into office, people are so attached to him being an African-American president that we're—it's like blinders—we're not focused on the things we really need to be focused on. So the fact that he's sending out the 30,000 troops, we're not really concentrating on the fact that he contradicted himself. We're more like 'oh, we have Obama now.' You know, Bush, the devil, is gone."
So far, we have tried to provide a sense of the complexity and unevenness within students' thinking about the Afghanistan war, and about the role the U.S. plays in the world.
However, there was one theme that was repeatedly expressed at both campuses:
When we asked students what their role is in resisting the war, students overwhelmingly indicated that they did not see themselves playing this role.
Several said they didn't feel they were adequately informed about, or directly affected by, the war to the degree to make it a major concern on their minds.
When we asked Ryan, the student on campus 2 who described the Afghanistan war as "an unjust war from the beginning," what it would take to get him involved in protests against the war, he replied:
"Say, if a relative, or my brother or my cousin was sent away, then I would be more wanting to protest. But for right now, I'll just take a back seat to protest against the war."
Daniel, the Ph.D. student we interviewed at campus 1, came at this question another way:
"I don't think domestic constituencies should really have any say in whether/when these wars should end," Daniel said bluntly.
"Certain decisions should be in the hands of specialists," Daniel said. "The U.S. people have a responsibility for when wars begin, but once they start, you have to delegate power to elected officials and to the military."
Several other conversations, especially at campus 2, suggested a key factor in students' reluctance to resist the war in Afghanistan was a feeling that our society as a whole would not have their backs if they stepped out.
"It will take a lot [to stop the war]," Howard said. "I guess, going back to all the marches and protests you've ever seen—anti-government, antiwar—they always end up wrong. They always seem to be categorized as just radicals. You understand what I'm saying? They want to express their thoughts so much it seems irrational to some. So to become active in a protest would be difficult for me."
For others, skepticism about the viability of resistance was informed by a sense that we are simply not living in an era of mass protest, critical thinking, and upsurge; some students contrasted the political climate of today with that of the 1960s.
"We would all have to come together as a nation to go against it," Aliqua said. "And until that happens, people don't have the strength, or if they do have the strength, they're too busy in their own lifestyle. It's not like back then when we all came together in certain situations."
"You mean 'back then' as in the 1960s?" we asked.
"Yeah," she said. "In the '60s we really went against a lot of stuff. Now-a-days it's not like that anymore. A lot of people are afraid."
In our discussion with Angela, we described to her how students in the 1960s held teach-ins against the war.
"Like Mario?" she asked.
"Yes, like Mario Savio," we replied. "Like debates on the Vietnam War."
"We don't have that now," she replied. "That's not something you'll see on the campus."
But one might have said the same thing at the beginning of the 1960s...
Following the National Guard's massacre of students at Kent State and Jackson State universities, President Richard Nixon charged a commission including a police chief, a former Governor, and several academics with the task of looking into the situation on U.S. campuses; in the fall of 1970, the commission came back with its report.
In one passage, the report contrasted the political climate at the beginning and end of the 1960s:
"When the decade began the vast majority of American students were either apolitical or dedicated to working peacefully for change within the existing system. As it ends, increasing numbers of students accept a radical analysis of American society and despair of the possibilities for peaceful social change."
Moral of the story? Shit changes.
That doesn't mean the current political terrain is destined to change for the better. Thinking that will just lead to another deadly form of paralysis. Change of some kind is inevitable; people, circumstances, and societies do not stand still, but are rather in constant motion. The questions still to be determined are when and how this change will occur, and what kind of change it will be.
These are among the very questions Bob Avakian tackles in great depth in his new talk, "Unresolved Contradictions, Driving Forces for Revolution." Summarizing this talk's extensive analysis of the key questions, challenges, contradictions, and necessity confronting revolutionaries is well beyond the scope of this article. But there are a few points Avakian makes in the talk that seem especially important to emphasize in concluding this article.
The first is Avakian's formulation—building on something said by a leading comrade in the RCP: "It is what it is...and it can be transformed—through struggle."
Elaborating on this point, Avakian says:
"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."
Very directly related to that point is another that Avakian makes a bit further on in the talk:
"The point has been stressed that unevenness is in fact the basis on which change occurs and that the basis for change which this unevenness provides can be a tremendous strength for rising and revolutionary forces."
Applying these points to the current political climate on campuses—and within that, the particularity of students' reactions to Obama's escalation of the Afghanistan war—we can see that the tremendous unevenness and contradiction in how students' current perceptions also hold within it the potential for radical and even revolutionary change in those perceptions. Although our interviews showed a tremendous lack of clarity about why the U.S is really in Afghanistan and what it is really doing there, and although they revealed a significant accommodation to a criminal, unjust war, there was also an unmistakable sense of unease, opposition (if not yet mainly active opposition) and restlessness with Obama's troop surge and with the war in Afghanistan overall.
Furthermore, the following are objective facts: Wars for empire are not only criminal but completely unnecessary; they are not in the interests of the overwhelming majority of humanity; they persist only because of the global capitalist-imperialist system that is in place; and they accordingly can be ended only through a revolution to get rid of that system.
This analysis does not correspond to how people spontaneously understand the war in Afghanistan, but it does correspond to reality; the more that revolutionary forces get out in society—including, critically, on campuses—and expose this reality, the greater the potential that exists for winning students and the masses more broadly away from acquiescence with the crimes of their government.
In short, our interviews with students reflected unmistakable grappling—even if sometimes subconscious and beneath the surface—with questions that, ultimately, only revolution and communism can answer.
The basic task before revolutionary communists in relation to the Afghanistan war—and Obama's escalation of that war—is to expose it as the horrific product of an intolerable and outmoded imperialist system that can and must be done away with through revolution, and to bring forward powerful resistance to that war that is grounded in this understanding... and that is based on the need to re-polarize society as part of building for that revolution.
Revolution #191, February 7, 2010
(Updated February 2, 2010) On January 16 a very welcome and important demonstration brought at least 10,000 people from all around the country to Phoenix, Arizona (with some estimates as high as 20,000) in a national day of protest for human rights under the slogans "Stop the Hate!" "Stop Arpaio!" "Stop the Raids!" "Stop 287(g)" (a federal law that empowers local police and sheriffs to arrest people for immigration violations). Called for by the Puente Movement of Arizona, the march and rally was endorsed by a diversity of groups: dozens of prisoners, immigration and indigenous rights groups, interfaith coalitions from all over the country, including the Black Alliance for Just Immigration Reform, School of Americas Watch, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, Center for Constitutional Rights, the Stonewall Democrats of Arizona and the Progressive Democrats of Arizona and many more. A group of Latino Republicans marched. One protester wore a mask of "Sheriff Joe" Arpaio who has become a rallying figure for anti-immigrant hatred. The masked protester, complete with a big cigar in his mouth, carried a club and chased after other marchers.
Youth and families pushing baby strollers marched, holding signs over their heads that said "I am Human" and chanting "Arpaio! Racista! Tu eres terrorista!" [Arpaio! Racist! You are a terrorist!] The march and rally included musicians Linda Ronstadt and Zack de la Rocha, Dolores Huerta, cofounder of the United Farmworkers, and Mary Rose Wilcox, member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, who, together with her fellow county supervisors, administrators and several judges, is facing a federal racketeering lawsuit filed by Arpaio over a budget feud.
At the end of the march, city police attacked. A policewoman charged her horse straight into the demonstrators, trampling two people. She aimed a pepper spray gun straight at the marchers and let loose a stream of gas. Small children were among those affected, including a 2-year-old with asthma who had to be treated by paramedics. Other police also gassed the crowd. The police surrounded, beat and arrested 5 youth and charged 4 of them with aggravated assault on a police officer.
"Sheriff Joe" Arpaio likes to call himself "America's Toughest Sheriff." He has a long record of human rights abuses documented by Amnesty International. Just one example: In June 1997, an Amnesty International delegation visited Maricopa County, Arizona, where Arpaio became sheriff in 1992, to collect information on the treatment of inmates because of concern following allegations of ill-treatment of prisoners and the death of inmate Scott Norberg in Madison Street Jail on June 1, 1996, after he was placed in a restraint chair. (Read the AI report, Ill-Treatment of Inmates in Maricopa County Jails—Arizona at amnestyusa.org.)
In the 1990s Arizona's prison system was seriously overcrowded. Arpaio's solution was to use old army tents to build a tent city complex in the desert where, in the summer, temperatures sometimes reach 150 degrees. He brags that he saves money by feeding inmates only twice a day—and then giving them "green baloney." He is especially fond of putting his "volunteer" chain gangs on public display for "educational purposes." Example: prisoners shoveling dirt and breaking rocks under the hot sun in striped prison uniforms and chains—in downtown Phoenix. He also created the first women's chain gang in the history of the country.
Over the period of 2004-2007, 2,150 lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court against "Sheriff Joe" and hundreds more were filed in Maricopa County. This is 50 times as many prison condition lawsuits as the New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston jail systems combined.
Starting in 1996, the build-up of Border Patrol between Mexico, California and Texas forced increasing numbers of people to cross the border into the deadly Arizona desert as they came to look for work in the U.S. This shift caused at least 5,600 deaths of immigrants traveling through the desert in the past 15 years, and probably many more. Most immigrants arriving in Arizona were just passing through on their way to California or Texas, but some did stay on, and Arizona's immigrant population grew by almost one-third over the last decade.
In the early 90s, Arizona was the site of vigilante activities by ranchers whose land was a crossing point for immigrants. The ranchers, with the cooperation of the police, would capture and detain groups of immigrants and turn them over to the Border Patrol. They also advertised vacation hunting parties where KKK and Nazi types would gather on the ranch of Roger Barnett and go out terrorizing immigrants at night. These activities devolved into the Minuteman movement who were then legitimized and promoted by "moderate" Democrat governors like Janet Napolitano, then-governor of Arizona and Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, along with open reactionaries like Lou Dobbs.
It was in this climate that Arpaio became point man for the forces bent on whipping up hatred toward immigrants and hunting them down. In 2006, Arpaio began devoting most of his department's resources to this effort.
Arpaio's anti-immigrant sweeps are brutal. A 160-man deputized force and a volunteer "posse" whose members often wear black ski-masks patrol the roadways looking for suspected "illegals" and then arrest them for "traffic violations." In 2007, Arpaio marched 200 Latino men dressed in striped prison uniforms with "unsentenced prisoner" prominently written on their chests. They had chains around their ankles and carried their belongings in bags. They were being moved from the Durango jail complex to a separate tent city for the undocumented, surrounded by electric wire. Arpaio "joked" in his daily press release page, "This is a population of criminals more adept perhaps at escape" ... "But this is a fence they won't want to scale because they risk receiving quite a shock—literally."
Arizona has been called the "laboratory for new ways to crack down on illegal immigrants" by the Wall Street Journal. The Arizona legislature recently passed a law to sentence state workers to four years in prison if they encounter undocumented immigrants who utilize services and they do not report them. They also face arrest if they do not report a co-worker who knowingly serves undocumented persons.
Arizona was one of the first states to implement the 287(g)1 program which gives police and prison guards the power to act as U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents and conduct terrorizing sweeps, picking up immigrants and processing them for deportation. The program was officially started in 2005 by Janet Napolitano—now the Secretary of Homeland Security for the Obama administration—when she was governor of Arizona. As Arizona's Mexican population grew, Napolitano helped to frame the issue as the "illegal immigrant as terrorist threat" and move it into the mainstream; and she stationed National Guard on the border for the supposed security of the people of Arizona. She contacted then-Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and argued Arizona should be granted 287(g) powers to detain traffic violators. "Local law enforcement officers often come into contact with large numbers of UDAs [undocumented aliens] during routine traffic or other law enforcement activities."2
The Obama administration, saying that 287(g) has been revamped to focus on "illegals engaged in serious crime," recently expanded the 287(g) program. But it cut Arpaio off from the street arrest portion of 287(g) and gave him federal authority only to use deputized prison guards to deport immigrants. While the New York Times said the government was clipping Arpaio's wings, an Arizona state law passed when Janet Napolitano was governor allows immigrants to be arrested under an anti-smuggling law, so his exclusion from part of 287(g) has had no effect on his operations. The Arizona law states that police have the power to arrest human smugglers and those who aid them—and under this law, immigrants can be arrested for smuggling themselves, which is a felony. (See Revolution #123, "The Growing Nightmare in Arizona")
But this is not the end of the story... there is much contention in the ranks of those who run this country over immigration and immigration policy, with powerful forces weighing in in different ways. Arpaio has become something of a flashpoint in the contention in the ruling class over immigration policy.
In March of 2009, the House Judiciary Committee called for the Department of Justice to investigate Arpaio for racial profiling. Arpaio's response? To blow off the federal government's requests for producing documents. He stated he would not cooperate in the investigation. The federal government responded that "We hope that the Sheriff's Office will change course and begin cooperating with the investigation." In addition, a federal grand jury recently began an investigation of Arpaio and chief deputy David Henderschott for abuse of power, based on Arpaio's repeated arrests and lawsuits against county officials who oppose him, which has angered part of the power structure in Arizona. There was recently a demonstration of 250 lawyers against Arpaio. Into the middle of this "adverse climate for Sheriff Joe" stepped John Morton, the national director of ICE, who visited Arizona and defended Arpaio's approach, pointing out that local law enforcement "cannot turn a blind eye to people who are here illegally, even if they have no criminal record."
In the past year, Arizona has also become a focal point for those who are fighting for immigrants rights. There have been at least two large protests in Phoenix, and now, the demonstration of 10,000 in January.
1. 287 (g) is a clause in the 1996 IRWA Act implemented under Bill Clinton which deputizes police as immigration officers so that they can conduct round ups. The law was not put into effect until 2005 under Bush. [back]
2. Cited in Aarti Shahanai and Judith Greene, Local Democracy On Ice: Why State and Local Governments Have No Business in Federal Immigrant Law Enforcement. A Justice Strategies Report, February 2009. [back]
Correction: In the print edition, and in an earlier online version of this article, we reported that "Marcia Powell was mentally ill and given a two-year sentence in one of the county's infamous Tent Cities. In May 2009 she was awaiting transfer to the mental health ward. Jailed in an open cage in 107 degree heat, from 11 am to nearly 3 pm, other inmates heard her pleading for water. No water was given to her and by the time the medical unit arrived she was comatose. She died the next day."
Marcia Powell did die because of abuse and neglect. She was left in an outdoor cage for close to four hours in 107-degree heat at a state prison complex run by the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) not run by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (Arpaio). The facility is located in Maricopa County. She was taken to a hospital unconscious. Going against proper procedure, when "next of kin could not be located" she was taken off life support systems and died shortly after midnight.
Revolution #191, February 7, 2010
From Iran to Indonesia, Chile, Afghanistan and Worldwide:
In a December 31, 2009 presidential message to the "CIA workforce," Barack Obama eulogized as "heroes" seven CIA agents who were killed in a suicide bombing at a U.S. base in Afghanistan. He said, "The United States would not be able to maintain the freedom and security that we cherish without decades of service from the dedicated men and women of the CIA ... I know firsthand the excellent quality of your work because I rely on it every day."
The CIA is a powerful spy agency with a long history of carrying out assassinations, fomenting coups, torturing people, and other crimes around the globe, all in the "service" of U.S. imperialism. Let's take a look at a few examples—just a very few out of many, many more—of the work of the CIA that Obama, as U.S. president, so cherishes:
And let's look at the CIA in relation to Afghanistan. In order to understand why the CIA and the U.S. military are in Afghanistan now, you have to look at what led up to the situation that exists today.
The fact is that the U.S., and the CIA's "work" in particular, had everything to do with the growth of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in the whole region. In 1979, the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The Soviet Union at the time was a revisionist (that is, a phony "communist") country, an imperialist superpower that was seriously contending with the U.S. for dominance in many parts of the world. The U.S. deliberately provoked the invasion of Afghanistan, in order to (in the words of Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to then-President Jimmy Carter) give the Soviet Union "its Vietnam War."
Then through the 1980s, the CIA, in partnership with the reactionary regimes in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, carried out a massive covert war in Afghanistan by funneling more than $3 billion in arms and aid to the reactionary Islamic fundamentalist fighters. The U.S. strategy was to make the war much longer and more violent, destructive, and costly for the Soviets. By the time the Soviets were forced to withdraw in 1989, more than a million Afghans had been killed and one-third of its population driven into refugee camps. This CIA-led insurgency against America's imperialist rivals is where Osama bin Laden got his start. This is where the seeds of al Qaeda and the Taliban were first sown.
The current U.S. war in Afghanistan has never been simply a response to 9/11. The 2001 invasion grew out of a decade of U.S. planning before 9/11 aimed at seizing greater initiative and hegemony in the Middle East and Central Asia. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union (in which the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan was a big factor), the U.S. imperialists faced a new obstacle in dominating this crucial region of the world—the very same Islamic fundamentalists that the U.S. had built up in the 1980s. The Taliban is a reactionary force that brings down horror on the people. But that is not why the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001—and why Obama is now greatly expanding that war. And of the two opposing reactionary forces, U.S. imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism, the U.S. has done—and is doing—much greater harm in the world, as even the partial list above of CIA crimes shows.
Whatever the specific roles of the CIA agents praised by Obama as "heroes," they were not in Afghanistan to promote "freedom and security" for the masses of people there. The U.S. war and occupation has brought nothing but horror after horror: repeated bombings of wedding parties, torture and indefinite detention, continued feudal oppression of women, and so on. Nor is the U.S. war—launched by George W. Bush and being expanded by Obama—fundamentally about "freedom and security" for the people in the U.S. This is a war for greater empire by the U.S. imperialist rulers. And it is from the standpoint of the commander-in-chief of this war that Obama cherishes the CIA's "decades of service" and praises these criminals as "heroes."
The reality is that the CIA is a secret organization of assassins and mass murderers responsible for wanton brutality against countless millions of people all over the world. It is part of a larger machinery of massive destruction and slaughter wielded by the civilian heads and military commanders of the U.S. imperialist state. None of this is hyperbole. If you think we are exaggerating, then have the courage and integrity to actually look into it. We are confident you will find that what is laid out here is the truth. And then the question is: what are the implications of that truth for what stand to take and what to do?
Revolution #191, February 7, 2010
Letter from a reader:
In his new talk, "Unresolved Contradictions, Driving Forces for Revolution," Bob Avakian states that "The question of the status—the oppression and the struggle for the liberation—of women is objectively coming to the forefront in today's world and posing itself ever more profoundly and acutely." We can see this in the controversy that is swirling around the Super Bowl anti-abortion ad that is being funded to the tune of $2.5 million by the Christian Fascist group Focus on the Family with University of Florida football All-American and 2008 Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Tebow.
Tebow has become the poster boy for the Christian Fascists and is arguably the most well-known college athlete in the past several decades. As much as he is known for his exploits on the playing field, he is also known for inscribing Bible verses on the eye black he wears for the games. In the 2008 national championship game, he had "John 3:16" written under his eyes.
Tebow will join his mother in sending an anti-abortion message to millions of CBS viewers on February 7, Super Bowl Sunday. We have not seen the ad, but we can guess that this message will be that abortion is immoral (and by extension, should be banned).
Tim Tebow and his family have been involved in Christian evangelism for years and they play a major role in the Christian Fascist movement. His father, Bob, runs the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Foundation and he helped start the Campus Crusade for Christ at the University of Florida in 1966. The men in the Tebow family have been in leading positions of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes since 1976. Tim's mother, Pam Tebow, is the daughter of an army colonel, and along with her husband was a missionary in the Philippines for a number of years. In a keynote speech in conjunction with the 2008 "iTell" State Evangelism Conference, she told women "God gives us a manual [the Bible] for our lives." Bob Avakian in Away With All Gods! chronicles the extremely oppressive relations and beliefs that are upheld in Pam Tebow's "manual"—one of them being slavery.
There has been opposition to this ad, including from women's organizations that point to the fact that CBS refused to run a Super Bowl ad in 2004 from the United Church of Christ that promoted an open door policy for gays in their church. How convenient that CBS changed their policy just in time to run this ad.
But beyond the hypocrisy here, the fundamental point of opposition should not be "equality" for every view or not allowing athletes to have a political voice. The point is that what is being put forward with this ad is wrong and is a horror for women all around the world and it's being run in the U.S., where a woman is beaten by her partner every 15 seconds and three women are killed every day by possessive lovers and abusive husbands. Plain and simple, this ad is a continuation of the oppression and hatred of women that gets played out every minute in this country and throughout the world. This ad is for all those who support the cold-blooded, calculated murder of abortion doctor George Tiller. Fuck this ad and anyone who has anything to do with it! We should drown this ad out with our demand for "Abortion on Demand Without Apology!"
On Friday, January 29, the Michael Slate Show (radio KPFK LA) devoted a segment to this anti-abortion ad, interviewing Amanda Marcotte who has written an article, "What Does Football Have to Do With Abortion Again?" In this article, Marcotte writes, "If these women weren't given the right to choose, they would be reduced to walking uteruses, whose feelings and choices are essentially irrelevant."
In taking on the Christian Fascists and their anti-abortion campaign, the centerfold in issue #166 of Revolution, uses science to prove that a fetus is not a baby and that it does not become a human being until it is born and takes its first breath.
We need a movement in this country that brings into being what is portrayed on the Revolution t-shirt that on the front has the 1968 Olympic athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos with their fists in the air and states, "We Need a Lot More Of This..." and on the back is a football player pointing to the "heavens," and states, "...Not This!"
Abortion on demand and
Women are not incubators!
Abortion is not murder!
Check with Revolution Books in your area for availability of T-shirts with the above graphics on the front and back.
Revolution #191, February 7, 2010
A National Campus Speaking Tour by Sunsara Taylor
Spin the globe. Anywhere you look, women are being held down and slammed backwards. In Bangkok and Bangalore and Moldova young women are stripped naked and sold across borders as sex slaves. In Indonesia and Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia women are shrouded in burkhas, kept as the property of fathers and husbands, and even killed if they somehow "dishonor" their family.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., young women are told, "You are no longer oppressed," and "There is nothing holding you back." But in reality, women's lives in this country too will be marked by the many limitations, and degradations, imposed by society on girls and women. Many will learn to cut themselves, to starve themselves, to hate themselves—internalizing the message of a society saturated with images of them as nothing more than objects of sexual plunder, objects of derision, or baby-making machines. More will be beaten, sexually assaulted, forced or coerced into bearing children they did not desire. And all will be told that their value is ultimately reducible to whether they are sexually desired by men, but then they will be shamed and called "sluts" if they actually have sex. No matter what they dream about, work towards, or achieve, they will still have to look over their shoulder walking home at night.
The fact is, to be born female on any part of this planet is to be born into a lifetime of danger, disrespect, discrimination and degradation. Between the burkha and the thong, there is no good choice. Both are hideous embodiments of the oppression of women. Both reduce women into objects to be owned, or played with and discarded, by men. Neither should be accepted. And all of this must change.
Women are not breeders. Women are not lesser beings. Women are not objects created for the sexual pleasure of men. Women are human beings capable of participating fully and equally in every realm of human endeavor. When women are held down, all of humanity is held back. Women must win liberation, and they can only be liberated through the revolutionary transformation of the world and the emancipation of all of humanity, and through being a powerful motive force in that revolution.
Starting in late February, Sunsara Taylor will be hitting the campuses with a speech titled, "From the Burkha to the Thong: Everything Must, and Can, Change!"—deeply exposing the many forms of oppression that still confront women, breaking open a new conversation on the oppression and liberation of women, and drawing a new generation into the struggle to liberate women and emancipate all humanity.
Funds and volunteers are needed to make this tour a success.
Contact email@example.com to get involved today.
Revolution #191, February 7, 2010
From a Reader
by Thomas Pynchon
(Semi-spoiler warning: I have attempted to convey what this book is like without giving away any key plot points. It is a mystery novel, and I do not reveal who was killed or when or why or by whom. I do "give away" some other things, but only with the purpose of encouraging people to check this book out.)
The reviews of Inherent Vice have been mostly positive, though some have been rather dismissive. Entertaining, they say, but nowhere near the depth of Pynchon's big books, such as Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon. A good "beach read." Some have also complained about Pynchon's nostalgia for the 1960s, specifically the late 1960s in Los Angeles.
"Inherent Vice reads like a workmanlike improvisation on Vineland." "Compared with Gravity's Rainbow or V. or Mason & Dixon, this novel is Pynchon Lite." (New York Times)
"Inherent Vice is not just one of the lightest novels Pynchon has ever produced. Judging by its slightly destabilizing surfer paradise cover at right, it could turn out to be his least weighty as well." (Wired Magazine)
"Indeed, despite its relative brevity, Inherent Vice is overplotted, overpopulated, and, ultimately, flabby." (Miami Herald)
"...a manically incoherent pseudo-noir hippie-mystery that should fit in nicely with the author's recent series of quirky late-career non-masterpieces." (New York Magazine)
"It's got some nice observations about the changes wrought by the death of the 1960s and the birth of the 1970s—the convulsive sprawl of greater Los Angeles, for instance—although the understanding of those decades is entirely leftist-conventional: dope and hippies, good; Nixon and 'flatlanders,' bad." (Wall Street Journal)
One thing that struck me immediately when I was reading the book is that Pynchon remembers a lot about the late 1960s in Los Angeles besides the dopers, surfers, oil spills, sunshine, rock & roll music, and smog. He also remembers the LAPD, and "los federales" (as the FBI are usually called here), and how they spied on, bought off, and even assassinated people who seemed to be trouble-makers, lefties, and (of course) most especially Black revolutionaries. As an FBI agent says at one point, "As you may know, most of the energy of this office is going to investigating Black Nationalist Hate Groups."
Doc, the main character, is not politically active. The only time there's a mention of him going to a demonstration, it's a protest against NBC's decision to cancel Star Trek. He's a pothead private eye, a long-haired hippie freak, and most of his energy goes to smoking dope and having sex with "hippie chicks," though he also works harder at his cases than it would appear at first.
But he's aware of a lot of what's going on around him. He knows who George Jackson is, and Ron Karenga; he knows about COINTELPRO; and he's also aware of how Black people are systematically kept out of California beach towns like the one where he lives. And he knows about how this world works; for example, about the "[l]ong sad history of L.A. land use... Mexican families bounced out of Chavez Ravine to build Dodger Stadium, American Indians swept out of Bunker Hill for the Music Center, Tariq's neighborhood bulldozed aside for Channel View Estates."
Tariq is a Black militant who hires Doc, and who found recently, when he got out of prison, that his old neighborhood was completely gone.
"More white man's revenge."
"Some of us say 'insurrection.' The Man, he just waits for his moment."
Of course, this is Pynchon, so Tariq's Black militant organization is called Warriors Against the Man Black Armed Militia—WAMBAM. It's obvious from the plot that these "Warriors" being "Armed" is one of the things "the Man" fears most.
The carving up of the world by competing powers is a theme that has appeared in Pynchon's novels before. Mason & Dixon is about the process of dividing up the North American continent into different colonies (and eventually into different states), and the second half of Gravity's Rainbow takes place in "The Zone," the chaos that existed in Europe right before and after the end of World War II, as the continent was re-divided and control was reestablished.
I should make it clear at this point that Inherent Vice is not a ponderous political tract or a misty nostalgia trip. For one thing, the plot is tight. By the end of the book, if you can see through the clouds of pot smoke, you will know exactly who committed each crime and why. It's also really funny, and Pynchon remembers the goofy stuff as well as the serious: rumors about the psychedelic properties of banana skins, complex stoned theories about formulaic TV sitcoms, and so forth—this is the book where you learn about a theory that Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster is really a remake of Roman Holiday—which is an actual theory that film enthusiasts have proposed, long before Pynchon took this on.
(As often happens in Pynchon, the wilder something sounds the more likely it is to be true. I realized that fact many years ago when I read in Gravity's Rainbow about the "Zoot Suit Riots." I thought, "Oh, that sounds funny," and then not long after I learned that these riots had indeed happened in LA, and other places, in the 1940s, mostly involving clashes between white servicemen and young Latinos, who often wore flashy suits called "zoot suits.")
Throughout the book, there are many references to John Garfield. Bigfoot Bjornsen (Doc's LAPD nemesis) talks at one point about "the Hollywood blacklist you don't remember and the Watts rioting you do." But Doc is aware of the blacklist, since John Garfield, a very popular actor who was blacklisted for his politics in the 1950s and who died not long after, is Doc's hero, and in moments of stress Doc sometimes tries to figure out how John Garfield would have acted in a similar situation. But Doc admires John Garfield not only because of his acting, but also because he was true to his principles. He did not become a snitch, unlike another blacklisted actor in the book (who ended up making films like Commie Confidential and I Was a Red Dope Fiend). Doc frequently rails against Mod Squad, a late-60s police show about three juvenile offenders who, rather than go to jail, start to work undercover for the police.
In a key scene late in the book, facing an important negotiation with a very rich and powerful man, Doc wears a suit that John Garfield wore in The Postman Always Rings Twice (quite plausible, actually; MGM Studios did sell off a lot of their stockpile of old movie costumes in 1970, the year when the book is set) hoping there was some "mojo" left in its threads to protect him. And in that meeting, when a large amount of money is offered, Doc's response is telling.
I am indebted to the London Review of Books for answering one question. Throughout the book, Doc keeps running into different things called by the same name: the Golden Fang. It is a boat (once owned by the blacklisted actor mentioned above and now used for smuggling—though it's never quite clear what is being smuggled); it's a shadowy heroin cartel ("They finance it, grow it, process it, bring it in, step on it, move it, run Stateside networks of local street dealers, take a separate percentage off of each operation. Brilliant."); and it's also a tax syndicate run by some dentists—who, we find out later in the book, also deal in guns—operating out of a building shaped like a giant gold tooth.
The Golden Fang is also behind an upscale mental hospital that specializes in, among other things, drug treatment. Sell people the drugs and also sell them a program to kick the drugs? Why not? "Get them coming and going—as long as American life was something to be escaped from, the cartel could always be sure of a bottomless pool of new customers."
They are behind everything, it seems; and everybody, including the Mob, is afraid of them.
Most critics wrote off the Fang as more Pynchon Paranoia, but Thomas Jones, in the London Review of Books, said, "...ditch the silly name, and the comic-book headquarters, and it's hard not to agree that a system like the Golden Fang exists, only most people call it, more prosaically, capitalism. And it's everywhere..."
Bob Avakian explained, in "Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism," that there can never be, under capitalism, even something as apparently basic as a right to eat. And, as was pointed out in a letter to Revolution newspaper (issue #149, November 30, 2008), this applies to a right to shelter also. There isn't such a right, to either food or shelter, and there can't be. Inherent Vice gets into this, showing how, if somebody did try to give people a right to shelter, not only would it never work under this system but the attempt would be stopped cold. You can't give people a right to shelter, and even raising the question and trying to resolve it shakes things up. As Avakian said, "...there is a way that this system works, and if you don't act in accordance with that, you will be chewed up and spit out by that system. Or you will learn to go along with it very quickly."
This scenario is played out, not in the foreground but very clearly, throughout Inherent Vice.
Doc's not trying to change the world, and he knows that a lot of his income comes from the misbehavior of the rich and powerful (PIs "can't get by on matrimonials and car thefts," after all). But he will not take money from the cops (though it is offered more than once, and he could clearly use it), and he has no illusions about what they really represent ("they never pull in but the one direction," he says when someone suggests he seek their help). He's dating a Deputy DA, but he has few illusions about her, even before she hands him over to los federales to protect herself.
And he knows that the LAPD and los federales have many unofficial channels, private contractors and rightwing zealots to do the things that the official forces would rather not be involved with. There's an organization called Vigilant California, completely unofficial but directed and paid and armed by the police, which handles various kinds of surveillance, intimidation, and even paramilitary operations. Nixon shows up at a "viggie" rally at one point, saying, "There are always the whiners and complainers who'll say, this is fascism. Well, fellow Americans, if it's Fascism for Freedom? I . . . can . . . dig it!"
The slogan "Fascism for Freedom" by the way, brings up an interesting question. The events of this book take place nearly forty years ago. Did Pynchon just suddenly feel like writing about that era, or was there a reason? Did the events of the last few years: the ever-increasing monitoring of people here and around the world, the steady erosion of rights that people had accepted as foundational, the endless sound bites on the television and radio from people cheerfully willing to give up privacy and personal freedom in order to feel safe, did this give Pynchon the desire to draw a parallel? No way to tell, of course.
Either way, there are a lot of serious concerns here, and a lot of real history, but most reviewers didn't see it for all the fun and games, all the zany names (Buddy Tubeside, Art Tweedle, Petunia Leeway, Rudy Blatnoyd), all the movie and song and television references (I can't count all the times Gilligan's Island comes up), the various drugs and groupies and bands.
And dead bodies, since this is a mystery after all. Doc is working on a few cases at the same time (which end up connected, of course) and he does solve them. But for all the constant haze of dope he maintains around himself, he is unable to completely inure himself to the larger direction of things, that "the sixties" are turning into "the seventies," that "the little parenthesis of light" is closing. Is closing, but more important is being closed. It is not just that, as Hunter Thompson put it in "the wave speech" in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, that the wave crested and rolled back. It's that there was a deliberate plan to buy off those who could be bought, to intimidate those who could be intimidated, to discredit and divide the rest, and even to kill the most dangerous.
This seemed to be happening more and more lately, out in Greater Los Angeles, among gatherings of carefree youth and happy dopers, where Doc had begun to notice older men, there and not there, rigid, unsmiling, that he knew he'd seen before, not the faces necessarily but a defiant posture, an unwillingness to blur out, like everybody else at the psychedelic events of those days, beyond official envelopes of skin.... Doc knew these people, he'd seen enough of them in the course of business. They went out to collect cash debts, they broke rib cages, they kept an unforgiving eye on anything that might become a threat. If everything in this dream of pre-revolution was in fact doomed to end and the faithless money-driven world to reassert its control over all the lives it felt entitled to touch, fondle, and molest, it would be agents like this, dutiful and silent, out doing the shitwork, who'd make it happen.
Was it possible, that at every gathering—concert, peace rally, love-in, be-in, and freak-in, here, up north, back East, wherever—those dark crews had been busy all along, reclaiming the music, the resistance to power, the sexual desire from epic to everyday, all they could sweep up, for the ancient forces of greed and fear?
"Gee," he said to himself out loud, "I dunno..."
The dichotomy here is between the idea that the political and social changes of the 1960s reached their logical and inevitable limits, and then receded, and the idea that this upsurge was deliberately tamped down in various ways, and this dichotomy is expressed in the title. "Inherent vice" is a legal term for things which insurance policies don't like to cover, because some items come with built-in flaws. The example given in the novel is that it's difficult to insure a shipment of eggs against breaking, since it is in the nature of eggs to break.
So, the title, if applied to the dichotomy mentioned above, would seem to point to the first explanation, that the wave had inevitably reached its limits. But the book itself, as I've indicated, appears to subscribe to the opposite explanation.
And the author himself, who never makes public statements and never gives interviews, is of course not saying anything either way. So, we have to figure it out for ourselves, including the possibility that the situation was complex and the two scenarios are not mutually exclusive.
Doc is fundamentally a reformist, trying to fix what he can. He's trying to locate a missing husband and father, reported dead; trying to locate a missing lover for a client; trying to help his own ex-old lady though she's now the mistress of a big-time land developer; trying to collect a debt for Tariq. His current g-f (the DDA) turns him over to the feds and his main worry is for her, knowing she must be in big trouble to have sold him out like that. He tries to help pretty much anybody who needs it, whether or not they can pay him.
He solves these cases, but he doesn't fix the bigger problems and he knows it.
This is what runs throughout the book, and leads to the heartbreaking final pages, where Doc shows that all the sex and drugs and rock & roll, and all the ways he tries to help people who need it, aren't changing anything fundamental, and he knows it. He'll get stoned, but then eventually he'll sober up and see once again that things are really bad and getting worse, and that the brief glimpse of a possibility for major positive change is being taken away.
Because that is heartbreaking, when that possibility actually opens up, and it isn't seized, and then the "little parenthesis of light" closes again.
New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/books/review/Kirn-t.html
Wired Magazine: http://www.wired.com/underwire/2009/04/stop-the-presse
New York Magazine: http://nymag.com/arts/books/reviews/58182
Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204908604574334652562017492.html
Revolution on Brother George Jackson: http://revcom.us/a/1230/jackson.htm
Ron Karenga and COINTELPRO: http://revcom.us/a/v19/940-49/945/geronjer.htm
Revolution (letter): http://revcom.us/a/149/ba_talk_box-en.html
"The wave speech": http://www.poetv.com/video.php?vid=23451
Revolution #191, February 7, 2010
From The World Can't Wait
On January 18th, a group of anti-abortion religious fundamentalists came to Houston to protest at a new Planned Parenthood facility. These people call Planned Parenthood's new Houston location an "abortion super center" because of its 78,000 square feet, and they call the location of the building itself racist because it is situated near Black and Chicano neighborhoods.
They claim that Planned Parenthood chose this location to target neighborhoods of the oppressed for abortions. Their agenda is to enslave women. Those of us who support a woman's right to choose, who stand in opposition to the oppression of women, came out in support of abortion rights and Planned Parenthood.
news coverage from KIAH, Houston
Walking to the protest, and seeing the hundreds of anti-abortion protesters already in place, tape over their mouths with the word "Life" written on it and with reports of hundreds of more in place, set to march to Planned Parenthood, reinforced for some of us that things have sharpened politically, and that there is a need for a new movement that will take on the religious right, and put up a strong pole of resistance that can attract many more people to it.
About 1,500 people came out against abortion, bussed in by church groups throughout the area. They were countered by about 50 of us, who ranged from the Student Feminists Organization at the University of Houston to Revolutionary Communists, Anarchists, and the general public. Before we arrived at the location we knew that we would be outnumbered. Local media had given plenty of positive air time to Lou Engle, and his group, The Call to Conscience, which had called for the protest against Planned Parenthood.
While I am not pleased with the lack of people we were able to mobilize, neither am I discouraged. I think what happened in Houston reflects what is actually going on broadly in society. Bob Avakian talks about this pyramid dynamic and how right-wing politicians mobilize their social base, to a certain extent, to promote their agenda because that agenda is about the continuation of oppression and exploitation and it benefits them, while the Democratic Party is reluctant to do the same with their social base because they don't want things to go too far to the left where they can lose control. And many people who oppose the atrocities and attacks upon the people feel paralyzed.
Avakian also speaks to the ability of the people to change this situation, through determined actions, and through countering the ideological offensive and confusion of the right wing. Over the past couple of months some of this has begun to develop, even if in still a very beginning way, in Houston, as courageous women at the University of Houston have stood up to expose and oppose the fascist woman haters who seek to outlaw a woman's right to choose completely.
It was quite clear from the beginning that any counter protest that we held was going to be challenged by the State in the form of the police. The police had a heavy presence, and set up barricades in the middle of the street to keep the two sides apart. Actually, they were trying to keep us "protest pinned". They were focused entirely on the pro-choice side. The second we held up our signs, the cops wanted to know "who was in charge", and asked us, "Don't you want to move? It would be better for your signs to be seen?" Meanwhile, they tried to keep our message from being seen and heard.
It looks like Houston, and this new Planned Parenthood facility, is becoming a focal point in the battle around abortion rights. What is painfully clear is that having leaders in the women's movement, who tell us to lobby and vote for pro-choice candidates, and who then turn around and vote for legislation that strip away the right to abortion, demobilizes and demoralizes people. But it is also clear that there is a growing number of young women – and men – who are determined to make this a two sided fight.
We need a new movement that is willing to take on the religious right, that isn't afraid to take a bold stand, and which realizes that you don't seek common ground with those who would want to kill you, but instead, you resist.