Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
These imperialists make the Godfather look like Mary Poppins.
Bob Avakian, BAsics 1:7
The U.S. war in Afghanistan—started almost 10 years ago—is the longest war in U.S. history. We're told this is a "war on terror" to prevent another 9/11. But from the beginning, this war has been about EMPIRE—an unjust, imperialist war of conquest aimed at U.S. domination and control in the Middle East. The U.S. occupation now includes 100,000 U.S. and 50,000 NATO troops. The corrupt lackey government, installed by the U.S., is widely hated. Living conditions, including the situation of women, has gotten worse. The people of Afghanistan have suffered horribly, subjected to massacres, bombings, night raids, torture, covert assassinations, drone strikes... and more.
U.S. bombs, missiles and bullets have killed thousands of Afghani men, women and children. The U.S. considers large gatherings a threat and has bombed wedding parties, killing and injuring dozens at a time. In one province U.S. forces bombed 150 civilians—mostly women and children—in one day, using white phosphorous. Civilian deaths have risen every year under Obama.
U.S. soldiers carry out night raids, storming into homes, guns drawn, often shooting without warning. People are often rounded up, illegally detained and sent to interrogation and torture centers. These raids have increased under Obama. In the small town of Gardez, six members of a single extended family, including three pregnant women, were shot dead. U.S. soldiers detained, brutalized and interrogated some of the survivors, then lied about and tried to cover up the whole incident.
Afghani women suffered terribly during the 1990s under the brutal rule of the Taliban. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, it claimed to be fighting for the rights of women. But the U.S. has only brought continuing oppression and suffering to women in Afghanistan—military assaults, malnutrition and lack of health care, and putting into power reactionary Islamist warlords who enforce extreme anti-women practices in every realm of life. The U.S.-backed Karzai government pushed a law supporting rape in marriage, and the only two rights women are guaranteed by the Constitution are the right to obey their husbands and the right to pray, but not in a mosque.
The U.S., especially under Obama, has stepped up use of unmanned drone aircraft to launch missile strikes. The Air Force now flies at least 20 Predator drones—twice as many as a year ago—every day. Between January 2009 and February 2010, the U.S. fired at least 184 missiles and 66 laser‑guided bombs at what they said were "militant suspects," often killing or wounding civilians.
Endless war: The mainstream press made a big deal of Obama's June 22 speech which announced plans for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan—as if this was the beginning of an end to the war. But do the math: When Obama took office in January 2009 there were 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. By December 2009—when this number had grown to 68,000—Obama announced an "Afghan surge," to add over 30,000 U.S. soldiers. Now Obama plans to withdraw the 33,000 "surge troops"—10,000 by the end of 2011 and the rest by the Summer of 2012. This means by the end of 2012, there will still be 68,000 troops in Afghanistan—twice as many as the 32,000 when Obama took office.
The U.S. invasion in 2001 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. And the history of U.S. domination in Afghanistan goes back several decades. In 1979, the Soviet Union, then an imperialist rival of the U.S., invaded Afghanistan. And throughout the 1980s, the U.S. funneled more than $3 billion in arms and aid to reactionary Islamic fundamentalists to fight the Soviet occupation. This CIA-led insurgency is where Osama bin Laden got his start.
The U.S. war in Afghanistan is almost 10 years old... and counting... and the horrible crimes being committed by the U.S. against the Afghani people will continue to pile up. At the same time, the U.S. is facing real problems in continuing this war and there are differences among the rulers over how to deal with this. Look for analysis of this in a future issue of Revolution.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
Join Carl Dix, Herb Boyd, Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, and Nicholas Heyward Sr. in spreading the BAsics.
BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian is a new book of quotations and short essays that speaks powerfully to questions of revolution and human emancipation.
This book has to go viral!
One important way to spread the word way beyond those who already are tuned into the revolution is to get quotes from BAsics up on YouTube.
Among the quotes up now, Rev. Kooperkamp, Pastor of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in West Harlem, reads BAsics 3:22: "You cannot break all the chains, except one. You cannot say you want to be free of exploitation and oppression, except you want to keep the oppression of women by men. You can't say you want to liberate humanity yet keep one half of the people enslaved to the other half. The oppression of women is completely bound up with the division of society into masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited, and the ending of all such conditions is impossible without the complete liberation of women. All this is why women have a tremendous role to play not only in making revolution but in making sure there is all-the-way revolution. The fury of women can and must be fully unleashed as a mighty force for proletarian revolution." And, Kooperkamp added, "That is a basic truth."
And there's more. But there needs to be way more.
First, spread the word—at work and school, on the radio, on the web, and on the walls (where that is permitted): Go to youtube.com/knowthebasics1.
There should be scores and eventually hundreds of these videos up. This coming weekend is a perfect time to start, particularly at anti-July 4th picnics. Set up a camera—a flip camera or even a decent cell phone camera would work—and gather up people who are reading the book. Give people a chance to practice reading their favorite quote from BAsics/Lo BAsico, then record videos of people reading these favorite quotes, and—if they want to—explaining what they think about it and why.
People can pick a quote they want to read, and end the video with "You can't change the world if you don't know the BAsics!" All together these videos should provide a growing sense of the impact of this book; it will put Bob Avakian's words right out there for people to encounter and enable different sections of people to communicate with each other. People from a neighborhood can watch videos of more well-known people; artists and students can watch videos of people from the neighborhoods... making these kinds of connections is an important part of the movement for revolution we are building.
Also, people have a right to be heard around the world with this kind of important message without giving up their privacy. So, before you start recording, have a stack of hats, dark wrap-around sunglasses, bandanas, and so on... get creative with things people can wear while they record their videos.
You can mail video files (in regular video file formats like MOV, WMV or AVI) on a flash drive to Revolution Books in New York City (address on page 15), or go to revcom.us/basics-videos for further instructions.
Then watch and show videos from other people reading their favorite quotes from BAsics.
Spread the word. And send ideas to Revolution newspaper for how to spread these videos and other promotional ideas for BAsics.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
I recently participated in a discussion of BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian and then in a day-long discussion of the RCP's statement "On the Strategy for Revolution" (which is also part of BAsics). The discussions provoked me to share a few thoughts.
In the discussion of BAsics one of the people wanted to get deeply into the supplement to the chapter on revolutionary responsibility and leadership. This supplement is titled "The Revolutionary Potential of the Masses and the Responsibility of the Vanguard." And this person raised a sharp question—why are the masses not rising up; and why has this situation gone on, with very few exceptions, for so long?
This is a very important question; it weighs on everybody who comes forward, and it weighs on revolutionaries as well. There are reasons for this—reasons that BA has gone deeply into in different talks during the past few decades. Grasping these reasons can give us a deeper understanding of the problems we're dealing with, and some of what we have to do. Some of those reasons include:
• the profound defeats suffered by the revolutionary movement after the high tides of the 1960s, worldwide as well as within the U.S., and the relentless ways that the bourgeoisie has hammered on those defeats to spread its own summation that revolution cannot and will not work;
• the changes in the U.S. economy and the class makeup of the U.S. These changes include the greatly heightened parasitism of the U.S. economy and the ways that has affected the middle strata. Those changes also include the "de-industrialization" of the U.S., and the system's program of pervasive criminalization of huge sections of the Black, and Latino, masses. And there is also, going along with those developments, the deeper gulf between these two sections of the people (that is, the basic masses and the middle strata), and the feelings of isolation that gives rise to in those "for whom this system is a horror" every day.
• the emergence of the "two outmodeds": the dynamic in which U.S. imperialism and bourgeois democracy, on the one hand, and Islamic fundamentalism, on the other, are presented to people as the only living alternatives, or the main alternatives, in the world;
• the "pyramid of power" in the U.S. itself, where the masses are confined within the straitjacket confines and terms of Republican-Democrat politics.
And there are other reasons besides. All of these are very important to dig deeply into, to keep working on understanding—as part of our orientation, as BA says in this supplement, of "working on all the things that are in between that revolutionary potential [of the masses] and its actual realization." In fact, this supplement by Bob Avakian is critically important to staying on the revolutionary road for real. This supplement leads us to scientifically confront how the masses do in fact "have real limitations and shortcomings, as a result of living and struggling to survive under this system," while grasping deeply that "that doesn't mean they are not capable of overcoming all this." To go on with the quote from that supplement:
...And it doesn't mean that they [the masses of people] have not accumulated a great deal of experience and knowledge and wisdom of many kinds, which can contribute to the development of the revolutionary struggle, especially as this is taken up by people wielding a scientific communist outlook and method and spreading this among the masses of people. We should understand, on a scientific basis, that these masses are fully capable of becoming conscious communist revolutionaries...
It is the responsibility of those who are the vanguard to lead the masses to realize this potential, to become a revolutionary people and, when the time becomes ripe, to be the backbone of a revolution that will open up the way to a whole better world. And, yes, that means struggling with the masses to, first of all, recognize their own revolutionary potential, their potential to become emancipators of humanity, and then to act in accordance with that potential.
All this—especially the need for the vanguard to struggle with the masses, and to not tail behind them, even as the vanguard learns from them—is extremely important. I thought about this quite a bit overnight, before the discussion the next day which focused on the actual strategy to move millions to make revolution. How do we work on those things that "are in between that revolutionary potential and its actual realization"?
As I thought about this overnight, it occurred to me that you have to identify and pose the question correctly. Right now, we are not directly facing the question of how do we move millions to act, in the current situation, to make revolution; nor is it our task to somehow generate, from our own efforts, an upsurge or rebellion on the scale of the 1960s. The statement on strategy fully recognizes the non-revolutionary state of things today. But it makes the point that the nature of the system itself "causes great suffering. And at times it leads to crisis on one level or another—sudden jolts and breakdowns in the 'normal functioning' of society, which compel many people to question and to resist what they usually accept."
But that's not the end of the story—it's really the stepping off point. We can't just wait for some crisis somewhere down the line to somehow "deliver the people." That won't happen. Instead, the statement gets into how revolutionaries need to work today to prepare for those situations so that "leaps are made in building up the movement and the organized forces for revolution, creating in this way a stronger basis from which to work for further advances" (even while it points out that nobody can say for certain that one of those crises won't develop into something where "for great numbers of people, the 'legitimacy' of the current system, and the right and ability of the ruling powers to keep on ruling, can be called seriously and directly into question, with millions hungering for a radical change that only a revolution can bring about"). It lays out, very concisely but very richly, the key things we need to be doing today to hasten and prepare for such times when people are questioning and resisting what they usually accept. There is the whole rich paragraph on what is involved in "fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution"; the discussion of the need to win people to support and strengthen the Party; the need to learn from Bob Avakian, "spread the knowledge and influence of his pathbreaking leadership, and defend and protect this rare and precious leader"; and the points on the need to wield Revolution newspaper, including as "the key instrument in developing an organized political network." All of these, and more, are crucial in the strategy statement's orientation of hastening while awaiting the changes that make revolution possible.
At the same time, the statement gives us a way to measure progress in this work of hastening while awaiting from today forward. Right now all our work needs to involve and result in bringing forward and orienting, organizing and training "thousands...in a revolutionary way, while beginning to reach and influence millions more, even before there is a revolutionary situation...and then, when there is a revolutionary situation, those thousands can be a backbone and pivotal force in winning millions to revolution and organizing them in the struggle to carry the revolution through."
This question of bringing forward and orienting, organizing and training thousands—this is very critical. In wrangling with this, I thought of an analogy which, while it has real limitations, could perhaps shed light on this. A few weeks ago, I was riding in a car with some people and we had a flat tire. We didn't try to directly lift the car off the ground and hold this several-ton car in the air with our bare hands while someone went about changing the tire. Instead, we took the jack out of the trunk and paid attention to correctly positioning it under the car. Then we worked the jack to lift the car off the ground and hold it there while we changed the tire. The jack itself was not very big, just a few pounds at most; but it was well-constructed and solid, and the whole process we were doing was based on science (in this case, the science of physics).
To drop the metaphor for a minute, we are not right now trying to move millions to carry the revolution through. We are trying to reach and influence those millions—but we are doing that largely through bringing forward thousands to do that. This is the movement for revolution that we are building—and this is a movement that has to be able, when the time is right, to actually do what is said in the statement: win millions to revolution and organize them in the struggle to carry it through. The thousands we are bringing forward, orienting, organizing and training today need to learn, through this process of trying to reach and influence millions even now, how to do that for the future—even as they are being led to influence how that future will shape up.
This movement for revolution is like the jack—it is like a lever that can move all of society, in the right conditions. But this movement at this point is not sufficiently strong to do what is said in the strategy statement. We do not yet have thousands who have been "brought forward and oriented, organized and trained in a revolutionary way, while beginning to reach and influence millions more, even before there is a revolutionary situation." This we must do, and we must do it now.
Now all analogies have limitations. To begin with, people (individually or in their masses) are not inanimate objects like cars, movements are not machines, and revolutions are not simple mechanical processes! And there has been a very negative history in the communist movement of falling into thinking that is not too far from such mechanical materialist approaches to changing the world. So we have to be careful in not letting metaphors or analogies run away with our thinking. But perhaps if we take note of those limitations, this analogy can help us grasp the problem, and the task, before us—as they are very profoundly and dynamically laid out in the party's statement on strategy itself!
It relates to a question raised in the second discussion I'm writing about, the one that focused on the statement on strategy. How do we know, one person asked, that we are making progress? How do we measure it? It is precisely this yardstick—to what extent are we bringing forward those thousands, how well are we orienting them, how tightly (yet flexibly) are we organizing them, how thoroughly are we training them, and how good are we doing at doing all that in the process of beginning to reach and influence millions—that we should be using to measure our progress. Of course, this has its particular parts—we should be able to see this in a growing number of people getting into BA, more people in an organized relationship to the Party and its newspaper, and a growing sense of a collective "we" that is thinking and acting in a revolutionary way. But it is that overall goal, the state of the whole movement, that should be the context for these measurements and the ground of our thinking in everything we are doing (and not just how is the particular project I'm involved in doing at that).
Our newspaper should be a way that people get enough information so that everybody who feels that they are part of this movement for revolution can be part of measuring this. It should enable people to analyze whether we are doing all we can to hasten the development of a revolutionary situation and to prepare for such a situation. Those who follow our paper should get a deepening sense of whether and how well the movement for revolution is influencing people now so that revolution is "circulating in their minds" and so that they have a sense of the leadership of that revolution. It should give a sense of whether these "thousands" are being brought forward, and getting oriented, organized and trained in a revolutionary way. It should be a place where people contribute their observations and insights on this, and their ideas on how to do better. And the movement for revolution itself must measure up to the vision of the very last paragraph of the statement—a movement in which there truly is "a place and a role, a need and a means, for thousands now and ultimately millions to contribute to building this movement for revolution, in many different ways, big and small—with ideas and with practical involvement, with support, and with questions and criticisms."
Now the strategy statement is a very rich document; there are new layers of meaning that should emerge every time you read it or discuss it. It is concise and clear, but every word and phrase counts. At the same time, this statement concentrates a body of work by BA on this question that is rich, wide-ranging and full of texture. This point on bringing forward thousands today to reach and influence millions—in preparation for the emergence of a revolutionary situation in which those millions are won to and organized to carry the revolution through—is one (critical) part of a sweeping document and has to be seen in that context. This is a statement that should be wrangled with in all its dimensions, paying careful attention to what is said and how it is said and using it as a springboard to get more deeply into the whole body of work from which it came.
With all that in mind, this vision at the end of the statement is a very palpable goal. Again, we should not be mechanical—we should not reduce everything to that one very important aspect of things. Nor should we think that this process will go forward in a straight line without twists and turns and setbacks. But we should, on the other hand, use the strategy statement as a whole—including this very important part of it—to critically measure our progress and build the movement for revolution that can actually fulfill the great historic need that lies before it.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
It could be almost anywhere USA! When the people who gather at the corner liquor store see the picture in the Message and Call1 of the pigs kneeing a young Black man in the neck, they recognize it as familiar, even though it's thousands of miles away.
I think of what Bob Avakian says in 2:27 of BAsics,
At a talk I gave, years ago now, someone asked: 'How would you do better than the Soviet Union or China under Mao?' One of the things I said to him is: 'I don't believe in tailing people because they're oppressed—we need emancipators of humanity.' When you are in a qualitatively different situation than what we have now—when the present system has been swept aside and the new, socialist system has been brought into being—there would have to be an army, as the backbone of an actual state, that enforces the new system, and that army would be made up of very basic people in large part. But we have to train them to understand that, as part of that, they are going to have to be out there protecting the rights of people who oppose this new system, and they are going to have to defend the right of these people to raise this opposition, while at the same time they would also have to stop people who really are making attempts to smash the state power we have. I said that this will be a struggle with masses, but we have to bring forward on every level people who have this kind of understanding of what we're doing. The Constitution of the new, socialist system is going to enumerate the rights of people, and this state apparatus is going to protect people's rights who don't agree, so long as they don't actively and concretely organize to overthrow that state apparatus. That is where the Lenin point comes in: As long as there are classes, one class is going to dictate, and 'better me than you'—that is, better the dictatorship of the proletariat than the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (capitalist class). But what is that dictatorship of the proletariat?
BOTH aspects of this are important—solid core and elasticity.
I think of this quote especially when we have an outing at the corner with BAsics and our latest paper. For the last few months, we have had a crew go out on the weekends among Black people who live in the 'hood, and they mix it up with the people of other nationalities as well since the neighborhood also has a sizable population of Latino families.
Like many oppressed neighborhoods, there are liquor stores mixed in with the churches, small markets, fast food joints, and various "help" agencies like a county-run food bank (providing emergency food assistance to families under the federal poverty line), the welfare office, a health center and a halfway house. There are almost no jobs in the 'hood, in sharp contrast to a few decades ago where there used to be steel factories, an auto plant, sheet metal factories, etc. This was also the era before Bill Clinton ended "welfare as we know it."
Whereas the '60s generation was able to support home ownership (albeit small tract houses), their children's generation has had to survive on an underground economy. As we've often heard, this young generation asks "What's his hustle?" instead of "What does he do for a living?" Often the hustle is legitimate; even though it's living day to day. One young Black man, TC,2 who reads and sometimes distributes our paper, makes his living buying, fixing, and reselling things. He can't make a real living with health benefits and such, but it does allow him to pay a modest rent. In fact, Craigslist has become a way of life for anyone with web access in the neighborhood. In this 'hood, one can walk into apartments which are entirely furnished from the "free" section. Part-time jobs are taken, and so on, courtesy of Craigslist!
Of course, transportation is a main problem overall for people in the 'hood. There are no supermarkets anywhere near; so just hauling groceries for a family of four on the bus is a big chore, not to mention meeting appointments with your welfare case worker, health center, parole officer (many young Black men who've been caught up in the criminal justice system, and are on probation, must meet stringent requirements to visit their parole officers who may live many, many miles away... not meeting these appointments results in additional punishment like isolation upon being sent back to prison), the WIC office (Women, Infants, Children is a federal service for nutrition and food needs for women and children up to five years old, when the family falls below the federal poverty guidelines), etc.
So simple lack of transportation has led in part to a certain isolation, a kind of segregation among people in the neighborhood to where they are kept from knowing about anything except what's in their few square blocks. Also, it sometimes leads to contradictions among the masses when folks venture out of their neighborhoods, and are viewed as "not welcome" if they are not recognized.
We recently had a significant outing where our crew from the 'hood went into a Latino neighborhood on May Day (which coincided with Cinco de Mayo). There was a certain trepidation about venturing into an area only 30 blocks away where people speak another language. A guy from our crew, S, who has never gone into this other area, agonized over this on the way there, saying, "What am I going to say? This is a Mexican thing." And yet, our crew learned quickly that sticking close to our Spanish-speaking agitators allowed them to readily distribute papers and the Message and Call in Español. This was a learning experience for us all. As T remarked, while struggling with S, "We can't just stick close to our own corner if we're talking about making revolution." During that outing, even the children got into the act, joining a red flag march through a neighborhood they'd never seen!
T is part of this extended family we've gotten to know, who form the bulk of this crew. At our usual "revolution" corner in the 'hood, when the family is in full swing, it's not unusual to distribute 100 newspapers, while collecting money by shaking the can. The kids distribute the palm cards, staple materials, like posters made from the paper's cover and centerfold, to the poles while their parents take turns at the bullhorn, speaking bitterness about police brutality, reading the poem from Abiodun Oyewole from the centerfold,3 reading from BAsics, and telling people to drop some money in the donation can. This whole arrangement of four or five adults with even more children has created a chemistry I've never seen in all my newspaper selling days. This is truly from the people back to the people with revolution; and it stops traffic when people in the cars see their neighbors into this.
T is the main guy who leads this family; and you can tell right away he has amazing organizing skills. He would make sure in every outing everyone involved would have a specific task, including his wife at the table and the roommate with the papers. T's energy and enthusiasm for spreading revolution is boundless. He has respect for BA, having watched several sections of the Revolution talk DVD4 and engaged in BAsics readings in the park with the whole crew. He has engaged with us repeatedly over the religion question and also the strategy statement5 as well. He worked on getting a set of big speakers to take to the corner so that BA could be heard very loudly along with our agitation.
T's family has some resources with welfare and WIC; and they also have a relatively large apartment where they sometimes shelter friends in need. The apartment becomes in fact a kind of way station for friends who need a little temporary help. There are roommates who help with the rent and at the same time help with watching the children. And food and laundry are often shared. This is still barely getting by (WAY below the official poverty guideline for the family). And by the last days of any month, everyone in the family, including the children, would be considered "food insecure" by any standard, when it's not uncommon to hear sighs, "We hungry!" even from adults. Sometimes all the family has to eat all day is a $5 Hot-n-Ready pizza!
There are other people in our crew who are not as "well off" compared to T's family. S is a Black man in his 30s who often calls me up asking when the next outing is happening. He is sometimes the one speaking bitterness with the bullhorn; and although his literacy is not at a high level, he is digging into BAsics. His personal life is wrought with difficulty. His welfare is out; and because he is an ex-felon ... the strikes against him are numerous. Michelle Alexander's new book, The New Jim Crow, strikes close to the heart in this neighborhood. S and his wife are currently squatting in an apartment complex of Black and Latino families. The entire complex has already been "evicted," but the owning bank has let the complex lie fallow. This block in fact is dotted with foreclosures, as Black homeowners are beset upon by predatory lenders and unable to keep up maintenance on their property when medical bills skyrocket. The local shelter houses not only addicts but also homeless!
S and his wife have considered the option of living in the shelter, but there are many reasons not to go. For one, the shelter has a curfew, and guests are restricted from visiting the rooms. But there is also an element of pride involved in S not wanting to get into this spiral, especially when his wife is pregnant and he wants to truly be supportive. Because they have no children yet, they have no ability to get WIC benefits and other social services. And the food bank does not consider them as needy as a family with children... so they get no meat in their bag! And of course another option is to commit petty crime and perhaps land in another kind of "shelter"—the jail, which is an option S would not care for, even though he would be fed. But for now S is determined not to go back on this path, taking his own wife with him, because he thinks it's more meaningful to stay outside and help the revolution. Sometimes his wife will in fact go back to live with her family in another city just to get taken care of for awhile when the money situation really gets funny. S is into a legit selling hustle at the moment ... hustles can vary from selling cologne to CDs, not enough to pay rent, but maybe to buy a meal when the local chicken shack has a special. (Most of our friends, by the way, are aware of these fast food specials and depend on them, despite the high cholesterol in the meat and empty calories in the drinks. And Michelle Obama has a plan to stop obesity for $2 a day?)
But for all the direness of S's situation, he puts in for revolution. He feels that "something has to give, the situation just can't stay the same." He also has a sense that it is people like him that must be the backbone of the revolution. No "American dream," flag waving, or Memorial Day for S. When the most recent fundraising campaign (30-30+100) was announced, S agreed to donate $2 a month, despite his desperate situation.
I should mention the jail experience as an important part of the life of the people, impacting both men and women in this 'hood. The New Jim Crow is in living color among our crew. One important outing we had planned recently had to be readjusted when one of the family was sent back to prison for failing to see his parole officer who lived in another county miles away (there you go with a Catch-22). It has become a way of life unfortunately for many. I recently overheard a woman talking about her old man being sent back [because of a bench warrant he didn't even know about]. "It's no big deal. He's been in jail before. We (meaning her and the children) can get through this."
Desperate economic situations among even people selling weed, parole violators being snitched out by others with a grudge, not to mention new "gang injunctions" in many cities has led to violent confrontations among the masses. The people are beset with police violence, but also with violence among the people. I recently had a talk with T and S about their views on "human nature," especially when S put out that people are "too fucked up" (in the course of reading the strategy statement in the park with T's family). So it was really good to read back to him BAsics 3:17 and struggle over it, and to also read it on the bullhorn. And I have seen people change even in the course of these few months. It's not a straight line; but I do view these new friends not as people to be tailed, felt sorry for, or put on a pedestal but as what they CAN be—part of the third objective to be achieved in the "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" campaign, part of that "core of new fighters for this revolution and its leadership (BA)" that is mentioned in that Message and Call.
1. "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," available at revcom.us/a/170/Revolution_we_need-en.html [back]
2. Initials mentioned are not true identities. [back]
3. "Rain of Terror," Revolution #232, May 15, 2011. [back]
4. Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, A Film of a Talk by Bob Avakian, available at revolutiontalk.net. [back]
5. "A Statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party: On the Strategy for Revolution," available at revcom.us/a/224online/Statement-on-strategy-en.html. [back]
Send us your comments.
Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
"The entire incident that has erupted here at Attica is ... [the result] of the unmitigated oppression wrought by the racist administration of this prison. We are men. We are not beasts, and we do not intend to be beaten and driven as such.... What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed...."
L.D. Barkley, 21-year-old spokesman
for the rebelling prisoners in Attica prison
This September will mark the 40th anniversary of the Attica Rebellion. On September 9, 1971, prisoners in Attica, New York, rose up for four days and held the attention of the world with the justness of their demands and the humanity they showed. This was too much for the powers-that-be, who let loose state police—29 prisoners and nine guards were killed and 408 prisoners were wounded. This year people will be marking this anniversary with commemorations... and struggle. In the weeks ahead we will be telling the story of Attica to a new generation and giving people news of what is planned.
* * * * *
The following is from the Special Issue on Prisons and Prisoners in the U.S.: "From the Hellholes of Incarceration to a Future of Emancipation," Revolution #183, November 15, 2009:
"Three weeks before the Attica prison rebellion, Soledad Brother and revolutionary prisoner George Jackson had been murdered by California prison guards. Attica prisoners saluted him by fasting and wearing armbands. As word spread of the imminent beating of two prisoners in lockdown, a group pushed over a gate and seized 40 guards as hostages, and 1,300 prisoners flooded into D-Yard. Leaders stepped forward, demands were formulated and popularized, and an invitation was extended to the press and sympathetic observers to join them. As the TV cameras rolled, people around the country were riveted to their screens. Many people who had been taught to fear such prisoners learned of the organized destruction of human beings known as the prison system. Millions came to know and embrace the humanity and courage of the prisoners and the justice of their rebellion and their demands.
"Like those in the yard, the leadership included Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans and whites. They organized a security force, mainly to protect the hostages, who received the best of the diminishing supplies, and teams to handle food, medicine, and other needs. Debate and discussion flourished in small groups and mass meetings. An observer from the New York Times wrote, 'The racial harmony that prevailed among the prisoners...was absolutely astonishing,' and a prisoner reflected, 'I actually cried, it was so close, everyone was so together.' The rebels issued a statement 'To the People of America' and they struggled over huge questions like exacting revenge for all they had suffered. 'These things [previous grievances with hostages] became obsolete in my mind because something much higher was at stake.'
"These prisoners inspired millions...and it was THIS—potentially a blow against the legitimacy of the whole system—that the government could not allow to go on and decided to violently suppress. Even though the Attica prisoners were not engaged in any violence after their takeover, the armed forces of the government attacked with massive brutality. In the morning of Sept. 13, helicopters dropped a choking cloud of CS gas. Then in 6 minutes, state troopers fired 2,200 rounds into the crowd that had no guns. The sharpshooters murdered 29 prisoners, some—like L.D. Barkley—by deliberate assassination, and 9 hostages. Another 89 prisoners were wounded by gunfire. And 319 more were injured as the troops ordered all prisoners to strip naked and crawl through mud and broken glass, and forced some to run a brutal gauntlet of club-wielding guards. The state tried to cover their crimes by claiming to the press that the prisoners had slit the throats of the hostages and even castrated one. But the next day the Medical Examiner bravely exploded their lies by announcing that ALL the dead prisoners and the guards were murdered by the state police snipers.
"All this sparked widespread outrage and outpourings of protest—in major cities, especially New York, but also in small towns and throughout the prison system—as people raised the cry 'Attica is All of Us' and 'Attica means FIGHT BACK!'"
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
From a Reader
People in our crew have different levels of literacy. A few can read the BAsics without too much difficulty, but most of them tend to rush through a sentence, stumbling over but ignoring words they don't understand, just to get to the end of the sentence. One day when we were talking about the 4th of July (kind of planning for an anti-4th event) and T said he would celebrate it not for what things were but because Black people are now free. I asked what does free mean and M, T's wife, said that being free means they can walk out their door.
I said let's look at the BAsics quote (1:8) about the "greatness of America," so everyone read that, struggling through the vocabulary—for example, what is "ingenuity"? What is "indispensable"? "Indispensable" is in the sentence in that quote: "Slavery has been an indispensable part of the foundation for the 'freedom and prosperity' of the USA." So then we spent ten minutes on what is "indispensable" and what does it mean. And then we tried to get into the BAsics quote, "If you could imagine a world without America..." and we got as far as the word "imperialism" and people wanted to know what imperialism is, so we went to quote 1:6 and the questions came up: What is "parasitic"? What is "financier"? Anyway, through reading and struggling over all these words, people in our crew got a different understanding of whether or not we are free now.
The next day the crew was taking a trip to a blues festival. On the way up to the event, T said, "Roll up the windows and let's read." So we all took turns reading the poem "America the Terrorist" by Oyewole from that issue of Revolution which was very cool. After enjoying the festival, on our way back I read out loud a letter to the crew sent from K in the prison. (K is a friend of T's who got introduced to the movement for revolution when T was in the prison with him earlier. K had some college education.) Parts of K's letter, when talking about BAsics, said, "One of the most impacting things in my viewpoint that makes me a revolutionary is that slavery has been an indispensable part of the 'freedom and prosperity' of the USA. Literally spoken it affected me!" Our crew all caught that K used the word "indispensable" from BAsics in his letter and M exclaimed, "'Indispensable'—that's that word! Your glasses are indispensable. My eyeballs are indispensable.'" So that was really cool.
There is a semi-official narrative about the history and the "greatness" of America, which says that this greatness of America lies in the freedom and ingenuity of its people, and above all in a system that gives encouragement and reward to these qualities. Now, in opposition to this semi-official narrative about the greatness of America, the reality is that—to return to one fundamental aspect of all this—slavery has been an indispensable part of the foundation for the "freedom and prosperity" of the USA. The combination of freedom and prosperity is, as we know, still today, and in some ways today more than ever, proclaimed as the unique quality and the special destiny and mission of the United States and its role in the world. And this stands in stark contradiction to the fact that without slavery, none of this—not even the bourgeois-democratic freedoms, let alone the prosperity—would have been possible, not only in the southern United States but in the North as well, in the country as a whole and in its development and emergence as a world economic and military power.
Bob Avakian, BAsics 1:8
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
Revolution newspaper received a copy of the "Final Notice: PBSP SHU D-Corridor Hunger Strike" written by prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP), which calls for a hunger strike to start on July 1, 2011 (see Revolution #237, June 26, 2011, for their list of demands). Prisoners from PBSP, as well as other prisons, are speaking out about their support for this hunger strike, exposing the brutal conditions they face. And there is growing support on the outside for the hunger strike. The following are excerpts from statements and news from the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity webpage (prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com).
This place is a plantation or a prison colony and we prisoners are the slaves (a status legitimized by the 13th amendment to the U.S. constitution). The guards are free to do with us as they please. They have complete control of our medical care, mail, visits, property, supplies, law library access, laundry, yard, isolation, the lights in our cell, family, friends, lock downs, etc. This is an environment in which the prison guards can torture prisoners both physically and psychologically over extended periods of time. One such attack is the dehumanizing yet widely used "potty watch" which is used under false pretenses—not to find drugs, but to humiliate other human beings.
The actual objective or goal of all this is to force every indefinitely held SHU prisoner to "debrief" (to turn rat, snitch, turncoat, however you want do define it). Some SHU prisoners break and give their captors names just to escape the terrible conditions of confinement. These prisoners are rewarded by being placed in Special Need Yards (SNY) where living conditions are better. This has been happening since the 1990s and it continues today. Ninety-five percent of the debriefers lie in order to get out of the SHU and then go on to become lifetime stoolies for the cops.
The CDCR [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] uses every trick they can to force men into debriefing, including ever increasing levels of what can only be described as torture. But if you are innocent, or if you are a principled person, they force you to endure every hardship in an effort to break you. It is this ever increasing attack that has forced us prisoners to put aside our historical differences in order to address the protracted attack on our lives and to expose the criminal activities and abuses against all indeterminate SHU prisoners in the state of California. Effective July 1st we are initiating a peaceful protest by way of an indefinite hunger strike in which we will not eat until our core demands are met. This hunger strike will be carried on by all races, New Afrikans (Blacks), Mexicans (i.e. of all walks), whites and others who realize we are silently being murdered by CDCR/CCPOAA Union as well as the U.S. judicial system who have turned a blind eye while we suffer a civil death at the hands of profiteers.
Therefore we have decided to put our fate in our own hands. Some of us have already suffered a slow, agonizing death in which the state has shown no compassion toward these dying prisoners. Rather than compassion they turn up their ruthlessness. No one wants to die. Yet under this current system of what amounts to intense torture, what choice do we have? If one is to die, it will be on our own terms.
Power concedes nothing without demand.
It should be clear to everyone that none of the hunger strike participants want to die, but due to our circumstances, whereas that state of California has sentenced all of us on Indeterminate SHU program to a "civil death" merely on the word of a prison informer (snitch).
The purpose of the Hunger Strike is to combat both the Ad-Seg/SHU psychological and physical torture, as well as the justifications used of support treatment of the type that lends to prisoners being subjected to a civil death. Those subjected to indeterminate SHU programs are neglected and deprived of the basic human necessities while withering away in a very isolated and hostile environment.
Prison officials have utilized the assassination of prisoners' character to each other as well as the general public in order to justify their inhumane treatment of prisoners. The "code of silence" used by guards allows them the freedom to use everything at their disposal in order to break those prisoners who prison officials and correctional officers (C/O) believe cannot be broken...
I'm sure by now you have already received more elaborately written and detailed letters concerning the planned hunger strike (HS) scheduled for July 01, 2011. Even so, I still wish to express myself on behalf of all my fellow HS participants with these simple words in hopes that you publish it in order to inform your readers of the HS that will include SHU prisoners from all racial groups standing together as one in this struggle.
There are 500+ Indeterminate-SHU prisoners housed in D-facility (units D1 thru D10) and I am one of those who has decided to fully commit himself in this indefinite HS that has been planned since Jan. 2011. We expect approximately 30 prisoners from each unit to participate by July 20, 2011. And we are not only doing this for ourselves, it is also for all the youngsters just coming into the prison system who could easily end up in here. As well as for all other SHU prisoners, including all the women housed throughout California's women prisons with Indeterminate-SHU terms, who also presently suffer a similar fate as us.
According to the wife of a Pelican Bay SHU prisoner, "The prison has been advertising the 4th of July holiday Menu, with hotlinks, strawberry shortcake and ice cream. They have NEVER had ice cream in the SHU, and in the nearly 20 years he has been in the CA system, he has never seen a strawberry."
This shows us the range of divide-and-conquer tactics the CDCR is using to break the strike even before it has started. It also shows how seriously the CDCR is taking this action—as something to repress before it begins, but also not significant enough to warrant any substantial change in prison conditions. More so, this tactic of repression demonstrates the purpose of Security Housing Units—to crush prisoners' capacity for building relationships and collective resistance by further isolating them. We need to make our solidarity with the prisoners loud and clear!
There are plans for a number of actions in solidarity with the prisoners' hunger strike, including one in San Francisco:
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
From Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund
Many prisoners are writing to thank donors to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF) for copies of BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian. Here is an excerpt from one letter:
...BRUTHA BOB AVAKIAN is a REALIST and AS SERIOUS AS ONE can be about this International Struggle that we are involved in. The kind of information which is published in the Books that Y'all send to us Prisoner as well as Revolution is extremely informative and has transformed me into a more conscience and more aware of the routes that the many oppressors travel. Revolution uplifts many that I know of with myself included. Cause these Hellholes beat the fighting spirit out of millions of BRUTHAS & SISTAS of All Races. The Reading Revolution uplifts us and gives us hope that things will and can get better as long as We Mentally Stay Free.
I want to sincerely say Thank You from Deep Down within that I am Extremely Appreciative to Everyone whom have and continue to Generously Donate to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund so that the Prisoners whom are not Financially able to purchase the Revolution newspapers and other publications. Once more other Prisoners and myself are Extremely Appreciative to All of y'all that make it possible for us to read this important informative information.
P.S. I know from the opening Statement on the First Page of BAsics that its Going to Get Deep and Truly be some really Enjoyable Reading.
PRLF is raising funds to send 2,000 copies of BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian to prisoners (each book costs $10, including shipping), as well as funds to renew and expand subscriptions to Revolution newspaper. Please stretch to give generously to help PRLF reach its goal. Your contributions will allow prisoners to receive BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian and Revolution newspaper. You can also download and share with your friends the two PRLF brochures at revcom.us/30-30-100-e, and encourage your friends to donate too.
Tax-deductible donations can be made online at:
IHCenter.org/groups/prlf or at prlf.org
("International Humanities" will appear on your credit card statement)
Non-tax-deductible online donations can be made at PRLF.org.
Send tax-deductible checks, payable to IHCenter/PRLF, to:
International Humanities Center/Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, PO Box 207, Woodland Hills, CA 91365
Send other checks or money orders, payable to PRLF, to:
Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, 1321 N. Milwaukee, #407, Chicago, IL 60622
To contact PRLF: (773) 960-6952 or firstname.lastname@example.org
PRLF is a project of the International Humanities Center, a non-profit public charity, exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code.
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
There are new developments and high stakes In the U.S. government's persecution of Bradley Manning. And a growing movement to defend him.
In April 2010, the video "Collateral Murder" was posted to the Internet by WikiLeaks. It has been viewed over 11 million times. The footage, taken from inside an Apache helicopter in 2007 over Baghdad, shows American troops cold-bloodedly gunning down 11 Iraqis, including two people who worked for the Reuters news agency and a man who had come onto the scene in a van to try to help the other victims. Two small children in the van were seriously injured by the gunfire. The video includes an audio track of voices of the soldiers in the helicopter during the attack. The soldiers can be heard repeatedly requesting and being granted permission to open fire, and joking with each other about the dead and injured victims on the ground.
Six weeks later, the U.S. Army took a 22-year-old private from his intelligence analyst post in Iraq and jailed him in Kuwait, saying that he was responsible for leaking "Collateral Murder." Bradley Manning, a British and U.S. citizen who grew up in Oklahoma and England, was then moved to a Marine prison in Quantico, Virginia, and charged with "illegally downloading and transferring defense information to an 'unauthorized source' and of obtaining 150,000 classified State Department cables, many of which WikiLeaks eventually released."
Bradley Manning spent the next nine months in prison conditions that constituted psychological and physical torture. He faces charges of "aiding the enemy" that could bring the death penalty. On April 25, Barack Obama declared in an interview that Manning "broke the law" even though Manning has yet to be tried—and is supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty. A growing movement in the U.S. and worldwide is demanding his release. And the stakes of this battle are very high.
From June 2010 to April 2011, Bradley Manning was confined to his cell for twenty-three hours a day—during the other hour, he was only allowed to walk in circles in another room with no other prisoners present. He was not allowed to doze off or relax during the day, and was forced to answer the question "Are you OK?" every five minutes. At night, he was awakened and asked "Are you OK?" every time he turned his back to the cell door or covered his head with a blanket so that the guards could not see his face. At times, he was forced to sleep naked and stand naked for inspection in front of his cell under claims of risk to himself that he himself disputed. ("Private Manning's Humiliation" by Bruce Ackerman and Yochai Benkler, New York Review of Books, April 28, 2011)
As WikiLeaks posted a torrent of U.S. government documents over the past year, covering the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, the detention of prisoners at Guantánamo, and thousands of cables showing the routine domination of other countries through diplomacy, the government began to deal with Manning and WikiLeaks as even more dangerous enemies. ("U.S. Lashes Out At WikiLeaks," Revolution #220, December 19, 2010)
In March 2011, the Army added 22 more charges against Manning, including "giving information to the enemy" for which a military tribunal may put him to death.
Attorney and civil liberties blogger Glenn Greenwald wrote that Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, under which Manning is charged—and which carries a possible death penalty—"is incredibly broad." Greenwald wrote that Manning is likely to be prosecuted under provisions of this article which find a person is guilty if he or she "gives intelligence to or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly" [emphasis Greenwald's]. ("Bradley Manning could face death: For what?" salon.com, March 4, 2011)
And Greenwald went on to note that "In light of the implicit allegation that Manning transmitted this material to WikiLeaks, it is quite possible that WikiLeaks is the 'enemy' referenced by Article 104, i.e., that the U.S. military now openly decrees... that the whistle-blowing group is an 'enemy' of the U.S." Greenwald cited a 2010 New York Times article that reported "To the list of the enemies threatening the security of the United States, the Pentagon has added WikiLeaks.org...." ("Pentagon Sees a Threat From Online Muckrakers," Stephanie Strom, New York Times, March 17, 2010)
Greenwald also posed the possibility that "the Army will contend that by transmitting classified documents to WikiLeaks for intended publication, Manning 'indirectly' furnished those documents to Al Qaeda and the Taliban by enabling those groups to learn their contents. That would mean that it is a capital offense not only to furnish intelligence specifically and intentionally to actual enemies ... but also to act as a whistle-blower by leaking classified information to a newspaper with the intent that it be published to the world. Logically, if one can 'aid the enemy' even by leaking to WikiLeaks, then one can also be guilty of this crime by leaking to The New York Times."
Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, speaking at a May 25, 2011 press conference in support of Manning, went into the far-ranging implications of prosecuting an alleged leak of information as spying. "It will erect a situation where the collaboration between a source and a journalist is interpreted as a conspiracy to commit crime. And as journalists try to police the national security sector and hold it accountable, the crime will be espionage and conspiracy to commit espionage." For more information, go to the World Can't Wait website at www.worldcantwait.net.
Bradley Manning, so far, is the only person currently charged in revealing evidence of such crimes, but his associates have been questioned and detained while traveling. Three WikiLeaks associates, including a member of Iceland's parliament who assisted in making the video "Collateral Murder" available, are fighting a court order that Twitter turn over records of their activity to the government. Others accused of being associated with WikiLeaks or Bradley Manning have been subpoenaed to a grand jury.
Intense protest, from within the U.S. and elsewhere, built over six weeks this spring in opposition to how Manning was being punished before trial. Some 400 protesters took the road in front of the Quantico base on March 20—the eighth anniversary of the Iraq war—in protest of Manning being held in solitary confinement, and 30 were arrested.
Law professors Bruce Ackerman and Yochai Benkler demanded that the government end Manning's conditions in Quantico. "Unless and until it does so, there is only one reasonable inference: this pattern of degrading treatment aims either to deter future whistleblowers, or to force Manning to implicate WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a conspiracy, or both." 295 professors of law, sociology, philosophy, American studies, and women's studies added their names when the letter was published in the New York Review of Books in April.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, tried to visit Manning, and was denied, saying "I am deeply disappointed and frustrated by the prevarication of the US government with regard to my attempts to visit Mr. Manning." Susan Lee, Director of Amnesty International's Americas Program, said "Such repressive conditions breach the US's obligations to treat detainees with humanity and dignity. We're also concerned that isolation and prolonged cellular confinement, which evidence shows can cause psychological impairment, may undermine Bradley Manning's ability to defend himself." State Department Deputy P.J. Crowley lost his job in March for saying Manning's confinement was "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid."
On April 22, 2011, some Manning supporters staged a surprise protest in the middle of an Obama fundraiser. They videotaped the president claiming Manning was being well treated in prison, and then publicly putting out his verdict before any trial. Obama, supposedly an advocate for rule of law and constitutional rights, said that Manning—who of course has not been tried or convicted of anything in relation to these leaks, "broke the law."
In late April, in the context of the broad, determined and growing protests, the Army moved Manning to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is able to exercise and interact with other pre-trial detainees. He will likely face a preliminary hearing sometime this summer at Fort Belvoir, Maryland, after which he will be formally charged. His military trial could begin in December and run into 2012. A protest outside Fort Leavenworth brought out 250 people June 4. Supporters are planning "Free Brad Manning—Out for Justice!" contingents at gay PRIDE parades around the country this month; and posting thousands of photos and messages on the "I am Bradley Manning" website.
* * *
There are tremendous stakes in the case of Bradley Manning. He was imprisoned under conditions that amounted to torture for nine months. He faces charges that carry the possibility of the death penalty for allegedly releasing video and documents that expose war crimes. The President of the United States has declared he "broke the law" before he has had a trial.
And the persecution of Bradley Manning is an ominous move to shut down anyone or any media outlet that exposes the truth about crimes being committed by the U.S. military, or any other outrage.
Anyone who wants to see truth revealed, war crimes exposed and stopped, and justice done must demand that the persecution of Bradley Manning be ended, his charges dropped, and that he is freed.
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
According to media reports and civil liberties activists, the FBI is moving to give its agents even freer rein to conduct political spying in the U.S. The powers given to the agents are in the most recent revision of the FBI's manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. The new guidelines allow agents more leeway to do things like comb through household trash, search databases, infiltrate organizations, and deploy surveillance squads in order to "investigate" individuals—all without a shred of evidence that any laws have been broken.
The new surveillance guidelines are an expansion on the previous revisions of the manual in 2008, shortly before Barack Obama came into office. Those changes reflected a major loosening of official restrictions that the government was forced to put on the FBI in the mid-1970s, after widespread exposure of and outrage at COINTELPRO and other spying and repression directed at a wide range of individuals and groups.
Mike German of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) explained that those 2008 changes to the FBI manual "created a new category of investigations called 'assessments.' And these required no factual predicate—in other words, no evidence that anybody had done anything wrong, much less the person who is under investigation. And there are a number of intrusive investigative techniques that were allowed to be used, including physical surveillance, including recruiting and tasking informants, including FBI agents acting in ruse trying to gather information from the subjects of the investigation, conducting interviews, even using grand jury subpoenas to get telephone records." (Democracy Now!, June 14, 2011) As the ACLU noted in 2008, those new guidelines also allowed "a person's race or ethnic background to be used as a factor in opening an investigation, a move the ACLU believes may institute racial profiling as a matter of policy."
When Obama became president, he carried over the Bush-era expansion of FBI spying. And now, the FBI under Obama is going even further than they did under Bush:
The FBI "assessments"—which are, to reemphasize, carried out without even a pretense of any factual basis for suspecting actual breaking of laws—are not isolated occurrences. The FBI has reportedly been opening up thousands of such "assessments" each month. The vast majority of those spying actions don't turn up any evidence of crimes, but even in those cases, the personal information collected can be retained in FBI databases.
The huge expansion of FBI powers and other repressive measures since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon casts a very wide net—targeting all kinds of individuals, groups, and movements the U.S. government considers to be in the way of their agenda. These measures are sweeping in huge sections of the population, like millions of people whose phone and email communications have been spied on by the government's massive electronic eavesdropping program that began under Bush and has continued with Obama. The logic behind this offensive is that the government must be given the ability to snoop into and spy on every detail of people's lives in order to produce information needed to protect their "safety." This is a logic that leads to a police state. It is a logic and morality that winds up being complicit with endless wars, torture, assassinations, and other crimes around the world by the U.S.
Everyone needs to be fully aware of and come to grips with what the expansion of FBI powers and other repressive measures actually means for basic rights and the ability of people to express dissent and take part in political protest and resistance.
Take the case of Scott Crow, a self-described anarchist who has been arrested a dozen times in anti-corporate, animal rights, and other protests but never convicted of anything more serious than trespassing. Using the Freedom of Information Act, he recently obtained 440 pages from his FBI files. Although large sections were blacked out, the documents revealed that Crow had been labeled a "domestic terrorist" and that the FBI has been carrying out intense surveillance on him since 2001. Agents snooped on his phone calls and email; infiltrated groups he was involved in; searched through his trash; asked the IRS to monitor his tax returns; set up a video surveillance camera across from his house, and so on. This is hardly an isolated case. The New York Times wrote that Crow is "among dozens of political activists across the country known to have come under scrutiny from the FBI's increased counterterrorism operations since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Other targets of bureau surveillance ... have included antiwar activists in Pittsburgh, animal rights advocates in Virginia and liberal Roman Catholics in Nebraska." Since these operations are being carried out in secret, there's no way for the public to know just how many such outrageous actions the FBI has actually carried out.
The reality is that the system that exists in the U.S. is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie—the class of exploiters and oppressors who control the economy and the state (the military, police, courts, and laws), and who sit atop a whole worldwide empire. When these capitalist rulers feel their system and their interests are seriously threatened, their state openly uses extreme violence against political opposition—as in the 1960s when soldiers fired at Black people rising up in the inner cities as well as antiwar protesters, and the FBI/police assassinated Black Panthers, among other actions. It is very heavy and serious that right now, even though there is not a situation of upsurges rocking society, the rulers are openly trampling on and rewriting what are supposed to be basic Constitutional rights—such as the ban on "unreasonable searches"—to fortify their repressive machinery.
The fact that up to now there has been no society-wide uproar against the intensifying repressive moves speaks to how far the rulers have been able to go in attacking basic rights and setting up new fascistic norms. Will they be allowed to plow ahead in this extremely dangerous direction? Or will there be increasing opposition and resistance, rising from all corners of society, determined to STOP the government's police state moves?
The further unleashing of FBI spying is part of overall leaps in repression that began under Bush and has not only continued but is being taken to new levels under Obama. To point out just three examples:
There have been protests against these outrages, but much more resistance is needed and possible against the whole wave of political repression. As Revolution has said in relation to the recent FBI raids, "Revolutionaries and radicals must not only sound the alarm and join in this [resistance], but increasingly show how the interests that drive such repression are imperialist interests, and how the state that must, and does, serve those interests is illegitimate. Only in this way is there a chance to not only defeat this attack, but to begin to build a movement that will stand against an atmosphere and legal system that grows more repressive by the day."
"ACLU Condemns New Guidelines," ACLU. October 3, 2008.
"Domestic Intelligence: New Powers, New Risks," Emily Berman, Brennan Center for Justice, NYU School of Law, 2011.
"FBI Agents Get Leeway to Push Privacy Bounds," Charlie Savage, New York Times, June 12, 2011.
"FBI to Expand Domestic Surveillance Powers as Details Emerge of Its Spy Campaign Targeting Activists," Democracy Now! June 14, 2011.
"For Anarchist, Details of Life as F.B.I. Target," Colin Moynihan and Scott Shane, New York Times, May 28, 2011.
Interview with Michael German, WNYC, June 13, 2011
"In the Age of Obama, Criminalizing Political Opposition to U.S. Aggression: And the Raids on FBI Activists," Revolution, October 31, 2010. revcom.us/a/215/raids-en.html
"New Developments in Targeting of Activists: Sheriffs and FBI Raid Home of Chicago Activist in Los Angeles," Revolution. June 12, 2011. revcom.us/a/235/raids-en.html
"The Secret Sharer," Jane Mayer, The New Yorker. May 23, 2011.
"Senators Say Patriot Act Is Being Misinterpreted," Charlie Savage, New York Times, May 26, 2011.
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
Same-Sex Marriage Legalized in New York:
On June 25, New York became the sixth state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage. As the news broke, exuberant celebrations erupted in New York City. A thousand people gathered in and around the historic club in the West Village where the Stonewall Riots against police brutality against gays broke out in 1969. In New York City and beyond, many thousands more took to the streets to righteously celebrate this victory. There were powerful emotional outpourings, as couples who had lived together for decades, their relationships declared illegitimate by the government, finally could participate in a basic right to marry.
Marriage in this society is required for a whole range of rights, including visiting a partner in a hospital, inheriting property, obtaining insurance coverage, and obtaining legal immigration status for a partner. Denying these rights to a whole section of people is not unlike the days when "whites only" backed up by sheriffs and the KKK kept people of color out of bus station waiting rooms, voting booths, schools and hospitals.
Legalizing gay marriage in New York doubled the number of people who live in states where gay marriage is legal. It will, and should, give heart to everyone fighting for equal rights. A California activist fighting to overturn Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage in California told the L.A. Times, "We are beginning to see the dark walls of discrimination crumble."
And yet same-sex marriage, with all the legal rights that are only available to those who qualify, remains illegal in almost 90 percent of the states in the USA. And laws banning same-sex marriage are but one of a whole range of laws, customs and prejudices that persecute lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people.
Beyond the basic justice of granting this element of equal rights to lesbians and gays, the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York reflects, and is a positive factor in changing attitudes in society towards LGBT people. Millions of people in this society, from adolescence to old age, are told in a million ways, from the church to the law, that there is something morally wrong with them and their relationships. The result is terrible and unnecessary pain and harm—ranging from giving a green light to gay bashing violence, to social ostracism and alienation.
The struggle against discrimination against LGBT people is taking place in the context of great changes in society—in culture, in the economy, in attitudes. An important factor in the concessions that have been made has been the growth of gay pride events, the emergence of new and rebellious attitudes among lesbian and gay people, and determined political protest, like the March on Washington of tens of thousands of gay rights protesters in October 2009.
The movement for equality for lesbians and gays is up against virulent defenders of "traditional morality"—reactionary Christian fundamentalist forces in particular. Each advance in the battle for equality has brought about vicious counter-attacks on gay rights. Most U.S. states have passed laws or constitutional amendments in recent years against gay marriage—often justified overtly on religious grounds and funded by religious organizations. Right after the passage of the New York law, Michele Bachmann—who is running for the Republican nomination for president—told Fox News she would support a federal constitutional amendment to overturn the New York law and similar laws in other states.
In New York, Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan called the legalization of same-sex marriage an "ominous threat." But what, exactly, is threatened by this law? The New York law does not, of course, interfere with the right of men and women to marry each other. And yet, in a way, the legalization of same-sex marriage does undercut the legitimacy of at least some elements of "traditional morality." And that is a good thing. "Traditional morality," including the demonization, marginalization, and persecution of lesbians and gays, is a product of and serves oppressive, repressive social systems. In opposition to that, and as part of the radical changes this world cries out for, humanity needs a whole other morality that reflects and serves the struggle to end all oppression.
In different dimensions—in the battle for legal equality, and in challenging millennia of cruel persecution—the legalization of gay marriage in New York State represents an important concession by the powers-that-be. Still, there are powerful forces in society who would turn back the struggle. This law is something to righteously celebrate, and build on, in the ongoing struggle against discrimination against and persecution of lesbian and gay people, and battles to come.
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
Think: if someone were to tell you about a planet where an empire was waging wars on five nations that had not attacked them, killing over the course of these wars hundreds of thousands of people, and wrecking the lives of millions more... and that the rulers of this empire said it was doing this for peace and even managed to get their chief war-maker awarded that planet's "peace prize"...
Where this same empire sent its soldiers and operatives into scores of other countries on this planet to carry out violence and sabotage against governments which displeased it, and to not just collaborate in but to finance, defend, and indeed supervise torture and suppression in countries where its allies and agents were facing resistance from their people...and that the empire's rulers said it was doing this to ensure self-determination for these nations...
Where this same empire set up an elaborate legal mechanism to confine in prisons millions of the minority peoples within their home base... minorities whom this empire had violently suppressed and ruthlessly exploited for centuries, battening off their flesh and blood for the very foundation of its wealth and power, but whom the empire could no longer profitably exploit and now saw as a potential source of political resistance, upheaval and even revolution... and then the enforcers of this empire said they were doing this in the name of freedom and, yes, justice...
Where this empire dominated and plundered the economies of the other countries on the planet, making it impossible for people to survive, and then super-exploited those who were driven to the empire to seek work, denying them rights and turning them into scapegoats for the misery it was inflicting on other, formerly better-off but now increasingly dispossessed and dissatisfied, inhabitants of the empire...and then bragged about how it was a "nation of immigrants"...
Where this same empire carried out night-time raids of extreme brutality in the neighborhoods of both these kinds of peoples, breaking into and ransacking houses, violently rousting people out of their beds and humiliating them, taking scores off to jail and even frequently killing people... and then said it was doing all this to serve and protect society and indeed the very people they were brutalizing...
Where this very same empire controlled the lives of the women on this planet in myriad ways, including the figurative and often quite literal enslavement of some in a universe of sexual degradation, saturating the society with images of this degradation and putting the stamp of this perverse brutality and exploitation on every relation between the genders throughout society, while others were subordinated to the males in other, more "traditional" ways... and then the scholars and commentators said that all this was just the workings of human nature, or individual choice, and anybody who said differently was rendered voiceless or held up for scorn...
And where this same empire led all the other nations and powers on that beautiful, tortured planet in despoiling and raping and plundering and fouling the planet's waters and skies and forests until the very existence of life itself was called into question...
What would you call such an empire?
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
In March of this year, a huge earthquake and tsunami struck Japan's eastern coast, killing more than 20,000 people and devastating a whole region. This quake and tsunami triggered a horrendous disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant that has led to the release of dangerous radioactive contamination. Three months later, the nuclear crisis at Fukushima is far from over.
Nuclear plants generate power by bombarding enriched radioactive elements, like uranium, in the reactors with sub-atomic particles called neutrons. This causes the radioactive material to split in what's known as a "nuclear fission reaction," releasing tremendous heat (and radiation). The heat is used to produce steam, which turns the turbines that generate electricity. A cooling system using water is supposed to prevent the nuclear fuel from heating up uncontrollably—which would lead to massive release of radioactive contamination.
At Fukushima, this crucial cooling system shut down right after the earthquake and tsunami. And ever since then, water has been pumped into the reactors in a desperate effort to control the nuclear reaction. The water that is pumped in, however, becomes radioactive. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the owner of the plant, has dumped some of that toxic water into the ocean. But now more than 100,000 tons of contaminated water fill the tanks, basements, and storage areas at the Fukushima plant. Attempts to filter the radiation out of this water have so far failed. There are reports that TEPCO may soon resume dumping radioactive water into the ocean.
A wide area around the plant is now, in effect, a massive nuclear waste site contaminated with cancer-causing radioactive material like cesium-137. Robert Alvarez, former senior policy adviser to the U.S. Secretary of Energy, told Democracy Now!, "The reports that I've seen suggest that land contamination, in terms of areas that are technically uninhabitable because of cesium-137 contamination, is roughly 600 square kilometers, or about 17 times the size of Manhattan Island." Many people have already been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. The eventual toll on human health and lives from this catastrophe is impossible to measure at this point, but it will very likely cause widespread suffering and death from cancer and other sicknesses over years and decades.
Ocean ecosystems off the coast near Fukushima and perhaps beyond have already been recklessly poisoned with the release of tens of thousands of tons of radioactive water. Greenpeace has documented radiation in seaweed, a big food source in Japan, off the Fukushima coast at levels 50 times higher than official limits. Greenpeace radiation expert Jan Vande Putte said, "Despite what the authorities are claiming, radioactive hazards are not decreasing through dilution or dispersion of materials, but the radioactivity is instead accumulating in marine life.... Our data show that significant amounts of contamination continue to spread over great distances from the Fukushima nuclear plant." (greenpeace.org, May 26, 2011)
As new revelations of government cover-ups and failures to protect people's safety continue to come out, there is rising anger among the people in Japan. On June 11, there were anti-nuclear protests all over Japan, the largest to date. Many people were protesting for the first time. It's very important that these protests in Japan be supported around the globe, even as people continue to dig into the causes of this disaster and wrangle over the way forward for humanity in the face of the whole environmental/ecological emergency facing the planet.
Hundreds of farmers from Fukushima prefecture (state) have brought their contaminated vegetables and even milk cows to the streets outside TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo in protest.
Parents from Fukushima prefecture brought radioactive dirt from their children's school yards to government education officials in Tokyo. The government's response was outrageous: they simply raised the official limit for radiation exposure for children twenty-fold! The limit was raised from 1 miliSieverts (mSv) a year to 20 mSv, the same level as for nuclear workers under international standards. Children are much more vulnerable to radiation exposure. Physicians for Social Responsibility condemned the decision by Japanese officials, saying that a 20 mSv annual dose would expose children to a 1 in 200 risk of getting cancer. In late May, parents from Fukushima surrounded the education ministry and forced them to return to the 1 mSv standard. Later, officials claimed that this standard only applied to the amount kids were exposed to when in school, so radiation outside of school was not going to be counted!
In early June, Japanese officials admitted that the amount of radiation released from Fukushima in just the first week of the disaster was twice as much as TEPCO officials had been claiming. The new estimates apparently do not include the radiation released into the ocean. And more radiation has continued to come out of the damaged reactors at lower levels since these initial releases.
Japanese officials also admitted for the first time that a full "meltdown" of nuclear fuel had occurred in all three of the active reactors at Fukushima, and that some of the material had also "melted through" the inner reactor core vessels and into larger steel containment vessels surrounding them.
In the face of growing opposition, the Japanese government has taken the tack of picturing itself as having been unprepared for the disaster, but is now committed to learning from the events, being "transparent" with the truth, and making the nuclear industry "safe." But the fact is that nuclear plants were built on known earthquake faults, and warnings from experts were ignored. Safety violations were downplayed and licenses approved despite repeated accidents and violations. Standards regarding the ability of plants to withstand quakes and tsunamis were not adopted. Dangers to the people and the environment were ignored to build up the nuclear industry as a key part of fueling growth and expansion of Japan's capitalist economy—to export the technology to other countries and use the nuclear advantage to foster Japan's ability to compete with the rest of the capitalist world.
The U.S. has played an important part in all this by backing Japan, a crucial imperialist ally of the U.S. in Asia, in the development, promotion, and spread of nuclear technology. The reactors at Fukushima used a design developed by the American corporate giant GE.
U.S. officials have criticized certain actions of the Japanese government while claiming that the problems with nuclear power are particular to Japan. Obama has made it clear he intends to go forward with expansion of nuclear power. There are 23 reactors around the U.S. using the same GE design as Fukushima's. The U.S. also has a number of nuclear reactors built in earthquake zones, including a nuclear reactor that has had repeated safety problems but continues to be allowed to operate at Indian Point in New York. Indian Point, located just 30 miles from New York City, has been called the nuclear power plant most vulnerable to earthquakes in the U.S. If a Fukushima-like disaster happened here, millions upon millions of people would be in the path of widespread radioactive contamination.
U.S. government agencies charged with "protecting the public" are operating just like those in Japan. On June 20 the Associated Press released the results of a one-year investigation of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is in charge of nuclear safety in the U.S. According to the AP, "Federal regulators have been working closely with the nuclear power industry to keep the nation's aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them.... When valves leaked, more leakage was allowed—up to 20 times the original limit. When rampant cracking caused radioactive leaks from steam generator tubing, an easier test of the tubes was devised, so plants could meet standards. Failed cables. Busted seals. Broken nozzles, clogged screens, cracked concrete, dented containers, corroded metals and rusty underground pipes—all of these and thousands of other problems linked to aging were uncovered in the AP's yearlong investigation. And all of them could escalate dangers in the event of an accident."
The problem, however, goes much deeper than collusion between governments and corporations. The Fukushima disaster and other environmental horrors, like the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico last year and the catastrophic environmental emergency facing the whole world, stem from a much more basic source—the system of capitalism-imperialism. Under this system, the fundamental motivation and measure for what is produced and how it is produced is profit. And so nature is viewed as a "free" resource to be seized and plundered, to be poured into profit-based production, no matter what harm is being committed to ecosystems, humanity, and the planet as a whole.
|We encourage readers to get into the Revolution special issue on the environment (revcom.us/environment) and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) (revcom.us/socialistconstitution).|
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
From a Reader:
We received the following correspondence:
A recent statement by Meir Dagan, a former head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, and a new article by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh highlight the ongoing—possibly growing—danger of a military attack on Iran by the U.S. and/or Israel.
In a speech at Tel Aviv University, Dagan warned that current Israeli policies of the government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Iran and the Palestinians could backfire and lead to a "regional war." Dagan then said, referring to Iran, "I recommend that the Prime Minister decide not to attack." ("Ex-Mossad chief warns against attacking Iran," The Independent, UK, June 4, 2011)
In "Iran and the Bomb: How real is the nuclear threat?" published in the June 6, 2011, issue of The New Yorker, Hersh warns that the U.S. could again be heading into a war based on "faulty" intelligence—this time with Iran:
"...the United States could be in danger of repeating a mistake similar to the one made with Saddam Hussein's Iraq eight years ago—allowing anxieties about the policies of a tyrannical regime to distort our estimations of the state's military capacities and intentions. The two most recent National Intelligence Estimates (N.I.E.s) on Iranian nuclear progress, representing the best judgment of the senior officers from all the major American intelligence agencies, have stated that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran has made any effort to build the bomb since 2003."
These warnings come after a decade or more of growing tensions, and the looming possibility of war, between the U.S. and its allies and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Since the early 2000s, the U.S., Israel, and other world powers have charged that Iran has been secretly pursuing nuclear weapons, most likely for use against Israel, and that any and all means must be used to prevent this potential new "holocaust." This storyline has been repeatedly and continuously hammered at by government officials and the media.
This rhetoric has been matched by a "full-court press" of sanctions and diplomatic and financial pressures mounted against Iran, designed to weaken if not overthrow the Islamic Republic. In previous articles, Hersh has exposed some of the extensive covert U.S. operations against Iran. And secret diplomatic cables published over the past year by WikiLeaks revealed numerous calls, by various countries, for war against Iran, and Israeli preparations in 2009 for a regional war, including against Iran, across the Middle East. ("Around the World, Distress Over Iran," New York Times, November 29, 2011; "Israel Preparing for 'Large Scale War': Cable," Agence France-Presse [AFP], January 2, 2011)
On May 22, 2011, speaking to AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Council), President Obama stated, "So let me be absolutely clear—we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons." (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/05/22/remarks-president-aipac-policy-conference-2011)
Iran is actively working to build up a nuclear industry to generate power. As Hersh notes, "Iran is heavily invested in nuclear technology, and has a power plant ready to go on line in the port city of Bushehr, with a second in the planning stage. In the past four years, it has tripled the number of centrifuges in operation at its main enrichment facility at Natanz, which is buried deep underground."
Enriching uranium is needed both to generate nuclear power and to build nuclear weapons. But there's a major technological leap between enriching uranium to the 3-4 percent levels needed for generating nuclear energy and the 90-plus percent level needed for weapons. And there are other technological hurdles to actually building nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
Hersh reports that there's no proof that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program:
"Despite years of covert operations inside Iran, extensive satellite imagery, and the recruitment of many Iranian intelligence assets, the United States and its allies, including Israel, have been unable to find irrefutable evidence of an ongoing hidden nuclear-weapons program in Iran, according to intelligence and diplomatic officials here and abroad."
(Those covert operations have included U.S. Special Forces entering Iran and secretly replacing street signs in urban areas with "similar-looking signs implanted with radiation sensors," and removing "bricks from a building or two in central Tehran that they thought housed nuclear enrichment activities and replac[ing] them with bricks embedded with radiation monitoring devices." According to Hersh, "High-powered sensors disguised as stones were spread randomly along roadways in a mountainous area where a suspected underground weapon site was under construction" in order to track the movement of materials. "There is also constant satellite coverage of major suspect areas in Iran," he writes.)
"The Iranian enrichment program is being monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency," Hersh reports, "and Natanz and all Iran's major declared nuclear installations are under extensive video surveillance. I.A.E.A. inspectors have expressed frustration with Iran's level of cooperation and cited an increase in production of uranium, but they have been unable to find any evidence that enriched uranium has been diverted to an illicit weapons program."
This is also the gist of the U.S.'s own top-secret intelligence estimates: the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran concluded "with high confidence" that Iran had halted a nascent nuclear-weapons program in 2003. This assessment was reaffirmed, according to Hersh, by a new, secret NIE in 2011.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the IAEA, an inspection organization run by the UN and the world's big powers, told Hersh, "During my time at the agency, we haven't seen a shred of evidence that Iran has been weaponizing, in terms of building nuclear-weapons facilities and using enriched materials... All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran."
Hersh's reporting has been both dismissed and attacked by the Obama administration. The question—which Hersh does not answer—is why. Why do the U.S., Israel, and other world powers insist that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, even in the face of contrary evidence? And more specifically, why do U.S. officials insist their demand that Iran halt its enrichment program is non-negotiable? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Iran, "You do not have a right to obtain a nuclear weapon. You do not have the right to have the full enrichment and reprocessing cycle under your control"—even though under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran does have the right to a non-military nuclear enrichment program.
The reason is that whether or not Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons—and Hersh's report does not conclusively prove that Iran does not have or intend to have a weapons program—it does pose a profound challenge to the U.S. and Israel. This isn't because Iran is planning a strike on Tel Aviv or a direct military challenge to (or terrorists attacks on) the U.S., as U.S. strategists privately acknowledge.
Iran is "a foremost national-security priority of the United States," as Dennis Ross, one of Obama's top Middle East advisers put it (as quoted by Hersh), because of its size, geographic location, vast oil and gas reserves, and because of the nature and agenda of the Islamic Republic impede and challenge U.S. and Israeli needs and objectives across the region and beyond. All this threatens to erode U.S. imperialist domination of the Middle East, which for over six decades has been a key pillar of U.S. global power and the functioning of U.S. capitalism-imperialism. And Iran with nuclear weapons—or even the potential to develop nuclear weapons—would both exacerbate that contradiction and seriously challenge unchecked U.S.-Israeli military supremacy.
Iran is NOT challenging the system of imperialism, with its division of the world into oppressor and oppressed nations. But it IS playing a role opposed to the U.S. desire to maintain overwhelming dominance in the region. As a relatively coherent reactionary, fundamentalist Islamic state, it also poses an alternative political and ideological model away from the direction that U.S. imperialism wants to take things in the Middle East and globally, and helps fuel Islamist trends which pose a big problem for the U.S. Iran has its own agenda in the region, which clashes with the U.S. and Israeli goals in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and elsewhere. Iran is building ties with powers, like Russia and China, which are emerging as rivals to the U.S. In sum, Iran's actions may be tilting the regional political and strategic "playing field" in ways unfavorable to Israel and the U.S.
Thomas Donilon, Obama's National Security Adviser, calls Iran's nuclear program "part of a larger pattern of destabilizing activities throughout the region.... We have no illusions about the Iranian regime's regional ambitions." ("Iran and the Bomb: How real is the nuclear threat?")
For the imperialists and Israel, the nuclear issue is part of this larger set of problems, and one which could greatly intensify the challenge Iran is posing to the current U.S.-dominated order. "Even if the intent is not to develop nuclear weapons," ElBaradei told Hersh, "the successful acquisition of the full nuclear-fuel cycle, including enrichment, sends a signal of power to Iran's neighbors and to the world, providing a sort of insurance against attack."
A key element of U.S. Middle East dominance has been its monopoly—together with Israel—on nuclear weapons in the region. As Revolution wrote last October:
"If the Islamic Republic of Iran were able to acquire nuclear capability—and, again, it is far from proven that they are moving to do so—it would challenge Israel's unrivaled military superiority in this region of the world. Some believe it would provide Iran with a 'nuclear umbrella' for further strikes against Israel by Hamas and Hezbollah, because Israel would not be able to threaten Iran in the same way it does now. On the other hand, Israel has not been able to force the Palestinians to accept the kinds of agreements the U.S. has been attempting to impose on them, in large part because of Iran's support for Hamas.
"Iran with a nuclear capability could also alter the political calculus in the region significantly. It would put pressure on the pro-U.S. Persian Gulf states...to shift their alliances toward the new regional power, Iran. It would also put considerable pressure on them to acquire nuclear capability of their own." ("Drumbeat for Israeli Attack on Iran Grows Louder by the Day," Revolution #213, October 10, 2010)
In 2010, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. would "face a different world in four to five years" if Iran developed a nuclear weapon. ("Fear of 'different world' if Iran gets nuclear weapons," http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/28/united-states-iran-nuclear-weapons, November 28, 2010)
Today's upheaval across the Middle East has only intensified these concerns—and the potential for war. The New York Times reports that every calculation the Obama administration makes about the regional upheaval, including whether or not to attack Libya, was shaped by how it could help or hurt Iran. ("The Larger Game in the Middle East: Iran," New York Times, April 2, 2011) Israel's Dagan warns that "Israel's leaders might act recklessly if backed into a corner by Palestinian efforts to seek membership of the UN in September and isolate Israel diplomatically." And the Wall Street Journal reports "a dramatic spike in tensions between two geopolitical titans, Iran and Saudi Arabia...many worry that the toll could wind up much worse if tensions continue to ratchet upward. They see a heightened possibility of actual military conflict in the Gulf, where one-fifth of the world's oil supplies traverse the shipping lanes between Saudi Arabia and Iran." ("The New Cold War," Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2011)
In his February interview with Revolution on events in Egypt and the Middle East, Raymond Lotta spoke to exactly this possibility: "If regional developments tilt things towards Iran's regional advantage, whether or not Iran acts to press any such advantage directly...Israel might decide to assert its regional military dominance and launch a strike against Iran." ("Interview with Raymond Lotta About Events in Egypt – Geopolitics, Political Economy, and 'No Permanent Necessity,'" Revolution #224 online, February 11, 2011)
Hersh's sources were high-level military and intelligence officials in the U.S. and Europe. These tensions within the U.S. ruling class reflect divisions over how to deal with the challenge from Iran, and the pros and cons of waging war. Cables published by WikiLeaks illustrate how the U.S. and its reactionary allies in the region view their vexing choices on Iran: "The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it," the King of Bahrain said. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia "repeatedly implored Washington to 'cut off the head of the snake' while there was still time." A military official in Oman is described as unable to decide which is worse: "a strike against Iran's nuclear capability and the resulting turmoil it would cause in the Gulf, or inaction and having to live with a nuclear-capable Iran." ("Around the World, Distress Over Iran," New York Times, November 29, 2011)
The uprisings rippling across the Middle East—from Yemen and Egypt to Morocco and Libya and Palestine, Iraq, Turkey, Syria—show how horrible life has been under the "peace" and "stability" of U.S. domination. There's absolutely nothing just about attempting to strangle Iran or threatening war against it in order to maintain it.
As Revolution wrote in the special issue on Israel last October:
"The reality is the world is becoming much more dangerous, including with the spread of nuclear technology and weaponry. But in fact, the world already IS very dangerous, and it is mainly and overwhelmingly the actions of the U.S.—which has far and away the most nuclear weapons in the world and is the ONLY power which has ever used them—which has made it that way, and is making it more so. More than anything this points to the urgency of breaking out of this very negative and dangerous dynamic. And this means breaking out of shortsightedly thinking that striking Iran will make matters better, rather than worse. Such a strike—which itself might very well involve nuclear weapons—would be nothing but a case of big-time gangsters cracking down on up-and-coming gangsters. Again, it must be emphasized: the vast majority of the people of the world have no interest in siding with one gangster against another." ("Drumbeat for Israeli Attack on Iran Grows Louder by the Day," Revolution #213, October 10, 2010)
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
From a Prisoner:
[Letter postmarked: June 15,2011]
I hope this letter finds you all in the best of health and as enthusiastic as ever about making revolution.
I am one of the many prisoners who depends on the generous donations given to the PRLF. Without those donations I wouldn't have been able to receive this copy of BAsics which I hold in one hand as I write this letter. I want to thank all PRLF volunteers and all the donors who have contributed to the campaign to get 2,000 copies of BAsics inside of prisons.
I also want to urge everybody out there to get their hands on this book and to help get it into the hands of others, not just prisoners, but into the hands of youth who are in danger of becoming prisoners themselves. There are kids out there who actually know that life in prison could be part of their foreseeable future. I know because I was one of those kids. Get this book into their hands now before they end up in a cell next to mine for hurting someone in their own community. Direct them to BAsics 3:16, show them there's another way and bring them forward. Help them unlock their potential and give them a sense of purpose that doesn't involve killing each other. Give them an alternative to the criminal lifestyle that doesn't involve conforming to this horrid system. That is what they need, that is what they ache for. They want to rebel, they just have to be introduced to the correct way to do so. Put them on the path to becoming communists...
Keep up the great work
Prisoner in California
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
Letter from Prisoner:
I wanted to write you this letter to thank you for sending me a copy of BAsics; and I would also like to thank everybody that made donations to "PRLF" and thus made it possible for us (prisoners) to receive a copy of BAsics. I believe that a book like BAsics is very important, because it provides people with a scientific understanding of the world in which we live in; as well as, with a vision of a different and better world.
When I talk to people about BAsics I tell them to think about it in the following way. "Let's say you're sick and you want to get rid of the sickness, first, you have to know what the sickness is. In this way, you'll know what steps you have to take to get rid of the sickness. So, if you identify the sickness as a cough, then you know that you're going to need cough medicine to get rid of the cough. In this case, capitalism is the sickness and B.A. and his synthesis is the medication to the sickness." It's a crude analogy, but it helps in getting people to understand why a book like "BAsics" is so important.
I remember that as a kid, I use to always hear from my teachers in school and from other people on t.v., that here in America, (the land of the free) everybody is considered equal and that we were very fortunate to live in a truly democratic country. But I always rejected those notions, because I use to go help my dad at work (fixing rich people's homes) so I use to see the stark differences between my Barrio and the rich people's neighborhoods. Our houses were infested with roaches & mice; our sidewalks were full of cracks and graffiti; and the pigs were always cruising around harassing people. While, where we use to work, the houses, sidewalks, schools, etc... were all clean and new or close to new; and I never saw a pig cruising around those rich neighborhoods - and needless to say, they wouldn't go around harassing people either! Nevertheless, I was never able to understand why such differences existed, or why nobody seemed to noticed or cared about them. So when I read in "BAsics" pg. 17 #22 where it reads, "in a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequality, to talk about 'democracy'- without talking about the class nature of that democracy and which class it serves - is meaningless, and worse. So long as society is divided into classes, there can be no 'democracy for all'." And pgs. 169-178, "Beyond the Narrow Horizon of Bourgeois Right."
I couldn't help but think to myself, "these are the answers I needed, and these are the kind of things they should be teaching people – especially, the kids in school!"
Before I close this letter, I would like thank every volunteer in "PRLF" and everybody that donated funds to "PRLF" and I would also like to encourage more people to make donations as well. The education that "PRLF" provides us with, is priceless.
P.S. When I was out there I use to belong to a street gang, and whenever one of us use to get killed, we use to do free car washes and ask the people for donations, in order to try and help the parents with the funeral cost. So, I was thinking that maybe, that would be a good way to gather donations from people and at the same time introduce them to Revolution. Just a idea!
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
The prisoners in Pelican Bay have delivered their demands to Pelican Bay Warden Greg Lewis, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), and to Governor Jerry Brown. The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition has delivered 2,800 signatures in support from the petition to the warden.
The prisoners' demands include an end to long-term solitary confinement, collective punishment, and forced interrogation on gang affiliation. The prisoners have also stated that they are willing to give up their lives unless their demands are met.
The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website reported that:
With using these tactics, we know the CDCR is scared that this hunger strike is powerful and growing, and is not taking the prisoners demands seriously.
The following letter was written by John R. Martinez, one of the prisoners in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison who began a hunger strike on July 1. It is addressed to Governor Jerry Brown, Secretary of Corrections and Rehabilitation Matthew Cate, and Pelican Bay Warden G.D. Lewis. John R. Martinez's mother Delores read this letter at the July 1 press conference in Los Angeles:
On July 1, 2011, I and my fellow prisoners—on their own free will—will be commencing a hunger strike to protest the denial of our human rights and equality via the use of perpetual solitary confinement. The Supreme Court has referred to "solitary confinement" as one of the techniques of "physical and mental torture" that have been used by governments to coerce confessions (Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227, 237-238 (1940)).
In regards to PBSP-SHU, Judge Thelton E. Henderson stated that "many if not most, inmates in the SHU experience some degree of psychological trauma in reaction to their extreme social isolation and the severely restricted environmental stimulation in SHU" (Madrid v. Gomez, 889 F. Supp. 1146, 1235 (N.D. Cal. 1995)). Not surprisingly, Judge Henderson stated that "the conditions in the SHU may press the outer bounds of what most humans can psychologically tolerate" and that sensory deprivation found in the SHU "may well hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable for those with normal resilience" (Madrid, 889 F. Supp. at 1267, 1280). Four years later, a Texas federal judge reviewed conditions in isolation of a Texas prison that mirrored those of PBSP-SHU. He correctly held:
"Before the court are levels of psychological deprivation that violate the United States Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. It has been shown that defendants are deliberately indifferent to a systemic pattern of extreme social isolation and reduced environmental stimulation. These deprivations are the cause of cruel and unusual pain and suffering by inmates in administrative segregation ..." (Ruiz v. Johnson, 37 F. Supp. 2d 855, 914-915 (S.D. Tex.1999)).
Thus solitary confinement, by its very nature, is harmful to human beings, including prisoners,1 especially for those of us prisoners whose isolation is perpetual based solely upon our status as an associate or member of a gang. In theory, our detention is supposedly for administrative "non-disciplinary" reasons. Yet, when I asked one of the prison staff why is it we are not afforded the same privileges as those gang affiliated inmates in a Level 4 general population (GP), I was told that "according to Sacramento," we don't "have shit coming" and that it is the department's "goal of breaking" us down. Thus, our treatment is clearly punitive, discriminatory and coercive.
Further proof is provided by the fact that a member of a disruptive group—i.e., a gang per CCR 3000—who commits a violent assault on a non-prisoner will receive three to five years in the SHU as punishment and then be released back to the GP. Ironically, we on the other hand receive way harsher treatment. We are subjected to the same disciplinary SHU conditions. Worse yet, for an indeterminate term solely for who we are or who we know. Not for violent or disruptive behavior.
Most of us have been in isolation for over 15 and 20 years. In most cases, for simple possession of a drawing, address, greeting card and/or other form of speech and association.
Unfortunately, some of my fellow prisoners are not here with me today. The SHU has either driven them to suicide,2 mental illness or becoming a Judas—i.e., informer—to escape these cruel conditions, which occurred after the findings in Madrid.
An oppressed people always have the right to rise up and protest discrimination, oppression and injustice. The Martin Luther King era reminds us of that. So does the Attica prisoner uprising. Those prisoners in Attica acted out, not because they were "animals," but because they were tired of getting treated worse than animals. There is no difference with us. The only difference is that our protest is one of non-violence. We are a civilized people that simply wish to be treated as humans and with equality. Not subjected to punitive treatment year after year, which is imposed with a desire to injure. As Justice Thurgood Marshall eloquently stated:
"When the prison gates slam behind an inmate, he does not lose his human quality, his mind does not become closed to ideas; his intellect does not cease to feed on a free and open interchange of opinions; his yearning for self-respect does not end; nor is his quest for self-realization concluded. If anything, the needs for identity and self-respect are more compelling in the dehumanizing prison environment ... It is the role of the First Amendment ... to protect those precious personal rights by which we satisfy such basic yearnings of the human spirit" (Procunio v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 326, 428 (1974)).
Wherefore, I respectfully request that our reasonable demands attached hereto be honored as soon as possible and that the bigotry and persecution against us for who we are come to an end once and for all.
John R. Martinez
"Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering."—Hebrews 13:3
cc: Family, friends and supporters
1. Empirical research on solitary and supermax-like confinement has consistently and unequivocally documented the harmful consequences of living in these kinds of environments. Studies undertaken over four decades corroborate such an assertion. (Craig Haney, "Mental health issues in long-term solitary and 'supermax' confinement" in Crime and Delinquency. Vol. 49, No. I, January 2003, pp. 124-156). See also, Amnesty International, Report on Torture, Penal Coercion, 1983. [back]
2. As Kevin Johnson reported in USA Today: California, which has the largest state prison system in the nation, saw a total of 41 suicides in 2006; of those suicides, 69 percent were in solitary confinement. ("Inmate suicides linked to solitary," USA Today, Dec. 27, 2006.) Those numbers have increased since then. [back]
The following statements of solidarity are posted at the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website:
Statement of support from Sharon Danann for the Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network:
As supporters of the Lucasville uprising prisoners who engaged in a victorious hunger strike in January 2001 in Ohio's supermax prison, Ohio State Penitentiary, we extend our support to the Pelican Bay State Prison hunger strikers. The violations of human rights of prisoners must end. The punishment of prisoners for their beliefs and for activities to improve their conditions must end. The illegal, unconstitutional and inhumane use of long-term solitary confinement must end.
The treatment of prisoners in the U.S. is an international scandal. We will do all we can to get the word out about the courageous Pelican Bay hunger strikers. We will be turning up the heat on all levels of government. We are proud to be a part of the prisoners' movement that is rising up in many parts of the country and world. Onward to victory!!
Report Back from Legal Visit Before the Hunger Strike
On June 28, two representatives of the coalition visited four prisoners from the short corridor of the Pelican Bay SHU. Each interview lasted for at least two hours. The prisoners described the conditions in the SHU and why they felt compelled to participate in the hunger strike. They provided information about their medical conditions in order to assist outside medical monitors. They expressed appreciation for the visits and for the outside support that their efforts have received to date. Following the visits, the coalition representatives attempted to meet with the warden, but he was unavailable. Instead, they met with the prison's information officer and delivered the (public) names of over 2800 signatures on the petition endorsing the hunger strikers' demands. They urged CDCR to take the situation seriously, to negotiate in good faith, to keep open our lines of communication with the prisoners and not to retaliate for this action.
Prison Law Office Supports the Hunger Strike
Pelican Bay SHU prisoners' demands for a more effective and fair means to address criminal gang activity and individual responsibility; that CDCR comply with the recommendations of the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement; and that CDCR expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU prisoners. We believe that CDCR should only hold prisoners accountable for their own actions, and that all prisoners should receive adequate food under appropriate staff supervision.
We have recently filed suit aiming to achieve the elimination of group punishment in the form of race-based lockdowns in California prisons (Mitchell v. Felker, E.D. Cal. Case No. No. 08-CV-1196-RAJ), and we have previously litigated against other deplorable conditions in the Pelican Bay SHU (Madrid v. Gomez), but we know that many intolerable conditions remain, and that meeting the above demands is an important step toward the goal of affirming the human rights and dignity of SHU prisoners. We continue to work as class counsel to improve other unlawful conditions at Pelican Bay, including inadequate medical, dental, and mental health care and accommodations for prisoners with disabilities.
The Prison Law Office calls on CDCR to respond in a meaningful way to the inhumane conditions in the Pelican Bay SHU. In addition, CDCR should take appropriate steps to monitor the health and well-being of the hunger strikers. As part of the Plata v. Brown lawsuit, we will continue to monitor Pelican Bay's compliance with Plata policies and procedures, including those applicable to hunger strikers.
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
An important press conference was held in Los Angeles at noon on Friday, July 1 in support of the hunger strike begun that day by prisoners in the Security Housing Unit—the SHU—at Pelican Bay State Prison.
The press conference was held at KRST Unity Center and presided over by Reverend Richard Meri Ka Ra Byrd—known widely in Los Angeles and beyond as a leader and spokesperson for the struggle against police brutality and the criminalization of a generation of youth, and as a moral voice for poor and oppressed people everywhere.
The center is situated deep in South Central Los Angeles, where many of the families of the overwhelmingly Black and Latino prisoners caught up in California's mass incarceration live. And the press conference gave expression to the anger at the inhumanity and torture that is being practiced on an "industrial level" in the maximum security prisons, and at the same time the courage and the humanity of these prisoners who have launched this hunger strike.
The speakers at the press conference included Reverend Dr. Lewis E. Logan, co-founder of Ruach Christian Community Fellowship of L.A. Reverend Logan was one of several speakers who said that they had begun a hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners. In 2005, when Logan presided over Bethel A.M.E. Church, the church hosted the funeral for "Crips" founder Stanley Tookie Williams, who was executed by lethal injection by the State of California. And he took part in the press conference held in September at the spot where the immigrant day laborer Manuel Jamines was shot to death by the LAPD. Reverend Logan was appointed to the L.A. Board of Neighborhood Commissioners by the mayor in 2005, and elected president of the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners in 2008.
A mother of one of the prisoners in the Pelican Bay SHU read a letter from her son, John R. Martinez, about why they have organized the hunger strike. (See "Prisoners at Pelican Bay Begin Hunger Strike.") She told Revolution that her son has served over 10 years of a 39 to life sentence. Because she has a record, she is forbidden from seeing him.
Clyde Young, revolutionary communist and former prisoner, spoke passionately, "with a heavy heart," about the courage of the prisoners, the systemic nature of the way these prisoners are tortured, and the important responsibility that people have to come to their support.
There were statements by a representative of FACTS (Families Against California's Three Strikes); All of Us or None, a national initiative of prisoners, former prisoners and felons to combat discrimination faced as a result of felony convictions; Critical Resistance and CURB (Californians United for a Responsible Budget); and The Senate Select Community Committee on California's Correctional System (SSCCCCS), an organization of friends and relatives of people in maximum security housing advocating for more humane, less restrictive alternatives to prisons, and for restorative justice principles.
Letters of support were read from Paul Von Blum, professor of African American Studies at UCLA, and by Dylan Rodriguez, Professor and Chair of the Ethnic Studies Department of UC Riverside. After the press conference the participants got together to make plans to build this movement of support in the days ahead.
The following are excerpts from some of the statements from the press conference:
I'm a communist and a former prisoner. I spent eight years in prison in the 1960s for a robbery. And I come with a heavy heart. I don't come with a lot of rhetoric but I come with a heavy heart about what's going on there because I've been there and I know that prison is hell. But prison today is far worse than it was when I was there. I mean, what they are doing to people is barbaric. I mean, they go around the world with blood running down their jaws talking about freedom and democracy. Well, what freedom and democracy are they talking about and for whom are they talking about? Are they talking about it for the prisoners in Pelican Bay? No. We have to understand that we've been bamboozled. We've been tricked. They've been running around this country talking about what we have here is animals, what we have here is the worst of the worst. But I'll tell you what's the worst of the worst, is their system. This rotten and this putrid system. And I'll say another thing, and it's very important to say this. Because this is not an accident. This is conscious policy. A lot of times things that happened and have happened to Black people in this country, have been a part of the workings of this system....
Here in this country we have more people incarcerated than anywhere in the world. Just think if you were to come from another country to this country, you'd be amazed to see how many people are incarcerated in prisons here in the United States. The so-called homeland of freedom and democracy. And I'll tell you. We have to stand with these prisoners. We have to stand with them because they're courageous in what they're doing and they're determined and until they do something about the nature of their demands that they are willing to lay down their lives for those demands. That tells you something about the nature of what they're doing.
The Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit has established a global standard of physical and psychological state violence. It forms the template against which all other forms of prison torture and normalized state terror may be measured, from Guantánamo to Abu Ghraib. Further, Pelican Bay is a place in which the historical violence of racial categories—masquerading as "gang certification" in the California prison system—reveals its fundamental logic of segregation, social liquidation, and bodily punishment. It is no accident that hundreds upon hundreds of Pelican Bay's survivors use the language of warfare, antiblack slavery, and even genocide to describe their experiences in this place. As a professor in the University of California system, as Chair of the UC Riverside's Department of Ethnic Studies, as a longtime activist and scholar of liberation struggle and antiracist, anticolonialist movements, and as an ordinary person who desires to participate in the abolition of such forms of systemic and state-enforced misery, I hope everyone within earshot will listen closely to the courageous voices that now emanate from Pelican Bay's captive population. Their demands are beyond reasonable. In my judgment, the goals of the hunger strike constitute a bare minimum of concessions from a state and prison administration that has proved itself over and over again to be largely incompetent and overtly brutal in its handling of the California's imprisoned population. Many of us who closely observe and study this state system have been left with no choice but to conclude that this apparent incompetence and brutality is, in fact, the regular order of things for California's prison system.
My nephew is 17 years old. He's now at risk to be a candidate to get at least one felony. That one felony nullifies your voting power regardless what people say if you're not on parole then you can vote. It still nullifies your voting power. That is what they're doing. The whole idea is to take away your voice. And this is what they're doing to the next generation, they're taking away their voice and soon everybody is going to be under that parole, probation... it's going to be a society of mass incarcerated disguised. You're walking around, you're talking to each other but you're in a mass prison situation. This is what's happening to this country. We need to rally the families. We need to rally the friends of the families. We need to rally everybody. Everybody needs to understand that this mass incarceration is affecting every aspect of your life. Jobs, environment, health, every aspect of your life is being affected by the prison-industrial complex.
It's time to reconfigure and reshift our priorities as to what's important and bring the money back into the communities to prevent incarceration in the first place. We cannot solve California's budget crisis or build strong stable communities without stopping prison and jail expansion, reducing the number of people in prison and using the saved resources to stop cuts to education and our vanishing social net. California is the wealthiest state in the country but our social safety net and education system are being destroyed. The state has sacrificed programs that support working families in exchange for tax policies that favor the very wealthy and the largest and deadliest prison system in the world. While the crisis hurts everyone, poor and working class people and communities of color bear the brunt of our budget failures. We are caging over 160,000 people in overcrowded prisons and jails instead of funding in-home support services and community medical and mental healthcare, we are building prison hospitals. Instead of building community colleges we are building county jails. Governor Brown's current proposal to reduce overcrowding is to move prisoners into county facilities rather than using proven measures that would reduce the prison population. We're also reducing overcrowding by moving prisoners into out-of-state private prisons. We've moved over 10,000 people out of state into private prisons. This isn't reducing the prison population, its expanding it and shuffling it about and moving people further away from their homes, further away from their legal counsel when these are actually the people that should be released.
I'm the organizer for All of Us or None, the Los Angeles chapter. This call for a hunger strike is dear to me in the sense that when I was in Soledad I took a hunger strike because I was falsely accused of a situation there. Although my hunger strike didn't last but for five days without food or water I know what these brothers will be going through. There are other elements involved inside the institution when you take up a hunger strike. Guards will have to work in a different format. The medical staff will have to work in a different format to assure that that person is, first of all, not eating anything. Second of all that person's health is up to par. So those are some of the inside things that a lot of people don't talk about that has to happen. So in that happening there's a lot of administrative bureaucracy that's gonna go down....
We used to have 12 institutions that was sufficient and then they came and built 33 more and then all those prisons are over capacitated. Brother gave the number 2.3 million people incarcerated. When Michelle Alexander in her book [The New Jim Crow] talks about this is not a situation that happened by chance. All we have to do is read the writing on the wall. Young man spoke about COINTELPRO operations. We know about the new Jim Crow. We know about how the old Jim Crow came in to the new Jim Crow. It is designed that Black and Brown youth will be pinpointed at a particular age and they rather incarcerate than educate. That's why I want to talk a little bit about that.
We're here to stand in solidarity with the brothers held captive at Pelican Bay as well as the captives throughout the United States that suffer from cruel and inhumane punishment. We begin saying that we take this position from our ancient African tradition, especially the teachings from ancient Egypt that teach us that we are all made in the image of the divine. That therefore we have human rights that cannot be denied us based on any social status or social context in which we might find ourselves. This day as we go towards celebrating the 4th of July this weekend, it certainly brings to mind Frederick Douglass' famous classic speech. What in the world does the Fourth of July have to do with Black people? It certainly points to the hypocrisy of Black people today. Even though the 2.3 million includes people of all races we understand that, and that they all suffer. We know that the majority of those are Black people and Latino people, people of color, that are suffering the most. And so we have to think about Frederick Douglass' classic speech when we talk about the hypocrisy of the country celebrating the so-called pursuit of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness in the midst of the holocaust of enslavement. What hypocrisy. That category or enslavement we can see as a metaphor for those people who suffer degradation, dehumanization under today's conditions. So that's what we're talking about when we get together with our families this weekend. Let's talk about really what it means to be an American today.
I stand today as a member of the faith community, not just talking the talk, but being willing to walk the walk. I feel that we ought to be able to join in solidarity by fasting ourselves, by recognizing the fact that by experiencing deprivation in a symbolic sense like those who are incarcerated, we put ourselves in connection with them. It's very difficult to ignore the suffering of others when your own suffering, is one thing. When you are intentionally going without the creature comforts, and I think it is timely that this will take place especially as the harbinger of this nation's celebration for independence and it is a telling irony and contradiction, in fact is it not, that this would take place in a time and a season when we experience the most unconscionable shift of wealth and power in the history of this empire and that that shift was in essence begun on, predicated on the basis on some type of independence which these, our brothers in lock down, do not have a sense of. The inhumane treatment is ungodly but we must be willing to do whatever it takes. So I stand again in solidarity with my brothers in Pelican Bay. I will be in fact observing a time of fasting myself.
We stand on the principles of restore to justice, but we believe in compassion and more than one chance for people to right themselves and go on and be productive citizens. The laws involved that are being violated in regards to torture of prisoners starts with the human rights law. I want to mention in particular, to other United Nations covenants that touch on this subject, that is article 27 of the United Nations, a covenant of civil and political rights that recognizes oppressed national minorities of which there are two in this country, Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, Chicanos and African descent peoples. Those two covenants give us the rights that protect prisoners in the SHU prisons that are from those two particular ethnic groups. The human rights laws protect all prisoners. And in particular the prisoners stood up, they united across ethnic lines and I think we are going to do the same thing in supporting their effort. I hadn't thought about doing some fasting along with the prisoners but I am going to commit myself to do that as well.
I strongly express my solidarity with the prisoners at Pelican Bay during their hunger strike. The conditions there are inhuman and have been so for too many years. Even beyond the present demands, the hunger strike raises even more serious issues about the tragic role of incarceration in California and throughout the nation, especially the grotesquely high numbers of inmates of color. This horrific injustice must end and we must move rapidly to remedy the profound gaps of wealth and power that give rise to this outrageous reality.
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
In an act of tremendous courage, prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison in California are beginning an indefinite hunger strike on July 1, 2011. This hunger strike is demanding an end to the horrendous and dehumanizing conditions imposed on prisoners at Pelican Bay. People everywhere must come to their aid and support their demands.
Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) is a super-maximum security prison located in an isolated part of northern California, twenty miles from the Oregon border. There are more than 3,000 prisoners confined at this prison. More than a thousand prisoners are locked down in the SHU at Pelican Bay, where they are subjected to isolation, maximum sensory deprivation, and brutality.
Imagine being confined to a tiny, bare, tomb-like, windowless cell for 23 hours a day, robbed of sensory stimulation and without contact with anyone except guards. Imagine being in a cell hardly larger than a small bathroom, containing only a toilet, a sink and a slab of metal protruding from the wall serving as a bed. Imagine guards cavity-searching you and cuffing you before you can take a shower or get out of your cell for exercise in a bare concrete space. Some prisoners at Pelican Bay have been confined under these circumstances for over 20 years.
Long-term isolation can and does have a devastating effect and is nothing less than mental abuse. Many prisoners are driven insane as a result of long-term isolation, and it is especially cruel when prisoners who are already suffering from mental illness are subjected to such confinement. In California, approximately 5 percent of the total prison population is locked down in isolation...but 70 percent of prisoner suicides occurred in these units in 2005. Isolation over long periods of time and sensory deprivation violate international anti-torture laws.
[These conditions are horrific, dehumanizing and in violation of international law. This is official state-sanctioned torture, carried out in state and federal prisons across the nation. In fact, tens of thousands of prisoners are confined to isolation units throughout the country.]
The following core demands are being circulated in a "final notice from prisoners on D-Corridor" at Pelican Bay: 1) End "group punishment" where an individual prisoner breaks a rule and prison officials punish a whole group of prisoners of the same race. 2) Abolish "debriefing" and modify active/inactive gang status criteria. False and/or highly questionable "evidence" is used to accuse prisoners of being active/inactive members of prison gangs who are then sent to the SHU where they are subjected to long-term isolation and torturous conditions. One of the only ways these prisoners can get out the SHU is if they "debrief"...that is, give prison officials information on gang activity. 3) Comply with recommendations from a 2006 U.S. commission to "make segregation a last resort" and "end conditions of isolation." 4) Provide Adequate Food. Prisoners report unsanitary conditions and small quantities of food. They want adequate food, wholesome nutritional meals including special diet meals and an end to the use of food as a way to punish prisoners in the SHU. 5) Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates...including the opportunity to "engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities..." which are routinely denied. Demands include one phone call per week, more visiting time, permission to have wall calendars, sweat suits and watch caps (warm clothing is often denied even though cells and the exercise cage can be bitterly cold.
The prisoners who have called for this strike have made clear that they are uniting across racial lines, an extremely important development, given racial divisions in prison, which are often fomented by prison officials. And they have called on prisoners throughout the California prison system, including prisoners who are "suffering injustices in general population, administrative segregation and solitary confinement," to join them in the strike.
The inhumane and dehumanizing treatment of prisoners in the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison is totally unacceptable and the prisoners there are showing a lot of courage and determination in standing up and demanding to be treated like human beings. Their example of standing up in this way has the potential to inspire millions. They are risking their health and their lives in raising demands that are entirely just and legitimate. This is a serious situation.
Prison authorities will go to extremes to stop a struggle like this one from developing and from drawing support from those outside the prison walls.
The prisoners are shining a spotlight on the horrific and unacceptable conditions existing inside the corridors of Pelican Bay State Prison; they must not be allowed to stand alone. People throughout the state of California and beyond must urgently come to their aid and support, standing firmly in support of the hunger strike and supporting the just demands of the prisoners.
The system has cast aside masses in the inner cities all across this country; they have demonized and criminalized and incarcerated hundreds of thousands and millions of them and they have no role for them under this rotten and putrid system. But I'll tell you one thing: there is a place for them and there is a role for them in the revolution; large numbers of them can and will be brought forward, together with people of all nationalities and from all strata, as emancipators of humanity, and will join the monumental struggle to change the face of the entire world.
Clyde Young, revolutionary communist and former prisoner
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
San Francisco and Oakland demonstrate to support Pelican Bay Hunger Strike
"The proponents of the prison industrial complex are hoping that their campaign to dehumanize us has succeeded to the degree that you don't care and will allow the torture to continue in your name. It is our belief that they have woefully underestimated the decency, principles, and humanity of the people."
— Letter in solidarity with the Pelican Bay hunger strike by prisoners in the Corcoran SHU
More than 70 people gathered at the California State Building in San Francisco on July 1 to support and stand in solidarity with the hunger strike in Pelican Bay Prison.
A wide variety of groups joined together to build the rally to support the five demands of the prisoners in the Pelican Bay Prison SHU*. They felt it was important—on the very first day of the hunger strike—to let the prisoners know that there are many on the outside that are determined to spread the news and build broad support to help them WIN! The rally brought together many groups and individuals that have been fighting the brutality of the prison system and the criminalization of Black and Latino youth. These included: California Prison Focus, All of Us or None, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Project Rebound at San Francisco State University and the American Friends Service Committee. Supporters of Revolution newspaper were among the organizers of the rally. World Can't Wait drew links between the Pelican Bay SHU and the torture carried out by the U.S. around the world. A number of people who had been imprisoned or had a friend or family member behind the walls were moved to themselves stepping forward to the mike. Many passersby, who had not heard of this before, stopped to find out about the hunger strike. The Revolution Club of the Bay Area brought a large banner that said "East Oakland Revolutionaries Support the Hunger Strike."
All these people were drawn together by the barbaric conditions in the Pelican Bay SHU and the courage of the prisoners in this high-stakes, life-or-death struggle. As Laura Magnani from the American Friends Service Committee said, "I stand here with a mixture of excitement and horror. Horror at the conditions faced by 1,200 prisoners at Pelican Bay and over 3,500 prisoners in security housing units throughout California. Excitement that the prisoners have successfully organized across racial groups to take this action."
The demonstrators chanted: "Pelican Bay Brothers: We Hear You, We're With You!" Several speakers announced that they were fasting in solidarity with the prisoners. The American Friends Service Committee announced a "rolling hunger strike." Another demonstration in support of the hunger strike is planned for July 9.
These are excerpts from some of the statements made at the rally in San Francisco on July 1:
Laura Magnani, American Friends Service Committee: "I stand here with a mixture of excitement and horror. Horror at the conditions faced by 1,200 prisoners at Pelican Bay and over 3,500 prisoners in security housing units throughout California. Excitement that the prisoners have successfully organized across racial groups to take this action. This is a tremendously courageous action—to go on hunger strike, when people are virtually on starvation diets to begin with—to deprive themselves of food for we don't know how long. And it is extremely important that we be here to support them and show our solidarity.... There are 1,440 security housing units across the country in state facilities, federal facilities and some, I think even in local jails. There's at least 25,000 in long term isolation across the country but probably the figure is closer to 70 to 80 thousand if you include all forms of isolation."
Manuel La Fontaine, All of Us or None: Imagine being in a 10 by 6 foot concrete box where you have no access to sunlight because there are no windows, you have no contact with mother nature except what you can imagine. After being locked up in a 10 by 6 box the imagination can only go so far. Imagine having no contact with another human being. The only contact you have is with guards, who don't have your best interests. You may also have contact with medical staff who may also not have your best interests. Imagine having no communication with anybody for years except guards. Imagine hearing another human being, and for you that's something new after being deprived of that for months, years, sometimes decades. We have to understand that this is torture going on! We don't have to go to Guantánamo Bay. We don't have to go to Abu Ghraib. Torture is happening here in California. Torture is happening under our watch.
Charles Carbone, prisoner rights attorney and long time host of Prison Focus on SF radio station KPOO: The state has decided to practice unadulterated torture. For no other reason than to maintain control in the remainder of the prison system. This costs each of you about $57,000 a year [for each prisoner]. We spend more on the Security Housing Unit than we do on sending people to Stanford. And it's based entirely on a singular lie. And the lie is that these people in the Security Housing Unit are supposedly "the worst of the worst." They are "the incorrigible," those "beyond redemption or rehabilitation." And yet those very "worst of the worst" when confronted with a very real conflict—their own liberty, how they are being treated, how they are being dehumanized, what did they come up with? They didn't shank a guard, they didn't attack one another, they didn't go on a rampage. They adopted the principles of non-violent civil disobedience. What does that say about the lie that we are being told?
Richard Brown, former Black Panther and member of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights: If you think there is a difference between you and the prisoners in Pelican Bay, there's not. You don't have any more rights than they do. When you fight for their rights then you fight for your rights also. Because whatever they can do to them and get away with it they are going to do that to you. Believe me it's coming. They are already doing it... Just like they did to the Black Panther Party they will use the media to paint us as criminals, as a gang, as terrorists, as just thugs, period. Which is a lie. I joined the Black Panther Party to serve the people. We had breakfast for children programs. We had seniors programs. We had street clinics for people who couldn't afford medicine. We did things to serve the needs of the people in the community. Because we had the audacity to think that we had the right to determine our own destiny and because we didn't want anyone telling us Black people how to live, we were considered a threat. They didn't want that. The same thing they are doing to prisoners. They tell you that these people are "the worst of the worst," that they are murderers, rapists, robbers. They turn public opinion against prisoners, which is why they feel that they can do these things and get away with it. People go to institutions for a lot of different reasons. A lot of people who are guilty go there and they turn their lives around. There are some people who are not guilty, who were framed, like I was. But regardless of whether they are guilty, turned their life around, or are a political prisoner they all should be treated with dignity and respect. Nobody should be tortured. Nobody should be put in conditions where they can't fight back. We have to continue to support these brothers in the SHU. We have to continue to fight for them and send them word that they should continue to fight. All power to the people.
A Speaker from the Bay Area Revolution Club said: "The reality is that nothing short of a revolution can solve the obstacles that humanity is facing in any way whatsoever. Reform is not going to cut it. These prisoners rising up and taking this hunger strike should send a message to the people outside of the walls and make them realize that these "worst of the worst" are the first ones to stand up against illegitimacy. What we should have been doing long ago.
Deidre (fighting gang injunction in Oakland): A whole group of us have been active against the gang injunction and there is a specific reason for this. It's connected with the steamrolling of our humanity. And that's why we're here today. What's really going on is that the prison system is an extension of the slave system. I've been through it myself. I was incarcerated for four years and during that time I was steamrolled personally. The state took my kids and what was really at the root of my persecution was that we were leading an alternative lifestyle that was a challenge to this system. I've been there and I've seen the potential of people who are locked up and I've seen that 95 percent of the people who do get locked up are victims of trauma, of institutional racism, of domestic violence, of child abuse. This is the reality of people who are being steamrolled to prison. And I know how arbitrary the discipline is... It's about breaking you. That's what the whole thing about debriefing and holding people in the SHU is about. There is no reason, there is no point in caging someone in a concrete cell but to break their spirit and we are condoning that. Most people don't know that it's happening and most people don't care, because it hasn't sunk in because of all the brainwash of being tough against crime has turned people against themselves. It's a cannibalistic system.
Former prisoner: I have an H number so I've been through the prison system. I went for half a gram of marijuana... I've seen the conditions that [the hunger strikers] are talking about. I've never seen anyone go through the prison system and come out better. I've seen people come out harder. There's nothing in there that's any good for anybody.
Friend of a Prisoner: My best friend is being held at Pelican Bay. He came into the system when he was 17 years old and they threatened to send him to Pelican Bay. And sure enough when he was convicted they sent him to Pelican Bay at age 18. I found him a year ago and I went down last weekend to see him and I just came back. I was the first person to give him a hug in 11 years. His own mother, his brothers, his sister, even his own daughter has not been able to give him a hug in over 11 years. These people are asking for something very simple. Just to be able to hug their family members, to call their family members. Very simple things. My friend is not a bad person. He's a wonderful person. He's my best friend.
Later that day a militant demonstration took place in East Oakland. As one member of the Revolution Club said, "in East Oakland everyone knows at least one person in prison. That's the cold fact." While police drove by eyeing the protest, the demonstrators engaged in a call and response with people on the bullhorn, "After the revolution: No mass incarceration... After the revolution: No more police brutality... After the revolution: No more divide and conquer BS" People of all nationalities came up to sign a banner with messages of support for the hunger strikers." A spirited march took over part of the street and marched down, International Blvd., the main street in East Oakland.
* Endorsers included: All of Us Or None; California Prison Focus; Project Rebound, SFSU; S.F. Bay View newspaper; Revolution newspaper; World Can't Wait, S.F. Bay Area Chapter; Richard Brown, former Panther and member of Committee for the Defense of Human Rights; Rev. Dorsey Blake; Robert Bloom, Att.; Richard Kamler, Artist; Rhonda V. Magee, Professor of Law; Walter Riley, Att.; Cindy Sheehan; Mark Vermeulen, Att.
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
From A World to Win News Service
Editor's note: As we go to press, a flotilla of boats is attempting to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. Following are excerpts from two articles by A World to Win News Service with background and analysis. Stay tuned to revcom.us for more on the flotilla, and updates on its status.
As a small flotilla prepares to ... defy the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza toward the end of the month, it is becoming clear that these ships and boats will have to sail amid powerfully conflicting currents. A riptide of contradictions might allow this pro-Palestinian protest to have a major impact, but at the same time it represents not only a real danger to the lives and safety of this brave group but also difficult political conditions that must be carefully navigated.
The wellsprings of this protest were articulated by the African-American writer Alice Walker, best known for her novel The Color Purple, who is taking part in the flotilla. Speaking of the Israeli efforts to wall off and imprison the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, she said, "This is such a crime against the soul of humanity. We can't stand this. Who are we as human beings if we can even bear this? We cannot bear it. And we must not." Recognizing that all of the participants in this action face the possibility of being killed, she urged people everywhere to think about how they could live their lives in a way that gave them meaning. (Interview by Ali Abunimah posted on ElectronicIntifada.net)
This protest is up against an Israeli government, military and public opinion for which everything is justified by the goal of defending the existence of a Jewish state. "We will do anything we have to do to prevent a boat from breaking the blockade," a top Israeli naval official quoted by the New York Times told journalists June 16. "If there is the same violence against our forces on board, there is a pretty good chance there will be injuries." According to the Washington Post, he warned "there may be injuries and casualties."
What is the "same level of violence" that would allegedly justify killing and maiming protesters?
This threat refers to the anti-blockade ship the Mavi Marmara, boarded by heavily armed airborne Israel commandos on May 31, 2010. The "level of violence" was this: the Israelis assaulted the ship in international waters and opened fire even before they reached the decks. They killed nine passengers from Turkey, at least two of them executed while lying wounded on the deck, and injured 24 others, mostly by gunfire. The survivors were beaten and tortured. There were no deaths or gunshot wounds among the Israeli attackers. (See UN Human Rights Council report A/HRC/15/21)
With their departure currently delayed for at least a few days, participants in the "Freedom Flotilla II" planning to defy the Israeli blockade on Gaza are facing new obstacles.
After the move by the Turkish government and the Islamic charity IHH to cancel plans for the ferryboat Mavi Marmara to sail as the flotilla's flagship, now the Greek government is acting against the six vessels currently docked in Greek ports, where hundreds of flotilla participants have gathered. The police are holding up the boat renamed "The Audacity of Hope" on which a number of American volunteers were to travel because of what Greek authorities say is a complaint from "a private party" questioning its seaworthiness. According to Israeli Army Radio, the Israel Law Center is behind the complaint. The Canadian boat "Tahrir" has also been subject to an unexpected going-over and other vessels are scheduled for non-routine inspections before they are allowed to depart. There are fears that a boat anchored in the Greek city of Piraeus which was to carry Greek, Swedish and Norwegian protesters may be held back following the discovery that its propeller shaft has been severed.
The protesters from more than 20 countries were encouraged when Greek dockers joining a country-wide general strike scheduled to begin June 28 voted to make an exception to the shutdown to allow the loading of these ships. Palestinians in Gaza have been holding rallies demanding that the flotilla members be guaranteed safe passage.
Israeli officials continued to threaten the flotilla participants, claiming that the ships and boats would be carrying "dangerous incendiary chemicals" and that the protest's purpose was to "spill the blood" of Israeli soldiers.
Two cargo ships and about seven passenger boats carrying hundreds of anti-blockade protesters are supposed to assemble at an undisclosed location in the eastern Mediterranean and head for Gaza. One of two French boats involved in the flotilla, called the "Dignité/Karama", left Marseille after a spirited rally in which Jewish Defense League attackers were rebuffed. It stopped off in Corsica and is now on the open seas heading for the assembly point.
The ships and boats are carrying 3,000 tons of humanitarian aid for the population of Gaza. Israel has blocked delivery of many supplies for the strip's 1.5 million inhabitants since 2006 and kept them prisoner as a collective punishment for electing a Hamas government. The International Committee of the Red Cross, UN bodies and international law experts have declared this blockade illegal.
Yet the U.S. and other governments continue to back the blockade in practical terms even though they may admit to its dubious legality. On June 22 the U.S. State Department issued a "travel advisory" warning that last year's Freedom Flotilla resulted in "the injury, death and deportation of U.S. citizens," as if the American government could do nothing to prevent this from happening again and would bear no responsibility if it did.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused the flotilla of planning "provocative actions by entering Israeli waters to create a situation in which Israelis have a right to defend themselves." This is factually and legally incorrect, since the waters off Gaza do not belong to Israel and the Mavi Marmara was in international waters when Israeli commandos attacked it and shot nine passengers to death in 2010. Of course Clinton knew this. Her statement seemed meant to give prior approval and a pre-established excuse for whatever Israel may decide to do to the passengers this time.
Excerpted from A World to Win News Service, June 20 and June 27, 2011
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
As of July 1, Greek authorities had decreed that the international Freedom Flotilla II was not allowed to sail from Greece to Gaza. This action was in response to a lawsuit from a pro-Zionist organization claiming that the flotilla ship from the U.S. was not properly insured or registered. The same group—the Israel Law Center—has also taken credit for attempting to disrupt the flotilla by writing to some 30 maritime insurance companies to threaten them with charges of aiding terrorism if they provided insurance for Freedom Flotilla II ships.
According to Freedom Flotilla II organizers, the Greek government carried out a complete inspection of the ship and its documentation and the complaint was shown to be frivolous. Yet, five days later, the captain of the ship had still not been notified of any results of the inspection.
The attacks on the Freedom Flotilla have not been limited to legal maneuvers. Two ships set to be part of the flotilla were sabotaged so badly they could not sail, while they were in port in Greece.
Under these circumstances, the captain, crew and passengers decided that the ship should set sail July 1 in order to attempt to break the Israeli siege of Gaza. Within 20 minutes of leaving the dock, The Audacity of Hope had been ordered to turn back by the Hellenic Coast Guard. Even after the ship turned around, armed and masked Greek military gunmen kept their rifles pointed at the ship. The ship was taken to a Greek military dock and Captain John Klusmire was arrested. After this, several passengers decided to begin fasting outside of the U.S. Embassy in Athens to protest the outrageous acts against the flotilla.
U.S. Boat to Gaza organizers issued an action alert on Sunday, July 3 saying that seven participants in the hunger strike were detained but later released by Greek authorities.
Organizers are calling on people to call and email the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece to demand the release of all the ships so they can sail to Gaza, the release of the U.S. ship's captain, John Klusmire, and the release of the hunger strikers. Go to UStoGaza.org for more information.
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
"The Case of Israel: Bastion of Enlightenment or Enforcer for Imperialism?", Revolution #213, October 10, 2010. Available at revcom.us/israel/israel.html.
"Revolution Responds to Question on Nature of Holocaust," Revolution #215, October 31, 2010. Available at revcom.us/a/215/holocaust-en.html.
"Courageous Protests Challenge Israel at Every Border". Revolution #233, May 22, 2011. Available at http://revcom.us/a/233/israel-en.html.
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
|Alejandro del Fuego, 1989-2011.
Photo: Li Onesto/Revolution
I was extremely saddened to learn of the death of Alejandro del Fuego, the young revolutionary communist from Houston. My heart goes out to everyone who knew and loved him.
I got to know Alejandro a bit during the Revolutionary Summer Youth Project in July and August of 2009. Revolutionary youth from all over the country came to New York City for several weeks to put revolution and communism on the map in a big and bold way and to introduce as many people as possible to the leadership for this revolution that we have in Bob Avakian. This coincided with the kickoff of the Revolutionary Communist Party's campaign, "The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have," and the release of the message and call from the RCP of the same name, which we took out very broadly to masses in Harlem and Washington Heights and throughout New York City. At a moment in which "Obamamania" was very much in full force, we went out challenging and inviting people to confront the reality that we live under a system of capitalism-imperialism responsible for tremendous suffering throughout the world; that revolution to get rid of that system and aiming for a communist world is the solution to that suffering; and that, in Bob Avakian, we have the leadership we need to get to that solution. In the process, we learned a lot. And we had a lot of fun. The summer project was a truly special and historic endeavor, and Alejandro will forever hold a special place in my heart because we were part of this together.
I remember Alejandro as a person of warmth, determination, liveliness and humor. An enduring image of him that stands out in my mind is his warm, embracing smile. I also got the sense that he was passionate about music. He was definitely a huge fan of the band Outernational, and I can still hear him whistling "Fighting Song," along with other tunes, during that summer.
When I saw the two photographs of Alejandro in Issue #237 of Revolution, I was brought to tears. For one thing, they drove home the cruel, heartbreaking loss of a youth who truly had so much more to contribute to the world. For another, they captured the person I remember. When I look at these photos, I see a person of conviction, defiance, hope and joy—a person who sees a radically different world that is possible and is challenging others to see it—and struggle for it—too.
In BAsics, Bob Avakian says:
"If you have had a chance to see the world as it really is, there are profoundly different roads you can take with your life. You can just get into the dog-eat-dog, and most likely get swallowed up by that while trying to get ahead in it. You can put your snout into the trough and try to scarf up as much as you can, while scrambling desperately to get more than others. Or you can try to do something that would change the whole direction of society and the whole way the world is. When you put those things alongside each other, which one has any meaning, which one really contributes to anything worthwhile? Your life is going to be about something—or it's going to be about nothing. And there is nothing greater your life can be about than contributing whatever you can to the revolutionary transformation of society and the world, to put an end to all systems and relations of oppression and exploitation and all the unnecessary suffering and destruction that goes along with them. I have learned that more and more deeply through all the twists and turns and even the great setbacks, as well as the great achievements, of the communist revolution so far, in what are really still its early stages historically." (BAsics 5:23)
|Alejandro del Fuego was part of the Revolutionary Summer Youth Project that worked
to spread the message and call from the RCP, "The Revolution We Need... The
Leadership We Have," in Harlem and Washington Heights during the summer of 2009.
Photo: Li Onesto/Revolution
Alejandro's life was most definitely about something. And in a time in which far too many people—including far too many of his generation—are choosing, with varying degrees of consciousness, to put their snouts in the trough, his example serves as a challenge to rupture with this empty and callous individualism, confront the world as it really is and live a truly meaningful life. His selfless dedication to the people of the world and his unyielding commitment to their emancipation—right up to the very end of his life—is profoundly inspiring.
About two months before his death, Alejandro was too ill to attend the April 11 event in Harlem—"On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World." He submitted a deeply moving statement that was read that night. In that statement, he spoke with tremendous enthusiasm and urgency about the leadership and method of Bob Avakian, the great need to broadly popularize that leadership and method, and the powerful potential of BAsics as a tool for doing that.
He ended the statement by saying: "It is with great pleasure and pride that I've been able to at least scratch the surface of his immense body of work, attempting to grasp his exhilarating insights and how it is that he has developed these. This body of work can, in a qualitatively new way, with the release of BAsics, be spread among masses of all strata empowering them to envision and struggle for a liberated planet. I'm getting ready to get out there and spread BAsics, and this leader we have in Bob Avakian. I'm taking up the $200 Challenge, and I challenge you to do the same."
Tragically, Alejandro has been robbed at far too young an age of the opportunity to continue contributing all he could towards the emancipation of humanity. But a whole new generation of revolutionaries should take inspiration from the substance and spirit of Alejandro's statement, and of his life overall.
We have lost a comrade. But the goals to which he dedicated his life remain more urgent than ever. As we continue to struggle towards those goals, let us keep Alejandro in our hearts.
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
Letter from Prisoner on Reading BAsics
The following letter from a prisoner was sent to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund:
June 21st (Tuesday 2011)
To whom this may concern,
Today I was rereading BAsics, and one particular quote: BAsics 2:3, really stood out to me more profoundly than it has ever done in the past, of just what this movement and everything we represent is all about—not only in where we intend to take human civilization, but also what we, as human beings, have overcome up to this point in our historical development to make communism even an objective possibility.
"When we finally get to the final goal of communism, there won't be the relations of exploitation and oppression that are so commonplace and that mark all of society today and that we are told over and over again are just the natural order of things and the way things have to be. As Karl Marx pointed out, the communist revolution leads to what we Maoists call the '4 Alls'—that is, the abolition of all class differences among people. The abolition or the end to all the production or economic relations underlying these class differences and divisions among people. The ending of all the social relations that go along with these economic or production relations. Oppressive relations between men and women, between different nationalities, between people of different parts of the world, all that will be put an end to and moved beyond. And finally, the revolutionizing of all the ideas that go along with this whole way, this whole capitalist system, these whole social relations." (my added emphasis)
Of all of the quotes that are contained in this book, I believe that this one has the potential to raise one's consciousness the most, qualitatively. In a concentrated sense, it encompasses the whole—abstractly and concretely—of why not only is communism possible, but also how this possibility derives from the objective necessity of the current global system of capitalism-imperialism itself. (BAsics 1:6) I believe the more one begins to deeply understand these "4 Alls"—not only abstractly, but also how it concretely relates to human civilization in its motion and development in Real time and Real space throughout human history—they'll most certainly experience a qualitative leap in their "communist I.Q.," while reinforcing their convictions on an even firmer basis. I'm absolutely confident of that; and I believe every committed comrade should make this their aim when reaching out to those who are beginning to understand what communism is all about.
This is kind of like a math teacher, trying to teach someone addition, algebra, or calculus, with the intention of raising their "mathematical I.Q.," exponentially. For the average person, math can be very intimidating—especially the more abstract the level of math seems to become. The biggest hurdle, I believe, for most math teachers to overcome is dialectically bridging the gap between abstract ideas and concepts, with how they concretely apply and are expressed in the real world. I think that's largely the reason why when most students reach the level of algebra, trigonometry, and especially calculus, many of them lose interest in advanced levels of math and stop making leaps in their mathematical competency—simply because they no longer see how those subjects apply in the real world, and more importantly, how they apply to their everyday affairs.
I believe we, as communists, face a similar challenge, when it comes to explaining how the "4 Alls" concretely applies and relates to the average person's life, in the most broadest and direct sense—in the past, present, and in the communist future we intend to collectively bring about. I don't think we should get used to using this formulation ("4 Alls"), as if it were just a "mathematical theorem" divorced from any real world significance and application. The deeper we wrestle with this formulation and come to grasp its immediate and wider implications, I'm confident that we'll be able to break down many people's current belief in a "permanent necessity of existing conditions," exponentially. As stated, in part, in BAsics 3:4, BA says quoting Marx:
"'Once the inner connection is grasped, all theoretical belief in the permanent necessity of existing conditions breaks down before their collapse in practice.'
"This is not just a matter of abstract theory—it has a broader effect. That belief weighs heavily on people who don't like the way things are—they are weighed down by a belief in the 'permanent necessity of existing conditions.' Over and over we are confronted by the fact that people can't see beyond the way things are now...."
This is related to an equally valid point, which BA makes in BAsics 3:36:
"The notion of 'unchanging human nature' is completely erroneous, and the idea that people are naturally selfish is nothing but another tautology. As Marx and Engels pointed out in the Communist Manifesto, this amounts to nothing other than saying that, with the domination of the bourgeois mode of production, the dominant thinking and ways of acting will be in accordance with the dictates of the bourgeois mode of production. As the Manifesto also puts it, the ruling ideas of any age are ever the ideas of the ruling class—and these ideas are spread and have great influence not only within the ruling class itself but also among other sections of the population, including the class (or classes) most brutally exploited and oppressed by the ruling class."
As true as this may be currently for many today, this isn't a "permanent necessity" either—especially once one grasps the inner connection and broader effect of the "4 Alls."
So I challenge those who wish to deepen their understanding of what this movement is all about, by going beyond just wanting to know the basics, and picking up BA's earlier work: Phony Communism is Dead...Long Live Real Communism.
If I may suggest, I think it's important to keep in mind at all times how the "4 Alls" relates to BA's explanation of historical materialism in that book, particularly pages 11-23. Furthermore, I believe it's equally important, not only to understand how the "4 Alls" are expressed with a historical materialist analysis, but also how the quote by Marx factors in, in which he states that: "Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby." (page 114 of the same book)
One should ask themselves, what does this particular quote mean in relation to the "4 Alls"? How is "right" different—economically, legally, and morally—under socialism than under slavery, feudalism, and capitalism? Even more important, how is it different under socialist society in comparison to a classless communist world? (Note: In BAsics, BA addresses this comprehensively in the supplemental chapter: "Beyond the Narrow Horizon of Bourgeois Right" on pages 169-178, in which he explains how this relates to "right" under the capitalist system.) All these questions are related to gaining a deeper grasp of the "4 Alls," and understanding its inner connection and broader effects. As BA mentioned in Phony Communism is Dead...Long Live Real Communism:
"These 'four all's' must be popularized, especially in these times, to give a clear, basic sense of what communism means and involves. They should be popularized in both senses: they should be made known broadly among the masses of people; and, while sometimes using these formulations exactly as Marx stated them in order to familiarize people with them, they should also be translated into more common terms. In this way, people will get the essence of what this is about and take it up as their own, so that through all the struggle of today they will be fired with the vision of what these 'four all's' represent." (p. 122-23)
We can't afford to make the same mistake as many well meaning math teachers do today. The better we do at transforming this abstract formulation, and making it concrete to people in meaningful ways, the quicker we can transcend the belief that capitalism is a "permanent necessity" which humanity is unable to overcome. Another way is possible; and by understanding the "4 Alls" comprehensively, that way becomes all the more clear.
In solidarity, Prisoner in Midwest
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
Correspondence on BAsics
Revolution received the following letter:
Dear Revolution Newspaper,
Before I could even finish the first page, I knew BAsics was going to be a breath of fresh air. I was excited to finally pick up a copy last weekend at Comfest in Columbus, but I could not have prepared myself for how powerful the new publication would be. As I began reading, the image stuck in my mind of workers and oppressed across the country reading quotes from Bob Avakian in their workplaces, schools and homes. But it is even more than that. BAsics is a handbook for making revolution and emancipators of humanity.
This is something my generation needs. As a college student who was forced to endure over twelve years of brutal Catholic schooling, I have seen what religious dogma, intolerance and bigotry can do to the youth. It systematically brainwashes students who seek a better world, and those who seek to make their own assertions about the world are confined to the narrow political and religious visions of the elite.
The quote that really leapt out at me began with "If you can conceive of a world without America...". This is a powerful thought, as this system of capitalism-imperialism has spread American influence across the globe. However, Bob Avakian offers some insight saying, "And once you have raised your sights to all this, how could you not feel compelled to take an active part in the world historic struggle to realize it; why would you want to lower your sights to anything less?"
As revolutionaries, this is our monumental task. To fight the power and transform the people for revolution. With the immense power of Revolution newspaper and BAsics, we have two essential tools for making revolution and fighting for a communist future.
To say the least, I wish I had had a copy of BAsics in high school so that I could counter the bullshit being taught to me. I didn't have that opportunity, but there are millions of students today who need to hear the voice of Bob Avakian so they can join the fight. BAsics presents an essential challenge to all that is oppressive and intolerant. It paints not only a picture of a new world, but it leaves room for innovation and growth, as a communist future will have, as Bob Avakian says, "a solid core with a lot of elasticity."
BAsics is a tool for all of us who seek a world without exploitation and oppression. I plan on buying more copies to get out to people in my area. We have an opportunity for something really immense with BAsics as a guide.
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
From a reader:
On Sunday, June 26, I spent a few hours on a midtown street corner, soaking in the scene of the passing NYC Pride March and talking to those who lined the route. As the evening approached, I was able to go for a short time down to the West Village, where lots of gay and lesbian youth were hanging out.
I wanted to write in with some brief snapshots and impressions of the day.
I definitely felt there was a spirit of community, friendship and love in much of the day's scene. There were many youth at both locations, including many young people of color wearing rainbow flags or ties. Gay and lesbian couples held hands or kissed. I saw lots of smiles and joking around.
The parade included several groups of young people dancing, and on a couple of occasions, I saw youth who were watching the march bust out dancing themselves. I asked a 23-year-old woman of color what she thought of the festivities.
"Besides the fact that it's amazing?" she replied. "There's so much love in the air—so much peace and happiness. I love it."
A 24-year-old lesbian from Missouri who had come to New York for the parade said she was really struck by the size of the crowd (according to the New York City television station NY1, there were more than 1 million people at the parade between those participating in the march and those observing).
"It makes me proud," the woman said, "to not be straight."
In the march, and in my conversations, people voiced excitement and optimism about the legalization of same-sex marriage earlier that weekend; several people said they expected other states to follow suit.
"I guess a sense of joy, a sense of liberation for LGBT people," a bisexual woman of color said when I asked for her reaction to the news.
"A big reason why I came is I felt like it was an important moment in history," a Yale student told me.
The student said he felt there was a lot of momentum currently around the issue of gay rights. "I feel like this is a moment where it is really shifting," he said. "Anybody who doesn't believe in some degree of equality is just looking very backward and out of touch with especially the younger generation."
On the heels of that comment, I asked him where he thought his generation was at politically.
"I've often been frustrated with my generation's complacency on various issues," he answered. "But I feel like gender equality and respect for all different gender preferences feels like it's one of the defining issues of my generation." The student cited the influence of parents who came of age in the '60s on their kids, as well as the fact that the issue of gay rights has become a big topic in popular culture, as two factors contributing to this becoming a defining issue for his generation.
One sharp contradiction expressed in the parade is that, as discussed in Issue #238 of Revolution ("Same-Sex Marriage Legalized in New York: Righteous Celebrations in the Streets") the right to marry—and the many other rights and benefits that go along with that in this society—is very important for LGBT people to have, and denial of that basic right is one vicious way in which LGBT people are persecuted, marginalized, and treated as second-class citizens; for this reason, the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York definitely is something that people should celebrate. However, one form this celebration took at the parade was to celebrate New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a political representative of this capitalist-imperialist system who—it should be pointed out—did not suddenly relinquish that job description when he signed gay marriage into law. Many people in the march held signs reading "Thank you Governor Cuomo/Promise Kept," and the New York Times reported that Cuomo was greeted with heavy cheers. I think this points to something that revolutionaries and others more broadly interested in radical change will need to wrestle with: the illusion that the legalization of gay marriage in New York shows that "the system works" or "the system worked," as opposed to "the system was forced to make an important concession." Other ruling class representatives who marched in the parade included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Senator Chuck Schumer.
Some of the signs, banners, and other visuals I saw during the parade, which I think—in their totality—further illuminate the breadth, complexity, and contradiction within the parade:
"I'll see your Prop 8 and raise you New York" (Prop 8 is the measure banning same-sex marriage in California) ... A combination rainbow/American flag ... "The Future's So Bright" ... "Stop Hate Crime" .... "This is what bisexual looks like" ... "2012—I'm in" ... A sign denouncing the NYPD raid on a Manhattan gay bar at roughly the same time that same-sex marriage was passed ... "Together 8 years—finally we're engaged." . "Love Makes a Family"... "Come Out, It's Worth It, You Can Do It" ... "84-year-old boy scout leader kicked out for being gay" (a young man along the parade route, seeing this sign, shouts out, "We love you! I was a boy scout!") ... several people dressed as sailors surrounded by rainbow and American flags ... Two men holding a sign that read, "Thirty years engaged. Let's get married." .... "Think beyond marriage" ... "Walmart you are never gonna get our love" ... "2 Dads/30 years/2 kids/1 mortgage/ A marriage/ I love NY" ... "LGBT families for immigration reform" ... A contingent with Israeli and rainbow flags ... "We can end AIDS" ... "Queers Against Israeli Apartheid" ... "Bulldykes not missile strikes" ... "Flaming for Christ" ... "Straight Married Christian For Equal Rights" ... "Gay hero, Free Bradley Manning."
During the parade and during the past week in general, I have found myself thinking a lot about this quote from Bob Avakian, which I think is really important to reflect on, study and take out to people (and I also think it's important to think about the fact that this quote is from the "Making Revolution" chapter of BAsics):
"We also need to be aware of the positive—and in significant ways 'subversive of the system'—potential of the assertion of gay 'identity' and gay rights, even with the very real contradictions in this, including the narrowing tendencies of 'identity politics' as well as conservatizing influences related to traditional marriage, and, for that matter, the campaign to be allowed to be part of the imperialist military while being openly gay. Even with all that, in its principal aspect this has, and can to an even greater degree have, a very positive, 'subversive of the system' effect. This is a contradiction which, in the society overall, is 'out of the closet.' It could be forced back into the closet, and underground, with not only the stronger assertion of the kind of fascist movement that is being supported and fostered by powerful ruling class forces in this period, but with the actual assumption of a fascist form of bourgeois dictatorship. But the struggle against the oppression of gay people is not going to be easily suppressed. We should understand the potential of this as well, and the need to relate correctly to this, to foster the further development of its positive potential and its contribution to the movement for revolution." (BAsics 3:25)
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Revolution #238, July 3, 2011
On June 26, the New York Times ran an op-ed from Ross Douthat which highlighted the horror of there being 160 million girls missing from the world today, largely owing to sex-selective abortions. However, rather than indicting this as a horrible outgrowth of deeply entrenched male-supremacy and patriarchy, Douthat places the blame for this on women's right to abortion and the few hard-won advances that have been made in some spheres for some women. As such, he ends up arguing for the very male supremacy and traditional values that lead to this kind of thing in the first place.
Douthat's argument rests on three key assertions.
First, Douthat makes the outrageous claim that the widespread practice of sex-selected abortions is not due to patriarchy, but to female "empowerment" and to abortion technology itself. Second, Douthat distorts and discounts the very liberating aims and actual impact of the fight for women's ability to control their own reproduction because the programs of some very reactionary forces overlapped at times with the fight for women's reproductive rights. And, finally, Douthat insists that only the anti-abortion movement can legitimately and fully critique this horror.
On all accounts, as I will show, Douthat is dead wrong.
Let's begin with his first major argument.
Douthat disputes the notion that sex-selective abortion is caused by patriarchy and misogyny, because, "Thus far, female empowerment often seems to have led to more sex selection, not less." He cites Mara Hvistendahl's new book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, to argue, "In many communities... 'women use their increased autonomy to select for sons,' because male offspring bring higher social status."
Excuse me? There is a huge difference between, on the one hand, "women's empowerment" and increased "autonomy" within a world of patriarchy and male-supremacy; and, on the other hand, the full liberation and equal participation of women together with men in every sphere through the achievement of a world without patriarchy and male supremacy! And lest anyone be confused: a world where "male offspring bring higher social status" is a world in which women are still, a) valued not as full human beings but as the breeders of children, and b) boys are valued more than girls. That is a world of patriarchy.
Further, it is extremely widespread for women in the countries where the practice of sex-selected abortions is most widespread to be severely beaten, set on fire, or burned with acid if they fail to produce a male child. In this context, the fact that some of these women themselves "choose" to selectively abort female fetuses—and even the fact that often this brutality is carried out with the participation of women (most often the mother-in-law)—does not change the fact that this violence, the valuing of women only in terms of the offspring they produce, and the subsequent selection for male fetuses are ALL the result of deeply entrenched male supremacy and patriarchy.
Next, let's take apart Douthat's attempts to obscure and bury any discussion of the real interest of women beneath a game of guilt by association.
Douthat cites Hvistendahl in identifying "an unlikely alliance between Republican cold warriors worried that population growth would fuel the spread of Communism and left-wing scientists and activists who believed that abortion was necessary for both 'the needs of women' and 'the future prosperity—or maybe survival—of mankind.'" He continues, "For many of these antipopulation campaigners, sex selection was a feature rather than a bug, since a society with fewer girls was guaranteed to reproduce itself at lower rates."
Notice first that there is zero discussion from Douthat as to whether or not "abortion [is] necessary for the 'needs of women.'" In fact, it is. A world without abortion is a world in which women are forced to bear children against their will. It is a world that enslaves women to their biology. It is a world in which women have little more freedom than slaves.
But, Douthat side-steps this basic and fundamental truth by instead "revealing" that there were some reactionary forces whose agendas overlapped in some ways with those fighting for women's reproductive freedom. Big fucking deal! I spoke to a fanatical End Times fundamentalist not long ago who was eager to seize on recent scientific findings pointing to the tremendous extremes of recent weather patterns, but that doesn't mean he had anything in common with those fighting to recognize—and put an end to—the manmade causes of climate change!
But to go even further, the fact that some in the movement for women's reproductive rights have at times been influenced by racism and chauvinism that is so common in an imperialist country like the U.S., does not negate the fact that the right to decide for herself when and whether to have a child is necessary for women to be free.
Finally, Douthat implies that Hvistendahl and others who uphold women's right to abortion don't really have firm ground to stand on in condemning the situation that has led to—or the harm caused by—the 160 million missing girls. Instead, Douthat offers the simplistic and wrong-headed claim that "the anti-abortion side has it easier" because it can say outright that, "The tragedy of the world's 160 million missing girls isn't that they're 'missing.' The tragedy is that they're dead."
Only they aren't dead, they were never born. While a fetus has the potential to become a human being, it doesn't become one until it is born. Ever notice how we count how long we've been alive since the date of our births? Until then—no matter how much the anti-abortion movement romanticizes it and no matter how many "pro-choice" people capitulate to their bullshit—a fetus is a subordinate part of a woman's body. As such, while there IS a great disparity and a host of highly oppressive factors that have led to it, there ARE NOT 160 million "dead girls" as Douthat would have us believe because they never came into being as independent biological or social beings.
On the other hand, the women in whose body fetuses grow are fully formed human beings. And each year, 70,000 of those fully formed human beings die due to lack of access to reproductive health and safe abortions. They are not "missing"—those women are dead! And the lives of the millions upon millions of women worldwide who are forced to have children they do not want, their lives are significantly disfigured. And the lives of all women who live in a world that fails to recognize the full humanity and equality of women in every sphere—and instead reduces them to either breeders or sex objects, and quite often both—is horribly diminished.
We do not need the horrors that Douthat is peddling—even greater burden on that half of humanity that has the misfortune in this world of male-supremacy of being born female, the retrenching the very patriarchy that leads to female children being valued less than males, and the further restriction of women's ability to control their own bodies and their own destinies. We need the kind of thorough-going, world-wide revolution that can, once and for all lift these burdens off of women as a core and driving force in the emancipation of all of humanity—from the lack of access to birth control and abortion to the life-time of restrictions, insults, violence and degradation that comes from being born female.
To find out more about that revolution, here is a good place to start: A DECLARATION: FOR WOMEN'S LIBERATION AND THE EMANCIPATION OF ALL HUMANITY
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