Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
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Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
For four days and nights starting on Saturday, August 8, massive unrest swept through many areas of London and a number of other cities in England, shaking that imperialist country to its foundations. This year has already seen mass uprisings and societal upheaval across the world—in Egypt, throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Spain, Greece, Chile, and elsewhere. Now, images flashed across the globe of hundreds of thousands of youth and others taking to the streets of Britain, exploding in rage at a society that offers them no future except deprivation, brutality, and hopelessness.
What sparked it off was a vicious police murder of a young black man in Tottenham in north London. Tottenham is majority white, with significant numbers of people of African and Caribbean origin, as well as South Asian immigrants. And it is one of the poorest areas of London. According to news accounts, a special police unit, heavily armed, shot 29-year-old Mark Duggan, who had four kids and lived in the Broadwater Farm Estate, a large public housing complex. The Evening Standard, the main London evening newspaper, quoted a witness who saw a swarm of police forcing Duggan and another man out of the cab they were riding in. "About three or four police officers had both men pinned on the ground at gunpoint," the witness said. "They were really big guns and then I heard four long shots. The police shot him [Duggan] on the floor." Duggan was killed with one shot to his chest.
Semone Wilson, Duggan's girlfriend, said: "I spoke to him at about 5 pm and he asked me if I'd cook dinner. He said he spotted a police car following him. By 6:15 he had been gunned down. I kept phoning and phoning to find out where he was. He wasn't answering. I rushed down to where it happened. They let me through the police lines but they wouldn't let me see his body."
The police at first alleged that Duggan had fired a gun at them, and that they had shot him in self-defense. They claimed that the only reason one of the officers was not killed was that a bullet from Duggan's weapon lodged in the cop's radio. It soon came out that the bullet that struck the radio came from one of the police weapons. The cop who shot Mark Duggan said he never claimed that Duggan had fired a gun. The whole police story was exposed as a lie to justify cold-blooded murder.
Further stoking people's fury was the way officials treated a group of protesters, including members of Mark Duggan's family, who marched to the police station after the killing to demand that the police tell the truth about what happened. The police refused to talk seriously with the protesters. And when a 16-year-old woman approached the police to ask questions, she was "set upon with batons," according to a witness interviewed by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
That night Tottenham was turned upside down, as barricades went up and street fighting with cops erupted. The next day, Sunday, the flames broke out in many other areas in and around the British capital: Hackney, Enfield, and elsewhere in the northern boroughs; Brixton and other areas in the south; Oxford Street in central London, the city's main shopping district; and suburbs farther out. By Monday and Tuesday, the unrest had spread to other major British cities, such as Birmingham and Gloucester in central England, Manchester, Salford, Liverpool and Nottingham farther north and Bristol in the southwest.
The British rulers flooded London with 16,000 cops, reportedly the largest police presence in the city's history. The police have continued to go after people following the days of unrest, and by August 12 there were reports that at least 1,900 people had been arrested so far in London and other cities. The police have been using photographs and videos, and possibly Twitter and other social media records, to identify targets for arrest.
From the first hours of the mass revolt and continuously since then, British politicians and media—from the right-wing Conservative Party of current Prime Minister David Cameron and Rupert Murdoch's reactionary-sensationalist tabloids, to the liberal wing of the British bourgeoisie represented by the Labour Party and the BBC—have been rabidly denouncing the youth as "criminals" intent on "mindless violence." They have ruled out of order any suggestion that the upheaval is connected with the killing of Mark Duggan and the overall conditions of poverty, racism, and police brutality.
A report from the A World to Win News Service said, "First, consider the hypocrisy of the political and media spokesman of this system flying into a frenzy of outrage at inner city youth stealing trainers [athletic shoes], mobile phones or other petty items. This ruling class built their system on the slave trade, they enforced a colonial empire at the cost of tens of millions of lives, and today they make hundreds of billions from an empire that stretches around the globe and is enforced at gunpoint in Afghanistan and Iraq. These world-class imperialist hypocrites have no right to condemn anyone for 'looting and thieving.'" ("London's burning—the revolt of the youth," August 9)
Appearing on the BBC talk show Newsnight on August 9, Iranian-British rapper Reveal said, "The early morning stock advice was, take advantage of people's fear, to capitalize on low prices. Look at their [the youths'] 'role models.' They see their government invading and taking wherever they want around the world."
There were reports of many small shops and family stores being broken into or burned down during the four days. According to A World to Win News Service, "The masses taking part in this revolt or out on its fringes are full of the contradictions that come from being part of capitalist society, but being in its most oppressed sections. In one housing estate in the center of the fighting in Hackney, one African-Caribbean mother lamented that the youth were getting away from the original cause of justice for Mark Duggan, and was especially upset at the looting of local shops, but when her son and his mates showed up with a bag of new clothes for her, she was delighted...."
But clearly, within this swirl of contradictions, there was a real sense among the youth in the streets—and more broadly among the people in these communities—that here was a chance to fight back against the armed forces of the state that routinely brutalize and humiliate them. On British TV, a young man was asked if he thought rioting was the right way to express discontent. He answered, "Yes. You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?" He continued, "Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard [London Metropolitan Police headquarters], more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."
An August 9 article in the Guardian newspaper on the scene in Hackney's Pembury Estate housing project was headlined in part, "There was no doubting their aim: they wanted to fight the police." According to the article, for several hours it was the crowds of people "who set the law" there: "Masked youths—both men and women—helped carry debris, bins, sticks and motorbikes, laying them across the roads to form a flaming boundary to the estate.... A man with a Jamaican flag across his face sprayed in red across the entrance to one tower block: 'Fuck Da Police.' 'Come and get us, man,' shouted another, as he hurled a bottle at riot police gathered in the distance."
The killing of Mark Duggan was the match that lit the fire, but rage at the police had been deep and hot already. Black people in Britain are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than whites (a statistic that resonates with those familiar with the infamous "stop and frisk" policy of the New York police, who make an average of 2,000 arbitrary stops a day—with nine out of ten people stopped being Black or Latino). When asked what the youth were angry about, a black student on BBC's Newsnight talk show answered: "They're angry about Joint Enterprise laws, which people, groups of people could be criminalized, even innocent people who know criminals. And if you live in a poor area, if you ever have, you know that it's almost impossible not to know a criminal. And if you're going to be criminalized by that, at a young age, you're going to be sent to jail by the Joint Enterprise laws. You're going to come out, you don't have prospects for a job after that...."
And the people have also seen the police repeatedly lie about their crimes, as they did with their murder of Mark Duggan. In 2005, when the police shot Jean Charles de Menezes, a young Brazilian man, six times in the head following the bombings on London's transportation system, the police said he was behaving like a "terrorist"—in fact, he was doing nothing out of the ordinary. In 2008, when Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper vendor, was clubbed to death during the protests against the G8 countries, the police blamed the protesters—in fact, he was killed by a police sergeant. In April this year, when Smiley Culture, a 48-year-old reggae musician, was killed with a knife wound to his chest during a police raid on his house, the police claimed he had stabbed himself—a highly suspicious story that has led to angry protests.
Further breaking down the legitimacy of the police in people's eyes has been the ongoing scandal around the Murdoch media empire. Two top officers of London's Metropolitan Police were forced to resign when it came out that they had accepted large "gifts" from Murdoch, and that Murdoch's tabloids had given cops thousands of dollars in bribes to obtain information to hack into personal phones of crime victims and celebrities.
Another factor fueling the rage that broke through in the streets of England is the current government's vicious "austerity" program. Like the U.S. and other capitalist governments around the world, a key part of the way the British rulers are responding to the overall financial crisis of the capitalist system is to drastically slash government programs dealing with health, education, housing, and so forth—programs that have already been repeatedly cut through the recession of the past few years.
These cuts are hitting especially hard at people already caught in desperate poverty. A World to Win News Service points out, "Unemployment nationwide has almost doubled in 3 years, and it is especially high in places like Tottenham—for every job in the borough there are 54 young people there who need work, and the unemployment rate for black youth is over 50%. One study reported that Tottenham is actually one of the areas of Britain that will be least affected by the government cutbacks—because there was almost nothing to be cut back to start with!"
All this has led to mounting frustration and anger, not only among the "permanently unemployed" and others at the very bottom, but also more broadly among the working poor, students, and others. Last year, British students protesting the tripling of university fees clashed with the police. Among those appearing in court in London after being arrested for the recent events were "a graphic designer, a postal employee, a dental assistant, a teaching aide, a forklift driver and a youth worker." (New York Times, August 11, 2011) A young man in Hackney said, "They were not your typical hoodlums out there. There were working people, angry people. They've raised rates, cut child benefit. Everyone just used it as a chance to vent." (Reuters, August 10, 2011)
Through all the complexity and contradictoriness, one key thing the four days of youth revolt revealed was the potential of the masses of people to not just shake up the hated established order, but to act to overthrow the current system and bring about a radically new, liberated society... IF they have leadership that bases itself on the largest interests of humanity and that has a real strategy for revolution.
On August 10, Prime Minister Cameron declared that "nothing was off the table" in going after people allegedly involved in the unrest and suppressing future revolts. He dismissed "phony human rights concerns" about using high-tech surveillance and policing measures, and raised the possibility of the police using water cannons for the first time in England. Cameron's talk about "phony human rights concerns" is nothing but a pre-emptive rationale for unleashing extreme repression against the people involved in the upsurge and against whole communities of the oppressed. Cameron has already threatened to evict anyone accused of unlawful activities in the rebellion—and their families—from government-subsidized housing. Asked whether that meant people would be left homeless, Cameron said, "They should have thought of that before they started burgling." There were calls among politicians and in the media to beef up the police forces or even consider the use of the army to put down future unrest—as more major cutbacks in social services and other attacks on the people lie ahead.
The thinly disguised or even openly racist views coming from top officials and in the media have also further emboldened fascist ultra-nationalist groups like the English Defence League or the British National Party. Racist mobs, including members of those groups, have openly marched around and threatened to "kill blacks," and there have been many calls on "respectable" blogging sites like Yahoo UK to expel and even "exterminate" immigrants.
But as the swaggering British rulers counter-attack, it's also clear they've been rocked back on their heels. A World to Win News Service wrote that the youth proved "far more fluid and fast-moving than even the mobile police forces." And, "This has caused shock among the establishment 'talking heads,' who have struggled to explain this. They recoil at the idea that there are broad ranks of youth, numbering in the millions, who feel themselves to be excluded from society and to have no allegiance to its norms and rules and who long for the chance they are getting today." What took place in the streets of Britain was a revolt against the hated established order. And the oppressive state that enforces that order is increasingly losing legitimacy in the eyes of millions, among those at the very bottom and more broadly throughout society.
For now, the government has regained control of the streets of London and other British cities. But the four hot days of August have left a strong impression on many, that things can change. A 23-year-old man said a few days later, "I loved Hackney during the riot. I loved every minute of it. It was great to see the people coming together to show the authorities that they cannot just come out here bullying."
Send us your comments.
Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
For four days and nights starting on August 8, massive unrest swept through London and other cities in England, shaking that imperialist country to its foundations. What sparked it off was a vicious police murder of Mark Duggan (above), a 29-year-old black man, in Tottenham in north London. Duggan was pinned to the ground by several cops and killed with a shot to the chest. That night Tottenham was turned upside down, as barricades went up and street fighting between youth and cops erupted. In the following days, the flames broke out in many places in and around London and spread to other major cities.
British politicians and media—from the right wing to the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie—denounced the youth as "criminals" intent on "mindless violence." This is shameless hypocrisy, coming from representatives of a system that was built on the slave trade, and that today is a close partner of the U.S. in an empire that ruthlessly exploits billions of people and is enforced at gunpoint in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
There was a real sense among the youth in the streets that here was a chance to fight back against the police that routinely brutalize and humiliate them. Black people in Britain, for example, are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than whites. On top of this, drastic cutbacks in government programs, dealing with basic necessities like health and housing, are devastating people already caught in desperate poverty.
All this has led to mounting frustration and anger, not only among the "permanently unemployed" and others at the very bottom, but also among the working poor, students, and others. What took place in the streets of Britain was a revolt against the hated established order. And the oppressive state that enforces that order is increasingly losing legitimacy in the eyes of millions, among those at the very bottom and more broadly throughout society. And through all the complexity and contradictoriness, one key thing the four days of youth revolt revealed was the potential of the masses of people to not just shake up the existing order, but to radically remake society, IF they have leadership that bases itself on the largest interests of humanity and that has a real strategy for revolution.
British Prime Minister Cameron declared that "nothing was off the table" in going after people allegedly involved in the unrest—a threat to bring down vicious repression on whole communities of the oppressed. For now, the government has regained control of the streets. But the four hot days of August have left a strong impression on many, that things can change. A 23-year-old man in a London neighborhood said a few days later, "I loved Hackney during the riot. I loved every minute of it. It was great to see the people coming together to show the authorities that they cannot just come out here bullying."
Send us your comments.
Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
The last year has been one of stirrings of unrest and change in the world. Youth at the forefront of mass social movements bringing about regime change in Egypt and other countries in the Middle East; rebellions in England, encampments in Madrid and fierce protests and strikes in Greece; a debt crisis roiling the capitalist markets; unemployment, home foreclosures and poverty at extreme levels in the West; governmental budget cuts for health, education, social welfare and anything else that matters for the well-being of society; for those who put their hopes and expectations in Obama and his "change you can believe in," the beginnings of a profound disappointment/disillusionment and inchoate yearnings for something far different, even if not clearly understood or articulated.
It is a time of churning in the world. All of this objectively is counterposed to people's belief in the permanent necessity of existing conditions—and potentially constitutes fertile soil for questioning, for seeking answers to why things are the way they are, and whether they can be different. At this moment, more than ever, the world needs and is ready for BAsics—as a critical and leading edge of a whole revolutionary ensemble, to crack all of this open, to spark and foster much-needed political and intellectual ferment, to bring these questions to the fore, to shake up and wake up the campuses, to forge a revolutionary pole and a different ethos.
As the editorial in Revolution #242, "100,000 Run for Special Issue on BAsics: A Plan to Shake Up and Wake Up the Campus" states, "we actually have answers for what people face—the only real answers—and we have the leadership to make those answers real, if people take those answers up and follow that leadership. This leadership is concentrated in Bob Avakian, and the Party he leads." (August 14, 2011)
Methodologically, this leads to an important point of orientation: let BAsics, its quotes, its essays and the book as a whole, speak for itself, let it serve as the entry point to a radically different outlook, another and a better world, and an understanding of who this revolutionary leader is. Let this be a portal to a whole process of engagement with BA and the revolution he leads and envisions. Put the book in people's hands. Let them browse—its quotes and its essays. Make these widely accessible—on Facebook and emails, through posters, in chalk on walkways, and Xeroxes on bathroom stalls. Saturate the campuses with the special issue—an eight-page all-color issue of the paper that will introduce people to BAsics, appearing August 22, and focus on quotes from BAsics and quotes from people who have read BAsics and have something to say about it. Let this become a matter of interest, of curiosity, of provocation, and of debate. BAsics, and the special issue, is a certain kind of intervention in the normalcy of campus life.
Readers of Revolution should concentrate effort to "bust onto the scene" the first two weeks of school, with BAsics as the leading edge of the revolution on campuses, and gather as much momentum as possible.
We aim to unleash a process. Most students who hear of or even buy BAsics are not going to get active in the movement for revolution immediately. But familiarizing thousands with BA and a taste of BAsics; having hundreds buy the book; and of those, a core of students who read it, live with it, let it work on them—in the context of a consistent presence of the revolution on campus; e-subs to Revolution newspaper; and an overall access to the movement for revolution—creates the necessary conditions to jump-start and unleash a process of deepening engagement with this leader—at different levels and in diverse ways, a process one could call an echeloned engagement with BA and the movement for revolution he leads. This in turn will unleash people to contribute in different ways to building this movement for revolution.
Below are elements of a vision for these two weeks. The approach should be one that has elements of both "busting onto the scene" (for the two weeks)—and forms that people can join with that can be carried through consistently the rest of the semester, for the work of popularizing and defending BA, his leadership, his work, his method and approach and Revolution newspaper, for the whole revolutionary ensemble, for accumulating forces and building the movement for revolution. We should also really experiment, be creative and be open to the new.
• Saturation with the special BAsics issue of Revolution; popularization/sales of the book.
This is the critical aspect of this special effort, ensuring that all and sundry on campus have encountered this at least seven times, in one form or another. It is indicative of achieving goals when a vast majority start saying, "I have already received/seen this."
There are many elements to this, starting with the very simple—get the special issue to everybody! This does not require a lot of forces as much as a good plan to execute and just handing it out to everybody. There are the other visual elements: posters with quotes everywhere possible, on bathroom stalls, and hallway boards. Chalking quotes on walkways where allowed, but also in selected places where new quotes could and should appear for the rest of the semester—a "BAsics Quote of the Week." Another key element is the actual reading of quotes from BAsics—from individual and collective browsing and reading to more creative forms like "call and response" at different public places. Projections of the BA image and BAsics quotes on walls can be made simple with a laptop/projector combination.
In all this, the basis for the popularization and actual sales of the book should be significantly heightened, and opportunities for doing so should be sought out and not squandered. Groups of students can often pitch in and buy a book to share. Actual sales of the book is a critical objective—through familiarizing thousands with the book and selling hundreds of copies on campuses, we aim to jump-start the process of engagement through the medium of this book.
Fundraising through this whole effort is integral. Who can contribute funds? In a sense, everybody, from student donations as we saturate to administrators and professors as we knock on their doors with BAsics and the special issue. Put the needs of the revolution to the people in asking for contributions. Fun fundraising parties need to be back in vogue, before and during these weeks, and throughout the fall semester.
• Anchoring presence for wide reach. Perhaps in the form of a Revolution Books table, which is both a scene and from which people fan out and return to. This should be marked by a sense of revolutionary élan and fanfare—a visual presence with centerfolds and back-page posters from Revolution, banners, enlarged BAsics quotes, the BA image, an audio presence with BA's "All Played Out" playing on a boom box, alternating with students and others reading quotes. A place where students can stop by, meet the revolution, ask questions, engage in dialogue and debate. We should make use of previous posters and materials.
The table should be an organizing center and anchor in two senses.
First, it should organize students and others on campus. The table should have sign-up sheets for students and others either showing interest in or wanting to actually volunteer on any number of initiatives and projects of the revolution. But organizing into the movement for revolution has to comprehend that students and others will contribute and be involved at different levels of participation and partisanship and in a diversity of ways, some not yet known to us, and planned for by those organizing for this effort. It is critical that we solicit ideas on how students would like to contribute. We could have a sign-up sheet column that says "other ideas" on how they would like to contribute.
Second, the table should serve as a focal point for all those who can join us in this special effort on campuses. "There are many people who would want to contribute to this bold vision of dramatically introducing BA to this generation of students..." (BAsics editorial, Revolution #242) For all those who want to contribute and join us, even if for only an hour during their lunch break, this should serve as a "meeting place." This includes basic masses who should be invited to come and watch the revolution engage and interact with students, and if they'd like to, to talk about their daily lives and experiences with students, a feature: "ask me what it's like to live in this hell-hole called America" (It has been our repeated experience that due to the stark divides in society, most students at elite campuses often know little of the conditions of those at the bottom of society, and are both shocked and moved by it.)
• Accumulating forces—prepare minds and organize people in growing numbers—for revolution. Throughout the weeks, and the rest of the semester, this will be an area of significant focus. What is needed are diverse forms that facilitate and deepen engagement and activity with the movement for revolution, and as a decisive aspect, to unleash a process of echeloned engagement with BA.
Starting the first days we are out on campus, we should begin with the simple: talking to and systematically following up with everyone we have met, sitting down with individuals and groups, in coffee shops and the campus quad, and as communists, bringing to them our understanding of the world and how it could be different, and from that vantage point, being open to the new and learning from them. We need to learn much more what students are thinking, the political, the intellectual, the artistic trends, the controversial questions. We need to learn what is being debated out, but also the state of social relations, of campus culture and how they conceive of this world, and finding meaning and forging purpose—"What's on your mind?"
We should organize a regular presence of revolutionaries and communists on campus, where students can stop by, "Ask a Communist" any question, and talk about any topic they want. A previous experience to learn from: a weekly showing of BA's Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About at a café near campus, where students would stop by, watch a section or two of the DVD, and engage in discussion about what they'd watched, but also range more widely. There were some students who checked it out only once or twice, but slowly a smaller core of more regular viewers developed—almost self-selectively. It can be similar with BAsics discussions where anyone can walk in to discuss a quote or essay from the book. We can and should involve students in various projects and initiatives of the revolution, including in the movement against women's oppression and pornography; in organizing determined resistance against mass incarceration. These are some embryonic forms that can and should be initiated, forged and built the first days on campus.
While these are necessary and correct, they are not sufficient. What is also sorely needed are forms that break out of the mold of students participating in "what we do," either on or off campus—even while this is very much needed, and needs to grow bigger, more organic in its relationship to students, and thereby much more a vibrant pole of revolution forged on campus. As the previous editorial noted, there have been students who have "checked out the movement for revolution for a time and decided to step away from it, at least for a while." We need to really understand better "why," learn from this phenomenon of discontinuities, and experiment with new forms that can continue and facilitate a process of echeloned engagement.
This is an objective to keep in mind this fall and to really aim to be open to experimentation and the new, especially ideas from students and others on campus, on "what they would like to do," "how they would like to contribute"—and "forms" for and "on-ramps" to the movement for revolution that unleash and facilitate this process described above. And as the previous editorial noted, we need "some ideas on forms for ongoing engagement on the campuses. Again, your thinking and input on this: most welcome, most needed. We want especially to hear from students and recent students..." and from others on campus, as they witness and learn, pick up on what is new and see the potential for new forms to flourish.
In terms of orientation, a last word: Revolutionary Élan, Contestation and Joy.
Stepping out as revolutionaries, representing the future of humanity that could be, that has been made possible with Bob Avakian, his leadership and his re-envisioning of communism; modeling an approach that embodies the morality; determination, purpose and certitude that the revolution is necessary and possible; the curiosity and the openness to learning; all that is comprehended in the approach of solid core with a lot of elasticity. We need various types of debate and polemics—big and small, with individuals, groups of students and organized trends, in oral form and in print—with anarcho-thought, Badiou and Žižek adherents, the NGO-ists, on what will really change the world. And there is much joy to changing the world, especially with what we have in revolutionary leadership concentrated in BA and the Party he leads. There is nothing greater one can do with their lives at this moment in history. Students should "feel this."
Send us your comments.
Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
For the campuses—we should make part of our plans for the first two weeks to be setting goals for e-subs, like 500 at key schools. I realize this is a big number—actually not that huge overall, but a big leap and it will be a reach/fight to reach—but I think our attitude and approach towards e-subs has been significantly off.
We should sign up almost everyone we talk to—and make clear to them they can e-sub as their main choice and be on our e-list for campus events, etc., as a secondary/additional list. We generally have had this reversed. And we've had numbers way low!
Further, everyone who signs up with one of our organizers should get an email from them right away thanking them for stopping to talk, etc. and letting them know they've been added to the e-subs for free and that we strongly urge them to stay on for at least a month, look over the titles of the articles and click when they are interested in reading. It is very easy to unsubscribe, but we recommend you wait at least a month and explore the articles/coverage before deciding.
Our approach has been way too selective—and we have found (both with our paper and with World Can't Wait efforts) that a lot of people "lurk" on the e-lists and when things shift in their lives or the world they will check back in. We—I believe—have overall reversed this relationship. Having them e-subbing can be a step to a more consistent relationship; it's not like only something someone should be doing after they get involved.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
L.A. Rising Festival
Tens of thousands of young people from different backgrounds (with lots of 20- and 30-somethings as well) came from all over California; Arizona, New Mexico and Texas; Minnesota and Wisconsin and Boston, Massachusetts; from Canada, France and beyond... to hear a unique lineup of bands at the Los Angeles Coliseum that featured Rage Against the Machine, Muse, Lauryn Hill, Rise Against, Immortal Technique and El Gran Silencio from Monterrey, Mexico.
The July 30 concert was called L.A. Rising, and it was a phenomenal event, in many different ways. The coming together of these groups, each known and loved by their fans for their powerful, moving sounds and their unmistakably radical political content, created an extraordinary atmosphere. For a whole day and into the late night hours, thousands shared and contributed to this breath of fresh air. The performers were inspired, and so was their music. When Rage took the stage in the late evening, the 60,000 or more fans leapt to their feet and never sat down again! We're not able, in this article, to review the fantastic music heard at this concert—but we wanted to let our readers know about some other exciting and important things that went on at the event.
The organizers aimed to bring together a concert to challenge the toxic mainstream culture and politics of today; a day of music that could inspire and mobilize people in resistance and revolt. And they didn't disappoint! Very importantly, the movement for revolution united with the artists and concert promoters and embraced this historic event and moment—and introduced tens of thousands to Bob Avakian, Revolution newspaper, and the revolution being built today.
Between the sets by Lauryn Hill and Rise Against, an audience of 30,000 saw a two-minute film clip montage of portraits of youth and others at the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality in 2009, while the voice of Bob Avakian reverberated off the walls of the Coliseum. The excerpt was drawn from the DVD of Avakian's historic talk, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, and specifically from "Youth deserve a better future." As the film clip starts, Avakian is talking about the hopeless situation for the youth—and you could hear people shout out "That's right!" And as he says, "Look at all these beautiful children, full of life and energy, full of so much promise when they are young, and see what happens to so many of them, what this system does to them, as they grow a little older...," the stadium became more silent, as people took it in. And then the image of the front and back cover of BAsics appeared on the screen.
Throughout the day people holding up signs on poles that read "Ask me about the BAsics of revolution and communism" were surrounded by knots of people. Some who took the challenge, "okay, tell me more... what are the BAsics of revolution and communism?" left with a copy of BAsics. And the sticker saying "I'm with the Real REVOLUTION" seemed to capture a very broad sentiment, and became part of the "uniform" for hundreds and hundreds of people.
The bands and the organizers set aside a large space for a "Re-Education Camp" and invited organizations working on a broad range of issues to set up booths inside. Over 40 booths were set up, focusing on issues like opposing the wars, immigration, resisting the attacks on labor unions, poverty, the environment, justice, and the media. One group came from Tucson, fresh from the battle to defend ethnic studies. Iraq Veterans Against the War, World Can't Wait, and Amnesty International had booths. A group focused on ways to help people in Africa and elsewhere capture rainwater was next to "Jail Guitar Doors," which donates guitars to prisoners. And "It Gets Better," a group dedicated to helping gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teenagers survive the constant bullying they face around the country. The movement to support the hunger strike by the prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison was represented.
Revolution Books had a very prominent spot and was busy throughout, and contributed to the major impact the movement for revolution had on the tens of thousands who attended. Two undergraduates from MIT in Boston said they came for Rage Against the Machine, but were really happy to find the Re-Education Camp. One of them said, "This is the first time where I've been that I've actually seen causes."
Many people had not heard of the bookstore, nor Revolution newspaper or Chairman Avakian, but were attracted to the bold revolutionary presence. There were definitely people who didn't have full agreement, but they really wanted to engage and hear the revolutionaries out, while also putting out some of their thinking.
The Re-Education Camp connected with a searching that's going on among many of those who'd come to the concert. A couple from Santa Fe, New Mexico said: "We drove 12 hours non-stop. We came for the music and the movement... I feel like they brought the people here who have like minds who feel the same way. There's a lot of people here... This is the most important time for this to be happening. Right now. This is the tip of the iceberg around the world. So here we are. Hopefully we'll see some political change."
They were among many people who talked about Obama with a sense of betrayal. "War, war, war. Continuous war. Continuing war. More places. It's non-stop. It hasn't changed." Asked what keeps him up at night, he replied: "My friends can't get jobs now. It's hard for them to even work and just survive. I have about six or seven people living in my house just cuz nobody has money... We appreciate you guys and everybody out here doing their thing and showing us what's up and giving an idea. If it's not for you guys, you know, who does this? So thank you... Events like this, this is huge. Huge... bands supporting this and that's what the youth are looking up to so it's a good thing... They've all been taught for so long that this is the way it is... Our generation, it seems to be waking up to some things like that. I think it's becoming more popular to resist, in a way."
A 10th grader from southern L.A. County who bought BAsics said: "I came to see Rage, but I really like what the other bands are standing for. Definitely a good time for this to be happening.... I always talk and have discussions at school; about capitalism, the pros and cons. What system of government would work better than others..."
He reads quote 1:1 in BAsics: "There would be no United States as we now know it today without slavery. That is a simple and basic truth."
"Wow, alright. I've never thought about it... This book you just gave me, it seems really interesting but I've never read a book like it before, so I'll definitely read it. [And show it to your friends?] Oh yes, of course. They'd love to see it."
Then he warns, "If you don't think for yourself it's really easy to get lost in what other people tell you. And my family's the same way. My mom's side of the family is right-wing Christian. Obama gets elected and I hear screaming from the other room, ‘oh no, the terrorists are coming.' That doesn't even make sense. My dad he knows what he's talking about but I get it from both sides. It helps me make up my mind. And they're both Christians."
See video clip at youtube. Type in Bob Avakian LA Rising.
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Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
To all those who one way or another are caught up in the criminal justice system—in prison or out. Let me begin with this: unfortunately when I went to prison, it was too much like a high school reunion. Literally and figuratively.
I come from the so-called "worst of the worst." That is what the prison authorities labeled us when I was locked up. I come from a family of six—four young Black males and two females. All the males ended up in the penitentiary. It got so bad that by the time my youngest brother got to be 18, he blew his brains out. Even my sister did county jail time for defending us from police harassment and brutality.
But at the time, we refused to accept the system's terms—its outlook and values—and labels. It was a time of a strong revolutionary movement in society and in the prisons. We had Mao Tsetung's Red Book and other revolutionary literature and we were beginning to develop a revolutionary understanding of human society and of the world. Under the horrific conditions of being trapped in the criminal justice system, we developed an even more defiant attitude and we fought to be part of the larger revolutionary struggle and we ourselves changed in the course of that. But we did not make revolution. For one, we did not have the leadership we needed to do it during those times. That's why this shit is going on even worse today than it was back then. Counter-revolution was launched by the powers-that-be.
I'm speaking to you who have been cast to the margins of society. You, who they demonize and dehumanize. The truth is that when you begin to speak and act in a revolutionary way, it can contribute to rapidly and dramatically making things more favorable for revolution.
Today, communist-led revolution is more needed and possible than ever. We do have what went on before and we have the leadership of Bob Avakian who is leading the Party and the movement for revolution we are building. This is what is transforming people today.
But to strengthen and advance this revolution and the fight for human emancipation, millions need to know Bob Avakian, be introduced to him, the vision, methodology and approach he has developed so we can realize this vision of a whole new world. They need BAsics.
I'd like to give an assignment to those of you who have been reading and digging BAsics—and being transformed into revolutionaries. Everybody you write should know about this. They should know about BAsics, Bob Avakian and Revolution newspaper. Everybody who visits you should not only know about this but they should get their hands on it and engage it themselves. This is how we can turn hundreds into thousands and have thousands leading millions in the future.
You should write Revolution newspaper and tell us how you are spreading BAsics from the inside to the outside. Tell us how you are speaking to the youth and share that experience so others could learn from that.
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Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
September 9-13 will be the 40th anniversary of the Attica prison rebellion, and the police massacre of 43 prisoners and guards. Forty years ago, the men locked down in Attica rose in rebellion demanding to be treated like human beings. Their heroic actions and the way they conducted themselves showed that people who had been condemned as the "worst of the worst" could rise above the muck and mire, and transform themselves in ways that pointed to the possibility of radical social change. The memory of Attica is something people, especially young people, need to know about today. This legacy counters justifications given for warehousing 2.4 million plus in jails across the U.S. today. It could spark discussion and debate over whether those locked down today are common criminals who deserve to be locked in these dungeons or the victims of a new system of social control.
Important events are being planned to mark this anniversary in New York City:
"Stop Mass Incarceration: We're Better Than This!" Network calls on people to take the memory and the legacy of Attica to the streets of the Harlem community on Tuesday, September 13:
|3:00 pm||Opening rally, St. Nicholas Park, 135 & St. Nicholas Ave.|
|3:30 pm||March from St. Nicholas Park along 135 to Malcolm X Blvd.|
|5:00 pm||Rally, Harlem State Office Bldg., Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. & 125 St.|
|5:40-6:15 pm||Closing rally at Amsterdam Ave. & 125 St.|
For more information write to: email@example.com
Day One: Attica is All of Us
Friday, September 9. 2011
7-10 pm (doors open at 6:30 pm)
490 Riverside Drive (enter at 91 Claremont Avenue)
An evening of music, performances and conversation to mark the 40th anniversary of the Attica Rebellion and Massacre and address current prison struggles. Free and open to the public.
Presented by Attica is All of Us and The Riverside Church Prison Ministry, in collaboration with the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, The Culture Project, The Nation, Drug Policy Alliance, and The Brecht Forum.
With...Attica Brothers; Asha Bandele, Drug Policy Alliance, journalist, poet; Baba Amiri Baraka, African-American poet laureate, Pan-African elder statesman, and community activist; Dhoruba Al-Mujahid Bin-Wahad, Consultant, Institute For Development of Pan-African Policy, Ghana, W. Africa; Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director, Correctional Association; Elizabeth Fink, Attica Brothers Legal Defense; Amy Goodman, host, Democracy Now!; Joseph "Jazz" Hayden, Campaign to End the New Jim Crow; Jamal Joseph, former Black Panther and Chair, Columbia University's School of the Arts Film division; Cornel West, professor, public intellectual and activist.
Day Two: A Message from the Grassroots: Attica is Now
The Riverside Church Assembly Hall
Claremont Ave. (120 & 121 Streets)
2 – 5 pm
Special Guests: Herman & Iyaluua Ferguson, authors of An Unlikely Warrior, Herman Ferguson: Evolution of a Black Nationalist Revolutionary
Speakers and cultural presentations include: Africa Bambaataa (Universal Zulu Nation); Glen Ford (Black Agenda Report); Pam Africa (International Concerned Family & Friends for Mumia Abu-Jamal); Larry Hamm (People's Organization for Progress); attorney Joan Gibbs; George Edward Tait (Harlem poet laureate); Artist King Eric III, former political prisoner Laura Whitehorn; Ralph Poynter (Lynne Stewart Defense Committee); solidarity messages from Lynne Stewart, Mumia Abu Jamal, and Assata Shakur.
For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
The ecosystems of our planet are being compromised and destroyed. The burning of fossil fuels and destruction of forests is warming the earth and transforming the climate. 2010 was the warmest year on record. Melting polar ice caps, more intense storms, killing heat waves and droughts in some regions, more intense flooding in others—these are the "new normal." Even more catastrophic changes loom if this situation is not reversed soon.
As the danger escalates and threatens the future of vast numbers of species, even humanity itself, the U.S. is considering moves to increase its use of the dirtiest source of oil on earth. This fall, President Obama will decide on whether to allow the building of a new pipeline from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas. The Keystone XL pipeline could double the amount of tar sands oil flowing to the U.S.
A very important call for mass civil disobedience at the White House from August 20 to September 3 to stop this pipeline from being built has been issued by activist author Bill McKibben, climatologist James Hansen, author Naomi Klein, actor Danny Glover, and other prominent figures. This resistance is extremely timely given the urgency of the environmental crisis. The action is being called potentially the largest civil disobedience action ever to stop climate change.
If you care about the future of our earth and its people, if you are torn apart by this system's destruction of nature and of human beings, if you desire a radically different society where humans are not the destroyers, but the planet's caretakers, you need to be in D.C. August 20 to September 3! Help spread word of this action. At the action itself and to its lead-up, take out Revolution newspaper's special issue #199 (revcom.us/environment) on the environmental emergency as part of building a movement for revolution, which is the only thing that can prevent environmental disaster.
The invitation for the action (see tarsandsaction.org) says of the Keystone XL pipeline, "To call this project a horror is serious understatement. The tar sands have wrecked huge parts of Alberta, disrupting ways of life in indigenous communities." The pipeline companies claim their "state of the art" technologies would result in a leak only every seven years, but already the first Keystone pipeline and its pumping stations have leaked a dozen times in the past year. Besides the real dangers of destructive spills damaging the environment, the invitation says, the Keystone pipeline would be a "fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous."
Climatologist Jim Hansen has said that to have any chance of stabilizing the climate, "the principal requirement is that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground ... if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over."
Extraction of tar sands oil, according to Tar Sands author Andrew Nikiforuk, is now the "world's largest energy project, the world's largest construction project and the world's largest capital project." As the burning of fossil fuels threatens the very future of the environment, the U.S. and other major capitalist powers are stepping up their exploitation and burning of even dirtier and harder to reach sources of fossil fuels. They are rushing back to deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and expanding drilling in Alaska, smacking their lips over the potential for exploitation of new reserves as their way of life melts the arctic, poisoning lands and people through fracking for natural gas across the U.S., and increasing exploitation of tar sands oil. (High-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses high-pressure injection of water, sand, and chemicals to release trapped natural gas from deep in the earth. Fracking is responsible for damage to the environment and peoples' health.) Canada now has surpassed Saudi Arabia as the largest exporter of oil to the U.S. Tar sands oil produces three times as much greenhouse gas as conventional oil. Tar sands production is vastly destructive, using immense amounts of water, fouling huge areas with toxic tailing ponds, spoiling ecosystems and water sources in Alberta.
The U.S. considers the burning of tar sands oil a matter of "national security" since Canada is considered a stable and reliable imperialist partner, no matter the cost to the earth and people. This pipeline must be stopped. Resistance must be connected and stepped up to the whole way this system is destroying the environment on every front, and as an important part of building a movement for revolution.
Come to D.C., Stop the Keystone XL pipeline!
The Capitalist System Is Not a Fit Caretaker of the Planet! Stand up for Earth's Living Ecosystems!
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Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
"If only the Czar knew." This was the myth that Russian peasants repeated to each other when some village official would draft their son into the army, or order the police to repossess their land for debt. Of course, the Czar knew full well what his officials did—he presided over a system that could not run without the exploitation and oppression of the peasants. But the peasants could see no possible source of deliverance other than the mercy of the Czar. The prospect of challenging the whole system was beyond the scope of the thinking of most peasants—and the prospect of taking on everything was too frightening to contemplate even if they could conceive of such a thing.
"If only King Richard knew." This was an underlying theme of the Robin Hood stories of England—that because King Richard was away at the Crusades, the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham ruled in his stead, driving peasants off their lands. Thus Robin had to rob from the rich and give to the poor, until the rightful king returned. In fact, the enclosure acts in England—through which the budding capitalists of England seized lands that had traditionally been set aside for peasants for their personal needs and turned them into privately owned sheep pastures and during which the Robin Hood legend arose—were done at the will of the English ruling class, with the King at its head, and enforced by the sheriffs. The peasants of those times could also see no source of deliverance other than the mercy and goodness of the King. They too invented the myth that their sufferings took place without the King’s knowledge and even against his will. But the kings of that time presided over a system in which new forms of exploitation were being developed that necessitated intensifying the misery of the peasants—and the decisions that kings made were based on what they thought that system needed to survive and thrive.
"If only the REAL Obama would step out and stand up." Today there are literally millions of people who voted for Obama and are heartsick over what he has—and what he has not—done. The escalation and spread of the murderous illegitimate wars begun by Bush... the continued and even worse violation of people’s most fundamental rights... the refusal to speak out against the greatly intensified oppression of Black and other oppressed peoples within the U.S. and the studied ignoring of even the word poverty, let alone the reality... the continuation of policies which are disastrous to the environment... the constant finding of "common ground" with outright fascists, racists and anti-woman and anti-gay fanatics... and now the brutal austerity measures put in place to deal with the debt: all these have angered people.
But still, even with the criticism and righteous anger, we hear: "when will the REAL Obama do what he knows is right—what he deep down believes in? When will he stand up and FIGHT?!"
The real Obama IS fighting—against you, and the fundamental interests of humanity. He IS doing what he thinks is right—right for the system over which he presides, the system of capitalism-imperialism. And he is doing what he believes in—which is the continued defense and expansion of that system.
The daily functioning of this system requires not only the exploitation of millions in this country, but even more the extension and deepening of its domination all over the world. Today this system is facing its most serious economic crisis in generations. The political arrangements in place for many decades are enmeshed in severe problems. The person chosen to lead it—Obama—is leading that. And right now, the consensus of the ruling class of this system—the capitalist-imperialists—is that the measures being taken by Obama are the measures that are needed in these extreme times to keep their system going. Yes, there is fierce infighting among different sections of the rulers—but that is the point: it is among sections of the rulers, over how best to further clamp down on the people.
There are alternatives. There is a path forward. It is not painless and it requires sacrifice. It is the path of fierce struggle, of revolution.
But the first thing that must be done: face reality as it is. The Czar knows what he is doing and the human cost of it. The Czar knows better than anyone.
"Liberals have an Oedipal complex: It's not that they want to sleep with their mothers—it's that they willfully blind themselves."
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Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
U.S. vs. Mexico Soccer:
I thought your readers might find some interest in what happened at the recent U.S. vs. Mexico men's Gold Cup soccer game which took place in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, a city just north of Los Angeles. The day after the game, there was an article in the sports page of the Los Angeles Times titled "Red, White and Boo" by Bill Plaschke, who is also a regular talking head on the ESPN show "Around the Horn." Plaschke's article could have been called "Soccer, fractures, 'misplaced loyalties' and home field advantage."
Plaschke wrote that being in the Rose Bowl that day was like being in the Staples Center, where the Lakers play, full of Boston Celtics fans, the Lakers' number one enemy or like being in Chavez Ravine stadium where the L.A. Dodgers play baseball being filled with S.F. Giants fans who locals call "the hated ones." Then he goes on to ask "...is it really right for folks who live here to boo and cheer as if they don't?" He felt betrayed by the crowd. Supposedly, you can choose to root, cheer or boo for whoever you want to. But there's something deeper going on here, sports is part of the political and ideological superstructure of society, where people are trained in a certain way of thinking, which values to have or not have, who the so-called "good guys" are, and who the so-called "bad guys" are, who to root for and who to boo... my team, my city, my country. This is discussed in greater detail in Chairman Avakian's talk "The NBA: Marketing the Minstrel Show and Serving the Big Gangsters."
The Rose Bowl was filled to capacity. The fans couldn't wait for the Mexican team to come out. It was anticipated Mexico would win. They have the better team. But to Plaschke the only thing that mattered was "this is the USA" and the fans should root for the home team—end of the story; end of the debate. Angered and disappointed he wrote "what other country would have the visiting team get the edge?" That is part of what you count on in playing on your home turf, but the fans became an extension of Mexico's team and took the advantage away from the U.S. The sound of people chanting Olé, olé drowned out the chants of USA.
Here is one of the ironies at the Rose Bowl. Over 80,000 of the 93,000 people in the stands were booing the home team. The U.S. lost the home field advantage and this had an impact on the U.S. team's psyche and they became discombobulated and unraveled—even though they went up 2-0 early in the game, they ended up losing 4-2. Everything the U.S. team did was met with an overwhelming chorus of boos and everything the Mexico team did was met with an overwhelming chorus of cheers. Now the U.S. team lost because Mexico's team was the better team. But one of the things that happens a lot of times in sports is when you are on your opponent's home field, your best players want the ball to soar to new heights and raise their level of play of their own team and, in that way, silence the crowd and in doing so take the home court advantage from them. But in this situation the U.S. team was unable to rise to the occasion.
On another deeper level, this is a big fracture in the social cohesion of the U.S. Where's your loyalty? That is a big fracture down the middle of it that could splinter at any time. You can see it. It could be one of the things that splinters the whole thing. It is one of the things that holds their society together. It's not the only thing but it is one of the things. On one level it is funny but on a deeper level it shows how tenuous their fabric is. How it can come apart quickly, suddenly watching a soccer game and shit like that. You could see it become unraveled. That fracture can just splinter and keep splintering. Everything starts splintering in all kinds of directions.
Some people think the people should be arrested for rooting for Mexico. "The gall of people living in the U.S. rooting for Mexico." Even some people doing it said they felt conflicted 'cause they grew up in the U.S. but rooted for Mexico. One man said, "I came here as a little kid, I didn't have any choice but to come here as a little kid. I grew up here, but my heart is with Mexico."
On another level rooting for the home team guts the contestation in sports. People get trained and they don't appreciate watching somebody who is better. They can't appreciate and acknowledge the athleticism involved. If you can't appreciate that you really can't appreciate sports. What kind of thinking is that? What kind of logic is that?
Contestation, let the best bring out the best and appreciate that and let everybody acknowledge and recognize that. That is what is going on. And be able to celebrate that. Celebrate it even if you were rooting for the opposing team. You can't even appreciate something like that. You can't even appreciate the beauty of something if you don't start from what is true. You can't really take part in the enjoyment of it. It is something that is great and grand and it is going on right in front of your eyes. Great plays, athleticism. People soaring to the heights. You can't take that all in and appreciate it for what it is.
You are cut off from enjoying the reality and its movement and changes—really, the beauty that lies within it.
Plaschke is trying to train people with his "Red, White, and Boo" article. But it's not just him. Team USA #1 is all throughout the superstructure (e.g. in politics, culture, and yes, sports). The U.S. has many fractures, this is just one that we are talking about here. They have many, many. How could it not given what it is? Many, many potential fractures in this motherfucker. That's why there "is another way" if you really look at it.
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Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
Revolution Interviews Raymond Lotta:
Posted August 1, 2011
Revolution: Raymond, we're speaking just as President Obama and congressional leaders on the Democratic and Republican sides have reached a tentative agreement that would cut trillions of dollars in federal spending in the next ten years. Congress will soon vote on raising the debt ceiling. There are many important questions to get into, but let's start with some basics. What is the debt ceiling?
Raymond Lotta: The debt ceiling is the limit imposed on how much money the federal government can borrow to finance its existing spending obligations. Such spending includes military expenditures, programs like Medicaid and Medicare, government administration and salaries, and repayment of principal and interest on debt held by investors in U.S. Treasury securities. Raising the debt ceiling allows the government to borrow more money. When the government spends more than it takes in as revenues, the difference is the deficit.
The national debt is over $14 trillion. This is the debt accumulated to underwrite past budgetary deficits.
The debt ceiling is raised when the government runs out of funding to meet its obligations. If the government is not able to pay creditors, then you have a default.
Revolution: Why is government debt so large?
Lotta: Three factors are driving the huge run-up in government debt of the last few years.
The first is the severe contraction of the economy in 2008-09. The slowdown in economic activity led to a steep decline in government revenues. And continuing sluggishness of the economy has lowered the amount of taxes the government collects and increased the amount of money the government spends on things like extensions on unemployment benefits, food stamps, and so forth.
Second, the tax cuts adopted under Bush in 2001 and 2003 put limits on the amount of taxes the government can take in.
Third, America's imperial wars of conquest in Afghanistan and Iraq have swelled the deficit. In the last decade, the U.S. spent over $1 trillion on these wars. The military occupation of Afghanistan, as it widened under Obama, costs about $2 billion a month.
Military expenditure is one of the "dirty little secrets" of this fiscal crisis. It doesn't get talked about. Nor its real scale. If we take the 2012 budget, plus supplemental funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, military outlays amount to about $700 billion. But this is not an accurate picture of military-security expenditure. It's really much higher, about $1.2 trillion, or close to 40 percent of the budget, when you factor in things like CIA and National Security Agency expenditures, nuclear weapons research by the Department of Energy, payment on debt from past wars and weapons systems. All this to maintain U.S. dominance over the planet.
And just as the debt and budget debate was beginning to heat up in Congress, Obama opened a new military front—in Libya.
The federal deficit of the U.S. is now about 9 to 10 percent of the gross domestic product... which is about three times the average of the last 30 years.
Revolution: So these are the main drivers of the debt. But then there's the whole debate going on.
Lotta: People look at this in a certain way, and people have a lot of misconceptions. It's no accident. The media, politicians, and so-called experts have framed this in a certain way—and many people have gotten sucked in. I'm talking about the idea that there's a selfish "partisan divide" in Washington that has to be bridged for "greater good of the country." I'm talking about the mantra from Obama that everyone has to equally sacrifice for the greater good of the country, and that the wealthy have to pay their fair share of taxes—and this populism had a certain appeal for a while. There's the chauvinist declaration that it would be awful to "America's standing" if it defaulted on its debt.
All these notions are either not true at all or don't really get to the essence of what's really going on here. People don't really understand what the Republicans and Democrats agree and disagree on and what they are fighting over. And I have to make it clear right at the outset that this "compromise" agreement that they came up with—was a compromise between two programs that were BOTH not in the interests of the people.
Revolution: So what is the essence of what is going on?
Lotta: The struggle over the debt ceiling is an expression of deep problems confronting U.S. imperialism. I am speaking of the effects of the crisis in the world economy... an international economic environment in flux... and real budgetary constraints and contradictions bound up with the vast accumulation of government and private debt.
At the same time, powerful ruling class forces have used the specter of default to continue and intensify an unprecedented attack on government social spending on things like education and health and so-called entitlement programs, like Social Security. They are seizing on this moment to ratchet up an ideological offensive aimed at rallying public opinion around the idea that "government is living beyond its means," that social spending has gotten out of control, the reactionary argument that we all have to stop making demands on government, that government shouldn't be giving "handouts" to those who don't deserve them, and who are living off the government.
Revolution: The theme of belt-tightening and sacrifice looms large.
Lotta: Sacrifice? When nearly 1 in 6 workers is unemployed, under-employed, or has given up looking for work because jobs are so few... when the average duration of unemployment is now longer than at any time since the end of World War 2.
Sacrifice? The Pew Foundation just released a study on what happened in the 2005-2009 period to the wealth of U.S. households—as measured in homes, cars, savings, and so forth. Black, Latino and other people of color were hit hardest. The net worth of Latino households fell by a staggering 66 percent, and that of African-Americans fell by 53 percent. One-third of Latino and Black families have zero wealth.
The bulk of this wealth loss is the result of the collapse of housing values and the subprime mortgage crisis. Millions of people were lured into seemingly affordable loans. And millions of people wound up defaulting. Mortgage loans tapped into the savings and future earnings of millions of people. The loans were then bundled into exotic financial instruments and sold on global markets.
Here we see the workings of the market. A basic human need, housing, was turned into an object of investment and speculation. And then it came crashing down. Millions of homes are empty—because it's more important for banks to assert their property rights than for people to have housing.
25 million people were looking for full-time work last month. 8-10 million households face foreclosure. Income inequality between white households and Black and Latino households stands at its highest levels in decades. And to now demand of people that they sacrifice to rescue a system that destroys livelihoods, that perpetuates and widens social inequality... it's obscene. Of course, all of this packaged as everyone "doing their share."
Revolution: Clearly, the operating assumption in the debt ceiling debate, and especially now as it appears that a deal has been struck, is that government programs dealing with health, education, housing, and so forth must be slashed.
Lotta: For weeks and weeks we've heard about debt and deadlines. Yet through it all, an entire section of the population has been left out of the discourse: the poor and the unemployed. It's as though, for the ruling class, the word poverty has been expunged from the English language. The number of jobless workers has soared to levels not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. But, to quote the title of a July 9 New York Times article by Catherine Rampell, "somehow, the unemployed have become invisible."
The way things developed, Obama has become the leading champion of fiscal austerity, of huge cutbacks in government spending on social programs. On the bogus high moral ground of "bipartisan compromise," he put before the Republicans a deficit-cutting plan that would add one dollar of new taxes for every four dollars of budget cuts.
Revolution: What about the agreement reached on July 31?
Lotta: From what I've read so far in the press, it seems that the tentative deal will cut three trillion dollars in domestic spending over the next ten years. This includes what's spent by federal agencies. It includes different types of social spending and its early effects will impact education, public housing, mass transit, environmental protection, and the Medicaid program. And then a new wave of cuts will be phased in after the 2012 election.
Revolution: A lot of this will hit the poor very hard.
Lotta: You're right. And let's consider the consequences. In late June the American Journal of Public Health published the results of a very revealing study. It quantified how many deaths are caused by poverty, low levels of education, and other social factors in the U.S. It found that in the sample year of 2000, 176,000 deaths were due to racial segregation and 133,000 deaths were due to individual poverty. These are unnecessary deaths. We're talking about the conditions of housing and work; we're talking about inferior access to health screening, to quality health care; and the inability to get health insurance.
And now with this new debt reduction plan, Medicare and Medicaid cuts are in the offing. What kind of system puts human lives on the chopping block of fiscal austerity? This is the logic of capital. This system cannot act in the interests of the people. It can't because it operates according to the rule of profit above all else.
So there is a move to drastically restructure government spending. People think that Obama has sold out to or caved in to the Republicans. But there is a bipartisan consensus about the need for cuts, even as they have disagreements over how to do this.
Revolution: But we've seen such acrimonious debate over cuts and the debt ceiling.
Lotta: There is a section of the ruling class—mainly right-wing Republicans—who want to go further. They want to dissolve any semblance of a state that engages in spending on social programs. It has very little to do with deficits. I mean Bush raised the debt ceiling seven different times. But getting further into debt wasn't a big deal for these Republicans when it came to financing the U.S.'s wars for greater empire, it was acceptable to push off the revenue loss of the Bush tax cuts into the future by incurring more debt.
Their bristling at "big government" is ideological. It's an attack on the very idea that society has any kind of organized responsibility to the well-being of the people. It is institutionalized callousness: "if you're unemployed, it's your fault;" "no health care, that's your problem."
The Wall Street Journal ran a piece last week that concentrated some of the aspects of the ideological assault being waged by conservative forces. It argued that the issue is not just Obama...the problem goes back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and this so-called "culture of entitlement" and "re-distributionism." And they're arguing that now's the time to settle accounts. The Tea Party gives this a veneer of grass-roots outrage at "government excess."
Bob Avakian's analysis of the "pyramid of power" in the U.S. really sheds a lot of light on what is happening here. You have a situation where the U.S. ruling class is sharply divided at top—again, approximating the Democrats and Republicans. That section of the ruling class roughly corresponding to the Republicans has been on the offensive and moving society in an increasingly fascistic direction. The Democrats sharply differ with Republicans on some of the particulars of how to maintain U.S. global domination and how to maintain "social order at home." But they don't differ on whether to do that... that they have basic agreement on.
This dynamic is at play in ruling class infighting over how to handle the debt. There's intense struggle, with political and ideological agendas as big factors. The Republicans have had the initiative, and they continue to hold it in this debt battle.
Revolution: How do you see the relationship between the ideological assault and the underlying economics of the budgetary crisis?
Lotta: Here I must point out that most progressive and radical critiques are arguing that this whole debt crisis has just been manufactured as a way to push political-ideological agendas. I think this is wrong. It's more complicated than that... but more fundamentally, there IS a global economic crisis which is the larger backdrop to all this.
What is really going on here is that there is a real crisis which is interacting with, and further fueling, an ideological assault bound up with establishing new norms of social control and repression.
It would be wrong to conclude that ruling-class concern over deficits and debt is simply political manipulation. There are real imperatives for capital to cut costs and enhance competitiveness. There are real constraints on expansive government spending. This has to do with capitalism's "rules of the game." This is a system of production for profit based on the exploitation of wage labor. This is a system of competitive accumulation in which the great powers seek advantage and dominance on a global playing field.
Revolution: So let's get deeper into the political economy.
Lotta: We have to step back and put this fiscal emergency in global perspective, and trace the development of the larger global economic crisis.
In late 2008, the private-financial core of U.S. imperialism, I'm talking here about the large transnational banks, was facing collapse. These banks were suffering huge losses on unsustainable loans, they couldn't raise capital, and they were unwilling to lend to others. I can't get into all of this now, but this was an expression of the anarchy of capitalism. You had these banks creating ever-more complex financial instruments to make profits and push risks on to others. Again this was the rules of capitalism at play here and for an analysis of this I would encourage people to look at an article I wrote back in October 2008, "Financial Hurricane Batters World Capitalism: System Failure and the Need for Revolution."
This turbulence threatened to spread and to undermine the global financial system. The U.S. imperialist state as the guardian of the interests of capital stepped in quickly. The Federal Reserve injected huge amounts of capital into the banking system. The state became a creditor, making low-interest loans to the banks. It encouraged mergers and consolidation at the top tiers of the private banking sector. It made it possible for Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America to profitably incorporate, buy out, the assets of failed or failing banks.
There's a strategic dimension here. The U.S. banking system, with its extensive and deep credit markets, and the dollar, which is the main currency in the world economy, are linchpins of U.S. imperial hegemony in the world capitalist system. At the same time, the U.S. faces new challenges, like the emergence of the European Union as a more consolidated bloc, and China as a potential rival.
By 2009, this situation entered a second phase. The financial crisis had developed into a generalized economic downturn affecting the entire world economy. This was the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The volume of trade between countries fell sharply. World industrial output fell. The U.S. economy slowed down. You had GM facing bankruptcy. Unemployment shot up.
In response, the Obama administration undertook a spending program that involved government expenditures on goods and services, various infrastructure and energy projects, tax credits, unemployment extensions, and some financial assistance to the states. This was meant to stimulate major growth but it didn't.
Revolution: So this is a complicated picture involving economic developments and conscious policy, informed by ideological and political agendas.
Lotta: The enormity of the financial crisis has continued to pose new challenges to imperialist policymakers. The measures that have been taken have produced new strains on government finance. A big challenge for the ruling class now is to work down debt in a way that does not cause major disruptions to the world economy. It's a very unstable situation. And how the U.S. manages and finances government debt will have big effects on the world economy.
There is the state of the world economy—the fact that it has not recovered from the financial crisis and steep downturn in 2008-09. There are intense competitive pressures in the world economy.
In relation to this deficit battle, people ask, why can't the corporations be taxed more? Well, in the midst of crisis, taxes on huge capitalist corporations that are a key part of the U.S economy and U.S. economic growth can cut in to their ability to gain competitive position and advantage in the global struggle for markets, for new technologies, and their ability to buy out other firms.
But more is going on. This is a world economy in transition; major realignments are taking place in the world economy. This is a huge topic and to get a fuller background and analysis of this, I would encourage people to read the 4-part series I wrote, "Shifts and Faultlines in the World Economy and Great Power Rivalry." But here I can provide some of the basic contours of this situation.
As the financial-economic crisis hit, China emerged as the second largest economy in the world. It will soon overtake the U.S. as the world's largest manufacturer. China is now the single largest foreign holder of U.S. government debt. Its export earnings, based on super-exploited labor in vast industrial zones, have been recycled into U.S. financial markets. China now has increasing leverage in the world economy.
If China and other large holders of U.S. Treasury debt sense instability and begin to shift out of dollar-based securities into other currencies and investment instruments, this would put enormous pressures on the dollar. It could set off a major flight from the dollar. If foreign creditors saw dangers in holding U.S. long-term debt, the U.S. would have to borrow on a shorter time frame. And this would make the U.S. more vulnerable to financial upheavals and uncertainties.
As I said, the international role of the dollar gives the U.S. enormous advantage and sway in the world economy. At this juncture, no other currency is able to replace the dollar as the world's key currency. But the position of the U.S. dollar is eroding. It faces new competitive threats.
All of this constricts the maneuvering room of U.S. imperialism, while conditioning policy responses and intra-ruling class debate.
What began as a banking crisis has morphed into a long-term government debt crisis in the U.S. and other Western capitalist economies. And the world economy remains in deep economic trouble.
The U.S. imperialists face a major contradiction. They are saddled with huge and mounting debts. The U.S. economy is not growing. Historically, one of the ways this has been dealt with is by increasing government spending with the goal of stimulating the economy. But this results in higher deficits and government debt.
Revolution: We've covered a lot of ground. Do you see more people becoming disaffected with Obama, among those who have been supporting him? And will there be more openness to fundamental change?
Lotta: Over the last year, there has been a growing sense of bitterness and betrayal. I think this budget episode is leading to more of that feeling.This sentiment runs deep among a growing section of people. And it counts for something in the current atmosphere. But where will this go?
This underscores the importance of what Bob Avakian has been bringing forward, that there is no permanent necessity to existing conditions. Things do not have to be this way. The Revolutionary Communist Party has recently published the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal). It sets forth an inspiring vision and concrete measures for building a new society. This is a socialist society. This would be an economic system NOT based on exploitation and profit but on meeting the needs of the people, overcoming the great social inequalities of society, protecting the planet, and contributing to the advance of the world revolution. A society aiming for the final goal of a communist world, where human beings everywhere would be free of exploitation and oppression and destructive antagonistic conflicts, where human beings could be fit to be caretakers of this planet.
This vision can play a tremendously powerful ideological role on the current terrain. Projecting this vision is a crucial part of building a movement for revolution that can bring such a new society into being.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
Posted August 1, 2011
A new documentary film titled The Interrupters opened in New York City on July 28, the first stop on a scheduled theatrical run across the U.S., UK, and Canada. Directed by Steve James (director of Hoop Dreams and other films) and produced by Alex Kotlowitz (author of There Are No Children Here and other books), The Interrupters follows over the course of a year three people who work with the Chicago-based CeaseFire organization. The film focuses on, and will provoke discussion on, the question of violence among the people. We think that the following article, which originally appeared in Revolution #146, October 25, 2008, is an important contribution to that discussion.
* * * * *
Revolution #146, October 25, 2008
Right now, in Black and Latino neighborhoods all over this country, children are being robbed of their childhoods, afraid to go to the corner store or outside to play or to ride the bus to school. Some studies have shown that the number one fear among school children is getting shot. 36 Chicago Public School children have been killed since last September as a result of violence among the people. These shootings come on top of (and are largely used as a justification for) widespread terrorization and brutality on the part of the police, including a recent murderous rampage by the Chicago police who shot 12 people in 4 weeks this summer, 6 fatal and at least 6 shot in the back.
How did we get into this hellish situation where parents watch young children shot down in crossfire, kids grow up haunted by nightmares of gunfire, sure they won't make it past 18? This is a horror for the people—with a feeling of desperation that comes from knowing it's your neighbors, cousins and friends doing this to each other. And it gives rise to a deep despair that this is an endless spiral with no way out.
People from different perspectives are seeking out answers and solutions to this, from research projects to marches to intervention groups. In a New York Times article last May, "Blocking the Transmission of Violence" (5/4/2008), Alex Kotlowitz makes one such argument, likening violence to an epidemic disease plaguing many communities.1 Kotlowitz clearly has great concern for the lives and conditions of the people locked to the bottom of society. But despite his best intentions, his argument concentrates a dangerous logic that reverses cause and effect.
While it is beyond the scope of this article to speak to everything Kotlowitz raises, we want to speak here to his central argument—that stopping the violence among the people is the necessary first step to changing the larger economic and social conditions among the oppressed masses. An underlying assumption in the article is that this can be done without changing the fundamental economic and political relations of society which, as we will go on to show, is the brutal source of this whole situation. This same line of thinking is echoed by many people who hate the ways in which they're forced to live but feel the answer to this is for us to "clean up our own backyard" before there can be any positive change for the communities.
In discussing the position of epidemiologist Gary Slutkin (who, as the founder of the Chicago-based CeaseFire organization, is largely the focus of Kotlowitz' article), Kotlowitz uses an analogy between stopping violence and curing an infectious disease which has a big source in a community's water supply:
"Slutkin says that it makes sense to purify the water supply if—and only if—you acknowledge and treat the epidemic at hand. In other words, antipoverty measures will work only if you treat violence. It would seem intuitive that violence is a result of economic deprivation, but the relationship between the two is not static. People who have little expectation for the future live recklessly. On the other side of the coin, a community in which arguments are settled by gunshots is unlikely to experience economic growth and opportunity."
Kotlowitz himself begins to explore some of the limitations of this argument on one level, but does not go further to examine what is "poisoning the water supply" in the first place. In talking about people who are trying to get out of the logic of gang retribution, he writes, "Leaving town is not an option for most. And for those who have walked away from a shooting...if there are no jobs, or lousy schools, or decrepit housing, what's to keep them from drifting back into their former lives? It's like cholera: you may cure everyone, you may contain the epidemic, but if you don't clean up the water supply, people will soon get sick again."
Kotlowitz does not pose the basic, and necessary question: why are the schools concentrated in the Black and Latino neighborhoods disproportionately "lousy," why is the housing "decrepit," or at this point, nonexistent? And to step even further back, why are Black people concentrated in urban slums in the first place? How did this develop, and what gave rise to a situation where there are now several generations of youth who have been criminalized—killed by the police, killed by each other or warehoused in prisons in the tens and tens of thousands? The violence people commit against each other is the symptom of a larger problem—but if you don't diagnose the problem correctly and if you don't know what caused it, then the treatment you attempt to come up with will actually make it worse.
The oppression of Black people, and other minorities, has been a feature of the development of capitalism in U.S. society from its founding—on the bones of slavery and genocide against Native peoples. After the Civil War and the short period of Reconstruction, instead of being integrated into the larger American society, a wave of terror was unleashed against Black people—they were in the main confined to the plantations in a new form of slavery, and African-American people were formed into an oppressed nation in the south within the larger, dominant Euro-American U.S. In the early 1900s, heavy industry began to greatly expand. In the North, especially with the gearing up for World War 2, the defense industry was booming, creating a demand for labor, while in the South, the mechanization of cotton production (and tobacco before it) made sharecropping less profitable. There was a push and a pull from the South that sent millions of Black people migrating to the North—the push of poverty, Jim Crow racism and KKK terror and the pull of work and hopes for a better life. But while the forms of oppression were different in the North, the fact of the oppression remained. Black workers who were brought into the workforce, on the basis of their oppression as a people, were put into the dirtiest and most dangerous, lowest paying jobs, they were the "last hired" and "first fired." Black people were refused the housing subsidies that white people received to buy suburban homes and even when they had the money were prevented, either by unspoken agreements or straight-up mob violence, from buying homes in "white" neighborhoods. Instead they were shunted—by government policy—into poorly built high rise housing projects in the inner cities. Black people of all classes and strata faced segregation and discrimination everywhere they turned, and Black workers were super-exploited to give the capitalists extra profits.
The effects of all this—along with the situation internationally, where there were uprisings against imperialism and colonial domination and where socialist countries like China posed the prospect of a revolutionary resolution to oppression, and the U.S. was also locked in contention with other powers for a bigger share of the plunder of the formerly colonial world—gave rise here to the earth-shaking revolutionary movement of the 1960s. With this upsurge and especially with the powerful urban rebellions in over 100 U.S. cities, some barriers Black people faced did fall. Black people were brought into some better jobs, affirmative action enabled thousands of Black students to enter college and professional careers, social programs like welfare and early education programs were provided.
Many people, especially among the younger generation, began to see themselves differently in relation to the world. Through struggle, people were trying to figure out how to forge new ways of relating. There was broad unity among many that they weren't going to fight and die for the oppressors, but to bring a whole new future for people all around the world into being. In fact, one of the most inspiring accomplishments of groups like the Black Panther Party and Young Lords Party (a revolutionary group based mainly among Puerto Ricans) was the way they got many former gang-bangers out of that life and into making revolution and serving the people, and the ways in which many prisoners (like George Jackson) went over from "criminal-minded" to "revolutionary-minded."
But all of this ran up against limitations. Even the most advanced forces for revolution didn't have a deep enough understanding of what a different future would or should be all about or how a revolution could be fought and won in this country against such a powerful enemy. There was not a leadership with a developed strategy of how to unite the many streams of resistance and radical sentiments politically, culturally, and ideologically into a powerful force behind that revolution. Or with an understanding of how to not just withstand, but advance through the brutal repression that came down with a vengeance from the state—over 20 members of the Black Panther Party (including leaders like Fred Hampton and George Jackson) were assassinated, hundreds of revolutionaries were jailed, the National Guard was called out against the righteous rebellions, students were shot down in the street and the movements broadly were surveilled and harassed. In addition, there were major changes and challenges going on in the revolutionary movement internationally and the global high tide of the '60s was ebbing, which also had a powerful effect. It was in the face of the real limitations in understanding how to meet all these challenges, and of the brutal repression by the ruling class, that the majority of the movement of that time turned away from revolution.
By the early '80s, most of what had been the movement of the '60s had either been crushed, was directionless or co-opted. At the same time, there were tremendous changes going on in the world politically and economically. The revolutionary leadership of China had been overturned in a coup after Mao Tsetung died, and this demoralized and disoriented many who had seen in revolutionary China a source of hope and support. Meanwhile, many jobs were relocated to the suburbs or shipped overseas where people could be exploited even more brutally. The inner cities became economic wastelands. This was a result of both policy (including the conscious decision in many cases to locate jobs away from the now more rebellious and defiant Black workforce) and more fundamentally, the drive of the restless, never-ceasing compulsion on capital to constantly expand or die—to seek out higher rates of profit or go under to competition.
The concessions that had been wrenched through the struggle of the '60s were being reversed—the end of affirmative action, integration to all intents and purposes dead and welfare was soon to be entirely gutted. Today, more than one generation faces conditions where many have never had a job and there is no prospect (through no action of their own) that they ever will. The government flooded the ghettos with drugs which became the main economic life in these neighborhoods, a certain foundation which "set the terms" for all other economic and social activity. At the same time, the so-called "war on drugs" was unleashed, which was nothing but a war on the people—with arrests and imprisonments skyrocketing. 330,000 were in prison in 1970 compared to 2.3 million in prison today. Today, nearly half of the people in prison in America are Black. In fact, the incarceration rate for Black people is the highest in the world.
Understanding all this, it becomes clear that these conditions were not caused by violence among the people. Nor is the violence among the people a "virus"—it is a reaction to conditions of relentless oppression where there seems to be no real hope of change. It is the system, with its dog-eat-dog mentality, that creates and perpetuates these conditions. This whole capitalist-imperialist setup is propelled by an endless drive for profit and more profit, with systematic super-exploitation and the oppression of Black and other oppressed peoples as a key dynamic element. Those two things—the capitalist system at the foundation of this country, and the white supremacy which runs all through this society and has been inextricably interlinked with it since Day One—are what caused the problem, not some make-believe "virus."
And, these conditions don't just "exist" in the air. They are brutally enforced by a whole state apparatus of cops, courts, and prisons. Some people out there tell us the cops are "just another gang." No they're not! Some individual cops may be in gangs, but as an institution, they are the hired enforcers of a whole system of exploitation and oppression.
Step back once again, what comes through is the utter criminality of this system, which keeps people in the inner city penned in and locked down, left to rot and kill each other off, and then to be killed and imprisoned when they walk into this trap.
Kotlowitz' and Slutkin's argument will not make anything better. And even worse, whatever the intent, it justifies and strengthens the hand of an oppressive state with its brutal, murdering police and prisons.
We have two questions we'd like to ask Kotlowitz: First, if every young Black man in a gang in East St. Louis, or Chicago, or Harlem, or Oakland quit their gang affiliation, renounced violence and crime, and showed up at a community college to enroll in a digital design program or a computer networking certification program, what would happen? The simple fact is that there would not be work for the vast majority of them. In fact, a recent study showed that the rate and numbers of Black people in information technology declined relative to eight years ago—not because people were unqualified, but because, according to Gina Billings, president of the National Black Data Processing Association, globalization has led to outsourcing to third world countries, and Black professionals once again found themselves caught in the "last hired, first fired" trap.
So even if you were to suddenly qualify every gang member for a good job, they would only be hired if employing them would be profitable for capital. And those jobs are not out there—not because society doesn't need them, but because they are not profitable. And precisely because the ruling class of capitalists knows this, they do NOT offer training programs, etc. in any serious way because they do not want to raise people's expectations and risk social rebellion when those expectations are not satisfied.
And, second, conversely, what would happen if, after a revolution, with a new socialist economy that was based on transforming conditions to overcome the age-old oppressive divisions of society and meeting the needs of the people, while rendering support to revolution worldwide, society DID offer every young Black person a chance at education and a job with meaning that they could live on? In a revolutionary society, there would be no unemployment because employment would not be based on whether it was profitable for capital; people would immediately be given work, to deal with the many pressing problems facing society. In that totally new society, the violence that people lash out with against each other would rapidly diminish as a whole new ethos and view of one another took root.
Only if we correctly understand the source of the conditions that people find themselves in, which Slutkin and Kotlowitz leave out, can we understand that the relationship between people's conditions, ideas, and actions aren't "static," as Kotlowitz states, and even more fundamentally, that things do not have to be this way! It is in the process of confronting the real problem and radically changing conditions that people can transform qualitatively and in a liberating way.
Under this system, people are forced to live based on "what's in it for me" and they are thrust into competition with others. This is the logic and dynamics of capitalism overall, and gets sharp when people are fighting over crumbs in a situation where every crumb counts. People are forced to hustle to survive, and while there are important examples of the ways in which people come together to help each other, how things are set up with people set against each other works to undermine even that.2
Just like in the larger society, there's a whole culture and outlook bound up with this—"I got to get mine, I got to get what I can get within this." And this logic has a pull and coherence.
A youth from Chicago's south side, who's been agonizing about the violence all around him, has been arguing that it's not just the economic necessity that leads youth to get into the gangs—this is also a deeply felt aspiration.
Yes, many do aspire to not just be part of, but to be on top of this game, and those aspirations are shaped by and confined within the larger material conditions that people are presented with.
The gangs and "the life" is just that—a whole way of life, with economics and morality which infuses whole neighborhoods with a "code of the streets" ethos and outlook. This divides sharply into two because on the one hand, this is a reflection writ small of the larger relations and dog-eat-dog dynamics and morality in society. But it has an "outlaw fuck the world" element—where people desire to be and are seemingly up against the system as a whole.
Within these dynamics, mirroring the dominant capitalist ethos of society, you're prey or a predator—someone takes down one of yours, you have to take down one of theirs. In this gangster logic, if you don't, you haven't stood up for your people and you come out looking weak. The "code of the streets" comes with a "kill or be killed" mentality and a vicious cycle of seemingly never-ending shootings against others in the same conditions as you.
There's also the attraction that you can "be somebody" in a way you can't in any other part of American society. Besides making it in the NBA or in hip-hop (which is about as likely as winning the lottery), how else can you make your mark on the world? One youth on Chicago's west side described "the life" as just another form of "chasing the American dream." They see someone with a nice car and they want it because that's how they can say something about who they are and "what they're worth." Again, reflecting a society where people's value is measured by the commodities they do or don't own.
All this is enforced and maintained a million times in a million ways by the broader culture and the workings of the system. In There Are No Children Here, Kotlowitz describes a young kid who gets arrested for nothing except for the fact that he's Black, he goes on to talk about his experience with lawyers and unjust courts and the impact this has on him—"fuck it, they treat me like a criminal, I may as well get something from it too." In the culture, this has been promoted in movies like Superfly in the '70s and then Scarface in the '80s which has an ongoing impact today. Along with this, the promotion of gangsta rap with the message that one should aspire to "get rich or die trying."
This whole way of life and the outlook that comes with it is a trap. Even where people do "make it to the top," this is still only the top of a game that's been given to them by this system, which is at the expense of, and dripping with the blood of others who this system has cast off.
Kotlowitz is correct in saying "[p]eople who have little expectation for the future live recklessly." Now once again, let's ask, what kind of system, what kind of society is it which provides little or no expectation for the future to generations of youth?
There is a way out of all this today—sweeping this system aside once and for all, through revolution and bringing into being a radically different system—socialism on the road to a communist world.
With state power in the hands of the people, society can be reorganized based on meeting the needs and unleashing the creativity and potential of millions of people that is destroyed by the kind of system we live under today. In this new society, the state—rather than being a force for exploitation, oppression, and repression—will back people up in working to solve all kinds of problems, not only for themselves but for all of humanity and as a part of the world revolution. As opposed to the society in which we live, which provides nothing but a hellish future or no future for the youth, in a socialist society, the youth will be a dynamic force for shaping the future. What they think and how they struggle will be valued, learned from, further unleashed...and led, with the aim of continuing to revolutionize all of society and bring a communist world, free of all exploitation and oppression, into being.
This is what is worth living and dying for. But it can only be based on FIGHTING the power, and not "working with it" to somehow keep a lid on things. There is an urgent need right now to bring forward a revolutionary movement which breaks out of the killing confines of the way things are, challenging the terms in the neighborhoods and society more broadly, and with it, leading the masses to forge a revolutionary movement and culture that can actually begin to change the tide.
The enormous potential for this must be wrenched from the horrors of today. The fact that these youth are largely alienated from this system and the whole "American way of life" and the very real sense that there is no future for them—is both part of why we need a revolution to sweep all of this away once and for all, and a critical part of where the basis for that revolution lies. All of these factors that especially young people are responding to—the fact that these youth really have nothing to lose, under this system—are the very same driving forces that could compel them in a whole other direction if that anger, alienation, and rebelliousness were channeled at the source of the problem and tempered and transformed with revolutionary science and a morality of liberation. Such a revolution can only take place when conditions radically change—when all of society is in a profound crisis and a revolutionary people emerge on to the scene, in the millions and tens of millions—but there is urgent work to carry out now, to hasten while awaiting such a situation, working now to bring forward a revolutionary people through waging political battle and carrying out ideological work, and transforming the current unfavorable political polarization in society through struggle.
This means that a minority has to be the first to step forward today. Even a relative handful with substance and revolutionary backbone can have an electrifying effect — not only in a neighborhood but in society overall. And it is in this process—of fighting to change the larger circumstances while learning about the underlying dynamics that gives rise to those circumstances, that people transform themselves.
The leadership, vision, science and organization necessary exists right now in the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. This Party came forward through the struggles of the '60s and it persevered in building a revolutionary movement and seeking answers to the vexing questions. Its leader, Bob Avakian, has led the way in "charting the uncharted course" of how to make a revolution in a country like this—and more, he's further developed the scientific theory and liberating vision of communism, deeply summing up the experience of the past, learning from the great achievements of previous revolutions, deeply interrogating their shortcomings and mistakes, and in doing all of this, he's taken communism to a whole new place. And Avakian is leading a Party that is serious about revolution, serious about protecting its leadership, and seriously taking responsibility to lead the masses to make revolution in the real world.
Whether revolution will once again be in the air in this society (and around the world) in the way it needs to be, depends on people taking it up. The time is urgent for people from all walks of life to step forward. To all those who dare to dream of a better world where all of these horrors have been left behind for all of humanity: get down with the revolution, become an emancipator of humanity.
Fight the Power, and Transform the People, For Revolution
1. Kotlowitz is well known for his important book, There Are No Children Here, where he exposed the brutal living conditions for youth in Henry Horner Homes, one of the many since demolished housing projects. He wrote with great compassion about what it was like for two young Black children to grow up in these conditions and the ways in which the whole system was set up for these kids to fail—from the schools to the courts. [back]
2. For an inspiring example of where people help each other in brutal conditions, the film Trouble the Water shows how rival gang youth in New Orleans joined together to save people during Katrina, at the risk of their own lives. [back]
Send us your comments.
Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
This is correspondence received from one of a group of the young revolutionary communists who are organizing "Radical Revolt" Against a Revolting Culture, Tuesday, August 30, 4-8 p.m. at the Shrine World Music in Harlem, 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., New York.
I was very excited to read "A Plan to Shake Up and Wake Up the Campus" in Revolution #242. I would urge anyone who has not yet read this article to do so and anyone who has to re-read it, and people in both categories to study it. I can't nearly do justice in this correspondence to everything that struck me about that piece, but here are a few key things that stood out: I thought the piece spoke with a lot of radical simplicity to the nightmare that humanity is up against and the liberating pathway out of that nightmare that has been carved by Bob Avakian. I felt the article powerfully captured the "agonizing irony of the time we live in": namely, that communist revolution is largely off the map and absent from people's thinking at a historical juncture in which the necessity and possibility of this revolution has never been greater and the leadership for this revolution is there. Very much intertwined with that point, I thought the article really drove home the urgency and stakes of introducing Avakian, his work and leadership to millions of people now as a decisive element in building a movement for revolution, and to the particular role that the new book BAsics—a powerful concentration of Avakian's entire body of work—can play in putting this revolution and its leadership on the map and bringing forward and training a new generation of revolutionaries. And of course, flowing from all this, I thought the piece laid out some really crucial and exciting plans for getting BAsics out into society in a huge way, especially among the youth, starting with the special issue of Revolution on BAsics that comes out August 23 and the printing of 100,000 copies of that issue.
One of several passages from the article that I thought succinctly concentrated all this: "We actually have answers for what people face—the only real answers—and we have the leadership to make those answers real, if people take those answers up and follow that leadership."
With all this in mind, I wanted to write in about something new and exciting that is being kicked off, which I think is both very much related to the points and plans put forth in the article and very important in its own right as part of building a movement for revolution: A "Radical revolt against a revolting culture" inspired by BAsics.
This new radical revolt takes inspiration from—and represents one important expression of—what Avakian calls for in BAsics 3:24:
"A genuinely radical, liberating revolt—as opposed to a reactionary 'rebranding' and celebration of parasitism—must be fostered among the youth in today's conditions, a revolt within which the need is powerfully raised for a new society and a new world, which will move to eliminate the urban/suburban contradiction, and antagonism, in the context of the transformation of society, and the world, overall and the abolition of profound inequalities and divisions—opposing, overcoming and moving beyond the parasitism which is such an integral and indispensable part of the operation and dynamics of imperialism, and has reached such unprecedented heights in 'late imperial America.' In short, we need, in today's circumstances, a counter-culture that contributes to and is increasingly part of building a movement for revolution—in opposition to a counter-revolutionary culture. We need a culture of radical opposition to the essence of everything that is wrong with this society and system, and the many different manifestations of that; we need an active searching for a radically better world, within which revolution and communism is a powerful and continually growing pole of attraction." (BAsics 3:24)
I am proud to take up Avakian's challenge and take responsibility for helping to kick off, develop and spread this new radical revolt as part of bringing into being a whole new "counter-culture that contributes to and is increasingly part of building a movement for revolution—in opposition to a counter-revolutionary culture." I am writing partly in the hopes of inspiring many others—including those who may be very new to this movement for revolution or even picking up a copy of Revolution newspaper for the first time or reading it online; those who have been following the movement for revolution "from the sidelines" for awhile; and those who are already heavily involved in building this movement for revolution—to grasp what this radical revolt inspired by BAsics is and why it is so critical, and to check out and be part of it in a wide variety of ways.
I am also proud to answer the call to "Shake Up and Wake Up the Campus" by helping to introduce whole new generations of students to Bob Avakian and to the BAsics, starting with the several-week saturation of the special issue of Revolution aiming to reach tens of thousands of students in the next several weeks.
And I think there are definite and important connections between these two initiatives.
As it says on the back cover of the book: "You can't change the world if you don't know the BAsics." "Meeting" Bob Avakian and learning the BAsics can dramatically transform how entire generations of students understand the world they live in, what kind of world is necessary, possible and desirable, what it will take to get to that world, and their own responsibility and morality in the face of that. It will let these students know that we are building a movement for revolution, we have the leadership we need for this revolution, and they need to get with that revolution and follow that leadership. It can inspire many of these students to do exactly that, in different ways and on different levels, starting now. This new radical revolt inspired by BAsics, in turn, is an important vehicle through which many new people—including whole new sections of youth and students—will "meet" Bob Avakian and learn the BAsics.
To get a sense of this, think about the historic night of April 11 in Harlem—"On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World." As "And Now...A Glimpse of Spring, A Reporter's Notebook on April 11 in Harlem" in Revolution # 231 put it: "Hundreds of people of diverse ages, backgrounds, and political perspectives came together in one place for an evening of jazz, funk, soul, rock, theater, dance, poetry, visual arts, commentary, and film. All of it aching for, giving voice to, and infused with the possibility of a radically different world than the maddening planet we live on now. All of it unleashed by—and cohered around—the occasion of the publication of BAsics, a comprehensive yet succinct new book of quotations and short essays by Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, with much of the evening's performances flowing from and a large portion of it explicitly inspired by the life and the work of Avakian." As a result, people experienced Avakian and what he's brought forward in a new, broad and multifaceted way. While the idea of this new radical revolt is not to duplicate April 11, we are going for that same basic dynamic.
More broadly, this radical revolt can inspire, unleash and give voice to a widespread questioning and defiance of the world as it is and an envisioning and celebration of the world as it could be. It can play a big role in showing people that there is no "permanent necessity" to the way things are. All this, in turn, is critical in terms of building a movement for revolution, accumulating forces for that revolution, and bringing forward the thousands who will reach and influence millions today and then lead those millions to make revolution in a future revolutionary situation.
To be clear, this obviously does not mean that everyone who is part of this radical revolt will be a revolutionary or be approaching it from the standpoint of building a movement for revolution; in fact, for this new form to be what it needs to be and have the impact it needs to have will require a lot more elasticity than that, with people from a broad range of perspectives being part of this for a broad range of reasons and contributing in a wide variety of ways. But I would add two points: One, it is important to keep in mind that people do not become revolutionary communists according to a formula, in one fell swoop or along a linear pathway; art and culture can play a very important role, as part of a mix of things, in shaping how people see the world in an ongoing and continually developing way. In fact, if you read From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey From Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, A Memoir by Bob Avakian, you will see that artistic, cultural, and intellectual ferment—while obviously one of many factors in Avakian's development—played an important role in his becoming first a radical and then a revolutionary communist and then the most advanced revolutionary communist leader on the planet. And a deep and ongoing appreciation of the need for and role of art and culture, "awe and wonder" and "poetic spirit" is a major element of how Avakian has re-envisioned and advanced revolution and communism and a big part of what makes him the rare and precious leader that he is. Secondly, even while clearly not every individual who is part of this radical revolt will be—or become—a revolutionary, this new culture as a whole can nonetheless be an important part of building a movement for revolution.
On that point, consider this quote by Avakian from "Making Revolution And Emancipating Humanity":
"But, fundamentally (and, so to speak, underneath all this) freedom does lie in the recognition and transformation of necessity. The point is that this recognition and the ability to carry out that transformation goes through a lot of different 'channels,' and is not tied in a positivist or reductionist or linear way to however the main social contradictions are posing themselves at a given time. If that were the case—or if we approached it that way—we would liquidate the role of art and much of the superstructure in general. Why do we battle in the realm of morals? It is because there is relative initiative and autonomy in the superstructure. And the more correctly that's given expression, the better it will be, in terms of the kind of society we have at a given time and in terms of our ability to recognize necessity and carry out the struggle to transform necessity." (See p. 11, in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, a Revolution pamphlet, May 1, 2008)
Think of John Carlos and Tommy Smith raising their fists for Black power at the 1968 Olympics. Think of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit." Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'." Nina Simone's "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free." John Lennon's "Imagine." Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." Public Enemy's "Fight the Power." Green Day's "American Idiot." These are but a few individual examples of the powerful and lasting impact that radical art and culture can have in changing how people see the world around them. More broadly, think about the role of things like Woodstock—and the whole 1960s upheaval and counter-culture it was a part of—in terms of helping to unmask the illegitimacy and immorality of this system, and putting forth far a different and better moral authority, ethos, and set of values and relations among people.
But this is a key point: This radical revolt that is being kicked is not about creating "radical culture" in its own right, or trying to duplicate radical cultural expressions of the past, or putting forth a utopian vision of how we wish the world could be, even while this actually needs to involve many people who are viewing things and contributing from these standpoints. But at the core of this radical revolt is BAsics—a concentration of Avakian's liberating, scientifically based understanding and vision of a whole new way the world actually can be—a communist world free of all exploitation and oppression—and everything that is involved in getting there.
As Avakian says in Part 2 of "Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon" (see Revolution #233 for this excerpt):
"So here again is the great need for a 'cultural revolution': what I've referred to as a mass revolt—with youth as a driving force—daring to defy and repudiate the oppressive, degrading and suffocating relations, values and morals of this system, and those who enforce and uphold all this; being, in opposition to that, in many different ways and to the greatest extent possible, a living embodiment of new and liberating morals, values, relations and culture, as well as a growing force of resistance against the continual outrages and injustices of this system. And those who consciously, scientifically understand the need for revolution to do away with the system and bring a new, radically different and better system into being, with the ultimate goal of a whole new world, a communist world, must foster and breathe further life into this 'cultural revolution,' with all the creativity and imagination, the questioning, ferment and upheaval that this would, and should, involve as part of building a movement for the revolution we need—fighting the power, and transforming the people, for this revolution—aiming for nothing less than to do away with this system and actually bring that new world into being."
Everywhere you look, the need and the basis for this—and for winning people to be a part of it—is visible. If, for any length of time, you just walk down the street, turn on the TV, browse the Internet, flip on the radio, spend some time talking with people or listening to conversations at a coffee shop or bus stop, you will be greeted by a culture and society of brutality, cruelty, consumerism, commodification, competition, degradation and oppression. And you will be greeted by the fact that there are many people—especially youth—who hate all this, feel suffocated by it, and would jump at the chance to be part of something that goes up against this bullshit and raises people's sights to something far loftier and more liberating.
Recent coverage in Revolution newspaper has also brought this very sharply to light. For instance, I was really struck by the two-part article "End-of-Year Conversation with Black High School Students: Deeply Interested in the World...Acutely Aware this System Has No Future for Them" (see Revolution #240 and #241). The article's observation that "These young people basically hate most of their life," was incredibly damning of this system, culture, and society and what they do to the youth. Among the other things that hit me were the palpable frustration of these youth with what they are taught (and not taught) in schools, and with the pervasive superficiality and consumerism of the culture; the constant brutality, degradation, and harassment they face at the hands of the pigs; the sense of suffocation they experience—and to some degree are conscious of—as a result of dominant societal gender roles and relations; and their defiance and hunger for engaging big ideas and a vision of a completely different way the world could be. Actually, even the title of the article alone gives a powerful sense of both the need and potential for this new radical revolt. And then we have to think about the fact that the conditions and sentiments of these youth in many ways speaks for tens of millions of youth in this society.
Or, returning to the piece "A Plan to Shake Up and Wake Up the Campus," the article's analysis of the dreary, repressive and stifling climate that increasingly characterizes college campuses was very heavy. The quotes in the piece from Darren Fleet's article in Adbusters give a sense of how the phenomena and ethos of parasitism and suburbanism have taken pronounced expression on these campuses, with the sick dog-eat-dog commodity relations of this system penetrating into every aspect of campus life. The Revolution article then put forth an insight I thought was really important, including as it relates to this new radical revolt:
"This description is all too accurate. Yet beneath the surface, and in response to this, there are yearnings and stirrings for something radically different that cannot find air to breathe without what we are bringing. BAsics being powerfully in the mix will draw these sentiments to the surface and begin to challenge the dominant ethos and culture with some certitude that things should not be—and don't have to be—this way. These campuses badly need shaking up. These campuses sorely cry out for the movement for revolution. These campuses are way past ready, whether the students know it right now or not, for...BAsics."
On August 4, at Revolution Books in New York City, there was a significant, if initial, glimpse of what a "radical revolt against a revolting culture" inspired by BAsics can look like and unleash. The evening witnessed art, culture, and performances centered on the theme of BAsics 3:16 ("An Appeal to Those the System Has Cast Off") and the letter from a prisoner, "The Conditions at Pelican Bay May Shock the Public." The recent hunger strike of prisoners at Pelican Bay and other prisons throughout California demanding an end to torturous conditions figured heavily into the evening. Some of the performances that night, which in different ways gave voice to the theme, included: Readings of BAsics 3:16 in English and Spanish as well as the "Conditions May Shock the Public" letter; a poem that a woman wrote and read about a person she knows who is on death row; a short poem a revolutionary had written on a banner sent to the hunger strikers that spoke to police terror, mass incarceration and the criminalization of a generation and the need for revolution as envisioned by Bob Avakian to do away with all this; the reading of a quote from former Black Panther George Jackson about the vicious repression of revolutionaries by prison authorities followed by a quote from Mao's Red Book about the role of art in making revolution; a poem in Spanish speaking to the conditions that prisoners face as well as their ability to transform into emancipators of humanity; a performance condemning this country's vicious history of racial oppression, from Jim Crow segregation to the present; the reading of BAsics 5:11 ("There is a place where epistemology and morality meet...") followed by several statements of support for the hunger strikers written by prominent people in different spheres; the reading of "Letter to the Hood," a poem written by a prisoner at Pelican Bay which calls on the oppressed masses to rupture with the bullshit this system catches them up in and get with the revolution and speaks to the role of BAsics in enabling them to make that rupture (see Revolution #240); and a video recently shown to tens of thousands of people at the L.A. Rising Festival with the audio of Avakian's "No more generations of our youth" quote from his talk Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, accompanied by a beautiful slide show with photos of youth.
Again, this was an exciting but also initial experience. This radical revolt is just getting off the ground. It needs to get much bigger and much broader. And many people are needed to be part of making this happen.
The next installment of this form will be:
Inspired by BAsics: from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian
An afternoon of Spoken Word, Music, Art
"RADICAL REVOLT" Against A Revolting Culture
August 30 at Shrine World Music in Harlem, (Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd between 133rd and 134th Streets), from 4-8 p.m.
If you are in the New York City area, you should come to Shrine World Music on August 30 as part of helping this radical revolt go to another level. And you should invite as many people as you can to come with you. More broadly, whether or not you are in New York, you have an important role to play in this. One key way you can help take responsibility for developing and spreading this as part of building a movement for revolution is by writing into Revolution newspaper, even if what you write is brief: Share your thoughts or questions about this new radical revolt. Share your ideas—both for the August 30 program, and in an ongoing way for this new culture we are forging.
To close with another quote from Part 2 of Avakian's talk "Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon"—and specifically the section titled "A Radical Revolt Against a Revolting Culture" (See Revolution #233 for this excerpt):
"All this is not just of minor or secondary significance, but of strategic importance, has strategic implications, in terms of repolarization—for revolution."
Send us your comments.
Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
Taking inspiration from the courageous actions of the California prison hunger strikers, who came together across racial and other dividing lines from within the depths of the most dehumanizing and degrading conditions, and recognizing the moral imperative to take urgent action commensurate with the heroic stand of the hunger strikers, I took the lead in organizing a Forum on the California Prison Hunger Strike & Torture in U.S. Prisons, held in Chicago on August 4, 2011. Sponsored by the Chicago and Evanston Chapters of World Can't Wait and the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, and endorsed by the Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, the Forum brought together a broad range of people deeply concerned about and actively involved in opposing torture in U.S. prisons.
After opening the Forum with a discussion of the background of the hunger strike and the prisoners' demands, including situating the prisoners' actions in the context of the explosion of mass incarceration in the U.S., several panelists spoke.
Alan Mills is the Legal Director of the Uptown People's Law Center, which has been engaged in litigation to change conditions at Tamms, Illinois supermax prison which was directly modeled on Pelican Bay, since the day it opened. He began by describing the massive increase in the prison population in the U.S. since the 1970s, with the United State's current prison population of nearly 2.5 million literally off the charts—an incarceration rate never seen in the history of the world. He explained that the prison population in the U.S. is not linked to the crime rate: the crime rate has dropped since the 1990s, while the prison population has continued to explode. As one stunning example of the racist nature of the system of mass incarceration imposed by the rulers of the U.S., he compared the rate of incarceration of adult Black males in apartheid South Africa, a regime universally condemned as one of the most racist in the history of the world. The U.S. currently incarcerates adult Black men at a rate that is over five times higher than apartheid South Africa!
What are people in prison for? Contrary to what many might believe, Mills explained: "People in prison are not there because of murder, rape and mayhem. People are in prison because of drugs. That's what happened in the mid-70s. People didn't go out and start killing more people. The federal government, followed by the state governments, cracked down on people who possess drugs and they all went to prison... Not surprisingly, it's also not racially neutral. Whites use drugs, just like everybody else—whites don't go to prison... If police concentrated the same resources on college campuses as they concentrate in public housing projects, you'd have a lot more young white college-educated men in prison."
Mills then went on to describe the horrendous conditions in California and Illinois prisons, supermax and SHU conditions in particular. He showed photographs of "group therapy" in a California SHU, where prisoners sit inside phone-booth size cages: "This is mental health treatment in California. They put you in these little cages, and this is called 'group therapy.' The therapist out there gave up, he said 'I can't treat men like this,' so he brings a guitar in... and plays, at least gives them some music to listen to during therapy session—that's mental health treatment in California. They're the lucky ones. If you try to commit suicide in California you get moved to a suicide bed, but there aren't enough of them, so you sit there in these cages, for hours and hours and hours and sometimes days. And in at least one case... someone died in there. Standing in a pool of urine and vomit and blood, when he sliced his arm waiting for a suicide bed in a cage."
After further describing the conditions in Tamms, Mills talked about receiving a video tape as part of their legal case challenging the conditions there; the tape recorded the cellblock, and they timed the number of minutes that a prisoner actually spends talking to someone at their cell door. The average prisoner got about 45 seconds a day of "face-to-face" contact with someone, through their cell door.
Professor Stephen Eisenman spoke next, with a presentation called "Tamms Supermax and Solitary Confinement: A Ten Point Indictment." Eisenman is Professor of Art History at Northwestern University, the author of several books including The Abu Ghraib Effect, and a prison reform activist with Tamms Year Ten who regularly publishes his criticisms of the "penal state."
Professor Eisenman began by recounting the history of the use of solitary confinement in the U.S., which was rarely used as punishment until the opening of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia in 1829 and has been rarely used ever since—except for the last 25 years. Prisoners in Eastern State were kept in small cells for 23 hours a day, with one hour out for solitary exercise in an adjoining yard. Meals were served through a slot in the cell door, and there was no possibility of physical or even visual contact with other prisoners—whenever prisoners left their cell they were hooded. A similar, though somewhat less severe, regimen was developed at the same time at Auburn Prison in New York.
But, as Professor Eisenman described, "The efficacy and morality of solitary confinement was soon challenged. Within a few years of opening, Eastern State was condemned by prison reformers for increasing recidivism rate and causing prisoners to become insane. Inhumane conditions become the subject of international notoriety." And by the end of the 1800s, even the U.S. Supreme Court condemned the use of solitary confinement. Until Alcatraz D Block opened in 1934, solitary confinement remained very rare, and even very rarely used in Alcatraz until it closed in 1963. Between 1963 and 1983, no federal prison had solitary confinement as its main operative function. Then in 1983, the federal prison at Marion, Illinois established a permanent lockdown and six years later the first supermax prison opened at Pelican Bay.
He went on to document that international law and UN treaties consider long-term solitary confinement and sensory deprivation to be forms of torture or "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment." He documented that solitary confinement is prohibited by numerous UN conventions. After reading one UN prohibition against medical or scientific experimentation without the pre-consent of people involved, Professor Eisenman made the observation, "We really are conducting long-term experimentation of solitary confinement, of isolation, the kind of experimentation that we tend to associate with Nazi doctors, or with horror movies..."
In closing, Professor Eisenman poignantly pronounced: "The weight of history, the judgment of courts, the testimony of physicians and psychiatrists and the determination of international law all argue for the elimination of long-term solitary confinement and supermax prisons. How much longer will the state and federal government uphold them? How much longer will this violation of human rights and reason continue? States as different as Maine and Mississippi have made major strides in reducing the use of long-term solitary confinement. My organization... Tamms Year Ten has succeed in pressuring the IDOC, the Illinois Department of Corrections, to reduce their supermax population by between one-fourth and one-third, and to obtain finally the prisoners' rights to make telephone calls... But the basic armature of isolation at Tamms and in other supermax prisons such as Pelican Bay remains, almost 200 years after it was shown at Eastern State penitentiary to be cruel and useless."
The next panelist, Dr. Antonio Martinez, is a psychologist with the Institute for Survivors of Human Rights Abuses and co-founder of the Marjorie Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture. He has lectured about the trauma and consequences of torture and abuse throughout the world.
Dr. Martinez expressed his visceral reaction to the exposure of the inhumanity of the torturous conditions of isolation that tens of thousands of prisoners languish under in the U.S. "I'm appalled. I have heard so many stories of torture around the world, and when you hear these kind of things happening right here in the United States, not that I am surprised, but it's in your own context, yes? I wonder how, what this makes you feel, as a person living in this context..."
He went on to further describe some of the feelings that the Forum had brought out: "One is the reaffirmation of normality in us, and 'the Other,' that is the sick, the 'bad person,' reinforcing that we are ok, and they are totally wrong. That we are the repository of total virtue and they are the scourge of humanity, and because of that they don't deserve treatment as a human being. That's one response that probably at some level we all feel because we are human and we have that kind of reaction, especially if we have been victims of a crime at one moment, it becomes the reaction of attacking 'the Other,' and by attacking 'the Other' losing our own humanity.
"The other reaction I have every time that I talk about this, and that's why I sometimes I do this as a sense of duty, I don't enjoy this at all because every time that I talk about this topic and I have to first face seeing how human beings can be so cruel to human beings just to maintain a society of privilege, because this is not in isolation, we have a very political context to why this happens in this society and it doesn't happen in the Pygmy people, for example, who don't own anything and don't have a sense of private property."
Speaking to the broader impact of the use of torture, he explained that one of its major effects is to instill fear in the population, to keep people from stepping forward and challenging those in power. He recounted an experience he had, when he was invited by Amnesty International to give a healing workshop for women of Atenco. In May 2006, the peasant women of Atenco, Mexico had an agreement with the municipal authorities to allow them to sell flowers in the market square. However, when they arrived on the morning of May3, masses of police were arrayed and waiting to stop them. They staged a protest, where the police killed two people (including a 14-year-old boy) and injured many more. In the next few days, more protests were held, and the police reacted with a campaign of beatings, house raids and indiscriminate detention. Of the hundreds of people detained, dozens of women suffered beatings, rapes and sexual assaults at the hands of the police while detained.
On his way to Mexico to give the healing workshop, Dr. Martinez was detained by security, who held him in a room and claimed that a person with his name was an international terrorist and that they had to "check to make sure it wasn't him." They held him for over half an hour in isolation and then came back and told him they would have to keep a copy of his passport. And this had a real effect on him, "It was difficult for me to denounce the things I wanted to denounce. I had to stop and had to remember what I was, what was my center, my heart, what was the center of my humanity and decided: other people are taking bigger risks than me and I need to take these risks and say what I came here to say. But it really choked me up, really."
That fear and control is exactly what torture is used for: "And that's what all these things are about, its about social control. Its about a society—and you know this, I'm just repeating—it's about a society that needs to control 'the Other' and to let people know that they are under control. Because 2% of the population that owns 80% of the resources wants to maintain business as usual. That's what it's all about. In the last moment, that's what its all about—about social control."
Dr. Martinez then went on to compare the use of torture in U.S. prisons to experiences of torture in other countries: "What I hear here is very similar to what I hear about the torture chambers in Guatemala, in Colombia, in Chile. Actually in Chile, Pinochet was more humane. They allowed people to be among others, they allowed some music, they allowed some type of interaction and they allowed more generous visits. And that was Pinochet. So what does that say about us as a society where all these things are the rule and not the exception? ...It reflects a very increasing trend to what I call, because I haven't found a better name, friendly fascism. With a smiley face. Where we have two United States: one that is for all of us 'law-abiding citizens' with certain economic status; and another one for what it calls the 'dangerous classes,' the classes that need to be controlled, the classes that have to be measured and observed. And where unfortunately psychology—my profession that sometimes I hate, to be a psychologist—but psychologists are a big, big part of it. Because just as part of our existence we contribute to this mess by creating an illusion that social problems are individual problems, yes?"
In describing the effects of isolation and solitary confinement, Dr. Martinez explained: "All human experience is contextual. We know that we are human because we interact with other humans. If that is broke, it's broken the most essential part of what it means to be a social person. Being a human is to be social. So what they are doing in these prisons is breaking, breaking the individual to the point that some of them will be very difficult to return. They would be better if they tortured them physically and they killed them rather than to do that to another human being. And then a percentage of them will return to society eventually and then we all will pay for that crime that they are doing—this is criminal, the situation and in any international court would be a criminal act what they are doing there."
People subjected to these forms of torture struggle with so much internal fear, depression and other symptoms that one of the most debilitating effects of isolation and solitary confinement is that it serves to make it even more difficult for people to organize for social change.
The use of torture has wide-reaching effects, including on those who participate in torture, as Dr. Martinez recounted: "We have to think that these people are working there 8 hours, sometimes overtime 10 hours. What it does to the mind of a guard having to do all these cruel things to these prisoners... One of the fundamental positions of this system, this monstrous system that we live in, is that there's a separation between work and family. That what happens at work doesn't have anything to do with your family. But we know that that's a myth, that you cannot be going around being a crocodile in your business trying to eat everybody alive, treating other people like objects not as subjects, and suddenly you enter into the reality of the space of your house and you turn into this sweet angel of compassion and love. So what does this type of treatment do to the guards but [also] the families of the guards? What does it do also to society? What does it do to the children of these prisoners that are not able to have human contact with their father or their mother?"
In closing, Dr. Martinez tied together the haunting effects of torture: "So in reality all these parts that look isolated there, it filters down into the fabric of society that we are constructing every day. And in reality I don't want to be part of that society because it is a society that is based on the oppression of 'the Other,' on fascist oppression, on the use of force, on the use of intimidation. I don't know what else to say. Because it is appalling that this type of thing is happening and we still can call ourselves a democracy. It's acting against our own interests to do this type of thing. And it really will create harder criminals and people without hope, and communities without hope, because this filters down. Torture in Latin America was always a secret, a secret that everybody knows, and this type of behavior that is also torture, is a secret that in order to work as it is intended to work has to leak out. This is not by chance that we know about these things, because part of this type of behavior in these prisons is to create social control over us right here."
The final panelist, Laurie Jo Reynolds, organizer of Tamms Year Ten, a grassroots campaign to end the use of long-term isolation at Tamms, spoke about her work in organizing against torture. She highlighted a prominent art campaign where they used mud-stencils proclaiming "Tamms is Torture" and "End Torture in Illinois" on sidewalks and walls across the city to expose the use of torture. She also discussed the work they've done in bringing out the humanity of the men suffering torture in Tamms, including mounting more than 50 educational, artistic and cultural events about the use of isolation and segregation in Illinois prisons. She also described the work they've done in pushing for legal reform of the prison system through the legislative process.
In closing, I reiterated the heroic example that the hunger strikers have provided us, including being the basis for organizing the Forum, and the exposure they've brought to the pervasive and systematic use of long-term isolation as torture in U.S. prisons. People have a moral responsibility to act both in support of the hunger strikers, including ensuring that their demands are met and that they do not suffer retaliation for their peaceful political protest, as well as to take actions that are commensurate with the risk and the stand that the prisoners have taken coming together on the hunger strike to end the use of torture in U.S. prisons.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
From A World to Win News Service
May 30, 2011. A World to Win News Service. Following is the second instalment of a report written for AWTWNS by Samuel Albert. The first instalment described what the revolt in Tunisia achieved and how it took place. This instalment discusses the underlying and triggering factors behind this revolt.
If poverty alone were enough to set off revolt, Tunisia would have been one of the last Arab countries to explode. It is among the most socially and economically developed of the non-oil exporting Arab countries. Few people go hungry or have nowhere to live. Tunis has nothing like the slums of Cairo—nor its displays of wealth. Yet Tunisia is also a country where the minimum wage is about $216 a month and many people wish they could make that much, if they can find work at all.
A lot more people have Internet connections than have flush toilets in Sidi Bouzid, the town in the interior where the revolt began. About a quarter of the slightly more than 10 million Tunisians have some Net access, and there are two million Facebook accounts. Images of Sidi Bouzid and the spreading uprising were brought to nearly every home by Al Jazeera.
Many Tunisians are directly connected to the rest of the world, and they are acutely aware of what the modern world has to offer that is denied to them. They want to know why.
Tunisia's place in the international network of economic, political and social relations is what constitutes the stage on which the various actors in the revolt played their part. Like other Third World countries, its economy is organized according to the needs of the world market, which is not a flat playing field but an expression of the division of the world into monopoly capitalist countries and the oppressed countries whose economies are subordinated to foreign finance capital. Because of the domination of capital based in New York, London, Paris and so forth, instead of developing national economies where the various branches of industry and agriculture more or less fit together, the different parts of their economies are more connected to the international market than to each other.
Tunisia, considered a model by the IMF, has had the highest growth rate in Africa, an average of about five percent over several decades. But its economic subordination has held back a far greater potential development, and the distorted development the country has experienced is a major source of the people's misery.
A central question in Tunisia, as in other oppressed countries, is agriculture. In Europe and the U.S. farming is subsidized because food self-sufficiency is a prerequisite for an independent and balanced national economy. In ancient times Tunisia fed much of the Mediterranean world. Now the best land in the region along the coast is used for a handful of export crops and the rest neglected.
Investment goes to where it can be most profitable, to plunder resources for export in industries like phosphate mining that contribute little to overall development, and to the coastal region (where roads aren't needed because goods are shipped abroad by sea), while most agriculture stagnates for lack of resources, even phosphate-based fertilizer. Whole sections of the people in the interior are pulled into the coastal cities to work in export-dependent light industry and call centers and other services provided to Europe, while the rest of the people and country are left to rot. The market-driven international division of labor and organization of the global economy determines development in every corner of Tunisia, both where investment reaches and where it doesn't. The relative underdevelopment of the interior that is a result of the dominance of imperialist capital makes investment more profitable by bringing down the cost of labor throughout the country.
Now once again tourism is being promoted as Tunisia's salvation. Even if the rate of a million tourists a year could be sustained—let alone vastly increased—in today's global economic situation, this "industry" has already proved itself a destroyer of nations.
The prostitution that has inevitably accompanied it is the ugliest facet of a trade whose basic reason for existence is not Tunisia's natural beauty or its archaeological wonders but the inequality that makes it cheap and turns its people into servants instead of offering them the opportunity to contribute and develop their talents. The more tourism grows and gobbles resources, the worse it is for the environment and a balanced national development that could make possible the all-around development of human beings.
In fact, one of Tunisia's main exports is its people. At any given moment one in ten Tunisians lives abroad, half of them in France and the rest in Italy, Libya and other countries. Most are workers, sometimes in services because of their language skills. They also include teachers, technicians, engineers and other professionals who are a bargain for the countries where they work, not only because of salary inequality but even more because the cost of their education is borne by Tunisians. It is an advantage for Tunisia that so many of its people know the world, but this situation is also a huge drain on its potential and one of the many sources of national humiliation.
Since Ben Ali fell and the security services began to falter in patrolling Tunisia's shorelines and coastal waters, tens of thousands of Tunisians have embarked in small boats trying to escape a dead-end life. Probably thousands have drowned or died of thirst trying to reach a Europe that is still eager to exploit them there, although in far smaller numbers than before the current financial crisis. These deaths are a dreadful human indicator of how much the international market and the oppressive economic and political relations it represents have imprisoned Tunisia, and how much the country's development has come at the expense of its people.
Many, maybe most Tunisians blame Ben Ali for this situation, as do some international experts. It's important to see what's true and not true about that, especially if your viewpoint is how Tunisia could become radically different and not just how Humpty Dumpty could be put back together again.
The Ben Ali regime was based on a patronage system largely organized around family ties. Looking downward, this meant a system of political favors right down to the poorest neighborhood. Whether or not you got a job or a health care card or other things depended on your ties to the regime and who you were related to (and being related to the wrong people, such as a regime opponent, would mean constant trouble). Looking upward, it meant that the biggest sources of wealth were in the hands of the family of Ben Ali and his wife, Leila Trabelsi. Nothing could be done without bribes, and anyone starting a major business had to give the ruling "clan" a stake in their company. The importance of inherited personal relationships throughout this relatively developed economy and society seems to be a holdover from feudal and other pre-capitalist social relations.
Similarly to Syria and Egypt, when Ben Ali's liberalization of what was once a state-enterprise-dominated economy began to put old and new enterprises into private hands, more fully bringing market forces into play, that led to a greater concentration of wealth among fewer people—people associated with the dominant "clan."
This may have been a serious drag on capitalist development, since it made foreign investors reluctant to do business in Tunisia and held back and even locked out some major domestic capitalists. This is the opinion expressed by the U.S. ambassador in a cable to Washington exposed by WikiLeaks last year. It may also be true, as some Tunisians argue, that there was a split between the capitalist and landowner "clan" associated with Ben Ali and the "clan" associated with Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia's first president after independence, from whom Ben Ali seized power in a palace coup.
But it is not true that the concentration of wealth among an increasingly smaller circle; the instability and deteriorating conditions faced by those who considered themselves middle class; and the increasing inability of the country's health care, educational and other social welfare systems to deliver on what Tunisians consider their rightful entitlements; can be explained only or even mainly by "kleptocracy," the boundless greed of the regime "clan." These developments are common not only to the Arab countries and the Third World but most of the capitalist world today. This kind of polarization is a general feature of capitalist accumulation under the conditions of the necessities and current economic crisis faced by the global imperialist system, even though this works out differently in different countries.
All this sets the stage for what happened, but it doesn't at all mean that the masses were simply pawns in someone else's game. The mass revolt intensified the development of splits within the ruling class, which in turn encouraged the development of the mass movement. One of the least understood and most important factors is the dynamic interaction of various sections of the people themselves
For decades the regime remained unthreatened and nothing happened because it was "common knowledge" that nothing ever could happen. Most people were silent and passive because they thought everyone else would remain silent and passive. Then, when youth in the interior towns took Bouazizi's tragic suicide as a signal that they, too, had nothing to lose, and teachers encouraged them in throwing stones at the police while lawyers and artists spoke up for them, that made students and other youth in the big cities, especially Tunis, much braver and determined to go over from the Net to the street. All this in turn reacted back on the provincial rebellions.
The January 12 demonstration in Sfax (the country's second-biggest city but one disfavored in comparison with other coastal cities) seems to have played a pivotal role in bringing the provincial revolt to the capital. This was the first big demonstration to openly demand that Ben Ali get out. But while it was the biggest protest up to then, it was still probably only about 30,000 people. Its political significance was far more important than its size.
Not only had the regime lost its legitimacy, it had lost its ability to terrorize a growing number of people, even in the country's urban centers, and this of course made it lose even more legitimacy in the eyes of its own supporters and wavering elements. Suddenly instead of everyone at least tolerating the regime, "everyone" was against it.
It is remarkable that the regime party, which claimed to have a million members, was not able to organize more support. It has been argued that with privatization and the disastrous decline in public services, the ruling party became unable to deliver favors to the worse-off sections of the people who had been most dependent on them. According to some scholars, the lower classes were a more dependable base of support for the ruling party (RCD) than some of the better-off families who, for instance, might prefer to see a private doctor and thus not really need a state health-care card. An activist in Sidi Bouzid explained that the ruling party leadership was more used to deploying its supporters as thugs than as political activists. According to regime figures, 20 percent of the population of Sidi Bouzid were RCD members, one of the highest concentrations in the country.
The regime called for its masses in the capital to rally to its support on the morning of January 14, and the police, unable to identify who was who, at first did not try to stop people from assembling on Bourguiba avenue. Even if the crowd might have included pro-regime people, it ended up solidly united against the police and their chief, Ben Ali.
In speaking with dozens of people, including some who said they were among the main organizers of these events, one of the most striking things is this: few people, if any, got involved in this movement with the idea that they were going to drive out Ben Ali.
It's not that no one wanted to. Today nearly everyone says how happy they were to see him go. But very few people in Tunisia (and leading experts on Tunisia abroad) thought that the regime would ever fall in the sudden and dramatic way it did. What most people hoped for, at best, was a gradual opening, a process of gaining democratic rights. Few people, if anyone, openly called for the regime to be overthrown until close to the very end, or even after Ben Ali fled. The leader of the PCOT, Hamma Hammami, said that his party was "practically the first" to issue such a call, on January 10, four days before the end, when the slogan "Ben Ali clear out!" suddenly swept the country.
Overnight, it seemed like a whole people were chanting it in unison, thrilled to be able to shout those words as loudly as they could and hardly able to believe their ears.
In a tumultuous mass interview in a café on Bourguiba avenue that began with a half-dozen university students and younger teenagers and eventually involved many of their friends, they contended that they (some of them specifically, but more generally other youth like them) were the only ones to call for "the revolution," even though those who came to the biggest demonstrations involved a far broader sampling of society. Even their elders grudgingly admit that this was the case in Tunis, although they argue that support from lawyers' organizations (a key force), artists and especially the trade unions gave the movement its power.
None of what happened was planned by anyone. Most of the left on a national level was held back by their belief that only gradual change was possible. Youth with less fully developed political views acted spontaneously and took the lead, not by "organizing" the movement but by setting its terms and pushing it ahead in the belief that they would win because their cause was just—without being at all clear on what "winning" would be.
There are antecedents to the revolt, notably an upsurge in the southern phosphate mining town of Gafsa in 2008, sparked by miners' widows protesting the fact that jobs in the industry were going to people with regime connections instead of their sons. Interior cities like Sidi Bouzid, Kasserine, Redeyef and Gafsa all saw sharp outbreaks during 2010. Police repression always followed. In the capital, while open political life, especially demonstrations, was not allowed and many people suffered arrests and other forms of persecution, and while the media and other forms of public expression were muzzled, still it seems that consciously or not, the opposition had achieved a certain modus vivendi with the regime, which refrained from fiercer repression as long as people kept their political work low-profile and their demands within certain bounds. Revolutionary work and any call for Ben Ali's overthrow were definitely not allowed, but frankly, it seems that people who consider themselves revolutionaries went over to adapting themselves almost totally to what they were allowed to do.
Their idea was that by working through legal channels and organizations, raising and organizing people around legal demands that did not challenge the whole economic and political system, and not challenging traditional thinking and social relations, gradually the masses of people would become conscious of the need for political liberty, and once that was achieved, the conditions would be prepared for more revolutionary changes.
They thought that if they tried to lead a revolutionary movement before the masses of people were ready for that, they would be isolated. But then when a political crisis broke out and many people—a minority of the population but still a critical mass—decided that they could not live in the old way, the left was caught unprepared and could not fully connect with that opportunity. The youth, it turned out, suddenly became far more radical than the cynical leftists who thought they had a "realistic" plan for gradual change.
Some people abroad claim that the revolt in Tunisia was essentially a trade union movement, but that's half wrong and half misleading. It's wrong because the unions followed the youth, who had no organizations, and misleading because until nearly the end the main organizations that did take part were those of teachers and others members of the intelligentsia. Furthermore, the debate about how much the leftists working through the unions and other groups helped spread the revolt is beside the point, because all they did was help people do what they were already doing spontaneously.
What they did not do, and what no one did, was lead this movement in the sense of striving to impart a conscious direction, even in a limited sense of driving out Ben Ali, much less trying to transform the spontaneous movement into a conscious movement to seize power and begin the kind of revolutionary transformations that could actually satisfy people's needs and demands.
There's not much evidence for the claim that these events were the result of a gradual accumulation of organization and consciousness over the last few years, either among the majority of people, or even the few hundreds and thousands who first revolted and the hundreds of thousands who actively joined in during the last few days. It could be argued that yes, there were outbreaks and righteous struggles, but they were defeated, and wasn't that a negative factor weighing on people?
People's desire for change, and especially whether or not they acted on that desire, was interrelated with whether or not they thought that was possible. There was a confluence of dynamically interacting factors that came together to produce a situation in which, almost overnight, the ruling classes could not rule in the old way and the people were no longer willing to go on living in the old way either, and these two conditions—which Lenin said define a revolutionary situation—reverberated back and forth.
It is hard to write about these complex interactions without falling into simplistic literary devices, but the point is that the extremely powerful dynamics within such situations can transform individuals, whole sections of the people and the political landscape overnight.
French capital and France's "political class" were very closely supportive of Ben Ali, just as they had been with his predecessor and fellow "strong man" Bourguiba. But as the American ambassador's memos indicate, the U.S. became quite willing to see Ben Ali go—and the U.S. had acquired considerable influence in Tunisia, especially among the armed forces who are largely American-equipped. Such armaments are not just an expression of political support, but can also be a source of political influence, since they mean that the Tunisian military trains and works closely with their American counterparts.
Serious observers agree that what forced Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia on January 14 was not that the mass upheaval could no longer be repressed but that the armed forces refused to fully step in when the police and other security services could no longer do so. A Tunisian newspaper reported that Ben Ali asked the armed forces to bomb Kasserine in December, but they disobeyed. It is known that the army—at the top levels—refused to give the order for tanks to fire on demonstrators in Tunis.
Regime loyalists apparently tried to force the armed forces to intervene through deliberate provocations, including the snipers said to have fired on the crowds—many dead were reportedly shot in the head or chest from above—and the mysterious roaming squads that spread random terror in the neighborhoods on Ben Ali's last night. If violence became generalized, they seemed to think, the army could no longer maintain its somewhat standoffish attitude toward the revolt. But in forcing the army's hand, that hand seems to have struck at them instead.
What changed Ben Ali's mind between the evening of 13th, when the 75-year-old went on TV to announce the previously unthinkable "concession" that he would not run for election again in 2014, and some time the following late afternoon when he and his wife were bundled aboard an airplane? It has been widely reported, and never denied, that armed forces chief of staff Rachid Ammar told him that if the crowds marched on the presidential palace that day, his safety could no longer be guaranteed. Some people think Ammar put it less politely. At any rate, it is hard to believe the general made that decision unless he was confident that the "international community" and particularly the U.S. would go along with it. American representatives speaking from Washington and political and military bigwigs visiting Tunis have expressed warm support for the Tunisian armed forces ever since.
The U.S. and certainly France did not want to see a representative of their interests fall and they especially did not want the common people to taste the blood of their oppressors, politically speaking, but they may have considered the alternative—a long and bloody struggle with unpredictable consequences in Tunisia and throughout the region—even worse.
The cohesion of the armed forces and their loyalty to their foreign paymasters gave the imperialists a certain freedom to dump Ben Ali, knowing that the heart of the state, its ability to enforce the prevailing economic and social relations through violence, would remain intact. At the same time, it was clear that if Ben Ali were allowed to cling to the presidency too long and the army supported him in that, its authority and legitimacy in the eyes of the people and maybe its cohesion would be in danger.
It is no disrespect of the people and their accomplishments to point this out, and even to point out that a movement with more revolutionary goals probably would have met with more resistance.
A regime, or the core of a regime, has fallen, but the economic and political system remains intact.
The old political forces are desperately fighting for their legitimacy, but they are still strong, and they can count on the force of habit and the old ways of understanding the world among the masses of people. It is not widely understood that the armed forces are ultimately the local representative of imperialist domination and the enforcer of the imperialist world market, and their guns and fighting organization remain untouched. Even among those who were more advanced in terms of setting the terms for the revolt and in that way pushing it forward, not many people understand how Tunisia and the world could be completely different, so naturally they fall prey to ideas and political trends that basically seek a more or less different version of the world as it is.
It is precisely because of this complex and contradictory situation that the question of leadership is so acutely posed in Tunisia.
To be continued
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 #243, August 21, 2011
From A World to Win News Service
June 6, 2011. A World to Win News Service. Following is the third and final instalment of a report written for AWTWNS by Samuel Albert. The first instalment, parts I and II, described what the revolt in Tunisia achieved and how it took place. The second discussed the underlying and triggering factors behind this revolt.
It's not every day that there exists such a thing as "the people." During the revolt, there was a "people" that made its will known, not in the sense of all ten million or even millions of Tunisians coming out into the streets, but in the sense that people of conflicting social classes and political and ideological trends were united in their determination to get rid of Ben Ali, on the one hand, and on the other, those who supported the regime or weren't sure were no longer in a mood to speak out.
Now "the people" has begun to divide out according to the class interests of the various forces involved, even while nearly everyone's thinking remains contradictory. Millions remain dissatisfied, especially among the lower classes and the workers. That is very favorable for radical social change. But the factors that stand in the way of that change include not only the persisting strength of the world economic system and its local ruling classes, but also some elements in the thinking among the people and especially the lack of a clearer understanding of the basic problems that afflict them. Some of these conflicting ideas can be seen in what was said in interviews
- Spetla, a very small town in the center of the country, between Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid. Newspaper and refreshments stand owner:
There is no work in this town at all. If you don't farm, the only way to make a living is commerce. People from here go down to the border with Libya, buy a few things made in China or Europe and bring them back here to sell. Before we couldn't make a living because people were just coming back with a knapsack of smuggled goods while Ben Ali's wife Trabelsi was having whole shipping containers full of merchandise brought into the country without paying customs fees. Local smugglers just couldn't compete. But we never had any demonstrations here
Now Ben Ali and the Trabelsi are gone but there's a war in Libya and the border is closed. So people from here are going abroad to look for work. When you hear about all those "sea jumpers," Tunisians dying to make it to Italy in small boats, that's us. We have liberty now but there's no way to make a living.
- Unemployed older man, Bourguiba avenue:
I've been unemployed for ten years. I can't tell you how I've managed to feed my family. I have a wife and two kids; one works in the street and another is seven and will go to school next year. I don't know how we survive. I studied in France and came back to a good job in the sanitation department. My brother-in-law was with the Islamics and I got fired for that. I haven't been able to find work since. I'm very glad we have liberty now but my life is still lousy.
- Grizzled older worker and other strikers at a plant that makes reinforced concrete pipes, Ben Arous:
We're poor. That means we don't have any money. Yes, we did contribute to the movement that overthrew Ben Ali. When he saw the crowd on January 14, he was afraid we would storm his palace, so he and his family got on an airplane and left. He was backed basically by the French and the U.S. France intervened militarily in Libya and the Ivory Coast but they never told Ben Ali to go.
At our plant they treated us like slaves. Paid us less than the minimum wage. Now we have liberty, so it's only natural that we start a union and try to get the protection of the law. But the government is still a mafia, paid off by the U.S. and France.
What do we expect from the revolution? We hope for the best. So far we haven't seen anything at all, zero percent change. In fact, things are worse economically, not better. The bosses are still ugly and hard-headed. We all want—freedom to talk, freedom of the press, freedom of everything. Does democracy mean that the employers have all the rights? The new government is the same as before. Ben Ali was a big thief, but we've been under the same system for 56 years (since independence from France). Democracy hasn't changed that so far, but we want it to change.
- 23-year-old student, at rally on Bourguiba avenue:
It's very important to me that we have liberty now. That's why we made the revolution. But when are the snipers who shot us down going to be brought to justice? Who's protecting them? Why does the government deny that they even existed? And why do the police have the right to stop me on the street and demand to know why I'm taking pictures with my mobile (cell phone)? And here's my big question: Why do bad people always end up on top?
- Middle-aged high school chemistry teacher, shopping center cafeteria:
I decided to wear hijab (in this case a "modern" head scarf) five years ago. My mother wore one of those old-fashioned white head scarves but my family wasn't observant. It was when I got older that I turned to Islam. I teach and my husband is a teacher and we share all the household tasks. I'm not someone who believes women should stay home or be paid less.
Why are people like me turning to religion? When you're frustrated and don't have freedom you take refuge in religion, drinking or drugs. I hate to see all those kids doing nothing with their lives but hanging out in cafés and drinking beer. I don't want to see so many university graduates without jobs. My daughter, who's a chemical engineer, couldn't find work here and had to go to France to teach. If the extremists come to power, they won't let her work here or even go abroad. But under Ben Ali, I wasn't allowed to cover my head in school.
I'm the one who decided to cover my head, and I'll decide when to take it off. I believe in an indulgent Islam, one that believes in forgiveness. I define religious extremism as not wanting to allow discussion. What I want is a democratic, balanced country where people have values.
- Owner of a restaurant frequented by merchants in the Medina, the Tunis old-quarter markets. Employs six people:
I'm an Islamic. But I'm against extremism. Islam means moderation in everything. What we need now is security. The laws should be changed so that they can cut off the hands of thieves.
It's a good thing that the army didn't shoot the people but this revolution isn't working. Things have gotten out of hand and they shouldn't have let that happen. People aren't going to work and there are thieves everywhere. The garbage workers are on strike and the rubbish is piling up. Everyone should be working hard now, but they're not.
I want three things:; security, order, everyone going to work. The old regime people are still running the government, business and industry.
God protects our country, but it could be better. It's not really our country. The economy is very iffy—we have industry, even hi-tech, phosphate mines and agriculture, but things could go better. A new president means nothing. Belgium has gone without a government for a year and nobody cares. But we do need police and security.
When I'm at work I should be able to concentrate on business without worrying about my wife at home and my kids on the street. What I want to see is a country without iron bars. The day I no longer see iron bars on all the doors and windows is the day we'll have law.
We fathers need more support as heads of the family. We need child subsidy payments so we can have more kids. And I want to pay less taxes and utility fees. In France, if you make minimum wage and spend it all on meat, you could buy 100 kilos. Here it would be only 15 kilos. And we pay relatively a lot more for health care than in France. Why is that?
- Young woman activist, Ben Arous:
When we had an International Women's Day demonstration on Bourguiba avenue on March 8, the Islamics held a counter-demonstration. They didn't physically attack us, like they sometimes do to "immodest" women in the cafes, but they were very aggressive. They chanted, "Women go home!" That's their solution to unemployment: make all women quit their jobs and spend their lives taking care of their families.
There have always been Islamics among the workers and the union members, but now that the preachers can operate openly, more young workers are joining that movement, just like thousands and thousands are joining unions and political parties. That's what freedom means. I'm afraid of the old regime making a comeback and I'm afraid of the Islamics.
- Teachers' union official, Ben Arous:
First we battled the dictatorship, now we're battling the fundamentalists. Since the revolution there's been a lot of Islamic agitation, especially among the youth. They didn't lift a finger during the revolution but at last night's meeting they demanded most of the seats in our Committee to Defend the Revolution. But I know that the government won't let them take over.
On his way out the door on January 14, Ben Ali named his Prime Minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi, the new head of state. This was seen as a last act of tyranny on his part, since it went against the procedure established by the constitution.
Veteran and new activists organized Committees to Defend the Revolution at open mass meetings in cities and towns throughout the country. Students, youth and others from Tunis were joined by youth who came from the provincial cities in a giant sit-in in front of the government office complex called the Kasbah, on the other side of the Medina from Bourguiba avenue, to demand the dissolution of a government made up of the "living dead," Ben Ali's old ministers and notables.
To appease the people and demonstrate that Tunisia would now be a state of law, the head of the National Assembly, Fouad Mebazzaa, became president as prescribed by the constitution. Mebazzaa turned around and appointed Ghannouchi his prime minister.
Then on February 25 came a new occupation that lasted until Ghannouchi was replaced as prime minister by Beji Caid Essebsi, an 84-year-old man who had been prime minister under Bourguiba but was not so associated with Ben Ali. Eventually the youth from the provinces went home and the second Kasbah sit-in dwindled and came to an end. An attempt in March to organize a "Kasbah III" to depose Essebsi failed.
The new government successfully brushed aside the attempts of the Committees to Defend the Revolution to exercise a kind of dual power. Instead it proposed what Essebsi described as a "synthesis" between those advocating continuity and those fighting for a clean break with the old regime: a High Authority for the Achievement of the Goals of the Revolution, Political Reform and the Transition to Democracy, whose 155 members are nominated from below and approved by the state (hence the union leader's statement that the government won't let the Islamics take over). This body is to prepare for elections to a Constitutional Assembly, which in turn would write a new constitution and hold new parliamentary and presidential elections. Originally scheduled for July 24, now it seems that these elections may be delayed until November
This body has been joined by most (but not all) of the organizations that took part in toppling Ben Ali and some that did not, such as Ennahda (The Renaissance), a newly-revived Islamic party that says its aim is not an Islamic regime but what some people call "Islam lite" modeled after the governing AKP party in Turkey. Ennahda defends its failure to participate in the revolt as a tactic to avoid allowing Ben Ali to discredit the movement against him, but many people think it hoped for an accommodation with the regime. Considered the largest party now, it is among the most loyal supporters of the present government and consistently praises the armed forces.
These measures taken in the name of democracy have significantly lessened the participation of the broad masses in the political process. Many people feel that things are being decided behind closed doors in cynical negotiations between representatives of what they see as hard-to-define "interests" who don't care what ordinary people think or want or need. Yet at the same time there is a still a tug of war between the regime's efforts to stabilize and the continuing dissatisfaction.
One of the most important of these tests of strength took place in May, when a recently-fired Interior Minister told a TV interviewer that he had been prevented from getting rid of former regime figures in the security services. He also said that the president and the head of the armed forces had discussed launching a military coup if they didn't like the results of the Constituent Assembly elections. This swelled the ranks of the Friday march to the Interior Ministry on May 6. Protesters chanted, "The people want a new revolution!" The police not only attacked it with special savagery, they rampaged throughout the city center and into adjoining lower-class neighborhoods. They also hunted down and beat journalists, chasing some into the offices of a regime mouthpiece newspaper.
There are constant strikes (hence the restaurant owner's complaints) and mini-"Clear out!" movements aimed at getting rid of petty tyrants linked to the old regime in schools, offices, hospitals and all sorts of institutions. But some activists now feel a discouraging sense of drift, a feeling that they don't know where things are headed or exactly what to do about it. They also understand that "stabilization" doesn't necessarily mean that things would stay the way they are right now. Facebook, Twitter and mobiles (cell phones) helped make the revolt possible, but their electronic records also mean that if the forces of repression regain the initiative, they would know who to round up and punish.
Despite its name, most of what the High Authority is supposed to decide is not related to "the Goals of the Revolution," in the sense of the yearnings that drove people forward. It is true that the electoral code grossly favored the ruling party (which never, however, skipped an election), and that the formulation of a new code and related matters will have consequences. But it's like an interminable squabble over the rules for a discussion to avoid discussing the basic issues and hide the fact that they are already being decided.
Whether in the High Authority or elsewhere, there is little debate over the big questions that the country faces, issues that made themselves felt, even though not clearly understood: How is Tunisia going to recover its national dignity and become the truly independent country that more than half a century of political independence from France has not yet brought about? How is it going to overcome the yawning regional disparities? How will it have the kind of development that can provide not only jobs but the dignity of fulfilling lives to everyone? How are the workers ever going to be anything but slaves? How are people in the countryside going to be rescued from their living tombs and freed to become a long-term force for social transformation? Are women's aspirations for equality going to bring them more fully into the movement for social change, or are these aspirations going to become a target? How can the education of so many youth become a force for that kind of transformation and not a cruel joke on them and their parents? What kind of social and moral values and what kind of world outlook will prevail?
Again, the question of "Who will lead" is not just an abstraction. Two visions are competing for the people's loyalty, and neither is good.
Many people, including religious people, are terrified by the prospect of a fundamentalist takeover. This danger is far from a fantasy. In April, a man yelling "Allahu Akbar" swung an iron bar at the head of one of Tunisia's most famous film directors, Nouri Bouzid, as he chatted with a student at a university. His 1992 film Bezness (the title combines French slang for sex and the English word "business"), about a prostitute who sells himself to tourists but insists on male domination in the family in the name of "honor", brought out the side of Tunisian society many people would rather not see. Other Tunisian artists and intellectuals took this as more of a warning than an isolated incident. In May, Nadia El-Fani was threatened with death because of her new film Neither Master nor Allah.
In the 1990s, the Tunisian Islamic movement, led by Ennahda and the man who still leads it today, Rachid Ghannouchi (no relationship to Ghannouchi the prime minister), allied with fundamentalists in neighboring Algeria in an attempt to foment and actually carry out an armed takeover in Tunisia.
It would be hard to exaggerate how traumatic that period was for Algeria, Tunisia and elsewhere in the Arab countries. The Algerian military canceled elections after an Islamic party won the first round. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in a convoluted civil war between the military and two rival Islamic trends. Who was killing whom became hard to determine and ultimately not the most important question. All sides massacred whole villages and urban neighborhoods. Intellectuals and artists were murdered in such numbers that many fled the country.
In Tunisia, Ben Ali succeeded in crushing Ennahda by means of arrests, torture and imprisonment on a vast scale. He also used this as an excuse to crush all dissent for the next two decades. But the Islamics bore the brunt of the most violent repression.
Ennahda re-emerged as a major force almost as soon as Ben Ali fell and its leaders returned from exile in the UK and France. There is constant debate about whether it has abandoned its goal of religious rule. It has strength among the lower and middle classes, from factory workers to shopkeepers and especially lawyers, who are divided between secular and religious tendencies. Meanwhile, a Salafist movement has also sprung up overnight. (Salafists are Sunnis who advocate a return to Islam as they believe it was practiced in the early days.) Hizb al-Tahrir (The Party of Liberation) calls for an Islamic caliphate and the abolition of political freedoms. It has been able to recruit many youth, apparently from among the poor, and they go around looking for fights. The situation on the streets is complicated. Often, when "immodest" women and girls are treated as fair game, people say they aren't sure who is doing it.
It can't be ruled out that Ghannouchi sincerely has become a "revisionist Islamic," as some people call him, and would like to follow the path of the Turkish "Islam lite" AKP in becoming part of a pro-U.S., modernizing government. In a recent major report on Tunisia, the International Crisis Group, run by the cream of European and American diplomacy and government-friendly think tanks, is unashamedly enthusiastic about Ennahda. But it would be wrong not to recognize the contradictoriness and fluidity of the situation. Once religion has been accepted as the ground of legitimacy and truth, then "indulgent" religiosity can find itself at a disadvantage in relation to fundamentalism.
Bob Avakian has introduced the concept of the "two outmodeds": "Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other," "historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system." While "it is the historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system" that "poses the greater threat to humanity," "if you side with either of these 'outmodeds', you end up strengthening them both." (Bringing Forward Another Way) In Tunisia, it's not that one side stands up and proclaims itself in favor of imperialist domination and the other opposes everything modern. But still, this quote accurately describes a trap that most people are falling into.
When pressed about their hopes for Tunisia, many activists and intellectuals as well as people from the lower classes answer that they want it to become like France, a stable parliamentary multi-party democracy with a social safety net. Many Tunisians have lived the harsh lives of immigrant workers, and they don't think Europe is heaven. It's just hard for people to conceive that anything better is possible, especially in today's world, where even most of the Tunisian left has not really analyzed the historical experience of the communist-led revolutions, and instead accepts the dominant thinking that radical change has proved futile. Further, while many ordinary people do have some sense that France could not be the way it is without the super-exploitation of countries like Tunisia, they don't have enough of a scientific understanding that the "French" model is actually impossible in Tunisia, again largely because they don't see any alternative.
This posing of Tunisia's possible future in terms of the French model or Islamic fundamentalist rule (what people not so scarred by the Algerian experience would call the Iranian model) provides more favorable grounds for Islamicism—and vice versa.
This is a society modern enough to have as many girl students as boys but where not only is there more than twice as much illiteracy among women than men in general, but even among today's generation there are twice as many unemployed female university graduates as male. Secularist Tunisians are right when they point out that Tunisia's 1959 constitution was more advanced than France's at that time in terms of women's rights, but it also makes serious concessions to Islam on this subject (women only inherit half as much as men and have less rights in other family matters). At any rate, the example of France should tell us something: women there are equal in legal terms but it is still a thoroughly male supremacist, patriarchal society, as the recent wave of support for the accused rapist, IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, should make obvious, since the argument is not that he is innocent but that rape isn't important. Male supremacist religion and patriarchal elements are still very powerful in Tunisia, reflecting the hold of reactionary traditions, beliefs and practices among the people, and the Islamics can gain an advantage by openly appealing to male supremacy rather than trying to cover it up.
Some people contend that a more radical stand against the "French model' and the "Iranian model" would cut off political activists from the broad masses and especially the lower strata, but in fact fuzzy and wrong thinking on these questions is a major obstacle to being able to connect in a sustained way with those who have nothing to lose and unite these masses, better-off strata, the intelligentsia and others.
Further, clarity on these questions is the only way to provide a scientific understanding that can deal with a major source of depression among ordinary people and activists alike right now: when they look at the Tunisian regime, the army and the Islamics, and think about Algeria and the civil war between the French- (and American-) backed Algerian military and the Islamic fundamentalists there, many people feel that the question now is not whether things can get better but whether or not, one way or another, they are about to get much worse.
Political liberty—freedom of expression, protest, the press and so on—is not just for the educated middle classes. In fact, as can be seen in the concrete development of the revolt as people seized these rights through their own struggle and sacrifice, ordinary Tunisians have spoken up fearlessly, defied authority and produced a more profound and society-wide social questioning and ferment than seen since the 1960s in most "advanced" countries where such rights are enshrined in law. This is necessary for people to become fully alive and for real social change to take place.
But what to tell those whose lives will continue to be miserable? That now that some relatively better-off people have gotten some of what they want, the "revolution" is over?
The unspoken assumption behind the political arrangements now being put into place is that life—Tunisia's relationship with the rest of the world and the economic and social relationships between Tunisians (the various classes, men and women, the regions)—is going to be like before, only a little better because now they have political rights and parliamentary democracy.
Whether or not people are fully aware of it, what they are rebelling against in Tunisia and throughout the Arab countries (and elsewhere in the Third World) is the way imperialism dominates the organization of their economies and shapes their societies as a whole on that basis, and the political regimes that enforce that domination.
Tunisia is not necessarily doomed to the rule of an autocrat or a military junta, but it's no accident that naked dictatorship has been so common throughout the Third World, geographically and historically. (Latin America, sometimes held up as proof that those days are over, has actually known alternating periods of "democratic openings" and military clampdowns for the last century.)
They may have elections and sometimes constitutional rights (as opposed to arbitrary rule of the Ben Ali or other varieties), but these things tend to get restricted, when not just cut off. The local foreign-dependent ruling classes are smaller and weaker than the ruling classes in the imperialist countries, the middle classes are smaller and even less stable, the conditions of life more often impel people to rebel, and lopsided regional development often makes centralized rule difficult. Persisting feudal and other pre-capitalist exploitative relations often facilitate imperialist domination, and the classes and forces that represent these relations are also bitter enemies of the people's basic interests.
Most fundamentally, no matter what the system of government, the ruling classes of such countries are representatives of the imperialist relations, and the right of self-determination and the equality of nations are never on the agenda. It is not just that they are subservient to imperialism politically, although it is true that imperialist machinations and interventions play a major role in bringing governments into office and taking them out again. As long as their economies are organized according to the laws of capitalism, especially the pursuit of the highest rate of profit, in a world where the competing monopoly capital formations rooted in a handful of countries dominate the rest, or in other words, as long as they are dependent on the imperialist world market, they must bow to the interests and dictates of Paris, New York, London, Berlin, Rome, etc. This is the only logic capitalists and other exploiting classes can follow.
A development that would meet the needs of the people would require a whole different political system, one whose purpose was to free the people and the nation from the domination of imperialism and the Tunisian capitalists and other exploiters reliant on them, not seeing development as a goal in itself, which would simply open the door to old or new exploiters, but as part of a process leading toward the abolition of forms of exploitation and oppression and the overcoming of all inequalities on a world scale. As part of this, there would also have to be a process of breaking with prevailing oppressive social relations, customs and thinking, both those imposed by imperialism and those traditionally embedded in Tunisian society.
Tunisians are right to want to be able to express themselves, organize themselves, and enjoy other liberties, to be free of arbitrary rule, to recover individual and national dignity and take their country back. But they can't be free unless they understand that the word "freedom" is meaningless and deceitful unless they ask themselves: freedom for who, for which class? Freedom for the imperialists and their local allies? Or freedom from them for the people, freedom to have a decisive role in determining the direction of society and join with people worldwide to free humanity?
These questions, even in the most immediate forms of why Tunisia and Tunisians suffer like they do and what can be done about it, are not being thought about deeply enough and debated in Tunisia right now. Instead, too many people are caught up in what seems possible at any given moment, even when they know or suspect that there is no way out for Tunisia unless it breaks the bonds of politics as it is now practiced and people start figuring out how to make possible a real revolution. In a word, the future of the revolt in Tunisia has not been settled. Today's "democratic opening" can favor the training and preparation of the people for revolution; but it can also disorient and lull them, leading to the loss of the revolt's great gains: their political awakening, their widespread and acted-upon determination for some kind of radical change without which such change is impossible, and the political initiative they have seized out of the hands of their oppressors.
The point is to see the situation in Tunisia not just as it is, but as it could become. Some activists close their eyes and hope that history will always do the right thing, while others are prone to bouts of dark thoughts. Many are afflicted by both. The important thing is not to pluck up one's courage but to see how what the masses of people have done has created a very favorable situation for the revolutionary work that has to be done.
No one can predict how long this situation will last. Nor can anyone predict how the regional and world volatility that Tunisians have helped bring about might react back on Tunisia.
So far the Tunisian people have accomplished amazing things on their own initiative. But they are facing obstacles that they can either overcome or be defeated by. The question is who will lead the people now—one or another sort of reactionaries who seek to drag the people backward, or comrades who break with reformist politics, seize the possibility of training themselves and many others in the most advanced understanding of the science of communism amidst the upheaval and confusion, and forge a revolutionary strategy.
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 #243, August 21, 2011
Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund received the following letters:
Aug. 3rd, 2011
To Whom it may Concern, today Aug. 3rd was a most wonderful day for the four of us inmates here at the YY Correctional Center. First to be honest we didn't think yous were going to send us the book BAsics by it being new cause we assumed yous had to gain back your expenses first, but wow, we are truly overwhelmed and at a lose for words and words can't express the joy and gratitude We feel but our appreciation is off the charts so to speak.
Me XXX Especially and the other three will do all that we can amongst the 1400 inmates here at YY C.C. to promote the sale and the senificients of the book BAsics. Also the four of us been around since the 60s during a time we thought was the beginning of a revolution, which was shortly lived and went about in the wrong manner. But now we have Bob, the light still shineth after all these decades. We hope Bob can do what the Panthers couldn't do, what King couldn't finish or what Malcolm started. Well upon my release I will be at REVCOM.US. We look forward to the change that Obama so greatly lied to us about.
Prisoner in Midwest
Aug. 3, 2010
I want to thank you for sending me a copy of the BAsics. This book is what it is. It allows you to see America in its Web of Lies for what they are. So when you watch the news or read the newspaper you can screen what's being said by the information contained in the book so you can see what's really being said and not said.
This book has to be put into the hands of the rappers or the youth must demand that the rappers read it. So this information can spread like a wildfire. For the youth to get involved in the reading of the BAsics, it has to be made the cool or hot thing to do.
I am using this book to awaken the minds that are behind enemy lines. Some of things I talk on come right out of the book, so when they ask me where did come from, I then point them to the book and it does the rest.
In Alabama Prison System: Slavery Still Exists
can't wait to get a copy of the New Jim Crow
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Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
40th Anniversary of Attica Prison Rebellion
We are men! We are not beasts and we do not intend to be beaten or driven as such. The entire prison populace—that means each and every one of us here—has set forth to change forever the ruthless brutalization and disregard for the lives of the prisoners here and throughout the United States.
What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed. We will not compromise on any terms except those terms that are agreeable to us. We call upon all the conscientious citizens of America to assist us in putting an end to this situation that threatens the lives of not only us, but of each and every one of us.
L.D. Barkley, 21-year-old spokesman for the Attica prisoners,
killed by State Troopers on September 13, 1971
On September 9, 1971, 1,200 prisoners at Attica prison in upstate New York seized control of half the prison, taking 38 prison guards hostage. For four days, the Attica Brothers controlled D-yard, issuing a call to people on the outside to witness the brutal nature of the system and support their stand.
For months, the Attica Brothers had tried to negotiate with prison officials over a long list of grievances and demands.
Attica prison was built to hold 1,600 men but by 1971 the prison population was more than 2,200—54 percent were Black prisoners, 9 percent Puerto Rican, and 37 percent white. Confined to their cells from 14 to 16 hours each day, and paid between 20 cents and $1.00 a day for prison work, the men at Attica were allowed one shower a week, allotted one bar of soap and one roll of toilet paper each month. Their mail was heavily censored, access to literature was restricted and visitors were harassed, when they were even allowed inside. Black and Latino prisoners were routinely subjected to racist slurs and beatings by prison guards who referred to their billy clubs as "nigger sticks.'' There were no real education programs, and food and medical care was horrible.
Across the country a prisoners' rights movement was growing and many of these prisoners had been part of the Black liberation movement and the anti-war struggle of the '60s.
On August 21, 1971 revolutionary Black prisoner George Jackson was murdered in cold blood in a California state prison. As word of George Jackson's murder spread from cell to cell, a plan developed to organize the whole prison in a united protest of bitter outrage and mourning. The next morning, as the men filed out for breakfast, they organized themselves into two columns, a Black prisoner heading each one. Inside the mess halls, hundreds of prisoners sat in total silence. Wearing black armbands, they fasted, seething with hostility at the system that had murdered their comrade and continued to incarcerate them under brutal, inhumane conditions.
An Attica Brother interviewed by the Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution) in 1980 described how the rebellion broke out the morning of September 9:
"We were walking back from the mess hall. And I mean the tension was high. We were just up to the point where it was about to explode. So, when one of the guards pulled someone out of the line, we started hassling this guard. And it just blew up right there. We had had it! We just started getting some. Putting the guards up against the walls. Taking those clubs. It just spread like wildfire.
"Those with organizing and leadership qualities began organizing things. Setting up command posts, getting everybody together, taking over the workshops, letting out inmates who had been in segregation. We blew holes through the walls to give us access to other blocks. We took hostages and put them in cells, with security around them. We set up a place for food. People brought their extra stuff to one area and it became a sort of commissary. Everybody had a task.
"At Attica, it just got to a point, we said, the hell with this. We might just have to get out there and tear this damn place apart no matter what the consequences are. Because we're just as good as dead anyway.''
The Attica Brothers formed a leadership and negotiating committee made up of Black, Latino and white prisoners. And among the prisoners as a whole, there was an unbreakable unity among prisoners of all nationalities. They were highly organized and disciplined. Despite the fact that they had suffered under the sadistic prison guards, they gave their hostages decent living quarters, food rations and set up a security force to protect them.
They set forth demands "that will bring closer to reality the demise of these prison institutions that serve no useful purpose to the People of America, but to those who would enslave and exploit the people of America.'' The demands included complete amnesty, speedy and safe transportation to a "non-imperialistic country'' and negotiation through a team of observers that they chose. The statement ended by saying, "We invite all the people to come here and witness this degradation, so that they can better know how to bring this degradation to an end.''
The spirit of Attica reverberated off the walls in D-yard for the next four days as leaders of the rebellion and other prisoners got up to address the crowd. One of the Attica Brothers, Herbert X. Blyden, told the rebels in D-yard, "We are standing here for all the oppressed people of the world, and we are not going to give up or knuckle under, we are going to show the way! For we have the way!'' Other prisoners got up and gave statements of solidarity with people struggling against imperialism around the world, especially the Vietnamese people.
The message of Attica reached and inspired people around the world and gave people a small taste of what it would be like to take power away from the hands of the oppressor and put it in the hands of the people.
Arthur Eve, an assemblyman from New York, one of the observation team, recalled: "It was very interesting. They had set up a somewhat elaborate communication system. They had certain people who were in charge of security. They had people who were in charge of dealing with human waste and garbage and some who were involved with food and other kinds of things. And any of the inmates who were ill or sick, how to deal with them. They had some of the inmates who served as medical staff. It was almost a community within a community. And it was very, very impressive that they had said, This is our home and we're now going to make it as livable as possible. There was a tremendous amount of discipline there within the yard.''
Very quickly the forces of the state stopped negotiations and prepared to crush the rebellion. They could no longer allow this symbol of resistance which so boldly defied their rule. And they were afraid of the effect it was having on millions outside Attica's walls. They moved to respond with the naked and terroristic armed force of the state.
On September 13, at the order of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who had ignored the prisoner's demand for a meeting, 211 state troopers and corrections officers retook Attica using tear gas, rifles, and shotguns. After the shooting was over, 10 hostages and 29 inmates lay dead or dying. At least 450 rounds of ammunition had been discharged. Prison officials initially said the hostages had been killed by the prisoners. But pathology reports later revealed that all hostages and inmates died from gunshot wounds. And none of the prisoners had had any guns.
One of the Attica Brothers interviewed by the Revolutionary Worker recounted the terror of that morning:
"They came in there with their guns and bayonets blasting everything that moved. They shot at everybody. They went from cell to cell with machine guns, spraying the cells, under the beds. They didn't care whether there was anybody there. They were just shooting. Their objective was to kill, not to ask questions, but to kill. They were scared, you could really see that in their faces when they were running through the yard.
"Afterwards, they stripped everybody and made us crawl into the yard. They would make 30 to 40 of us run down their lines (they stood facing each other and made us run down the line). After the first man ran through, while they were beating on him, he told me to run swerving from left to right to make it hard for them to get a surface to hit... We felt like dogs. It was really demeaning. You can't be a savage like that. You don't want to become an animal like those people.
"After the rebellion a lot of us died, a lot of us were wounded. But none of us had any regrets because of what we did. As a matter of fact, if we had had another opportunity, we would have done it again and again. Because it was better than being treated like animals.''
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Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
The following excerpts are from an interview Revolution (then the Revolutionary Worker) did with one of the Attica Brothers, Akil Al-Jundi, who died in 1997 (see RW #1118).
RW: The eyes of people around the world were on the situation in Attica. It was a focal point. What was important to you, to people inside, during those four days?
Akil Al-Jundi: What was important to me as a participant in the rebellion was to have as high a degree of unity as possible between all prisoners, to keep our focus, or as the book and program1 now says, to keep our "eyes on the prize.'' To secure all prisoners and to secure our high-price, which were the hostages.
RW: Attica was remarkable for the kind of unity that was forged among prisoners of all different nationalities. What enabled that unity to be forged?
Akil Al-Jundi: I think it comes down to one simple thing. Once white prisoners realized that the things that oppressed them are the things that oppressed us, and that they really didn't have anything to gain by going along with the system, that it was in their interest to side with us, then it made things easier. Because, you see, white prisoners act the same way as white workers act out in the street. They basically profit from white skin privilege. And when you don't want to share that with Third World people, it prompts a problem. But if you can understand that, it's important that you do, from a humane perspective as well as from your own self-interest, then people can come to terms.
RW: In the course of fighting the system that's oppressing them?
Akil Al-Jundi: Yeah. As long as you can understand that the same people that lock your butt up, lock us up. The same judges that give you time, give us time, all right? That you do your time in the same prisons that we do our time, in the same cells, you can't go no quicker than we can go--in other words, you can't walk out today and we gotta stay tomorrow. You may be sentenced to less time, and you may do lesser time when you're in prison than we do, but you're still in prison. You still have a number like we have a number, you still go to the mess hall like we go to the mess hall. If you got a family, they're concerned about you the same as ours are concerned about us. So the question of the class of prisoners is that everyone is treated the same way, technically. Which is that all of you are prisoners. And so the different amenities that white prisoners think they're getting--it's really not in their long-term interests to help to perpetuate. We need to be down with each other...
1. Eyes on the Prize was a documentary about the Civil Rights and Black Liberation struggles widely seen on PBS in the late '80s and early '90s. [back]
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Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
Check it Out
From a reader
In the film A Better Life, currently in theaters, Carlos Galindo (Demian Bichir) works hard, all day long in the hot sun. As a gardener in Los Angeles, he hauls debris, scales palm trees and trims the hedges of mansions, hurrying from one estate to another. It is dark when he returns home to East L.A. and to his teenage son, Luis. He is exhausted.
Luis (Jose Julian) is stuck in a prison-like school. We see him in a fight with another youth, then pushed against the fence by a cop. Later, kicking a soccer ball, he and a friend discuss the future, the best option, the friend says is to get "jumped in" to a gang, rather than being stuck in back-breaking poverty like his father.
At first it seems father and son have little to say to each other. Their relationship is tense and their worlds far apart. But when Carlos's new truck, his ticket to steady and better work, is stolen, Luis hits the streets with him, determined to track it down and to get it back.
Chris Weitz, the director of A Better Life, directed American Pie, New Moon (the second film of the Twilight series), as well as The Golden Compass. Despite having made films with much larger budgets, Weitz told the San Francisco Chronicle that, "I have to say for me, emotionally, this felt like the biggest film that I've made."
Weitz chose current and former gang members to play almost all the gang roles, and these performances are strong. They show specific human beings, not stereotypes. The film also gives glimpses into the Mexican subculture of L.A. and a feel for the life of immigrants like Carlos.
A Better Life lays bare the situation for the worker at the bottom rungs under capitalism, who is worth nothing unless he can labor. Like the 1980s movie El Norte, A Better Life shows the struggle, and the precarious and dangerous lives, of undocumented immigrant workers.
Speaking of the role of Carlos, Weitz told the Los Angeles Times, "All he does is work. He is invisible—and he prefers to remain invisible. Because to raise his head is to risk getting in trouble."
Trouble is all around Carlos and Luis, unavoidable and random. A compelling and riveting part of the story is Carlos's refusal to allow himself, or his son, to surrender to the dog-eat-dog ways common in the world around them.
No spoilers here. Go and see A Better Life. Bring a friend and copies of Revolution to distribute. Spend a couple hours looking through the eyes of those who this system forces to live in the shadows, yet who refuse to surrender their humanity.
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Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
Revolution received the following correspondence:
On August 6, Rick Perry, governor of Texas, and the American Family Association (AFA) hosted "The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis" at Reliant Stadium in Houston. This prayer rally was explicitly inspired by the Book of Joel and based on the 7 principles of the American Family Association (AFA). The AFA is known for its decades long promotion of "traditional values," and has played a prominent role in the culture wars, including in demonizing the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender) community, immigrants and non-Christians.
The Book of Joel is a very blood thirsty book in the Old Testament, that describes an apocalyptic judgment day. Chapter 3, verse 9-10 reads: "... Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: 10 Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong." Sponsors and endorsers of this event read like a who's who of the Christian fascists. Along with Rick Perry, two other sitting governors participated. Sam Brownback of Kansas spoke, and Rick Scott, governor of Florida sent a video message. News reports said that about 30,000 people attended this prayer rally.
Many people were alarmed, angry and protested "The Response" in different ways. A Family, Faith and Freedom panel was held the night before "The Response..." It was sponsored by the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), and the Family, Faith and Freedom organization and featured speakers of different faiths and included Barry Lynn, the executive director of AU. LGBT Texans Against Hate organized a rally in downtown Houston on Friday night, with people expressing anger at the hate that was being mobilized with the prayer rally. Over two hundred people attended each of these events.
The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston organized an interfaith prayer service on the afternoon of the 6th. A lawsuit was also filed against Perry sponsoring this event, by members of Freedom From Religion Foundation on the grounds that it violates separation of church and state. This lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge. More than 50 Houston area religious and community leaders signed a statement drafted by the Anti-Defamation League, expressing deep concern that this was an exclusionary prayer rally not open to all faiths. There was also a protest initiated by the American Atheists, involving a couple of hundred people coming out throughout the day outside Reliant stadium.
Throughout these events, different analyses and programs were expressed. Most people saw this prayer rally as a clear violation of the separation of church and state and many people saw fighting "The Response" to uphold the U.S. Constitution. Some people felt that the prayer rally was discriminatory because it excluded all other faiths and that they were using god to promote hate. Then there were others who were alarmed by the brazenness of the Christian right. Other people saw this as a political ploy to get Perry elected as president of the U.S. And particularly among the LGBT protestors, they saw the problem as hate vs. love. Many of them said they thought things have been moving in a positive direction, with Houston electing a lesbian mayor and the legalization of gay marriage in New York, and that now the AFA is reasserting hate.
Protesters at Reliant stadium came from several Texas cities and the suburbs, exburbs and city of Houston. There were humanists, atheists, Christians, LGBT, students from high schools and colleges and activists. For many people, this was their first political protest. People lined the street outside the stadium with their creative hand made signs and costumes. Several youth from the suburbs said that they came out because they are sick of having Christianity shoved down their throat and want to rebel against this morality and values. The Freedom from Religion Foundation had a plane circling overhead with a message "Gov – Keep Church – State Separate" and a truck circling the arena with a billboard that read, "Beware Prayer by Pious Politicians, Get Off Your Knees and Get to Work!" Throughout the day, Get Equal, a LGBT action group led lively marches with drumming, singing, and sometimes a band—carrying a coffin with the names of LGBT youth who were either murdered or committed suicide because of the anti-gay culture that is being promoted. The response of people driving by the protest was polarized, with many people honking their horns in support, and others shouting obscenities. The protest was also protested by some members of the Westboro Baptist Church with their hateful messages. There posters literally all said "god hates ___." Fill in the blanks.
A Revolution team was out in this midst with banners and signs of quotes from BAsics. Some people took these signs and carried them all day. The most popular sign was "The Bible Belt is the Lynching Belt." One of the most controversial signs was "The Bible Taken Literally is a Horror." There were a lot of second looks from people who had to stop and think. Some people came up and debated about what it means, and a family who was going into the rally asked, "do they really think that's what Jesus is about?" The banner that read "Conservative My Ass These People are Nazis" provoked a lot of discussion on who these people are, what the people going in are getting in to, and what this is really about. We had been taking out the pyramid analysis and The Coming Civil War and Repolarization for Revolution in the Present Era pamphlet and got into a number of discussions with people.
Some people said that they don't think the Christian Fascists have a program that'll work, but then wondered why Obama keep conciliating to the Christian Right. We made sure that everyone got the RCP’s Message and Call and a BAsics bookmark. Especially among youth there was a lot of curiosity about communism and revolution. They talked about what they'd heard about communism and wanted to know why we're building a movement for revolution. For example, one person said there are things about communism they disagree with but that what they really like about communism is the equality, that people are equal. A group of high school students wanted to know why the capitalist system is the root of the problem and how socialism could work. They thought that what is needed is to promote greater democracy around the world. There were also questions raised about individuality and individualism and the role of religion in society. Along with Revolution newspaper and the Coming Civil War pamphlet, several people got copies of BAsics, and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal).
A couple of people who were out with the Revolution team said they had hoped more people would've come out, but that it was good that people were compelled to come out into the streets against the CF's from their diverse points of view – something that had not happened for a while. Another person said it struck him how important it was for us to bring out BA and this analysis because people just saw the religious right as a hate group and did not see the fascist agenda or the possibility for repolarization for revolution.
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Revolution #243, August 21, 2011
Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund received the following letter:
Greetings in solidarity! I've been receiving Revolution for a while now. I relish each new issue. Revolution newspaper is my weekly dose of revolutionary reality.
I am doing an AODA drug program here in the prison. Recently the subject of domestic violence, sex roles, and male dominance came up. After the group I was re-reading the June 12 issue of Revolution, when I came upon the center feature about 'Rape and A World of Violent Domination'. I knew I had to share it with the other prisoners in my AODA group.
I approached my AODA counselor with the idea of doing a presentation about "Male Domination and it's effect on women and society." I was surprised when he was fully supportive and told me I could come up with the presentation and run the group for one day.
My presentation went great. I taped the feature from Revolution up on the board and presented to my fellow prisoners many ideas that they had never considered before; namely that "women are not breeders, lesser beings, or objects created for the sexual pleasure of men, that when women are held down all of humanity is held back." I could see the shock on the other men's faces as I shared the statistics 'one in three women and girls is sexually abused or beaten in her lifetime' and all the others.
Men who only the day before had argued that male domination over women was "the natural order" suddenly began to see the horrors that these societal views force onto women and girls. The men I most suspected would dispute and argue against me began to ask questions like "what can I do to stop this violence against women?" and "How can I teach my young son to treat women as equals?"
I'm writing today to thank you from the bottom of my heart for Revolution newspaper. It gave me the opportunity to share Revolutionary thought and equality with others. It is a gift I was proud and touched to be able to share. I am happy I was able to share the truth of women's equality with these men. I truly believe it will change their lives and the lives of the women they encounter in the future in a profound manner.
'A Wisconsin Revolutionary Comrade'
(Please publish this letter in whole or in part if you see fit.)
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