Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
U.S.-Israeli Assault on Iran Escalates
The danger of a U.S.-Israeli war on Iran is escalating rapidly. The U.S. and its allies are ramping up their all-around assault on Iran, including new crippling sanctions, and openly threatening to attack. Ground is being laid daily in the headlines and statements by politicians of every stripe in mainstream U.S. politics calling for aggression against Iran—all justified by unsubstantiated assertions that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.
Whether or not Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons technology (and there is no proof they are), this U.S. imperialist narrative and framework is an outrageous effort to turn reality upside down—the reality of which of the clashing oppressive forces in the region is the dominant threatening oppressor and bully.
Iran is a non-nuclear, Third World country. The U.S. is the world's most powerful nuclear weapons state—with over 4,000 warheads. It's the only country to ever use nuclear weapons, killing 150,000-240,000 people in the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan (with many more dying of the effects of radiation for years after). It's the main backer of the one country in the Middle East that actually does have nuclear weapons—Israel.
Now the U.S. and its allies have launched a massive, all-around campaign of aggression against Iran in the name of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. These weapons are horrible, and they should be banished from the earth. If the U.S. rulers were really against these tools of mass murder they'd insist everyone get rid of them—but they're not. They and their media mouthpieces aren't saying word one about getting rid of their nukes, or Israel's nukes, or Britain or France's nukes.
Instead, the U.S. and its allies are threatening war over the possibility that Iran could get a bomb, a war that would be terrible for the people of the world. In a 2006 statement, Kurt Gottfried, Chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and emeritus professor of physics at Cornell University, said: "The [Bush] administration is reportedly considering using the B51-11 nuclear 'bunker buster' against an underground facility near Natanz, Iran. The use of such a weapon would create massive clouds of radioactive fallout that could spread far from the site of the attack, including to other nations. Even if used in remote, lightly populated areas, the number of casualties could range up to more than a hundred thousand, depending on the weapon yield and weather conditions." And any attack by the U.S. and Israel on Iran would be military aggression to preserve their military dominance—including their nuclear monopoly—in the Middle East. There is absolutely no justice in anything the U.S. is doing in pursuit of this criminal goal.
• • •
The last half of December saw a sharp spike in the U.S.-led assault on Iran's Islamic Republic. On December 31, President Obama signed a defense authorization bill that included by far the harshest sanctions the U.S. and its allies have yet imposed on Iran. These new sanctions target Iran's oil exports (which account for well over half of government revenues) for the first time, as well as its financial sector. (One provision calls for punishing foreign firms and banks which purchase Iranian oil, including through its central bank.)
In late December, with these new sanctions looming, Iran staged large-scale naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf and the commander of Iran's naval forces declared, "Closing the Strait of Hormuz [the narrow chokepoint at the mouth of the Gulf through which one-fifth of the oil traded on the world market flows] is very easy for Iranian naval forces." The U.S. Fifth Fleet, stationed in Bahrain (directly across the Persian Gulf from southern Iran), immediately warned that "any disruption" to shipments through the Gulf "will not be tolerated," adding that "The U.S. Navy is a flexible, multi-capable force ... always ready to counter malevolent actions to ensure freedom of navigation."
This latest U.S. saber-rattling comes after several months of escalating actions and rhetoric directed against Iran, including open threats of war.
In early November, 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were reportedly actively "trying to muster a majority in the cabinet in favor of military action against Iran." A few days later, Israeli President Shimon Peres warned that such an attack was becoming increasingly likely. ("Netanyahu trying to persuade cabinet to support attack on Iran," Haaretz, November 2, 2011)
On November 8, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an imperialist-controlled international body monitoring nuclear activities, issued a new report on Iran, claiming that "Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device." The U.S., Israel, Britain and France, seized on the report to call for more diplomatic, political, and economic aggression against Iran—while explicitly leaving the military option "on the table."
A few days later, on November 12, massive explosions rocked a base near Tehran where Iran's ballistic missiles were being developed. Seventeen people were killed, including a top ranking Iranian military official. This follows the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities by the Stuxnet computer worm earlier this year, as part of what Roger Cohen of the New York Times called almost certainly a "covert American‑Israeli drive to sabotage Iran's efforts to develop a military nuclear capacity." Cohen concludes, "An intense, well-funded cyberwar against Tehran is ongoing." ("Doctrine of Silence," November 28, 2011)
On November 21, the U.S., Britain and Canada imposed new, more punishing sanctions against Iran's central and commercial banks, with the U.S. also announcing sanctions against Iran's nuclear and petrochemical industries. These moves are aimed at cutting Iran off from the international banking and financial system and crippling its economy.
A week later, on November 29, pro-regime Iranian protesters stormed Britain's embassy in Tehran in retaliation, prompting Britain to formally break diplomatic relations and close down Iran's embassy in London. On December 1, 2011, the U.S. Senate and the European Union also passed new sanctions against Iran.
The early December downing of a U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel surveillance drone in eastern Iran, 140 miles from the Afghan border, possibly due to an Iranian electronic counter‑measure against the drone flights, sparked a flurry of speculation in the U.S. media over whether Iran—or Russia and China which have ties to Iran—could gain any military advantage from studying the near-intact drone. The blatantly aggressive and illegal nature of this violation of Iranian sovereignty and airspace, and how drones could be part of any military attack on Iran, was pointedly not part of imperialist press discussion. Iran rebuffed President Obama's request to return the unmanned aircraft, and warned Afghanistan not to permit further U.S. drone flights over its territory. "Until this week, the high-altitude flights from bases in Afghanistan were among the most secret of many intelligence-collection efforts against Iran," the New York Times (December 7, 2011) reported, "part of an increasingly aggressive intelligence collection program aimed at Iran."
"[A]cross the region the largely hidden 'cold war' between Tehran and its enemies is escalating fast, bringing with it wider risk of conflict," reports Lebanon's Daily Star. "From proxy wars in Iraq and Syria to computer worm attacks and unexplained explosions in Iran—to allegations of an assassination plot in Washington—a confrontation once kept behind the scenes is breaking into increasingly open view." ("New cold war with Iran heats up Middle East, raises risk of conflict," December 6, 2011)
The U.S.-European-Israeli charge that Iran is trying to obtain nuclear weapons, which could then plunge the region into a nuclear conflagration, has been the central justification for imperialist aggression against Iran. When the IAEA report was released, the U.S. media called it "definitive" proof of these claims.
But on closer inspection, the report contained no such proof. Instead it was largely a rehash of unproven suspicions and allegations along with "evidence" refuted years earlier. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh concluded that the IAEA report was a "political document," not an objective report, and that "no evidence" has been produced "of a facility to build the Bomb." ("Iran and the I.A.E.A.," New Yorker, November 18, 2011; see also, "New Threats of U.S.-Israeli Aggression Against Iran," Revolution #251, November 27, 2011)
Why are the U.S. and its allies stepping up their attacks even if there's no conclusive proof Iran is attempting to build nuclear weapons? Because the core issue has never been whether or not Iran is actually trying to build a nuclear weapon. The U.S. and Israel's real concern has always been that even if Iran gained the technological know-how for a nuclear weapons program or was seen to have crossed that "threshold"—it would undermine the perception of unchallengeable U.S.-Israel military regional supremacy, thus strengthening Iranian influence and undercutting U.S. imperialist dominance. (This is also the central U.S.-Israeli concern should Iran obtain nuclear weapons.)
From that logic, the logic of a big time gangster worried about a small time gangster infringing on his turf, even allowing Iran to continue its nuclear power program is seen as dangerous.
The failure, to date, of the U.S.-European-Israeli covert war and international pressure to force the Islamic Republic of Iran to halt its nuclear program, or to weaken its grip on power, along with Iran's reported progress in mastering aspects of nuclear technology, is helping drive the escalation of tension and increasing the chances that the imperialists will turn to more extreme measures, possibly including war. (See, "Clock Ticking for West to Act on Iranian Nuclear Program," New York Times, December 29, 2011 for imperialist claims and concerns about Iran's technical advances.)
The nuclear issue, however, is not the underlying factor intensifying the U.S.-Iran clash. That conflict is part of something much larger: a sharpening battle for dominant influence across the entire region, a battle with profound global implications.
The U.S. full-court press against it isn't aimed at ridding the region of nuclear weapons (if so, they'd demand Israel dismantle its 150 plus nuclear warheads), or liberating the people. The U.S. rulers are going after the Iranian regime because it's become a major impediment to their continued hegemony over the Middle East. And for over 60 years, control of this region has been a central pillar of their global power and the functioning of world capitalism. As the reactionary Weekly Standard put it, the U.S. rulers have viewed "a favorable balance of power in the greater Middle East as key to a favorable international order." ("Iran's Clock Ticking," December 19, 2011)
But what is that U.S.-dominated "international order"? It is an imperialist system that has caused unimaginable and ongoing suffering and violence, including in the Middle East. To cite but one of many examples, according to a 2006 survey published in the British medical journal Lancet, the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq caused more than 650,000 "excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war" up to that point. It also led to over 4.7 million Iraqis fleeing as refugees either inside or outside their country. (See "U.S. Threatens Another War: Who Is the REAL Aggressor in the Middle East?" Revolution #253, December 18, 2011.)
The Iranian regime has never sought to fully break out of the framework of global capitalism-imperialism, but rather to increase Iran's leverage and reach within that framework, which is linked to preserving their oppressive rule over the Iranian people. In that context, Iran's rulers have their own needs and ambitions, including extending their influence across the Middle East and beyond.
Scan the regional map and you'll find a complex, sometimes behind-the-scenes, battle pitting the U.S., a global imperialist superpower which has strangled the region's peoples for decades, against Iran and its allies. This conflict—which is evident in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and the Persian Gulf—has grown much sharper over the past year as uprisings throughout North Africa and the Middle East, clashes between Iranian-aligned and U.S.-backed forces, and big power interventions shake up the regional political order.
In some instances, the U.S. seems to be maintaining its hold, even gaining ground. Its key ally, Saudi Arabia, intervened in Bahrain to suppress an uprising and shore up the solidly pro-U.S. regime there. The U.S. and its allies succeeded in toppling the Qaddafi regime in Libya and seem to have strengthened their hand there. The solidly pro-U.S. army remains the dominant factor in the Egyptian regime. And in Syria, the U.S. is increasingly supporting the uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, a key Iranian ally. One U.S. analyst states, "changing Syria's orientation away from Iran would be a major coup from America's perspective." ("Why Iran might be worried by Hillary Clinton's meeting with Syria exiles," Christian Science Monitor, December 6, 2011)
In other instances, Iranian aligned forces seem to be gaining ground. Iran greatly strengthened its position in Iraq in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Now, the U.S. rulers are extremely concerned that the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq will further increase Iranian influence. "[T]he U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will create a power vacuum that the Iranians are eager to exploit," the imperialist think tank STRATFOR notes. "The potential for Iran to control a sphere of influence from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean is a prospect that not only frightens regional players such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey but also raises serious concerns in the United States ... [which is] seeking to curb Iran's sphere of influence by working to overthrow the Syrian regime, limit Iran's influence in Iraq and control Hezbollah in Lebanon. ("The Covert Intelligence War Against Iran," STRATFOR Global Intelligence, December 8, 2011)
Iran and U.S. ally Saudi Arabia are fighting "an intricate cold war" across the region, "competing for dominance in global energy markets and nuclear technology and for political influence in the Persian Gulf and the Levant. ... The Iranian-Saudi rivalry has also expanded beyond Iraq and into the greater Middle East, especially in the wake of the Arab Spring." Advances by one bring aggressive counter moves by the other. "A proxy Saudi-Iranian war in Iraq represents a very considerable threat to oil supplies," the Daily Star reports. "Many such confrontations across the region appear escalating fast—and becoming much harder for Washington and its allies to control." (Mohsen M. Milani, "Iran and Saudi Arabia Square Off: The Growing Rivalry Between Tehran and Riyadh," Foreign Affairs, October 11, 2011; Daily Star, December 6, 2011)
Regional changes have the potential to threaten Israeli interests, including fueling mass protest and rebellion against Israel's crimes against the Palestinian people, creating further international support for the Palestinians, and contributing to the strength of Islamist forces (for instance in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya).
In an article that cites and draws on a number of recent statements by key figures in the Iranian, U.S., and Israeli ruling classes, British journalist Patrick Seale writes, "The danger is that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may now seek to break out of Israel's current political isolation by mounting a spectacular attack on Iran." ("Will Israel Bomb Iran?" Agence Global, October 11, 2011)
Efforts by the U.S. imperialists to contain, weaken, even overthrow Iran's current regime have been underway since well before President George W. Bush launched the "war on terror" after the attacks of September 11, 2001 which escalated the U.S. campaign against Iran. War on Iran has been debated at the highest levels of the U.S. government. So far, the U.S., Israel and their allies have calculated that the outcome of such a war would be very uncertain. It may neither topple the Islamic Republic, nor stop its nuclear program, while possibly triggering regional upheaval on a level the imperialists could not control. But these difficulties do not change the U.S. and Israel's need to confront Iran, so they've worked to cripple it through sanctions, diplomacy, and covert operations.
That the U.S., its allies, and Israel routinely carry out such aggression short of all-out war is outrageous and calls for much more visible opposition inside this country. And more, the fact that previous threats to attack Iran have not come to pass should not lull people into a false sense that the U.S. and Israel are just bluffing or using these threats merely to strengthen sanctions and diplomacy. Nor should the fact that Barack Obama not George W. Bush is commander-in-chief of the empire, and that the U.S. is drawing down from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The trajectory toward confrontation between the U.S. and Iran has not only continued, it has become more intense. Sanctions, diplomacy and covert actions can lay the groundwork, including in public opinion, for war. And Iran's ongoing nuclear program, the U.S.'s inability to achieve its objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan, the upheaval across the Middle East, and the sharpening of different contradictions globally, are all increasing the necessity facing the imperialists to avoid another setback and to maintain their hold on the Middle East. So circumstances can shift the U.S. and Israel's calculus of the risks and benefits of war.
And wars, including "covert wars," have a logic of their own, and things can get out of control. There are many flashpoints between the U.S.-Israel and Iran, and clashes, even accidental clashes, can quickly escalate in a spiral of action and counter-action.
Stepped-up intervention against Iran, no matter how the U.S., Israel, and the United Nations attempt to justify it, is criminal aggression in the service of continued imperialist control of the planet. Anyone who wants to see an alternative to the "choices" between U.S. imperialist domination and aggression, and the reactionary forces represented by the Iranian rulers, must confront and act on the reality that support for, or passive complicity in the face of a U.S./Israel attack on Iran would strengthen both sides of this unacceptable paradigm. And, on the other hand, resistance to U.S./Israeli aggression could be part of bringing forward a radical alternative to both imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism on a global scale.
Any military attack or war on Iran would be a huge crime that would likely result in many, many killed and wounded along with enormous devastation. People, especially in the U.S., have to say—loudly, clearly, and actively—NO!
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
Even in the few days since we wrote this week's main story, the threats against Iran have intensified. We are calling on distributors and readers to really think through how to get this issue of the paper out to people who are attuned to this issue−international activists, concerned clergy and lay people in congregations that have an activist history, artists and intellectuals of conscience, youth, anti-war vets, Occupy people, etc. This should definitely include any actions or forums in your area around Guantánamo on or near January 11, 2012. And it should include some of the new Iranian movies that have been released in some cities. Those who have ties in social networks should get out both Larry Everest's article and the centerspread on the lies involved in the war against Iraq.
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
On December 2, thousands of people turned out for an extraordinary dialogue between Carl Dix and Cornel West at UC Berkeley—"In the Age of Obama... Police Terror, Incarceration, No Jobs, Mis-Education: What Future for Our Youth?" The dialogue, along with responses by West and Dix to questions from the audience, can now be viewed online on the C-SPAN website at http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/RaceIne.
Many more people should see this breakthrough event. One student called the Dix-West dialogue "incredibly powerful." A UC administrator said it was "fantastic, the best event ever at UCB. It was well-timed with what's happened, it was intellectually challenging, emotionally touched people and relevant." For Revolution coverage of the event, see "The Cornel West–Carl Dix Dialogue at UC Berkeley: Thousands Turn Out For Unprecedented, Transformative Evening."
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
We want to call readers' attention to some sections of the talk "RUMINATIONS AND WRANGLINGS: On the Importance of Marxist Materialism, Communism as a Science, Meaningful Revolutionary Work, and a Life with Meaning" by Bob Avakian, which are particularly important in today's situation. These sections begin with the section entitled "'And This Semblance Seduces the Democrats'" and then "Each Class Seeks to Remake the World in Its Image—But Only One Class Cannot Do This by Relying on Spontaneity" and going through the section "What a revolution really is...and really is not."
Click here to go to the beginning of the referenced sections.
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
In yet another threatening move, the U.S. recently sent an aircraft carrier through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow passageway of water that connects the Persian Gulf with the Arabian Sea and then the Indian Ocean. The Strait of Hormuz borders Iran, as does the Persian Gulf. The Iranian military commander then "recommended" that the U.S. not return this aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf. The New York Times, on January 4, termed this the latest and "most aggressive" move in the increasingly intense maneuvering between the big gangsters the U.S. and Israel, on the one hand—which are menacing Iran with the threat of an attack and carrying out covert military activities against it even now—and Iran, the upstart mafioso which is attempting to project itself as an increasingly significant "player" in the domination and plunder of the region.
But that's not the point of this article. No, this is about something that may seem, at first, a bit more minor—the name of the aircraft carrier that the U.S. sent through the Strait of Hormuz: the John C. Stennis.
Who, you might ask, is John C. Stennis? What are the boons and benefits for humanity accomplished by this John C. Stennis such that he came to have his name emblazoned on a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier?
Stennis was the U.S. senator from Mississippi from 1947 to 1988—41 years. During the majority of his tenure, Black people in Mississippi did not have the right to vote. Indeed, during his time in office, Black people in Mississippi were often lynched—including the notorious lynching of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black youth visiting from Chicago who was taken out and murdered in 1955 for the crime of allegedly whistling at a white woman and whose killers sat laughing in the courtroom as they were acquitted and then sold their story to Look magazine. During John C. Stennis' reign in the Senate, numerous people were murdered for the offense of attempting to register Black people to vote or otherwise fighting for basic rights—including Medgar Evers, who was assassinated for organizing a boycott of local stores in Jackson, Mississippi (an incident which is included in the popular book and movie The Help), as well as the civil rights organizers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, not to mention dozens of unsung and unmentioned Black activists working in local areas of Mississippi. During his long career of dignified deliberation, other African-American people were routinely imprisoned, put into mental hospitals, or severely beaten for similar acts of political resistance or often just for "acting uppity," as the saying went. During the over 15,000 days that John C. Stennis held office in the U.S. Senate, Black people in Mississippi were first maintained in a state of semi-feudal, slavelike conditions as sharecroppers (and, again, often threatened or physically harmed if word got out that they even were thinking of moving away from the plantations on which they worked) and then, as cotton farming increasingly became mechanized and their labor was no longer profitable to the plantation owners, driven off the land and more often than not into even worse poverty than before. During most of the decade-after-decade tenure of John C. Stennis, all this was backed up by laws and customs that forced Black people to live as a class of people whose basic humanity was denied in every interaction with white people and who were constantly stigmatized, through legal and de facto segregation. And during his time in office, as the U.S. became increasingly embarrassed on the international stage that such outrageous and totally brazen abuses of basic human rights flourished unpunished in this country and as African-American people and others, south and north, increasingly rose up against these abuses and shined an even brighter and more glaring light upon them, so that as a result of that the U.S. Congress was finally, 100 years after the Civil War, forced to pass civil rights legislation—even this could only happen over the bitter and stubborn obstruction of senators from the South who opposed even these basic rights.
Surely, given the fact that a naval aircraft carrier of "the greatest democracy the world has ever seen" now carries his name, John C. Stennis must have stood consistently and bravely against these horrible abuses. Or if not that, surely he must have now and then done some great courageous deed that showed him as a man of principle, a man of basic decency, a man who at least would speak out against things as barbaric as lynching, as assassination, and other terrible abuses carried out against an entire people. Or certainly, at least once, he must have taken the Senate floor, cleared his throat and spoken, however haltingly, against one of the awful crimes that happened in his great state year in and year out of his 41 years in office.
Actually, no. John C. Stennis never said a word against any of the crimes touched on above, and indeed John C. Stennis stood FOR such crimes and the system that enabled and required those crimes. Stennis helped author the so-called "Southern Manifesto" of 1956 that upheld segregation of the schools and signaled approval from on high for the blood-soaked reaction that would follow. Stennis not only opposed every piece of civil rights legislation up until 1982, he spearheaded the hard core of that opposition. He even opposed funds that went toward Head Start programs for small children in Mississippi because it might aid Black people (and re-channeled those funds to segregated, all-white programs). He campaigned as, and truly was, an ardent upholder of segregation and all the horror that it entailed for decades for millions of people—from the largest questions of society to the most intimate details of their lives. In fact, Stennis first gained notoriety as a county prosecutor who convicted three sharecroppers of murder based on confessions that were discovered to have been coerced through torture, including flogging. This marked him as a man with a future in America.
But that was hardly the limit of John C. Stennis. Stennis also backed up the U.S. military invasions and proxy wars against countries all over the world, at a time when these invasions were taking millions and millions of lives, and ruining tens of millions more—from Korea to Indochina to Central America, from southern Africa to the Middle East and beyond. Indeed, John C. Stennis was so reliably cold-blooded that he was made head of the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1969 to 1981, and presided over the beginnings of the massive buildup of nuclear weapons by the U.S. that reached a climax during the '80s. During this whole period of time the U.S. claimed the right to a "nuclear first strike"—that is, the U.S. openly proclaimed as part of its strategic doctrine the supposed right to obliterate the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons if the Soviets dared to attack any European country with conventional, non-nuclear weapons. There was no war too genocidal, no weapon system too horrible, no doctrine too unspeakably obscene in its willingness to endanger human civilization and the species itself for what the U.S. ruling class perceived as its interests that John C. Stennis would not proudly thump his chest and approve it.
So it is fitting, really, that this aircraft carrier, now carrying out provocations as part of the buildup of what could very well be yet another unjust and extremely dangerous war, be named after this monstrous pig Stennis. For there can be no more fitting representative of what American democracy really stands for and means in real terms than someone whose life was dedicated to the violent subjugation of people all over the globe by the U.S. military machine and, above all, the particularly brutal domination of Black people within the U.S. And if it should come to pass that the U.S. uses an incident involving the John C. Stennis aircraft carrier as a casus belli [a reason for going to war], that too would be a fitting commentary on the real interests and character of what interests would be fought for and defended in such a war—and a fitting enough reason, among a million others, for a revolution to put an end to a system that nurtures and lionizes the likes of John C. Stennis, and to politically oppose and resist such a war as part of building a movement for such a revolution.
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
This year's Rose Parade in Pasadena, California was punctured with the sound of "We Are the 99%" as several thousand people joined and marched with the Occupy the Rose Parade contingent. The Rose Parade is traditionally dominated by corporate and municipal floats, mounted police and sheriffs on horseback, and military flyovers. But as the official parade ended, something different, fresh, and electrifying happened as Occupy the Rose Parade took over the streets of Pasadena.
People who normally clear out of the stands and head home or go to the Rose Bowl game stayed to watch a 70-foot Occupy Octopus symbolizing corporate greed, two gigantic replicas of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, one reading "We the people," the other "We the corporations," and hundreds of individual banners and signs: "Employed, Affluent, and here because I care!" "Peoples of the world Rise Up!" "Keep your corporate hands off my parade" "We are the 99%. We won't retreat!" And there were homemade signs like "Just Imagine No War" that used the official theme of the Rose Parade, "Just Imagine..."
Occupiers came from all over the state—Occupy Oakland, Occupy San Diego, Occupy Fresno, Occupy Riverside, and Occupy Orange County. Among the many banners was "Humanity Needs Revolution and Communism."
Many supporters, including some immigrants' rights people, were waiting among the spectators on the sidewalk to join in when the contingent marched by. The Los Angeles Times quoted a 71-year-old woman who was at the parade with her friend who was a Rose Parade Princess 51 years ago. They had planned to join the Occupy protesters in the middle of the parade route. "We believe in the Rose Parade, but we believe it is time for the people to be heard..."
This year's Rose Bowl game was between the University of Wisconsin and the University of Oregon. As the parade passed a crowd of Wisconsin rooters, they cheered as the chant of "Impeach Walker!" [Wisconsin's governor] came from the Occupy contingent.
At the press conference and rally after the march, Revolution and the Call for mass action against the suppression of the Occupy movement were welcomed.
|All Photos: Special to Revolution|
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
"A New Generation of Revolutionary Leaders"
From the Talk: Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About
Editors' Note: The following is the text of the answer by Bob Avakian to Question 14 in the "Questions and Answers" Section of the talk, which is available as a DVD and online at revolutiontalk.net. This has been slightly edited for publication, and a footnote has been added.
Now, finally, as far as written questions—because we wanted to allow time for people to ask questions from the floor, so to speak—the question is: "Given how crucial the revolutionary upsurge of the '60s was in forging the leadership of the RCP, how can a new generation of revolutionary leadership be brought into being in the absence of such a revolutionary upsurge?"
Well, those were favorable times. There was a revolutionary upsurge generally in the world, in many different forms and many different levels and with many different kinds of programs and ideologies. But there was a general revolutionary ferment in the world, and this did find very broad expression even within the U.S. itself. I mean this even penetrated into some of the mainstream silly popular culture. Like some of you might remember the movie Car Wash—it was made in the '70s. There's a scene in there where the son of the owner of the car wash brings in the Red Book [Quotations from Chairman Mao Tsetung] and is trying to propagandize the other people working in the car wash about how great the Red Book is. Well, this was kind of silly, on one level, but it reflected something about what was going on in the culture. There was another movie made with Peter Sellers called I Love You, Alice B. Toklas. This was all about how... Alice B. Toklas was this woman who developed this recipe for making cookies with marijuana, I think. And it involved this guy [played by the actor] Peter Sellers who was a mainstream, really straight-by-the-book lawyer who's supposed to have one of these marriages that's sort of, you know, almost like a merger. And at the last minute he drops out and goes and joins his brother in kind of a hippie life, and he keeps going back and forth between these two lives. And at one point his brother takes him to a bookstore and says, "Oh, the Red Book—you really gotta get one of these." So this is a kind of reflection, even reaching into the mainstream culture, of what was going in the society at that time, especially among the youth of different nationalities, but not only them.
And of course this provided very favorable terms and conditions for people to develop into revolutionaries and into communists. Now, naturally, it didn't happen automatically. Just because there was all this stuff around, just because there was a Red Book there, you didn't have to read it. And just because you read it didn't mean you understood it. And just because you read it and understood it didn't mean you really went deeper and understood something more fundamental than that. I mean the Red Book is a condensed version of a lot of things. It's very good, obviously, but to really understand these things and really develop as a communist you have to go a lot deeper and a lot broader than that. You have to get into a lot of the underlying principles that are being spoken of and concentrated there. And you have to get into all the complexities of this.
But this general kind of atmosphere created very favorable conditions for that, it's true. This is a situation in which I myself and others in the RCP—or what became the RCP—this is the context in which many of us developed. But, of course, we shouldn't romanticize that. There were lots of people who developed in that time, became very radicalized, even became revolutionary-minded, who did not become Maoists, who did not become communists. They went in other directions. Or they proclaimed themselves Maoists and communists but it wasn't really that. And when some real twists and turns and some real tests came, like when the revisionists seized power in China [in 1976], they just fell all apart. So it wasn't some kind of automatic or easy thing to be..."oh, you know, everybody was being a communist then, man, all you had to do was fall into it." It wasn't like that. And a lot of people got killed in that period of time, especially members of the Black Panther Party, who might have also developed into revolutionary leaders in a more developed way but never got the chance. This is the way it goes. Some of this is accident—who emerges and who doesn't as a revolutionary leader and what emerges as a vanguard party.
One of the questions we didn't get into here—we didn't have time—is somebody asked the question of did I think that as a white male I could actually lead the revolution. Well, the answer is no, not as a white male—but I think I could play a leading role in it as a communist [applause]. This is the challenge: what you follow is not people based on what nationality they are, or what gender they are, and so on, but whether they really represent the way forward out of all this and whether they have a plan and a program for actually leading people in that way, and developing in that kind of a way. Like I said, there's a lot of accident that goes into that. A lot of other people who might have emerged as leaders in forming the new vanguard party reached a turn in the road and couldn't keep going forward on the right road for a lot of different reasons—or maybe they got killed or thrown in jail and didn't have the opportunity to do it.
So we shouldn't idealize that period of time. There were very favorable conditions. But, first of all, on the one side it's not automatic that you're going to develop into a communist out of conditions like that, or that you can forge the leadership necessary to form a vanguard party out of all that. See, that's something else I want to say—just a little detour here. Leadership is not a matter of ego, it's not a matter—at least proletarian leadership, communist leadership—it's not a matter of asserting that you know better than everybody else, you're smarter than everybody else and everybody should follow you blindly without questioning what you say. Leadership is essentially a matter of responsibility. It's a matter of being willing to be ruthlessly scientific, caring enough about this revolution—having a deep enough grounding and understanding that this revolution is necessary and possible—to be willing and on that basis to develop the ability to apply yourself to actually lead this revolution and to take up all the daunting and heavy responsibilities that go into actually providing that leadership, learning but also leading and not shirking the responsibility. Yes, I'll say it straight up: I'm ready and I'm willing to take the responsibility of leading this revolution all the way. And our party is willing and ready to do the same thing. [applause]
But this is a matter of responsibility. It's a matter of taking this seriously. It's a matter of saying: this is where this needs to go, this is where this is tending to go, these are the forces that are resisting and pulling back away from it, this is what has to be overcome, this is what has to be overthrown, this is how people have to be led, this is how we have to go out and work among people and learn from them while we're giving them leadership, this is the process of the mass line that has to be applied, these are the problems that have to be studied. This is what it means to lead—it means you're willing and you're ready to take that responsibility and you're prepared, not just as an individual but collectively—collectively in the party and together with the masses of people who come forward to join the revolution—you're ready to carry that all the way through and to take up every challenge, both in theory and in practice, that has to be confronted and dealt with in order to make that revolution and contribute to it in the whole world. That's what it means to develop and to take the responsibility as a vanguard and to develop revolutionary leadership.
Now, while there were particular circumstances that were favorable to develop people like that out of the '60s, there are also plenty of favorable conditions to do that now. That's why you see many young people coming forward as communists right now, a number of whom are sitting right in this room. Where do they come from? They came out of the upsurges of this time. They came out of a different way, not the same way as the '60s, a different way that things are posing themselves now. They came out of recognizing, as we recognized then, that all these things stem from the same system. As they were introduced to this idea, they embraced it and took it up, and that's how they began to develop and are continuing to develop as communists.
Now, in order to bring forward new leaders in any kind of period...there's lots of upsurge going on now—look around you. Even [with the war] in Vietnam we didn't have a million or more people demonstrating against the war at that time.* Overall, things then were more advanced than they've gotten to be now, but there are plenty of elements of upsurge and resistance now that hold great potential.
And it's a very tricky and complicated issue how you develop new leaders when you already have leaders. Because there's a tendency when you have long years of experience...well, first of all there's a tendency to get stuck in your ways. That's one thing you have to struggle against all the time, constantly trying to not get stuck in your ways and to recognize new things that emerge that might look to you like nothing significant but then you look deeper and you dig deeper and you see that they are, and that they do represent something that's shaking things loose. So there's not getting stuck in your ways and stuck in a rut.
There are positives and negatives to being a veteran, to having been around in the struggle for a long time. The positives are obvious—you gain a lot of experience, you learn a lot. One of the things you develop is a certain subtlety about things, you don't see things in oversimplified terms. You understand the complexities of things, at the same time as you see the simplicity within the complexity. What do I mean by that? Like, for example, to actually make a revolution is very complex, but it's also very simple that we need this revolution and that's what we have to do. And you have to not lose sight of either part of that. Then there's a question of not getting stuck in a rut or stuck in your ways, but there's also a question of not getting in the way of new people sometimes. Because you can look at what people are doing who are new and you have years of experience and you say, "I've seen this movie before, I know where this is going." Well, sometimes you do, and sometimes you don't because nothing is ever exactly the same as the way it was before. But even when it is in its main lines the same, there's still always new things to learn, and there's still always much to learn from people who are newly encountering these things and maybe coming up with new ways of confronting it that you didn't think of before.
Yes, there's a temptation to say, "Well, look, we know how to do this." I like this new generation, but let's face it, you know, they make a lot of fucking mistakes. [laughter] And it's very tempting to say, well we just can't let them take this initiative here because these are not times when we can make a lot of mistakes. This is a serious situation we're dealing with. These people that we're up against, the core of this ruling class—they're not playing. The shit that I was talking about is not some kind of thing I made up. The dangers that are represented are very real, and mistakes can cost a lot in this situation. So, it's very difficult to handle this contradiction of saying: "OK, let's let people take initiative even if they make some mistakes—some that I might have made too and some that are all their own." Because if we don't let that happen, first of all we're not going to learn as much as we might learn, including from how they handle it that might be different and even better in some ways—to our surprise—than the way we might have handled it. And second of all, if we don't do that they're never going to learn in this whole furnace of the struggle and, even if making mistakes, how to advance to the next level so that they can develop more as leaders and come forward.
So, part of it is actually leading people to develop as leaders, but part of that is knowing when to assist and when to get the fuck out of the way. And that's not easy to determine. One of the hardest things and one of the most important things in life in general, and especially in the revolutionary movement and socialist society, is knowing what are the things and when are the circumstances in which you really have to pay a lot of focused and very concrete and detailed and calibrated attention to everything, and what are the situations and what are the circumstances in which you should really step back and let things develop. This comes up all the time: You're working with other people, you want them to take initiative. Well, what are the times when you really have to kind of walk together with them step by step to help them do it, until they can do it more on their own? And what are the times and circumstances when you just have to have a general discussion and then let them go, and get out of the way?
So bringing forward new leaders is also a matter of handling that kind of contradiction, and there is a strategic importance to this. One of the principles we stress—whether you're talking about youth or people with more experience, whether you're talking about people of different genders or different nationalities—leadership is not a joke, and leadership is not a matter of tokenism. Leadership is responsible to the masses of people, here and all over the world. Leadership is something that has to be brought forward on the basis of people developing the ability, and being helped to develop the ability, to actually lead for real, to actually apply the revolutionary ideology and scientific methods to solve the real contradictions you're up against.
Otherwise, what we're doing is playing around so that we can feel good among ourselves and forgetting about the larger world and the masses of people out there, not just here but all over the world. You can feel good setting up arrangements that look good to other people—but what about the real contradictions that the masses of people are up against and the ways in which they're suffering every day? Are you really doing something to change that? Or are you just playing around? Developing leadership has to be done in line with and in mind of actually changing the world—that's what I'm trying to say. You have to change the world out here! It doesn't do any good if we don't change the world! I don't care whether we look young or old, what nationality or gender we are, if we don't change the world the masses of people are going to be fucked again! And that's not what we're about, that's not what this is about.
Yes, we have to bring forward the youth, we have to bring people forward from among the oppressed nationalities and from among the proletariat, and we have to develop them not only as communists but as communist leaders, and we are doing that and we have to do more. But it's gotta be on the basis of applying this ideology to change the world and to mobilize the masses of people and lead them to emancipate themselves, or else it doesn't mean anything. And that's what we're about. That's the standard we apply. That's what we're aiming for, and that's what we're thinking about and keeping uppermost in our minds when we're working to bring forward leaders from among the youth and from among the proletariat and oppressed masses. And there's plenty of circumstances and conditions to do that—there's plenty of work to be done and plenty of people to be brought forward. And I say: Let's get busy with it. [applause]
* This talk, and the question and answer session that followed was given in the summer of 2003, a few months after there were massive protests against the impending war in Iraq; this is what Bob Avakian is referring to here, in speaking of "a million or more people demonstrating against the war." [back]
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
Two months ago, a major, multi-faceted fundraising campaign was launched to project Bob Avakian, his vision and his works, far beyond what it is today: "BA Everywhere... Imagine the Difference It Could Make!"
As we said in a recent editorial, "This is a battle with a very specific goal—to project this person's voice and work into every corner of society. Because of BA and the work he has done over several decades, summing up the positive and negative experience of the communist revolution so far, and drawing from a broad range of human experience, there is a new synthesis of communism that has been brought forward—there really is a viable vision and strategy for a radically new, and much better, society and world, and there is the crucial leadership that is needed to carry forward the struggle toward that goal."
A fund campaign, as we also emphasized in the editorial, "that unleashes and develops imagination, defiance and community in everything it does." (Revolution #250, November 13, 2011)
This fundraising got off to an exciting, significant beginning in November-December, when we met and exceeded our goal of $23,000 for the production and release of the film, Occasioned by the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World, capturing how, in New York City in April 2011, a range of artists, musicians, dancers and actors, from a diversity of perspectives, came together to celebrate the release that month of BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian.
In the same period, thousands of dollars were raised and sent to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund to contribute to its drive to send 2,000 copies of BAsics to prisoners nationwide who are requesting the book. By the end of the year, 800 copies had been sent, and the drive continues to raise the money—$12,000—to send 1,200 more.
Now, as we enter 2012, a spotlight falls on another major aspect of this fundraising campaign: the BAsics Bus Tour. Imagine "buses with eye-catching decorations touring the nation, spreading revolution and BA's voice to those hungry for it in outlying areas. People on a mission rolling through community centers, high schools, Ivy League and community colleges, from mountains to valleys, suburbs to rural areas. Showing the film of Bob Avakian's talk Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About in classrooms and community centers. Getting Avakian's memoir, and other key works, out all over the country...." (Revolution #249, November 6, 2011)
Over the New Year's weekend, fundraising parties and events were held across the country to raise money to launch the BAsics Bus Tour in California. Revolution is calling on all its readers to send correspondence about these events. Look to revcom.us for ongoing reports from all areas of the country. And—more money is needed to launch and continue this effort. See "Announcing the 2012 Kick-Off of the BA Everywhere Bus Tour."
As underscored in the Revolution #249 and #250 editorials: If we succeed in this campaign, "if we collectively raise enough money to make it concretely possible to project the whole BA vision and project into all corners of society and to introduce him and what he is bringing forward to millions who are not yet familiar with his works and vision; if the framework he is bringing forward and advocating for becomes increasingly debated and wrangled over by thousands and by millions of people from all walks of life; if, together, we manage to accomplish this, this will actually make a very big difference. The whole social and political culture will 'breathe' more freely, people will wrangle passionately over 'big questions' concerning the direction of society (like knowing that much of the future of humanity hangs in the balance) and the time will once again resonate with big dreams for fundamental change and the emancipation of humanity."
Read "Supporting the BA Everywhere Campaign: A Reflection and a Challenge," a correspondence from a reader envisioning the powerful role the BAsics Bus Tour can and will play in achieving this goal, and challenging people to match his financial contribution to the fundraising campaign.
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
Posted December 26, 2011
I'm writing to tell you about my enormous enthusiasm, excitement and hope for the new campaign: "BA Everywhere...Imagine the Difference It Could Make!" In particular, I wanted to write about one major initiative being launched as part of this: the BA Bus Tour. As written in Revolution: "Imagine buses with eye-catching decorations touring the nation, spreading revolution and BA's voice to those hungry for it in outlying areas.'' When I first heard about this, I thought: "This is exactly what we need!"
I recently had the privilege of talking with some people who have been part of the Occupy movement in one of the bigger cities. In addition to really uniting with them when they expressed their horror about the realities facing the masses of people, and their excitement for wrangling with what it would take to forge a whole new society, one of the things that really struck me was their descriptions of their lives before Occupy. Many, if not all, in the group said they felt a huge amount of isolation and even loneliness before coming to the encampment. These folks were from various parts of the country, including some rural areas, and they said they felt as if they had no one they could connect with about these big questions. I started to imagine what must be the hundreds of thousands of youth who are feeling this same isolation, loneliness and anger, and what the BA Bus Tour could mean for them.
Imagine what it would be like for a 15-year-old girl in a small Nebraska town who has been trained to act and think like a sex object, before she really fully understands what that means. And even when she does all that, she gets ridiculed and is called a "slut" for maybe "crossing the line" one day or even daring to express her own sexual desire. Imagine her seeing the BA bus rolling into town and a revolutionary youth jumping out, handing her a copy of BAsics and reading from the quote that begins "Look at all these beautiful children who are female in the world..." (BAsics 1:10)
Imagine a young black youth living in the projects in Philadelphia, and every day he wakes up is a day he could be harassed and brutalized by the police, or even killed. Then one day when he wakes up and walks to school, he passes by a large projection of Avakian's Revolution talk and hears Avakian's voice in loud defiance: "No more generations of our youth, here and all around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed..." (BAsics 1:13)
Think about the Tyler Clementis, the young men and women who will be bullied, tormented and terrorized simply for love that doesn't fit some Christian Fascist's view of what is acceptable. [Tyler Clementi was a Rutgers University freshman who committed suicide after a secretly recorded video of him kissing another man was posted on YouTube.—Eds] Think about the children of immigrants who live with the stigma of being an "illegal" human being, and what it would mean for them to hear a leader who will get to the heart of why people really do come here from all over the world. And imagine all the youth everywhere getting into BAsics, the Revolution DVD, BA's memoir, the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) and more, having their creativity and critical thinking unleashed for the first time around what it would mean to live in a whole new radically different world and diving into Bob Avakian's new synthesis which makes that all possible.
When I imagine all these things, I can't help but feel an overwhelming sense of joy for what this BA Bus Tour can make possible, and also a tremendous responsibility to do everything I can to help make this happen. This is why I'm donating $400 to support the bus tour. And in the spirit of the BAsics Challenge that was issued earlier this year, I am challenging 10 more donations to match mine! And remember, you can match this $400 in a variety of ways: Hold a bake sale or a fund-raising party, get a group of 10 people together who can each make a $40 donation, or just write your check and mail it today. Either way, let's usher in 2012 with all the hope this BA bus tour will bring!
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
Imagine buses with eye-catching decorations touring the nation, spreading revolution and Bob Avakian's voice to those hungry for it in outlying areas. People on a mission rolling through community centers, high schools, Ivy League and community colleges, from mountains to valleys, suburbs to rural areas. Showing the film of Bob Avakian's talk Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About in classrooms and community centers. Getting Avakian's memoir, and other key works, out all over the country. Reaching the youth, visiting the Occupy encampments that have sprung up all over, going to where there is outrageous oppression going down, taking a week in an inner city... and then another inner city... "The BA bus is coming to your town."
These buses will have a grass-roots component, taking the message directly to the people, and the different forces interested in or working for change... and they would also aim to become a news story in the cities and towns they go to... "The Revolution caravan has come to town" with photos tweeted and interviews broadcast.
The bus tour part of the campaign to get BA's Vision and Works Everywhere will be launched in February with a two-week pilot project in California, taking advantage of the warmer winter to make a real beginning and to gather experience for the full national tour to start later in the spring. This will be a great way to start off the new year, and proceeds from year-end parties and other contributions from people all over the country can help launch this important new project.
The BAsics Bus Tour, as the pilot project is titled, will start up with great fanfare in Los Angeles and tour key parts of the city and surrounding areas for a week. It will pass through and make stops in California's Central Valley and then it will head up to the San Francisco Bay Area for a week.
With banners wrapped around the bus advertising BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian and the Revolution talk DVD,* the bus tour will sweep into inner city neighborhoods, into suburban communities and college campuses, reaching out to those most oppressed by this system, to inner city youth and suburban youth, to students and professors, and to farmworkers laboring in the agricultural areas of the state. BA's works will be displayed and sold, the Revolution DVD will be shown, and people will be encouraged to become acquainted with Bob Avakian's voice and vision, and to dig into how a radically different and much better world is possible.
An initial budget has been drawn up for rental of an RV, gas, food, and materials—more than $7,000 will be needed for the two-week project.
To support the bus tour and help get it off the ground send donations to:
5726 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Cash donations and proceeds from fundraising parties can be gathered together and sent in as a money order. Money orders and checks should be made out to Revolution Books. Please put "BAsics Bus Tour" in the subject line.
*The full talk, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, is available in English and Spanish on DVD and online at revolutiontalk.net. Clips from the film are also at youtube.com/RevolutionTalk. [back]
|Above, October 2011, a van with banners and signs promoting BAsics in an inner city neighborhood.
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
A pair of artists painted a giant 17- x 8-foot canvas with a map of the world, highlighting the crimes of U.S. imperialism, and also highlighting "Internationalism—the Whole World Comes First," several other quotes from BAsics, and a drawn image of the cover of BAsics.
Everywhere that people have taken this art work, it has drawn crowds and sparked lively discussion, on college campuses and city streets, at Occupy Wall Street and antiwar protests in New York and Washington, D.C. And lots of copies of BAsics have been sold!
Click to see larger images:
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
There is absolutely nothing wrong, tragic, unfortunate, or sad about a woman choosing to get an abortion. Nothing.
Because being forced to have a child against your will is enslavement. Period.
Because fetuses are NOT babies. Fetuses have the potential to become babies, but until they are born they have no independent social or biological existence. They are a subordinate part of a woman's body. Any state, religious, or family intervention which forces—or even pressures—a woman into subordinating her life, dreams, and health to incubating that fetus against her will is completely unjust and illegitimate. It is immoral and it is enslaving.
But what about her responsibility? If she didn't want a baby, shouldn't she have thought of that before she "opened her legs"?
This argument is wrong on at least four levels. First, this suggests that it is wrong for women to have sex and that they must be punished for doing so (while applying a totally different standard to men). Second, this approach treats children—who should be wanted and well cared for—like nothing more than a punishment to women. Third, this ignores the fact that getting an abortion when one is not ready or eager to have a child is taking responsibility. Finally, this ignores the fact that it is the very Christian fascists who are criminalizing abortion who are responsible for denying increasing numbers of women access to birth control and sex education (which makes it enormously harder for them to protect themselves from pregnancy during sex in the first place).
But what about when a woman is raped? Or if she really wanted to have a baby but there is something wrong with the fetus or a danger to her own life? Doesn't that make the abortion sad?
Again, fuck no!
If a woman is impregnated because of being raped, it is the rape that is the horrific crime—the abortion which prevents her from being forced to bear the child of her rapist is positive and liberating.
If a woman really wants a child but something goes wrong with the pregnancy, it is the medical problems that are the tragedy—the abortion that eliminates those dangers is positive and liberating.
Women are human beings, not incubators. A woman who cannot decide for herself when and whether she will have a child has no more freedom than a slave. Abortion is not something to apologize for, it is something to celebrate and defend. One in three women will have an abortion in her life; she is not wrong for doing so. It is time to declare loudly and boldly:
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
January 22 and 23, on the 39th anniversary of the Roe V. Wade Supreme Court Decision which legalized abortion, come to DC to:
39 years after women won the right to abortion, this fundamental right is hanging by a thread.
But that is not all.
Now, even birth control is under siege. Pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions. “Personhood” amendments seek to criminalize miscarriages and ban all contraception. And President Obama openly upheld Kathleen Sebelius's unprecedented decision to overrule the FDA to ban on over-the-counter distribution of Plan B (emergency contraception).
The truth of the statement from the World Can't Wait is being born out with horrific and escalating consequences: “There is not going to be some savior from the Democratic Party. This whole idea of putting our hopes and energies into 'leaders' who tell us to seek common ground with fascists and religious fanatics is proving every day to be a disaster, and actually serves to demobilize people.”
“But silence and paralysis are NOT acceptable. That which you will not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn—or be forced—to accept. There is no escaping it: [this] whole disastrous course... must be STOPPED. And we must take the responsibility to do it.”
Millions upon millions do not want to see women forced to bear children against their will. We must rely on ourselves.
If 2011 marked an unprecedented escalation in the assault on women's lives, 2012 must mark the launch of unprecedented resistance!
On January 22 and 23, as tens of thousands pour into DC in their so-called “March for Life” to further shame and enslave women, join us in standing up to demand:
Fetuses are not babies.
Abortion is not murder.
Women are not incubators.
A woman who cannot decide for herself when and whether to have a child is not free. Forced motherhood is female enslavement. And when women – half of humanity – is not free, then no one is free.
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
End Pornography and Patriarchy:
the Enslavement and Degradation of Women
We are told that "equality for women has been won" and that "there are no limits to what girls can achieve." BULLSHIT!
Every 15 seconds a woman is beaten. Every day three to four women are killed by their partners. One in four female college students will be raped or sexually assaulted while in college.
Pornography has become increasingly violent, cruel, degrading towards women even as it has become more mainstream. Millions of women are trafficked as literal chattel in the international sex industry.
This is NOT society becoming more comfortable with sex. This is society becoming saturated with the sexualized degradation of women. If you can't imagine sex without porn, you're fucked.
At the same time, the right to abortion and even birth control are under escalating assault. Being forced to bear a child against your will is a form of enslavement.
THIS MUST BE STOPPED!
Women are not objects. Women are not things to be used for the sexual pleasure of men NOR are they breeders of children. WOMEN ARE HUMAN BEINGS CAPABLE OF FULL EQUALITY IN EVERY REALM!
End the Culture of Rape and Pornography!
Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!
March for the Full Liberation of Women!
People who want to be part of building for these International Women's Day protests and marches should contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Join the ongoing conversation at sunsara.blogspot.com.
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
Revolution calls on its international readership, and especially those living in the Middle East, to very broadly distribute our special issue entitled "A Declaration: For Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity." (Download at revcom.us/a/158/Declaration-en.html.)
This Declaration exposes the oppression of women in class society, and goes beyond that to develop and deepen existing communist theory and theoretical analysis dealing with where this oppression comes from, why it exists, and what we have to do to get rid of it and all oppression as we emancipate all humanity. It lays bare all the paltry programs and moral and ideological bankruptcy of those who claim the mantle of women's advance but only mean getting a "fair share" in the world as it is. It presents a vision of what socialism and communism could be like, building on and going beyond experience in socialist societies so far.
This Declaration urgently needs to get into the hands of people who are rising up against oppression—including the oppression of women—all over the Middle East. And you need to be a part of this. The Declaration can be found online at revcom.us/a/158/Declaration-en.html. Email, tweet and post this link everywhere. Post the entire issue when possible. Send us all your ideas for promoting and distributing this special issue. And anyone who wants to contribute to translating it should write us—send us drafts of your translations, and ideas on how you can assist in getting this special issue translated and out into the world.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
As the U.S. wages wars in the Middle East and elsewhere and threatens new ones, it is important for people to take a hard look at the pretext that the U.S. used in 2003 to start the war on Iraq.
In 2002 and 2003, the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and Vice President insisted that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was pursuing nuclear weapons, that it had chemical and biological weapons and a fleet of aerial drones to deliver them, and that it had ties with Al Qaeda and international terrorism, and was linked to the September 11, 2001 attacks. These claims were backed up by extensive "documentation," "evidence," and lengthy "intelligence findings." The Iraq war, and revelations that emerged about what was going on in the White House at the time, reveal that these claims were total lies, cooked up to justify a war that the Bush regime had already decided to launch.
• • •
In the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, Vice President Dick Cheney twice claimed that CIA director George Tenet told the White House that it was a "slam dunk" that Iraq had WMD. Tenet (who remains loyal to Bush) left the administration, insists Cheney twisted his words, but most revealingly wrote: "There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat," nor "was there ever a significant discussion" about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion." In response to claims by Cheney that the "slam dunk" convinced him to go to war against Iraq, Tenet wrote, "As if you needed me to say 'slam dunk' to convince you to go to war with Iraq."
February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the UN, "The facts and Iraq's behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction." Powell played a clip of an audiotape, held up a model vial of poison anthrax, and waved what he said were "2,000 pages of documents" as "proof" of Iraq's WMD program. The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency had assessed that the source of part of what Powell presented to the UN was "a liar, a fabricator." Powell's chief of staff called his involvement in preparing the speech "the lowest point of my life." The entire presentation defied credibility and would have been exposed as bizarre concoctions had anyone in the mainstream media or politics subjected it to critical examination.
The New York Times channeled Bush regime lies to justify the WMD hoax. Judith Miller's September 7, 2002 front-page story in the Times claimed that metal tubes bound for Iraq were intended to be used to enrich nuclear material. It quoted unnamed "American officials" and "American intelligence experts" and insisted there was evidence that Iraq "stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb." The Times, based on feeds Miller was getting from the White House, declared that "Mr. Hussein's dogged insistence on pursuing his nuclear ambitions... [and] Iraq's push to improve and expand Baghdad's chemical and biological arsenals, have brought Iraq and the United States to the brink of war." Shortly after this article appeared in the Times, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld all appeared on television and pointed to the Times story [which the administration itself had concocted, fabricated, and fed to the Times] as a significant motive for going to war.
The Democrats misdirected the anger of people who opposed moves toward war on Iraq into voting, but the main and dominant leaders of the Democratic Party, including Hillary Clinton and Al Gore, promoted the WMD lies. Hillary Clinton claimed, "If left unchecked Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capability to wage biological and chemical warfare and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons."
All along, the reality that "intelligence" reports about weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda were "fixed" to justify an invasion of Iraq was no secret within U.S. and allied top political and diplomatic circles. The "Downing Street Memo," prepared by British intelligence to convey what they were being told by U.S. officials, summarized: "[George W.] Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
• • •
The WMD claims were—simply put—absurd. But voices that questioned the WMD lies were attacked, shut down, marginalized, and threatened.
When UN weapons inspector and former U.S. Marine intelligence officer Scott Ritter questioned WMD claims on CNN, host Paula Zahn ridiculed Ritter, attacked him as unpatriotic, and introduced him with an insulting comment about Ritter "drinking Saddam Hussein's Kool-aid." Ritter had the gall—in the eyes of CNN—to point out that "[W]e have the Bush administration talking the talk of disarmament, talking the talk of weapons inspections, but the walk—the walk they're walking is of regime removal."
Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame, a CIA agent, were attacked and had their lives threatened for exposing elements of the WMD hoax, including the lie that Iraq had bought weapons-grade uranium in the African country of Niger.
Phil Donahue was fired from MSNBC for questioning the WMD lies. In spite of the fact that he had the highest-rated show on MSNBC at the time, and that MSNBC was positioning itself as the liberal or "progressive" network, his show was cancelled in February 2003. A leaked NBC document said Donahue "presented a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war... He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration's motives." In a post-firing interview, Donahue observed, "We were the only antiwar voice that had a show, and that, I think, made them very nervous. I mean, from the top down, they were just terrified."
• • •
A 2006 survey published in the British medical journal Lancet found that there had been more than 650,000 "excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war" to that point. And more than 4.7 million Iraqis had been driven from their homes.
No nuclear or high-tech chemical or biological "weapons of mass destruction" ever turned up in exhaustive searches of Iraq during and after the U.S. invasion.
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
Editors' Note: On New Year's Eve, Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which funds the U.S. military for this year. Among the provisions of the bill is one that codifies into law the indefinite military detention of people, including U.S. citizens, without charges in the name of the "war on terror." The U.S. has already been using this power on people imprisoned at Guantánamo and elsewhere, but now this has become official law. Revolution is reprinting with permission an article by sociology professor and author Dennis Loo on the fascistic nature of this move by Obama and Congress. The article originally appeared at DennisLoo.com before Obama signed the NDAA and before some changes were made in the law. However, its essential character has not changed. Obama had originally objected to some aspects of the bill but agreed to sign it, according to a Huffingtonpost.com article, "after Congress added provisions that took the ultimate authority to detain suspects from the military's hands and gave it to the president." Obama also added a "signing statement," which said that he had "serious reservations" about some provisions, in particular one that allows for indefinite detention of U.S. citizens, and he declared his administration would not authorize such detention. But this is the president that has gone even further than his predecessor, George W. Bush, in fascistic actions—including authorizing the assassination of U.S. citizens accused of terrorism, without any trial. And since this is now law, any future presidents will have official power to indefinitely detain terrorism suspects, including U.S. citizens.
The White House announced on December 15, 2011 that Obama would not veto the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. The NDAA mandates the military to arrest and indefinitely detain any person, including American citizens, anywhere in the world, including on U.S. soil, who is accused by authorities as a terrorist or alleged to be providing support to terrorists and organizations designated as terrorist. It is now enough—de facto [in practice] and de jure [in law]—to be merely accused, for the sentence to be pronounced upon you by virtue of the accusation, as if Lewis Carroll's Red Queen was now in charge: "First the sentence, then the trial!"
Except now, they won't even bother with a trial, before or after sentence. In doing this, this president and this Congress deserve to go down now and in history as the most infamous and craven in U.S. history.
Barack Hussein Obama, the man who campaigned on a platform of undoing the illegalities and gross injustices of the Bush regime, has thus affirmed in no uncertain terms which side of history he is on—the side that Franz Kafka famously and graphically derided, the forces that posture, preen and say louder than anyone, while wrapped in the flag and the Bible, that they are the great defenders of Freedom, Liberty, and the Rule of Law, and no sooner as these words leave their lips and their poisoned pens, they cynically carry out the most lawless and most abhorrent practices. These practices deny the People the most minimal protections of due process and the rule of law, the very protections that distinguish tyrannies from just societies.
There are those who had hoped that Obama would veto this patently fascist law. But all the advance indications were negative: his complaints before December 15th's announcement were all about the fact that he considered the NDAA to unduly restrict the executive's prerogatives to do the same things that the NDAA extends to the military—to act under the cover of the "war on terror" to summarily arrest, detain indefinitely—and in Obama's case, assassinate—those who were declared guilty by the government.
More to the point, as Glenn Greenwald has correctly pointed out, the NDAA merely extends to the military the policies that Bush and now Obama, who has one-upped Bush since taking office, have already been engaging in via the White House. For those who remember the "unitary executive" doctrine which came out of the Federalist Society and that the GOP had been championing and still champions today—the notion that the executive branch has unlimited, unsupervisable, unaccountable power—Obama deserves to be feted by the Federalist Society for carrying their doctrine even further than Bush dared.
It's come to this—you are guilty if anyone in authority says you're guilty, not because you've had a day in court, not because you have a chance to confront your accusers, not because you dare to think that you are innocent until proven guilty. Proof is no longer the standard. Assertion by authority is all that is now needed to put you away forever.
This so-called "war on terror" has thus revealed to the world its true character and logic: a malignant tumor on the body of society that will kill the patient. "In order to save freedom, we had to annihilate freedom." Anyone who recognizes the magnitude of this moment dares not remain silent. Scoundrels will bray in triumph, the uninformed, apathetic and cowardly will cower, and the clear-seeing will take up the mantle of responsibility for the sake of humanity and stand up and be counted.
Dennis Loo is a professor of sociology, author, and member of the World Can't Wait Steering Committee.
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
The following is an edited excerpt from a talk by Colin Dayan given at Revolution Books in New York on November 22, 2011. Dayan is the Robert Penn Warren Professor in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University, where she teaches American Studies, comparative literature, and the religious and legal history of the Americas. Her op-ed piece, "Barbarous Confinement," appeared in the New York Times on July 17, 2011, during the California prison hunger strike. Her most recent book is The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons.
During the past 25 years the Supreme Court has limited not only the rights of prisoners, but redefined these persons in law. That redefinition—the creation of a new class of condemned—has introduced an amazingly extensive and endlessly adaptable strategy of domination and control. Degrading forms of confinement, the psychological torture and excessive force ask us to reconsider the meaning of "cruel and unusual" punishment.
I began my project with the so-called "return to chain" in Arizona in the summer of 1995— politicians thought this was a very good way to show they were tough on crime. I was fascinated that this degradation was coming to Arizona, since it reminded me very much of the South I grew up in. Now it was no longer just a southern thing, but the trappings were moved to the contemporary Southwest. The turning point for me was when I began to speak with the wardens and the prison director himself. This was what turned me around. I had no idea what was actually happening within the prisons. And I did not know, for example, what it meant to suffer under supermax confinement, 23-hour lockdown, no human contact and complete sensory deprivation. It was surreal when the spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Corrections said, "You know, you don't want to look at the chain gangs, that's just for the guys who don't want to work. But what you want to see is the clean state-of-the-art places for the 'worst of the worst.'" And of course we now know that these labels are applied to persons all over the world: "the worst of the worst," the "incorrigibles." He wanted me to see these clean well-lighted places, where all basic needs are met.
Now the irony is that SMU I [Special Management Unit] in Arizona was the model for Pelican Bay. Before 60 Minutes went into Pelican Bay in 1995, they wanted to see SMU in Arizona and the warden said, no way, you're out of here. So they went to Pelican Bay. I don't know if any of you saw the 1995 60 Minutes show on Pelican Bay, but that's what began the case Madrid v. Gomez against cruel and unusual conditions of confinement. No one from the outside was allowed into the supermax units in Arizona. And I posed as... well, being a professor and speaking with a southern accent which I can do still pretty well, I was able to kind of pass as someone who wanted to write a history of the prison system. "I'm so fascinated about what y'all are doing in Florence, oh god, these Bluetick hounds, it reminds me of home." I really put on an act that summer in 1995.
So the project that became The Law Is a White Dog began as fieldwork. What are these men doing to other humans? How is this possible? What is their language like? So I spent a great deal of time talking with them about their philosophy of supermax confinement, punishment and isolation. And they were ready, especially the warden of SMU II, which is still I think the harshest supermax prison in the United States, in Florence, Arizona. I write a great deal about it here because it has a special section called the Special Security Unit, or SSU, and it has on its walls not just the shanks and the weapons that are made by prisoners who are on 23-hour lockdown, but also photographs of their self-mutilation. And it's a special room, a museum of torture within the SMU II. There was a way in which my brain couldn't get around practices called "lawful" that were nothing less than torture. I'm just going to read you these two paragraphs. This is right from the original work in '95-'96, it changed a great deal but, "On one of my first visits a correctional officer explained, 'we razed the desert, bulldozed it, tore up anything that looked green. Now you see these cell doors? Don't they look like a regular shaped Swiss cheese? I want you to know that the stainless steel mirror, the sink and toilet are fastened with adhesives that cannot be chipped. Nothing inside the cells can be moved or removed. They sleep on a poured concrete bed. They have no control over the water. We control it all. If we turn off the water for just a few seconds in the morning we can discipline them real good.'"
But the real surprise when I first walked down the hall in SMU II was the immaculateness. And I began to wonder about that, since all I knew about solitary confinement at the time was the "hole," like Alcatraz, the kind of thing you see in Murder in the First. And I was so interested in these very, very large, technologically advanced, tremendously expensive units that were containing more and more groups of people under the label "security threat." So in my early interviews I was interested in who ends up here. And I think it was very telling that they were not persons who, for the most part, had committed major infractions while in prison. They had not actually committed any violent acts. You might have had one or two, as you know many very, very psychologically disabled persons end up in the SMU units. But the majority of people in the SMU units were alleged gang members, marked as security risks. And what I found hard to comprehend, was how did this happen? How do you end up in a solitary confinement unit indefinitely, how is it legally possible?
And the big thing that happened that year was meeting Dan Pochoda, who is now Legal Director of the ACLU in Phoenix. He was one of the Attica lawyers, and I was put in touch with him because there was a very important case going on at the time, also in Arizona, called Casey v. Lewis. It eventually reached the Supreme Court as Lewis v. Casey (1996) and it was about meaningful access to the courts, and Dan was bringing this case forward. The upshot of it all was that the law libraries were judged not to be necessary for meaningful access to the courts, and they were destroyed. But Pochoda introduced me, after we had had many conversations, to Judge Carl Muecke, who was the only liberal judge in the District Court in Arizona. He was retiring, he had had death threats, he was in his 70s, and conservatives in Arizona wanted him out. So he decided, with his wife's urging, to retire. He turned over this office to me that summer of 1997, and I began to read case law. It was then I realized that law-making was the kind of demon underbelly to the abhorrent practices I had witnessed.
So though I am not a trained lawyer, I wrote a book that I hoped would give flesh and blood to the abstractions of law. It's about case law, about how, for example, something as torturous as a supermax unit in the United States of America could have become constitutionally legal. How is it that a place that drives prisoners mad and pushes suffering beyond the limits of what is endurable, how is it that it can be legally possible? Why is this not an Eighth Amendment violation? So the course of my work really changed. This is the story of the making and unmaking of persons over time, about how law and certain kinds of legal language begin to do the very things we think the law is there to prevent or prohibit. As I move through the book I'm interested in the way in which we could not have had a supermax unit, there could have been nothing called indefinite solitary, if it hadn't been for a few legal cases (building on a real legal history), which I deal with in Chapter 3 and Chapter 5. And those cases, surprise, surprise, were part of the Rehnquist court (1986-2005). What had to happen was that what used to be seen as solitary confinement, with the legal limits of duration, say 30 days, could suddenly become indefinite, prolonged, with no end in sight.
And there are two very unique cases, which I won't go into now. We can talk later if you're interested in how it happened. But the supermax is the materialization of a certain kind of legal logic, and that legal logic has to do with a sharp separation between two kinds of pain. One that is physical—that shows visible injury, a scar or wound. The courts will recognize that as an Eighth Amendment injury. But what could not be recognized after the Prisoners Litigation Reform Act, which Clinton passed into law in 1996—will never be recognized—is psychic injury, what happens to the mind and the spirit of prisoners. And the idea that the solitary confinement building, whether you call it security housing unit, supermax unit, special housing, special management, whatever euphemism you choose, they all share a complete absence of anything that you can see or hear. There is nothing in your cell, you can attach nothing in your cell, and you can have no mail. The mail problem is the subject of great litigation. But, most of all, you have no human contact. You only see the hand of a guard when "you feed," as officers put it, through the cell slot in the door, or through often violent cell extractions.
I was interested in how the history of the law over time began to shape a certain kind of person who was just flesh and blood, without mind, spirit, or intelligence—and no rights that the state was bound to recognize, except the most minimal human needs. It was all legal when this country began to really work hard at warehousing and containing large groups of people who were political activists, jailhouse lawyers, who were some form of threat. It is shown, a number of psychiatrists who have testified in these cases have said that even two weeks in this kind of lockdown can drive anyone mad. And it is the forms of law, as I tell the stories of legal fictions that make this book rather strange, I think, especially for the guild of lawyers. I'm a woman who worked very long and hard in Haiti. I'm a woman who knows about practices that some call primitive, backward or supernatural. I lived through the ways in which anti-Vodou, anti-superstition campaigns were carried out in the '80s after Baby Doc left, and I was always interested in the way in which those who hold on to power could only hold on to the power, if they projected their own fears and beliefs onto those they disdained. They held on to power by making divisions between the so-called civilized and the so-called barbaric. And of course, Vodou and African-based spirit religions were always on the side of barbarism.
I was very interested in demonstrating in this book how the law—which is supposed to be highly rational, the height of enlightenment—traffics in weird and occult and ghostly propositions, meaning that some of the cases as I describe them, really do project and depend on creating a space that is steeped in magic, where one is dead-alive, civilly dead in the eyes of the law. It is this life in death, this zombification that I became very interested in, especially when lawyers I knew, when I was part of this program at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, would question me, saying, after I spoke about one of Justice Antonin Scalia's really shocking and precedent-setting cases, Wilson v. Seiter (1991).
I describe it here, since it is the foundation of the torture memos*. It's where Scalia spells out the contours of injury, and when someone can be judged guilty of harm. To prove an Eighth Amendment violation, the injured must demonstrate that the official who injures had the intent to harm. If the official does not intend, had no deliberate indifference, no malicious intent, then you can't prove a violation. In other words, the person who has been injured must go on an impossible chase to prove the state of mind of the officer: was it malicious, did he have a malicious state of mind? But the thing that I was saying to these lawyers that year in 2000 is that a decision like this contained a philosophy of personhood, that legal language created an anomaly in law. And I guess if I have to describe anything about this book, it is that the law really has a near preternatural power, and those who are most oppressed and those who are in prison know how forceful the law is. They comprehend it. You do not have to be a lawyer to know what its effects are. And I began to really think about legal opinions over time as having certain formulae, certain repetitions, nearly incantatory, that carry a great deal of power in creating, for the larger public, the way in which groups of people are seen as unfit, expendable, and beyond the pale of human empathy.
Once we get to Guantánamo, then you understand that something called "security threat" has now been expanded to something called a "terrorist," because, again, I cannot stress strongly enough that the real problem, as the Pelican Bay prisoners understand, is that there is no proof involved. There is no necessity for guilt to be proved. There is no redress there for them, since we are dealing with preemptive justice. What matters is the status the detained possess in society: not what they have done, but what they are like. In prison, for example, if someone happens to say, you're a member of the gang, that's it. You've got to debrief. They call it "blood in, blood out." And how do you debrief, if you're not a gang member? And if you do debrief, you end up in protective segregation, so you're still in complete isolation so it's basically a death sentence. But there is a way in which, and I think Obama recognized it, Obama of all people.... In the very first chapter of my book I describe the uncanny way in which he decided the solution to Guantánamo. It was the supermax—to move alleged terrorists to the mainland and put them in supermax prisons. And he presented this as the only common sense thing to do. But, of course, many Americans did not want the Guantánamo prisoners moved to the mainland. But what's fascinating is the way legal thinking or legal logic crosses borders—inside and outside the borders of the United States. The global export of our prison practices demands that we recognize the hyper-legality of what we think of as lawless.
And again I'm making an appeal here to read the law and think through it, because I'm very angered by most constitutional lawyers who pay no attention to prison cases. Let's just take Ronald Dworkin, a brilliant man, who can write book after book about justice without attending to any prison case, not one. It's because there is an alternative law for prisoners, just as there was an alternative law for slaves. It's not that the language is different; it's that the words no longer mean the same. So a slave could be beaten until death, but that was just a "correction." So it was not murder, it was not legally legible as criminal. And then you have slaves who don't exist, they have "no legal minds," no "legal personalities." Thomas Jefferson said famously that slaves, those he called "that race of men," do not think. But it was the law that took that racism and made it permanent, made it stick, made it part of an undying cultural, social and political agenda. The origins of stigma and hate are not just private beliefs. People like to think, you know, if you could just correct how people think about others. But I'm trying to discuss a larger structural transformation that occurred in slavery and it could occur, it could only occur, through legal decisions, and it was always the law that created the forms that the most consummate exclusion would take.
And again the thing that's rather uncanny, certainly in reading the writings of Guantánamo prisoners, the writings of prisoners here under horrific conditions of confinement, that is beyond anything we can imagine, the kind of torture that is occurring in our prisons.... But if you read the writings, the incredible writings of prisoners, written to me or published, and those, especially, in supermaxes—and then if you read slave writings, you realize the tremendous resilience and resistance. Not only do they know what is happening politically, but they know the law, and they are its sharpest interpreters. Perhaps that's why the possibility of reading—what can be read—in supermax units is so severely restricted. Although some cases treat them as if they can't read, they can't think, and, hence, they are in conditions that make them less than human, what we find, again and again, is how prisoners might now be this country's most incisive critics and commentators. What solitary confinement does is not just degrade, but it also causes depersonalization—you can no longer know yourself as you. And, yet, with all the money spent, and all the horrors inflicted, many of these prisoners fight back with strength and determination, as we saw in the recent hunger strikes.
The law goes to great lengths to construct a person who is un-personned, who is less than a thinking being. Take a look, for example, at one of the great cases that I deal with in Chapter 5. It's the case Bailey v. Poindexter (1858). The entire case is as if it is being decided not by court justices sitting in Richmond, but as if they're ethnographers, creating a field for discussion about whether or not slaves can inherit. And in order not to decide in favor of testamentary trust for slaves, the lawyers have to prove that they cannot choose. So the entire case is about how legally you demonstrate that there is no mind, no legal mind here. And once you do that, you have created a being who is something anomalous, not quite an animal even, but instead a husk of a human who doesn't have anything inside any longer, anything like free will or choice or opinion.
This case stands in my mind as a kind of haunt because I think one of the most powerful cases I deal with is a very recent one, decided by the Supreme Court in 2006. It's called Beard v. Banks, and this is a First Amendment case about reading. And for those who are in special management or secure housing units, a behavioral adjustment strategy was decided, the prison officials argued, that depended on their choice of reading: they could read romances, Harlequin romances. They could read what officials called "leisure books." But no newspapers would be allowed. Nothing about current events, nothing that could educate or keep prisoners informed. Justice Stevens said in his dissent, what you're doing here is taking a prisoner and turning him into a mere slave, or worse.
And I want to quote David Fathi who many of you might know is the head of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project. It's about words behind bars and what you can actually allow behind bars. I think one would want to look at the case this way: How much can you take away from a prisoner for it still to be legal. How far can you go before something becomes illegal? Of course the key people in the prison cases to really watch for are Scalia and Clarence Thomas. It is their language that demonstrates how hard they are trying to return the prisoner to the way in which prisoners were thought of right after the 13th Amendment. I don't know how many of you know the wording of the 13th Amendment, but it has a very horrible loophole in it: slavery is abolished except for prisoners who have been convicted of a crime. So you always had this loophole, that's how you had convict lease, etc. But these justices are returning to the idea that once you've committed a crime, you have no capacity, it's not just you have no rights that the state is bound to respect—you have no capacity to use rights. And that's what I mean about how the law is creating persons who are seen as disabled, seen as not quite able. And here, at last, here is Fathi: "The prison policy at issue here is unique and unprecedented. A long-term and indefinite deprivation of virtually all news from the outside world. It is a deliberate attempt to strip prisoners of the fundamental attribute of citizenship and even of personhood—the right to know, to learn, and to think about what is happening in the community, the country, the world."
And Justice Thomas, however, believes that the private experience, or as he calls it, subjective mental states, when it comes to prisoners, are irrelevant to the law. So I do think that one has to say to themselves, well, this must be a different kind of law. And when I said it's not that in, let's say cruel and unusual punishment, the words are not the same, or with due process, the constitutional idea of due process, the words are the same but they do not mean the same for prisoners. As Rehnquist said famously in another case, Sandin v. Connor, there is no difference between administrative confinement and solitary confinement. And there is no liberty interest here, why? Because solitary confinement, and again, the phrasing is great, because solitary confinement in Connor's case did not create the kind of "atypical and significant hardship in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life" that created a liberty interest, that called for due process protections. But what is atypical or significant? It's the kind of dangerous language that becomes more imprecise the more you try to define it. As the dissenters, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and John Paul Stevens asked: What is this? What design lies behind these words? Who's going to know what atypical and significant is when we don't even know any longer what we mean by "ordinary" when it comes to imprisonment. So Rehnquist really raised the bar, and you have to ask yourself: well how extraordinary does something have to become before it is recognized by law; when is something not ordinary? And then Rehnquist hits the point home by suggesting that "ordinary" is anything that prisoners are bound to expect.
I'm putting lots of emphasis on these cases because the U.S. places a lot of emphasis on these cases. And all you need to do is look at the March 6 torture memo* of 2003 and look at the footnotes and see which cases are quoted. It's quite a few of the cases I've discussed, quite a few of the prison cases of the Rehnquist court, concerning conditions of confinement, due process, and cruel and unusual punishment. Because they are the cases that allow the perpetrator of harm against those who are defenseless to not be charged with crimes. Those are the cases that remove all proof from the table and base everything on the idea of either security on one hand, and intent, on the other. Did they act, did the torturer act in good faith, did he have the intent to harm? You know there is a great line in the Bybee memo about torture unto death, very much like the slave memos. How much of the brain is left to be working? But again it doesn't matter, it is not legally, or even now, federally possible to make any kind of claim against a perpetrator of torture because of these intent requirements.
Let us think about the ways in which under cover of law and under cover of legality, things that we understood to be constitutionally illegal can continue. Guantánamo is not a legal black hole, after all; instead, its practices were prepared for by our very own local cases here, and taking them to the Nth degree. So, again, it's a hyper-legality that we're dealing with, not lawlessness. These are not pockets of lawlessness, but something that is systemic within the system that we call the law. And I think that prisoners really understand this, and that is why jailhouse lawyers who are brilliant interpreters of constitutional law are such threats. Every jailhouse lawyer that I have ever known has ended up in a special management unit.
Some people would say to me when I lecture about this, but wait, why? Why do you think people want to be so mean, why do they want them to suffer? And I really do, as I try to describe here, see this, as I said, as a much larger project. And suffering is crucial as long as those who are suffering can be identified clearly as part of a specific group. And then you've got these pockets that don't affect you at all and you can forget about them. I think this is increasingly powerful and important because the people who are, the whole global movement of money and men and materiel across borders, they want to be free to keep doing this. So on one hand, you take people who are really threats, who are thinking, definitely movement people, people who are trying to move out from the degradation, you want to really make sure that they are contained. But you also want these containers to be very visible to the other people in the public who are still privileged and who are not yet there. Because that is the other part of all this. The worse you're treating large groups of people, the more afraid your neighbors will be and you will be.
I mean it is no accident, although nothing is written about it, that the Patriot Act, which has been renewed with Obama, it makes no bones about it—anyone who is suspected of abetting activities against the government of the United States will be deemed a terrorist and can be detained. So the point is that there is this deep, large cloud hanging over people as we begin to see pockets of deprivation, unmerited punishment. And I believe that what we might call a kind of sadistic illogical hurting of those who haven't really done anything violent because two thirds of the prisoners in our prisons are not in there for violent crimes. It's a display, it's a performance, and it's a terrifying spectacle of what might happen to you. Because as we're seeing with the movements that are happening now, the slippages are very, very easy. The students getting sprayed. And I think a lot of that is not just police losing control.
This is a moment, a teaching moment for the public. The police are telling us: "We are going to be brutal, we're going to do it quickly and we're going to do it hard." And then your voice is going to be silenced. So it's running that two-way thing: it's both to silence within but also to stop action from without. And the more you do, the more you make a spectacle of large groups of some people, the more other groups learn fear. It's really quite deliberate.
* For more on the torture memos, see "The Torture Memos... and the Need for Justice," Revolution #164, May 17, 2009. The torture memos themselves are available at the ACLU website: yoo_army_torture_memo.pdf.
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
The following information is from worldcantwait.org:
Events in NYC, Chicago, San Francisco and beyond
January 11, 2012 is the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo. A broad coalition of groups: Center for Constitutional Rights, Code Pink, No More Guantánamos, Pax Christi Physicians for Human Rights, Torture Abolition and Survivors Network, Voices for Creative Non-Violence, War Criminals Watch, War Resisters League, Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International USA and World Can't Wait—is calling for a major demonstration in Washington, DC and solidarity actions elsewhere to ensure accountability for torture, unlawful detention and other human rights violations committed by the US government in the name of national security. And to demand:
The primary action in DC is a human chain of 2,771 people in orange jumpsuits representing the people still detained without charge or fair trial at Guantánamo and Bagram stretching from the White House to the Capitol. We will chant, we will hold signs, we will not be silent.
Plans for the Washington, DC Protest:
12 pm – Rally in Lafayette Square
1 pm – Form a Human Chain from the White House to the Capitol
During the rally and vigil, activists will be wearing orange jumpsuits and holding a myriad of signs and other visuals.
For more information: worldcantwait.org
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
The world's major imperialist powers and other major countries cobbled together a last-minute agreement at the UN-sponsored international climate talks in December 2011 at Durban, South Africa. As with agreements at similar talks held previously in Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancún in 2010, the deal that came out of the Durban talks will do nothing of meaning to stop the immense damage to our planet's ecosystems from climate change.
The European Union (EU) and the U.S. claimed the new agreement (known as the Durban Platform) was a success in addressing climate change because it supposedly builds on past agreements and because it calls for all countries to "launch a process" to produce a legally binding treaty or agreement. Some mainstream news sources called this a breakthrough.
In reality, this agreement does nothing to enforce actual cuts in emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation that is driven by capitalist production, transport, and consumption. Instead, the Durban Platform actually obstructs and further delays urgently needed action. Under the Durban agreement, the "road map" for a binding treaty won't be finished until 2015—and if a treaty does come out of that process, it would not even take effect until 2020!
Promises have been made that in the meantime, countries will voluntarily begin to cut their emissions. But such pledges have been declared before, and emissions of greenhouse gases in the world as a whole have continued to rise each year, with a massive rise in C02 (carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas) of 6% in 2010.
To put off until 2020 any actual enforcement of cuts in greenhouse gases is a criminal and horrendous act that guarantees even more damage and increasing danger to living ecosystems (webs of life interacting with each other and their physical environment as a unit) and the people of the world.
Climate change tied to human activity is already transforming ecosystems and leading to extinctions of species around the world. It is causing more intensive storms, more extreme droughts and flooding, and rising sea levels that threaten island nations. In terms of the impacts on people, the most devastating effects of climate change have been in the poor, oppressed countries that have contributed the least historically to the causes of global warming. But these problems will become much, much worse for the planet and humanity as a whole—because the greenhouse gases, already at destructive levels, are continuing to build up, and because these gases last for long periods of time in the atmosphere. The do-nothing agreement out of the Durban talks furthers the possibility that climate "tipping points" will occur, where more extreme changes happen quickly.
The consensus of climate scientists worldwide is that drastic cuts in greenhouse gases are demanded immediately. A recent article, "Climate Change and the End of Australia" by Jeff Goodell in the October 3 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, details how Australia is being hit by record heat waves, extreme drought, bush fires, and more intensive storms that are driven by the warming climate and that threaten to make the whole island country unlivable. According to a climate researcher at the University of Melbourne, "Australia is the canary in the coal mine. What is happening in Australia now is similar to what we can expect to see in other places in the future." Goodell writes, "A recent study by MIT projects that without 'rapid and massive action' to cut carbon pollution, the Earth's temperature could soar nine degrees this century." A temperature jump of that size in such a short time is unprecedented in human history.
A 2009 study by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed that "changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level are largely irreversible for more than a thousand years after carbon dioxide emissions are completely stopped."
This and other evidence from scientific studies make it unmistakably clear that global climate change is an emergency. The situation cries out for immediate action to massively cut emissions of greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. Immediate moves are demanded to stop drilling, mining, and burning fossil fuels, to stop slashing and burning of forests, and to develop systems of sustainable, renewable energy. And radical transformations of economic systems are needed to do everything possible to stop the worst devastation yet to come and figure out how to limit the effects that are already inevitable.
But instead of the urgent, global action needed now, the U.S. and other world powers played out a criminal charade at these latest climate talks.
There is no reason to believe that any future legal treaties that the U.S. and others may agree to will have any impact. The U.S. under President Clinton "pledged" to join the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a supposedly binding treaty that compelled "developed" countries to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2% below 1990 levels. But under President Bush, the U.S. backed out of Kyoto. And Obama has continued to refuse to join the Kyoto Protocol.
Kyoto itself has resulted in only a 2% overall reduction in emissions by the covered countries, not the 5.2% goal, according to a recent study in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). This study reported that even these small reductions likely occurred in great measure due to the transfer of capitalist production from the "developed" countries to "developing" countries, where there is massive exploitation of low-wage labor. The PNAS report shows that this transfer of production from the rich countries that participated in Kyoto to the poorer countries actually caused five times greater greenhouse gas emissions to the world, than the 2% reduction in emissions in the rich countries as a result of Kyoto! So in other words, overall emissions didn't go down, they increased.
A number of key countries that agreed to "binding" commitments under Kyoto—such as Japan, Russia, and Canada—did not meet these commitments. And now, these countries have reversed themselves and essentially pulled out of the agreement. So much for "binding" agreements!
On top of all this, the Durban agreement actually breaks with the basic consensus of previous UN talks that the rich countries, who are overwhelmingly responsible for the massive build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, have much more responsibility to cut emissions than "developing" countries, including rising powers like China and India. Currently, China is the top producer of CO2 emissions in the world, followed by the U.S. But as the PNAS report alluded to, much of the growth in emissions in the "developing" areas of the world is driven by export of production by the imperialist economies to those countries. This export is an immense source of super-exploitation and profit for the U.S. and other capitalist-imperialist powers. China and India are still filled with impoverished masses of people and have served as sweatshops for imperialist capital, even as the ruling classes of these countries are exploiters and oppressors in their own right who are producing increasing amounts of greenhouse gases as they pursue their big power ambitions.
The U.S. has polluted the Earth's atmosphere with more greenhouse gases than any country in history—and the U.S. has also been the main force in sabotaging any action to stop climate change. This pattern continued at Durban. Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, wrote on Huffingtonpost.com in the midst of the Durban talks, "The U.S. is once again trying to kill the global climate talks by eviscerating the mid-summit draft agreement." Naidoo said the U.S. had "axed a whole section of the draft agreement that would have offered real protection to those who are being hardest and fastest hit by global warming."
And within the U.S., it is becoming almost taboo in official discourse to even discuss and do research on climate change, let alone actually taking action to reverse the course toward global catastrophe. A recent New York Times article pointed to the increasing severity and frequency of extreme weather events, including in the U.S., and the need for scientific research into how those events are connected to global climate change. Benjamin Santer, a leading climate scientist, is quoted as saying, "It's clear we have the scientific tools and the statistical wherewithal to begin answering these types of questions." However, the Times writes, "Washington is essentially frozen on the subject of climate change." The article notes that "the political environment for new climate-science initiatives has turned hostile and with the federal budget crisis, money is tight." ("Harsh Political Reality Slows Climate Studies Despite Extreme Year," New York Times, December 24, 2011) Many Republicans openly deny the scientific reality of global warming. And Obama, representing the overall interests of the U.S. ruling class, is not going to take any action that cuts the oil dependence of its economy (and the military that protects its vast empire).
Behind the outrageous inaction by the U.S. and others in the face of the global environmental emergency are the workings of an economic and political system—the system of capitalism-imperialism. This isn't a matter of "lack of political will" on the part of government officials or rapacious greed of huge multinational corporations. In order to actually deal with the enormity of this problem, people have to come to grips with the reality of the situation.
As Revolution's special issue on the environment (#199, April 18, 2010) laid out, "The fundamental point is this: capitalism as a system cannot deal with the environment in a sustainable and rational way—even if an individual capitalist, or group of capitalists, sincerely wanted to. Capitalism cannot cope with the many-sided effects of its own production. Capitalism cannot plan for future generations.
"Why? Because capitalists, or blocs of capital, confront one another as competitors; sometimes they cooperate but at bottom each must be ready to seize on any advantage, to undercut their competition, lest their competition undercut them and drive them under. This basic underlying dynamic is what drives the actions of individual capitalists..." (From "Why Capitalism Cannot Solve the Environmental Emergency," in the Environment special issue. Check out this special issue for much more on the global environmental emergency and what it's going to take to tackle this problem in a real way.)
These workings of the system we live under now are what is fundamentally behind the failure of the major powers to agree on any meaningful action at Durban or any of the other climate change conferences over the years. Every one of these powers is seeking to gain advantage over the others, to force others to make compromises economically while heightening conditions more favorable for their rivalry and competition against the others. None of them are making any decisions based on the needs and the natural limits and cycles of the world ecosystems, which is what is actually required.
Again from the Revolution special issue on environment: "Actually saving the earth cannot be done within the framework of capitalism. It cannot be done by entrusting the fate of life on this planet to those whose only qualification is their history as the chief despoilers of that life. This may be a hard truth to face—but face it one must. A whole new way must be found."
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
There were some important protests at the Durban climate talks. Democracy Now!, which covered the talks, reported that thousands of people marched in the streets of Durban on December 3 demanding meaningful action to cut greenhouse emissions. On December 6, a group of youth and native activists from Canada protested the massive extraction of tar sands oil in Alberta, Canada. The extraction and burning of tar sands oil produces three times more greenhouse gas than conventional oil—and the U.S. may soon approve a pipeline to bring that oil to the Gulf of Mexico. On December 9, the final day of the conference, 150 youth marched through the Durban plenary session and did an Occupy-style mic check.
In another action, on December 8 Abigail Borah, a student from Middlebury College, interrupted the official proceedings just as the head U.S. climate negotiator was set to give a speech. Borah said, "2020 is too late to wait. We need an urgent path to a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty. You must take responsibility to act now, or you will threaten the lives of the youth and the world's most vulnerable. You must set aside partisan politics and let science dictate decisions." When the conference chairperson demanded to know what group Borah represented, she said, "the United States youth." When he asked why she had interrupted the conference, she said, "the United States government does not speak on my behalf." Her statement went on to say, "The U.S. continues to negotiate on time borrowed from future generations, and with every step of inaction forces young people to solve the quickly exacerbating climate challenges that previous generations have been unable and unwilling to address."
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Revolution #255, January 8, 2011
Why is global warming—and more generally, global climate change—such an urgent threat to life on this planet?
The climate on Earth varies naturally according to many factors. But today, climate change is happening much more quickly than most natural variation or past climate changes in Earth's history—and this is primarily the result of human activity. It is mainly caused by the warming of the planet from the buildup of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor and others). This buildup began over the last 200 years with capitalist production and is now accelerating as a result of burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), as well as deforestation, and other causes.
Rainforests not only contain the greatest diversity of species, they also take large amounts of carbon dioxide, which is causing global warming, out of the air. In turn rainforests give off vast amounts of oxygen that organisms need to breathe. Rainforests have been called "the lungs of the planet." Cutting and burning rainforests releases tremendous amounts of more carbon into the atmosphere, further increasing the planet's warming. But about one-fifth of the Amazon, the largest remaining expanse of rainforest on the planet, has been completely destroyed and more than 20% more has been damaged by logging.
The global warming from the massive destruction of rainforests and burning of fossil fuels is already greatly impacting the planet. Polar ice and glaciers are melting at an accelerating rate. Whole island nations and coastlines where hundreds of millions of people live could be threatened in coming decades by rising oceans from melting glaciers and ice sheets. The average temperature of the planet as a whole is rising, with some regions impacted more than others from this warming. But global warming/climate change is having the most devastating impact on human society and lives in Third World countries because of oppressive economic and social relations. 2010 tied for the warmest year ever recorded, and the last decade was the warmest ever recorded since records began in the 1800s. There is evidence that climate extremes—more devastating floods in some regions, severe droughts in others, heat waves and more powerful hurricanes in certain regions—are already occurring and global climate models predict these things will become much worse as the planet continues to warm.
Climate is a key factor affecting ecosystems, including whether a particular plant or animal species can live in a particular place. As the planet warms, many species are moving toward the poles and to higher elevations where they can survive. In the polar regions, species have nowhere colder to go. In "normal" periods, climate usually changes over thousands and even millions of years—and species can adapt. But now, Anthony Barnosky, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology, says human-caused climate change "is racing faster than it ever has during the evolution of living species and ecosystems—many species simply aren't biologically capable of adjusting their geographic range at the speed they would need to in order to survive."
And on top of this, when many species respond by changing their range, they run smack into cities and development where they can't survive and can't travel through. The natural ranges of species have been fragmented and even eradicated by urban development, sprawl, and other destruction of natural habitat. Often, there is no more habitat to even migrate to. Climate change combined with habitat destruction means a double whammy threatening not just species but whole ecosystems. Barnosky says, "As a result, whole communities and ecosystems may fail to operate as they have evolved to do over thousands, even millions, of years."
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