Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
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Revolution #256, January 15, 2012
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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 and block the 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 – are not free, then no one is free.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #256, January 15, 2012
On January 1st, by 1:00 in the morning, an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida was engulfed in flames. By all accounts thus far, this was a case of arson.
But chances are you have heard nothing about this.
The fact that there has not been a single politician commenting on this violent assault on an institution that is essential to women's freedom and that this act of terror has not been picked up on in the national/mainstream media should only serve as a further wake-up call to those who care about women's rights.
No one will defend women's right to abortion and birth control but the millions of us who refuse to see women enslaved. We must rely on ourselves, not on the Democrats or electoral politics. We must take to the streets and not go back home. We must reseize the moral high-ground, declaring: Abortion on Demand and Without Apology. We must be in the streets in DC on January 22nd & 23rd to stand up for abortion rights!
While no one was hurt in the fire, this fire will cripple the ability of an already overstretched community of abortion providers to meet the very real and urgent needs of women in western Florida, Alabama and Mississippi for abortion care. This will cause tremendous suffering and unnecessary burdens on women who seek abortions. This will cause great financial strain on those who seek to provide abortions. And, this will—as it was undoubtedly intended to do—strike fear in the hearts of those most courageous individuals who knowingly risk their lives every day to provide women with this absolutely essential, completely moral, remarkably common, and medically safe procedure all across this country.
To be clear, this is NOT the first time an abortion clinic, its staff, or its patients have been the victims of extreme violence and it will not be the last.
In Pensacola alone, several clinics were fire-bombed on Christmas day back in 1984 in what those convicted described as "a gift for Jesus on his birthday." It was there that the first abortion doctor, Dr. David Gunn, was assassinated outside his clinic in 1993. In 1994, John Britton, along with his security escort James Barrett, were also gunned down. In Wichita, Kansas, as recently as 2009, abortion doctor George Tiller was murdered as he attended his church on a Sunday morning.
Already, people are rationalizing this violence and issuing threats in online forums: "Anyone that performs, supports, or participates in abortions should be given the death penalty. And lets nuke Iran while we're at it." "These clinics, are going to be the target of ridicule as long as they are in operation. This clinic, should not be rebuilt, and any other abortion clinic should be shut down. Abortion is legal in the State of Florida but it is not a good idea for one to be operating in a town that obviously does not want it." "At least some little lives will be saved since the clinic is out of commission."
But that is not the worst of it.
It is time we stop allowing the mainstream of the anti-abortion movement, and the mainstream of American politics (Republican and Democrat) to distance themselves from these kinds of acts and this kind of hatred of women.
The truth is, whether the restriction of women's right to abortion is carried out through legal changes—such as "personhood" amendments, late-term restrictions, funding of fake clinics, etc.—or whether this is carried out through extra-legal terror, they are all violence against women.
Being expected by all of society to subordinate one's life, ambitions, dreams and intellect to one's biological ability to bear children—and having this expectation legislated through the most powerful and repressive state in the world—is enslavement. Whether this is done "legally" or through extra-legal terror doesn't make one shred of difference in the lives of real women and of future generations.
In fact, these two different tactics—the legal and the extra-legal—work together. This is true whether those carrying out these different tactics recognize this or not. The kind of violence and terror that has been aimed at abortion doctors and clinics is fueled and unleashed by those in the "mainstream" who equate fetuses with babies and abortion with murder (which, again, both Republicans and Democrats routinely do—think most recently of the Democratic support for the amendment in Mississippi which almost granted full "personhood" rights to all fertilized eggs!). And when clinics are burned or doctors are killed, these "mainstream" opponents of abortion can appear "reasonable" and less extreme in pushing forward measures which will have a much more lasting and horrendous impact on even greater numbers of women.
The charred structure of the clinic in Pensacola, the shattered body of Emily Lyons (the nurse who was torn apart in the bombing of a clinic in Alabama), the assassinations of Dr. Gunn, Dr. Britton, Dr. Slepian and Dr. Tiller, the hatred and venom spewed at women who enter these clinics nation-wide is not different in any fundamental way from the violence that will be done and the oppressive terror that is being locked in place with every legal restriction on abortion.
Being forced to bear a child against your will is the enslavement of women. Bleeding to death from a perforated uterus because you cannot find access to a safe and legal abortion is just one result of this enslavement. Being arrested and held in jail for providing abortions to women in need—as has already happened now to several doctors legally—is the enforcement of this enslavement. Being arrested for self-inducing your own abortion—as has happened to women in several states, including very recently in New York City!—is more enforcement of this enslavement.
All of this is state-sponsored violence and it is just as damaging as any extra-legal violence against women and women's clinics has been. The only difference is that it is viewed as "legitimate" by millions and it happens on a much grander scale!
Let the fire in Pensacola be a wake up call to us all. That, along with the countless other incidents of violence and terror against clinics and providers, is the true face of the anti-abortion movement.
Let the silence of both major ruling-class political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, about this terror—along with their continuous chipping away at this most fundamental right—confirm the need to rely on ourselves!
Without the right to decide for themselves when and whether to have a child, women cannot be free. If women are not free then no one is free.
There are millions of us. It's time to stand up.
Join me and World Can't Wait in DC on January 22nd for a program at Busboys & Poets for a panel, discussion and dinner on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and join us on the steps of the Supreme Court to Stand Up For Abortion Rights in the face of the so-called "March 4 Life." on January 23rd!!
This article originally appeared on Sunsara Taylor's blog.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #256, January 15, 2012
“This is a battle for funds 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.
“Projecting this voice... making this person a point of reference for all of society will make a HUGE difference! Imagine the difference it could make to the whole social atmosphere and culture of this whole country if thousands, hundreds of thousands, and eventually millions more were actively being made aware of the works and vision for a whole new society and world brought forward by BA. Some people would passionately agree, some people would passionately disagree, some people would for now simply feel the need to get better informed in order to understand it better. But people throughout society would be debating and wrangling over truly ‘big’ questions about the nature of the present system (capitalism/imperialism), a concrete and worked out vision of an alternative way of organizing society which really would benefit the vast majority of people (as put forward in the recently published Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), a document which is an embodiment of the new synthesis of revolution and communism that BA has brought forward).
“Imagine the mix of people from different walks of life coming TOGETHER to think about these things and discuss them and relate them to their own experiences, in all different kinds of places and all different kinds of scenes—from campuses to basic neighborhoods, from the prisons to the Occupy camps, in all kinds of cultural scenes and concerts, and out into the suburbs. And imagine all this taking place in the midst of—and providing a framework and context for—all the efforts being launched to fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution, whether against mass incarceration or against pornography and patriarchy or other outrages and sites of resistance that the movement for revolution will relate to. A whole ensemble of things—a whole creative, compelling mix of the different elements of this campaign, and a whole package of fighting for a different and far better world—will come through to people.” (Excerpts from the editorial “BA Everywhere... Imagine the Difference It Could Make!” Revolution #249, November 16, 2011)
As we reported last fall, big plans are afoot to achieve this in 2012. There are six big ideas which will mean raising big money:
• Get BAsics much more out into society and into the hands of students, prisoners, people in the communities and all those looking for a whole different world. A part of this will be a dramatic national advertising campaign.
• A movement of cultural events and works that are the result of the wellspring of creative energy connecting with and inspired by BAsics or other works by Bob Avakian.
• The BA film project. Raising funds for many different kinds of short films and videos inspired by Avakian’s works and also documenting the controversy, excitement, and radical vision generated by this mass fundraising campaign in society.
• Raising funds so Raymond Lotta, Carl Dix, Sunsara Taylor, and others can crisscross the campuses and take on all comers in debates and dialogues—and bust into the talk shows and op-ed pages.
• High-profile dialogues, and a major symposium, with other thinkers and people with different ideas focused on the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal). As well as funds to promote and spread this Constitution to classrooms in high schools and colleges.
• The BAsics Bus Tour. Let’s free up some full-time organizers who can go out on this tour to cities and rural communities across this country. Taking out BA Everywhere, showing the Revolution talk, and getting BAsics into the hands of thousands in every corner of society.
But as we look forward to the challenges before us in 2012 and think deeply about what difference it will make to reach this ambitious goal, it is important to learn from the initial efforts which launched this campaign.
Over the past six weeks, the mass campaign to raise big money to get BA’s vision and works into every corner of society has made important, beginning strides. $23,000 and more was raised to produce the film Occasioned by the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World. A range of individuals from all walks of life contributed—and others came together in groups to raise funds. Lively discussion characterized house parties which drew together people who had closely intersected with the movement for revolution with others who were just now hearing of BA. Many, many people contributed in diverse ways. Groups of people got together to have garage and bake sales, and devised other innovative ways to raise money. In one city, three restaurant owners donated a percentage of their proceeds for the night to the film. People donated for many reasons and to make these different projects a reality. This fundraising culminated December 11 and 12, when the energies of people all over the country collectively came together to reach the $23,000 goal. In this way, the movement to raise money for BA Everywhere made a real advance, as people from far-flung areas connected with each other and became part of a larger effort, not only to raise the needed funds, but to ensure this much needed film would be made, and shown throughout society.
$15,000 has been raised since the publication of BAsics to send this handbook for a new wave of revolutionaries to prisoners. On Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the biggest shopping day of the year, people responded to the call: “Want the alternative to capitalism? Get the BAsics!” Teams fanned out in cities across the country... going to shopping areas which draw all kinds of people—as well as to communities of the oppressed and to lines of people visiting prisoners. As just one example, over $500 was raised through donations in Harlem (in New York City) to send BAsics to prisoners.
Festive year-end parties, drawing altogether hundreds of people, were held across the country and raised thousands of dollars for the BAsics Bus Tour pilot project. Young and old, of all nationalities, and with a diversity of viewpoints, gathered in people’s homes and in other venues to party and look forward to a new year full of struggle and advance. At a number of parties, people came and performed for the cause: There was live music, DJs, and new spoken-word pieces. Almost everywhere, people danced into the night. In one city, the word went out through the Occupy movement and local churches, over the Internet, and was publicized in the main city newspaper.
Through all this, the engagement with BA and what he is bringing forward is going in new directions and beginning to reach new forces. There is a beginning momentum that must be seized upon to make crucial new leaps in 2012. Whether people know of this leadership—and this path out of this madness—can make all the difference in whether humanity advances to a different and far better future.
In the course of achieving these goals, we have learned some important lessons:
1) By taking this campaign out broadly we have learned that there is a great deal of openness to learning about and engaging with BA’s vision and works. We are in a time of rapidly shifting thinking. Very big questions are up among a large swath of people. In this context, the fact that Avakian has done the work he has done, over several decades, stands out even more sharply right now—and there is urgency and necessity for people in all corners of society to know about this work and to engage it. We have been putting BA’s work directly in their hands. The quotes and essays in BAsics are resonating with thousands. As does the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), Avakian’s talk Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About, and other works. There are answers here. At the same time, people have a lot of questions, uncertainty and differences. That’s exactly the process of engagement that is a big part of this fund campaign which is set on nothing less than “effecting a radical and fundamental change in the social and political ‘atmosphere’ of this whole country by projecting the whole BA vision and framework into all corners of society where it does not yet exist, or is still too little known, and getting all sorts of people to engage and wrestle with it...” (from the editorial in Revolution #249)
2) Important, and significant, has been the involvement and participation of dozens upon dozens of people, including many people who are only now being introduced to BA and the movement for revolution. Individual donations are very important. Together with this, the coming together of groups of people to collectively work out the ways to raise funds and join in the movement to raise big money has special significance.
Work has to be done to organize people now to take up the efforts of this campaign in the ways they see fit. It’s not enough to open a door. People have to walk through that door. One important way this happens is when they share their thoughts on why they are contributing to the campaign—why they think it’s important for BA’s vision to be out in society—this opens up space for others to get involved.
The number of people taking up this campaign needs to and will grow through this process. Another way the campaign grows is by people not just contributing themselves but reaching out to others.
We should recognize that for many people, it’s a big step to go from donating or participating in this fund campaign to enlisting others in these efforts. People have questions about whether this means they’re representing for all of what Avakian is about when they often have their own questions about revolution and communism. People will have second thoughts. Let’s keep the door open for them to raise their concerns. It is positive when people raise their questions... it means they are seriously thinking about how they want to contribute and that impels them to sharpen up their own thinking about the world and the content of BA’s vision and works. This kind of back-and-forth is exactly the discussion that must be unleashed—and the broader the discussion becomes, the greater the impact of BA’s vision and works in society will be. It is through this process that people will come to know who BA is—and what he is all about.
Raising these funds really does matter to the world, and we should struggle in a good way about this with people. But as we do this, we should keep in mind the need for there to be the space for them to contribute in the ways they feel comfortable.
The first six weeks was a glimpse of what it feels like when fundraising itself is a mission and social force. And all the ways in which this can have a big impact on the political and ideological terrain. As we go all out with this fund campaign, we should apply these lessons, reaching out very broadly and working with people to take this up themselves, setting out to reach our largest goal of projecting BA everywhere, making what he represents a point of reference in society, and with the direct and immediate part of that now raising the money for the BAsics Bus Tour or for the big ideas we have for 2012.
The mass campaign to get BA Everywhere must continue to sink roots among all sections of the people, and to reach out broadly in a myriad of ways. The campaign will be punctuated with major efforts... the six big ideas described at the beginning of this article... and will be further developed as we raise the funds to carry them out. Plans are right now being developed to launch the BAsics Bus Tour, which will be kicked off in California in February. And efforts are continuing to raise funds for achieving the goal of 2,000 BAsics for prisoners.
This will mean going to people with more resources to donate, but it must also involve people of all strata, with all different means, coming together, organizing to raise funds. This means individuals making donations... but more than that, it means people joining this movement and taking this out to others in all the ways that you can.
During January, and all along the way, let’s organize more house parties. Let’s figure out the ways and means of having bake sales, or tamale sales, or preparing dinners to sell in the projects. Let’s learn from the creativity of the artists who put together the map which exposed what the U.S. has done around the world and highlighted the quotes from BAsics (“A compelling work, a creative introduction to BAsics,” Revolution #255, January 8, 2012) and provoked many not only to think about this—but to get their own copy of BAsics. Getting BAsics into the hands of people everywhere is essential. There are really unlimited ways and means to seize upon the momentum of the last six weeks. This movement must grow, with an ever-wider range of people being introduced to BA, his vision, and his works. And now is the time.
And a special, urgent note to our readers: Send us your correspondence on what you are doing to raise money for BA Everywhere. And, as a crucial part of this, let us know why people are contributing and what they are saying!
Send us your comments.
Revolution #256, January 15, 2012
We received this correspondence:
In Chicago, 50 people came out on the evening of January 1 for a party at Wicker Park Arts Center to celebrate the New Year and to raise funds to help launch the BAsics Bus Tour in 2012. It was a fun, relaxed night that raised $800 for the bus tour and brought together people from different generations, nationalities and walks of life—students, revolutionaries, musicians, professionals and people active in the movements against police brutality, torture and mass incarceration.
One highlight of the evening was an interesting and fresh performance segment. First, a young songwriter-guitarist played his own composition and other tunes with a singing partner and a pianist-composer. Funny, sardonic and at times sad, their three songs seemed in keeping with the venue named the Cabaret Space. Another young pianist then performed a piano composition, "Snippets," by the progressive Polish-American composer Frederic Rzewski. The piece is both experimental and down to earth. Since "Snippets" is based on nursery rhymes, the performer punned that the piece encourages "getting down to BAsics."
The performance by the young artists was just one example of people stepping forward that evening in different ways with creativity, energy and input, seeing that our actions can make a difference.
Readings of letters from prisoners, one by a poetry instructor and another by an ex-prisoner, let everyone know how essential it is to get BAsics behind the prison walls. A call to donate to the BAsics Bus Tour was put forth with great enthusiasm by a college student (see "Changing the very possibilities that people have in their minds"). Passing the hat in the wake of the student's call to donate created a feeling of excitement in the room that we are having an impact, and a determination that in the year 2012 we can go far beyond in projecting BA, his voice and work, way out in society.
Delicious dishes of Ethiopian, Middle Eastern and Puerto Rican food were donated by local restaurant owners. A special cake was sent by a Mexican bakery decorated with a frosting photo of a bus wrapped in a banner emblazoned with glowing orange letters advertising BA's Revolution DVD.
The relaxed atmosphere made for lots of mingling, as people enjoyed the performances, watched the "Next Stop: Revolution" video, and listened to world music. "I really got a sense of Bob Avakian," commented a person at the party who recently has been relating to the people's patrol to prevent police brutality.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #256, January 15, 2012
This fund pitch was given at the January 1 party in Chicago.
I want to tell everyone here tonight what the BA bus tour means to me.
I'm a college student, and the town I go to school in isn't a major city by any means. Even so, there is a local Occupy movement. My university hosted a discussion night on the Occupy movement a few months ago, right around the time where it was really becoming a big deal within the media and when Occupy was becoming a household word.
This event was hugely attended. It was immediately apparent that students and community members who came to the discussion were really eager to learn about the movement. Occupy had really hit on something for a lot of people, especially the students. Many students are staring down unemployment after graduation, and this is raising a lot of consciousness among students today.
So this room is totally full—every seat was taken. There was a panel that gave short overviews of different aspects of Occupy. One professor spoke about the development of the movement itself and how it got started. Another professor spoke about how the media works to frame things, with the prominent example being Occupy, and uses language and visuals that seek to delegitimize the movement. There was also a young woman from the local Occupy that spoke along with the professors about her personal experience being an occupier.
Through all of their individual presentations, they all hit on the same basic reason for the existence of the movement: the system of capitalism has served to create vast inequality, and people are pissed off about it! Occupy emerged as an upsurge of resistance to the "order of things."
So, after the presenters were done giving their speeches, the event was opened up to more general discussion and questions. I took this opportunity to ask the panelists that, if the system of capitalism was responsible for the injustices and inequalities that Occupy was speaking out against, was the system worth saving?
Each and every panelist was more or less confounded by this question. And each and every one of them, after stumbling over their words a bit, responded with a varying degree of "well, yes, I mean, of course it's worth saving. We just have to go make things more equal, you know, go back to the original intentions of what this country is all about."
The "original intentions," whether we're talking about the U.S. Constitution, or Declaration of Independence, or whatever, all represent the interests of a specific class; enshrined in the documents, laws, etc. of this country are the interests of the small ruling class that exploits the great masses of people. Yet, this was not how the panelists saw it, and quite honestly, is not how most people in this country see it.
But now, imagine this: the BA bus comes into town. It visits the occupied spaces, the revolutionaries on the bus are spreading BA's work, spreading the message that "things do not have to be this way" and "there is an alternative." Imagine if this bus would have been in town before I went to this discussion, how the language and debate would have been different. This change, this earthshaking change, is what the BA bus will be bringing to towns all over the country. This bus is going to be bringing revolution!
To me, this BA bus is about changing the very possibilities that people have in their minds about how the world can be. To me, this bus is "the cavalry." I get Revolution newspaper out, I talk about BA to people that I know—I'm really trying to get BA everywhere. But to be able to have a bus of revolutionaries coming to town, spreading our message... This would be so powerful! The BA bus is all about building the movement for revolution. So donate to this bus tour. Donate to making a better world. Donate to helping me bring "the cavalry" to my town!
Send us your comments.
Revolution #256, January 15, 2012
Note: The following is an excerpt from an interview with Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, USA, which aired on Michael Slate's Beneath the Surface show on KPFK radio in Los Angeles, on January 25, 2005. The full interview was published in Revolution #168, June 9, 2009. In publishing this here, some editing has been done, particularly for clarity—including the addition in a few places of brief explanatory passages within brackets.
Michael Slate: Well, let’s move into this question about the world and what it could be. And it’s interesting, on the one hand, you get the sense that people are really wanting another world. On the other hand, you also get a sense immediately when the question of communism comes up, or the question of Maoism comes up, you get people talking about immediately equating that with totalitarianism and raising, in opposition to that, this thing of: well, we want democracy. And I think one of the things, one of the big questions that it begins with, is actually a question about leadership, both about a vanguard but also about individual leaders. And it’s come out in relation to you in particular, but it’s also come out in general when people talk about: isn’t it dangerous to invest so much in one leader, isn’t that a very dangerous thing for creating a new world?
Bob Avakian: Well, it depends on what you mean by investing so much in one leader. If you recognize that, as happens, leaders do emerge who play an outstanding role—who represent a concentration of understanding of the way the world is, and how it can and should be changed, on a higher level than others around them at a given time—then that can be a very positive thing. To have something like that and to recognize it can be a very positive thing. And it requires people to rally to that and defend it at the same time as it requires them to come forward and play their own role in this struggle. So it depends on what you mean by “relying on.” If you mean putting everything in the hands of a few people, and everybody else passively follows them or just leaves all the thinking to them—or uncritically follows them or doesn’t try to wrestle with the same kind of problems that they’re trying to wrestle with—yes, that’s not a good thing.
So there’s a unity there as well as a contradiction between, on the one hand, someone who does come forward who has an advanced understanding and does concentrate, as I said, on a higher level than others, a certain understanding of how the world is and how it could be changed; and on the other hand, the role of a lot of other people, and growing numbers of people, in taking up the same approach to changing the world—the same communist outlook and methodology—and making the biggest contribution they can to it. And the more that both those things go on, the further we’re going to be ahead. So, yes, it would be a problem if you do it in the sense that’s more like what the bourgeoisie does: find a few great people and put everything in their hands. That’s actually ironically more the bourgeois way of doing things, even though they deny that they have “cult of the personality.” We’ve been through all this Reagan [bleep].1 But also they’re defending an old way of life and they have a lot of the advantages that go with being the entrenched system, the entrenched ruling class. And they can bring forward a lot of people to administer their system, relatively competently, for their needs.
But we’re trying to go up against the whole way the world is and make innovations and breakthroughs in order to do that, that have to be on a world-historic level because that’s what we’re up against. And we do have unevenness. Because we’re not the ones who have been on the top of the struggle for a while, and chasing the imperialists to a few corners and running them out of the world altogether—we’re not at that stage yet. We represent the forces that are rising but haven’t yet gotten the upper hand—let’s put it that way. So it’s more difficult for us to have as many people who have as advanced an understanding and can lead as will be possible for us to do further along in the struggle, when we’ve overcome more of these oppressive divisions in society.
And you can’t just start the discussion about this in the middle. You have to go back to the beginning or down to the foundation of it. Why do you need leaders in the first place? Why is there unevenness within a movement or within a party—why is there uneven development? Why are some people more advanced than others? Why is there, yes, a very significant gap between an organized conscious vanguard of people and broader masses of people? Is this because the people who are in that organized vanguard went out to create this gap? Or in fact is their mere existence as a vanguard a reflection of this gap, an expression of this gap? [If you’re thinking about] 90 percent of the people or more in the world, many of them, frankly, can’t even read and write because of the workings of this system and what it denies to them. But even those who can, most of them are weighed down by the daily struggle for survival and bombarded with the ideology of the ruling class to where on their own, spontaneously, they may rebel, they may see important aspects of the truth about the world and about society and about what’s wrong with it, but they can’t come to a systematic, comprehensive understanding that enables them to get past all the obstacles that lie in the way of really changing that.
At any given time within a society like this, given its tremendous gap between most people who are in that kind of situation and a small number who have access to and who work with ideas and wrangle in the realm of theory and all that, it’s going to be among the latter group that you’re first going to get people who come to this understanding, who break through and sort of get a penetrating insight into how this society and the world actually works and what’s the motion and development through history of that, where is it all tending and where does it need to go and how can it get there. That’s why you have this gap.
I mean, I was talking the other day with people about the movie Contact where, you know, this character played by Matthew McConaughey says to the Jodie Foster character, who’s sort of an atheist, “Well, what makes you think you know so much? Ninety-five percent of the people in the world believe in god—what makes you so smart?” Well, she happens to be right—there is no god. Because she’s been able to be in a position where she’s been able to study and learn about reality and wrestle with questions of theory and philosophy and science and come to that understanding. The 95 percent of the people who believe in religion—most of them haven’t been able to do that. Some have and go to religion for other reasons, but most of them have never even had the opportunity to do that. So is that her fault, or something wrong with her? Or is that a reflection of what’s wrong with the world?
And this really is the same with the leadership, with the vanguard party or with individual leaders. They are people who—we were talking earlier about some of my experiences—well, part of it was being in a situation where there was lots of intellectual ferment and being in a position—and frankly having the opportunity and even the luxury, coming from a middle class family—to be able to have the time to get into all these kinds of things and debate them and not be dragged down by all the weight of society on you. This is partly what youth are able to do, anyway. But then there’s a class differentiation. And if you’re from the bottom of society and everything is weighing on you the way it does, it’s difficult to break through that. Some people do. Like I was talking with someone the other day who’s an intellectual who comes out of very desperate circumstances and I asked him, “How did you get to be that?” He said, “Well, just one year, I couldn’t get any work, I couldn’t do anything. I read every book I could get my hands on.” So that happens, but it’s pretty rare. You’ll find it in prison. A few people in prison, for their sanity or whatever, start reading, they start writing, and they start investigating and studying lots of things. And they become “self-made intellectuals.” But let’s face it, most people in prison are going to be ground down by what goes on there and are not going to be able to do that.
Well, whether you come from prison or whether you come from the circumstances of this person who was literally living on the street a lot of the time, or from my circumstances, wherever you come from, if you come to a certain understanding and you see not only that the world needs to be changed but there are forces in society who could bring about that change and need that change, then you go to them with the understanding that you’ve developed and you bring them forward. But there is going to be unevenness, and where you have people who do have this understanding, they shouldn’t be shame-faced about it or defensive about it or not wanting to exert influence on other people. They should not have an arrogant attitude. They should recognize they have a tremendous amount to learn from people who are going through the hell of this society every day, but also they have important things to bring to people. And there should be that dialectical process, that back-and-forth process, so that you’re bringing forward masses of people who are the ones who are eventually going to bring this change, but you’re also, at any given time, cherishing and defending the leadership you have that has emerged that does have this advanced understanding and can link it with the practical conditions of the masses of people and with their own desire to find a way out of the world that they’re chained in, and can bring them forward on that basis.
I see this more in that kind of way, and wherever in the world and whenever we get leaders who do have a developed capacity—going back to what you were saying at the very beginning of our conversation about someone commenting about how I combine theory and an understanding of how to bring this to masses of people. Well, I want to be able to do that even better, but I think objectively there is some important truth to that. And where that emerges, then that’s a very valuable and precious thing for the struggle, and that should be recognized and it should be defended—because it’s not easy for something like that to be brought forward by the whole mass upsurge of the people, which is really where I came from, as do other people who do come to this kind of position. And you combine that with studying theory—but without that impulse from the masses of people that we’ve been talking about, I wouldn’t have even wanted to take up that theory or seen the need to or been inclined to.
So it’s that whole back and forth that’s important. And where you do have these leaders, you should recognize it, you should recognize how important it is, how much the enemy wants to destroy that. They have people who study this and they don’t wait until you have a massive influence. They don’t want to sit around and find out how well you’re going to do. As soon as they see anything emerging like that, they’re going to start developing their tactics for how to crush that and eliminate it.
On the other hand, precisely the role of people like that is to bring forward growing numbers of people, including among those who can be and have to be the driving force for this whole revolution. That’s the whole orientation and objective that I’m pursuing—is together with and through our party as a whole and leading the party to do this, to bring forward that base of people and to bring forward people broadly and to build a broad united front with that basic proletarian force as the driving thrust within all that, to make this revolution. And then to begin transforming society to where individuals increasingly don’t have such a—what you might call disproportionate influence—that their importance isn’t out of proportion to that of others in the society. But in order to get to that, we have to first of all get rid of this system and its oppressive divisions, including this whole mental/manual contradiction that is what I’ve really been talking about: those few who work with ideas and work with their minds, and the many who work with their backs and their hands if they can work at all. You can’t get rid of that contradiction by wishing it away or pretending it doesn’t exist.
It’s that contradiction, in large part, that gives rise to the need for leaders and for a vanguard, and then the contradiction goes forward and becomes: how does that vanguard lead the masses of people to move society forward to eventually eliminate that contradiction and the need for that vanguard? And all along the way, yes, that vanguard can turn into its opposite and leaders can turn into their opposite. That’s the contradictory nature of what we’re doing. You can’t do this without a vanguard, and yet it can be turned into its opposite; and we have to struggle to resolve that in a forward moving way to get to where leaders and vanguards, in the sense we’re talking about them, are no longer necessary and will go out of existence and be replaced by the more collective process of the masses of people without those kinds of distinctions of mental labor and manual labor and the role of particular individuals being such a heavy one, so to speak.
1 Ronald Reagan, the U.S. president from 1981 to 1989, was infamous for openly threatening nuclear war, backing death squad regimes in Central America, promoting outright racism, and other outrages. Reagan's death in June 2004 (half a year before the interview with Bob Avakian on Michael Slate's radio show was aired) was the occasion for a flood of official ceremonies and commemorations, remembrances by top political figures (Democrats and Republicans alike), and major tributes in the mainstream media, all extolling this blood-soaked representative of the U.S. empire as a "beloved" leader who "restored greatness" to America. [back]
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Revolution #256, January 15, 2012
CALL TO ACTION
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 out of four female college students will be raped or sexually assaulted while in college.
In recent years, pornography has become increasingly violent, cruel, degrading towards women; women are referred to as "cumdumpsters" and "fuckbuckets"; the “money shot” (ejaculation in a woman's face) is standard; humiliating cruelty—like violent "ass-to-mouth" penetration—is normalized, and racist bigotry is sexualized. Meanwhile, the broader culture has been pornified: pole dancing is taught at gyms, "sexting" is a national phenomenon among teens, and the strip club is the accepted backdrop to male bonding. All this is tied in with, and reinforces, the trafficking of millions of women and girls 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, a Christian fundamentalist-driven assault is imperiling abortion, birth control, real sex education, and women’s lives. Doctors are killed. Women who seek abortion (a safe, necessary, and perfectly moral medical procedure)—or even birth control—are stigmatized. 2011 saw the largest spate of legal restrictions on abortion since Roe v. Wade in 1973. Women who are not virgins or who do not choose to become mothers are shamed. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people who do not conform to traditional patriarchal gender and sexual norms are demonized and condemned.
ALL 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!
It is long past time that this new generation stand up, reject, and RESIST this culture of rape and pornography; this culture that labels women "selfish" if they choose not to become mothers and stigmatizes them for having abortions; this culture that reduces women and girls to sexualized objects while denying their full multi-dimensional humanity (including their right—as one essential part of this—to explore and experience mutually respectful and fulfilling sexuality without shame or stigma).
• RESIST THE CULTURE OF RAPE AND PORNOGRAPHY— Join in protest against the celebration of, and profit in, the degradation of women and the trade in women’s flesh.
• STAND UP FOR ABORTION RIGHTS—Fetuses are not babies. Women are not incubators. Abortion is not murder.
Our purpose is NOT to lobby for new legislation to ban pornography ("decency laws" have always served to further repress homosexuality, boundary-challenging art, and scientific sex education). We oppose the criminalization of women in the sex industry.
Our mission is to challenge the new generation in particular to reject this culture of rape and pornography, to resist the shaming of women who have sex and/or abortions, to wage fierce cultural and political resistance to wake others up, and to celebrate, fight for, and win the full equality and liberation of women.
This March, to commemorate International Women’s Day, take to the streets! On the weekend of March 10 & 11, demand: End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women!
See call on page 6 for protest on January 23 in Washington, DC to commemorate the anniversary of the legalization of abortion and to counter the biggest annual march against women’s right to abortion. Come to DC Sunday night for a panel and discussion on defeating the assault on abortion rights and winning the liberation of women. See worldcantwait.net for more info.
firstname.lastname@example.org for questions, comments, ideas, and interest in getting involved. Get flyers to hand out, bring a speaker to your campus, ask your toughest questions. The future of women depends on YOU!
sunsara.blogspot.com to check out the conversation on Sunsara Taylor’s blog.
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Revolution #256, January 15, 2012
From A World to Win News Service
January 9, 2012. A World to Win News Service. A breast implant scandal threatens some 300,000-400,000 women worldwide with the possibility of industrial-grade silicone gel leaking into their bodies like melted butter.
With zero remorse, Jean-Claude Mas, the owner of the Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) company located in southern France, formerly the world's number three implant manufacturer, readily admitted that it used this substandard material in 75 percent of its implants to maximize profit—after all, that is what companies have to do to stay competitive. He has accused his victims of being emotionally unstable women trying to make money from him.
Now it has been disclosed that to save money PIP also stopped including a inner protective layer around the implants. The industrial gel can leak into a women's body even if the implant doesn't actually rupture.
Equally hideous, the full extent of possible risks to women from the faulty gel is unknown because government health agencies in the countries concerned have not been keeping records of problem cases.
The implants were not pulled off the market after a decade of alarms. PIP had been making about 100,000 a year, for sale in 65 countries worldwide, mainly in Europe (France, Germany, Italy, UK, Portugal, Denmark, Poland, Holland, Bulgaria, Malta) and Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela), which is where the highest number of women with implants live.
Despite the increasing knowledge of leakage danger, the PIP implants were sold to a Dutch company called Rofil and marketed as "M-Implants" to escape the growing shadow on the PIP brand. They were sold under the new name in Eastern Europe and the U.S., where PIP implants had been banned.
When PIP started producing the silicone breast implants in 1991, they were approved by a German health agency. As early as 1993, seeking greater profits, the company secretly switched from the approved silicone and began producing its own formula containing fuel additives and material used for rubber tubing. Since regulatory agency inspections were made known in advance, PIP could hide any evidence of using substandard material. This was true also when France, after overturning a 10-year ban on silicone implants, inspected the company in the early 2000s, and subsequently also approved the PIP breast implants.
The technical director of PIP, Thierry Brinon, explained that in 2009, the industrial gel cost his company only $6.50 a liter, whereas the approved silicone cost $45. The changeover meant a million and a quarter dollars extra profit for every 100,000 implants. (Telegraph, January 6, 2012)
Clinics in various countries that performed the breast implant surgery also benefited from the cheap PIP product, which they bought without lowering prices to their patients.
Many warnings of danger surfaced throughout the 2000s. Surgeons doing the implants were becoming anxious when they began noticing that some patients' implants were rupturing and leaking silicon, although it now seems that the true extent of the problem remained unknown because cases of leakage remained undetected, and because the women's health complaints were often ignored.
In 2000, after inspecting the PIP plant, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement reporting that the implants did not meet American health requirements. An open question is to what degree the motivation for this was to keep a competitive edge for U.S. pharmaceutical companies against their French counterparts. Another factor may have been a spate of U.S. lawsuits in the 1990s about silicone implants made by PIP and Dow Corning, also the manufacturer of napalm. This made the whole American cosmetic surgery industry nervous and put some demands for stricter regulation on the health authorities.
The French regulatory agency, which failed to take action all those years, now claims that it was unaware that the FDA had banned PIP implants in the U.S., although national health agencies routinely share information. The pharmaceutical industry is a particularly important core part of French capital and has long enjoyed unabashed government protection, especially against the competition in other countries.
At any rate, in recent years lawsuits against PIP began eating into company's profits. In an effort to solve leakage, another substandard gel was produced by the company. After repeated letters by the head of a plastic surgery clinic in Marseille to the French health watchdog agency, inspectors paid a surprise visit to PIP in February 2010 and established that its records had been falsified. Shortly after, the French government closed the company down.
Since then the scandal has continued to mount. So far the French health safety agency has registered 1,143 ruptures and 495 inflammatory reactions from the implants, out of a total of 30,000 women who received PIP implants in that country.
The behind-the-scenes debate smouldering over the past years was reignited in France when a woman who had PIP implants died from a rare breast lymphoma in November 2010. There are 20 reported cases of women in France who have the PIP implants and also have cancer, although no connection has been established.
The biggest health concern right now is whether silicone leakage may trigger an auto-immune reaction by the body's own natural defense mechanisms. Such a reaction means that a sort of civil war occurs within the body that can produce profound weakness, fatigue and pain, along with damage to the joints, skin, connective tissue and internal organs.
Last December the Associated Press reported the case of Emmanuelle Maria from the same town where PIP was based. As an adolescent she had a bone disease which left her disfigured and she had breast implants in 2007. In early 2010 her breasts felt like they were burning and globules of silicone gel were protruding into her armpits. Yet her doctor told her nothing was wrong. She went to two other doctors, who finally confirmed both implants had burst.
Even when an implant ruptures it may go undetected because the silicone may remain "cohesive" and not leak into the breast tissue. The PIP implants, however, are not only more likely to rupture, but the industrial grade silicone is more difficult to extract because it lacks this "cohesion." A French surgeon from Paris' Saint Louis Hospital commented that a rupture could leak internally, requiring surgery in other parts of the body and ''once these implants are removed, the story is not over... we don't know the consequences.'' (Boston Globe, December 22, 2011)
The extent and seriousness of the problem are not clear because the medical authorities have not been paying attention. In most countries cosmetic surgery is not submitted to the same close observation and record-keeping as other surgical procedures and pharmaceuticals. The reporting of problems is often done on a voluntary basis.
The lack of reliable data is itself an indication of official indifference to women's health. The French health authorities now estimate that 5.5 percent of PIP implants have ruptured. Transform, Britain's largest cosmetic surgery chain, reported a leakage rate of 7 percent for PIP implants. One of the members of the UK government-commissioned panel investigating the scandal, the head of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, said it was "quite possible" that the true rupture rate was in double digits.
Not even the rupture rate of all the implants on the market is known with certainty. While UK government health officials reported less than 1 percent rupture in general, a study conducted in 2005 found an 11 percent rupture rate after 13 years. (Independent, January 2, 2012)
Reactions by various governmental health regulatory agencies and health ministers from many of the countries involved have varied, but some common features in their approach are apparent. All insist there is no danger of causing cancer (which studies about breast implants in general so far seem to confirm) and that there is no reason for women to panic.
Since cancer is not the only risk, this only adds insult to the potential injuries women have every right to be concerned about. France's health ministry has acknowledged that there is a "well-established risk" of rupture. In France, Germany and Venezuela, governments have recommended implant removal while the authorities in most of the other countries have said that there is no need to do so except when there is an actual rupture.
In the UK, where the breast implant industry is worth over $150 million (100 million pounds) annually, with 20,000 to 25,000 women every year having the surgery at a cost of $6,000 to $9,000 (4,000 to 5,000 pounds) each, successive governments ignored reported ruptures as well as other alarms about PIP implants going back at least to 2005.
The initial UK government reaction was to downplay the need for what it considered unnecessary expenditures as it cuts back sharply on the National Health Service. Instead of focusing on concern for the 40,000 British women who have the potentially dangerous PIP implants, the official debate is centering on cost and who is going to pay.
At first the UK Health Ministry refused to recommend that all PIP implants be removed and replaced. It took the position that this was necessary only if a rupture was found. Nigel Mercer, the previous president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, was unequivocal in disagreeing with this approach. His advice was for all PIP implants to be removed. "This silicone can cause intense fibrosis [thickening of tissue]. You have to ask yourself what would you recommend a family member to do. I would not want them to keep the implants in. You are sitting on a time bomb." (Independent, January 2, 2012)
Over the last few days, with mounting outrage and as various surgeons denounce the lax attitudes by all involved, the health ministry agreed to allow the National Health Service to remove and replace the implants of the 3,000 women who received the implants from NHS if they and their doctors insist. But it refused to issue a blanket directive for all such women. Minister Andrew Lansley confined himself to saying that private clinics have a "moral duty" to remove the implants, leaving them legally free to refuse.
That is in fact what they have been doing. Private clinics have been unwilling to deal with the expense of testing their former patients or even talk to them in some cases, let alone bear the cost of new operations. They argue that they should not be held responsible for buying products freely available on the market when the authorities never indicated any potential problem. Bent on privatizing much of healthcare, the British government is in no position to force private clinics to operate unprofitably or close.
Since the scandal first broke out the dominant official view regarding breast implants has been disdainful of the women who have them. It is often said that cosmetic surgery is a question of a woman's "vanity.'' As an association of French women endangered by the PIP implants points out, they are twice victimized, once by having the faulty implants and now by being considered "bimbos" (brainless big-breasted would-be sexpots) as a result.
The subtext is that it serves these women right if their implants prove dangerous. Such views are probably a factor in why there is such a lack of follow-up on "cosmetic" procedures that are overwhelmingly performed on women, even though the dangers are as real as in any other type of surgery.
It is also true that there is a general lack of clinical trials regarding new substances used for implantable devices to understand their long-term and potential harmful effects.
The reasons for women wanting breast implants vary widely. Often it is because of disfigurement, most commonly due to breast cancer surgery. But mainly that is not the case.
Encouraging women to have them, the cosmetic surgery industry says that the answer to the low self-esteem many women feel is to enlarge their breasts. Websites touting breast augmentation services often argue that the most important reason to have the procedure is because it enables many women to feel better about themselves. But why would having bigger breasts make women feel better about themselves unless that were essential to the way they are valued? This says a great deal about women's real status. This lack of self-esteem cannot be separated from the oppression of women as sexual commodities and lesser beings in all spheres in society.
Many of those afflicted with the PIP implants are very young. In Venezuela, some people consider a breast implant operation to be the ultimate birthday present for a girl on the occasion of her fifteenth birthday (quinceañera). The fifteenth birthday is considered a rite of passage for these young girls. This, too, is a signal to them about what their future as women holds.
The cosmetic surgery industry, the authorities and other people often argue that breast augmentation is simply a matter of a woman's "choice." This ignores the fact that women are imprisoned in a patriarchal society that largely determines what their choices are. Rather than blame women for a lack of self-esteem, this should be recognized as an internalization of real-world social relations that cannot be changed without changing the way society is ruled and organized.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
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Revolution #256, January 15, 2012
Vilifying Communism and Accommodating Imperialism
The December 2011-January 2012 issue of The Platypus Review features an interview with philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek.1 It is a fusillade of distortion of the historical experience of revolution and socialism in the 20th century, accompanied by an egregiously uninformed and unprincipled attack on Bob Avakian's new synthesis of communism.
Žižek's musings about communism are dressed up as new and nuanced thinking, but on display is a rather old and clunky anti-communism of a piece with the dominant bourgeois narrative of communism as "failure" and "horror." Žižek portrays himself as "anti-capitalist," but on parade are apologetics for capitalist-imperialism.
This is the fruit of what Slavoj Žižek calls his "honest pessimism."
In what follows, I respond to Žižek's central claims and misrepresentations. But at the outset I call on Slavoj Žižek to take part in a public debate with me about the nature of imperialism, and the history and prospects of the communist project.
The world is a horror. An environmental emergency threatens the very ecosystems of the planet; neocolonial wars waged by Western imperialism produce death, destruction, and dislocation; malnutrition and hunger stalk one billion human beings; women, half of humanity, are objectified, shrouded, trafficked, and degraded. The development of technology and the accumulation of human knowledge have brought human society to a threshold in which it is now possible to put an end to this and provide for a decent material and rich cultural life for all of humanity—and yet the profit-above-all system of world capitalism constrains and chokes this potential.
Growing numbers of people, from Egypt to the Occupy movements, are resisting and questioning the existing social order. People are raising their heads and searching for solutions and alternatives.
The responsibility of revolutionaries and all radical thinkers in relation to these movements is, most definitely, to unite with and work to build them in their overwhelmingly positive thrust. But it is also crucial to engage the obstacles and contradictions that these movements and struggles face—and work to provide direction to divert things onto a more fully and consciously revolutionary path. At the same time, there is pressing need to demarcate between genuinely radical and revolutionary discourse and politics—and that which would consign us to the world as it is.2
There is a way out of the suffering and madness of this world. It is revolution, communist revolution. The first attempts in modern history to create societies free of exploitation and oppression—the Soviet revolution of 1917-56 and the Chinese revolution of 1949-76—were led by visionary vanguard parties and instantiated new liberating economies and governing institutions, new social relations based on cooperation and overcoming inequality, and tackled old ways of thinking—all against incredible ideological and material obstacles.
These revolutions represent historic watersheds for oppressed humanity. Their accomplishments were both unprecedented and monumental. At the same time, there were problems and shortcomings in conception, method, and practice—some quite serious, some even grievous. How should all this be evaluated? This first wave of communist revolution was eventually defeated and capitalism restored. What were the underlying causes and factors?
Bob Avakian has produced a body of work that in summing up the overwhelmingly positive but also negative lessons of this first wave of revolution, while also drawing from diverse spheres of human experience and endeavor, opens new pathways to go further and do better in a new stage of communist revolution. This is a new synthesis of communism. A radically transformative communism...that is unflinching in its determination to lead millions to take power through determined revolutionary struggle once the conditions emerge to do so...and that aims at nothing less than using that power to emancipate humanity and achieve a world where human beings can truly flourish.
There is a monumental challenge, but a real basis, to fight for and to bring into being such a world. The stakes are real, as are the intellectual responsibilities. Professor Žižek shrinks from this challenge. What we get instead is his ill-founded and misdirected dabbling in analysis unmoored from the struggle to radically transform reality, a studied stance of "let's not take ourselves too seriously," and, ultimately, conciliation with this world with all its misery.
Early in the Platypus interview, Žižek comments on Bob Avakian's new synthesis of communism: "there is no theoretical substance: it doesn't do the work."3 Do the work? There is not a shred of theoretical engagement from Žižek in this interview with critical elements of the new synthesis, with:
What does Slavoj Žižek have to say about these elements of the new synthesis? Nothing.
Žižek charges that Avakian and the RCP "always have the answers: no questions, only answers."4 In other words, he would have readers believe, there is no grappling with difficult and vexing contradictions on the part of the RCP—only self-knowing certitudes. He brands us as "perverts," claiming that we seek to impose on others what their desires are or should be.
This, it must be said, is an astounding "perversion" of truth. An entire section of Bob Avakian's Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon speaks precisely to this contradiction, particularly as it is posed in socialist society between the fundamental interests and needs of the masses of people, on the one hand, and what some of the people may want at any given time, on the other—and the challenges involved in handling this contradiction, with its many complexities, in a way that continues the advance toward communism while at the same time fundamentally relying on the masses of people to consciously carry forward this struggle.
Indeed, the whole of the above-cited work, along with Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, are rich examinations by Avakian of many of the key contradictions and complexities involved in making revolution—and doing so in any particular country as part of the overall struggle toward the ultimate goal of communism worldwide.
Žižek also accuses Bob Avakian and the RCP of simply talking about taking power and then dealing with the problems, and not addressing how all this will come about and "what it will mean in regard to the masses." This is yet another hollow charge. In addition to the works I've already mentioned, the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) and the RCP's statement "On the Strategy for Revolution" are highly relevant in speaking to these issues.
From Žižek there is neither substantive engagement with nor principled criticism of the new synthesis—just cheap distortions of Avakian's work and the line of the RCP. But Professor Žižek, have another go at it, let's debate communism and the new synthesis in a public forum.
In the Platypus interview Žižek tells us that "the lessons [of the 20th century] are only negative." He speaks of socialism in the Soviet Union and the Stalin period as "brutal direct domination."5 In his introduction to a Verso edition of several of Mao's essays on philosophy, Žižek charges Mao with "reducing people to a disposable means."6 In his October talk at Occupy Wall Street, Žižek obsesses that "communism failed absolutely."7
Go to thisiscommunism.org, the website of Set the Record Straight, whose mission is “to factually refute the lies spread in the media, mass-market books, and mainstream scholarship about the Soviet and Chinese revolutions—upholding the overwhelming achievements and pointing to problems and shortcomings.”
It is hard to discern what is more at work here: willful disregard for historical accuracy, or anti-communist pandering to the powers that be. In any case, Žižek's declarations are wrong and cause great harm. To get at the truth of the Bolshevik and Chinese revolutions, I would commend to readers writings by Avakian, some of my research and speeches, the Set the Record Straight website, and the polemic "Alain Badiou's 'Politics of Emancipation': A Communism Locked Within the Confines of the Bourgeois World." But a few points of specific response are in order:
For Slavoj Žižek, a defining component of "new" and "innovative" radical theorizing is repudiation and slander of the historical experience of communist revolution.
Žižek proposes to "rethink the critique of political economy" in light of today's global capitalism. Where does his "rethinking" lead him? Let's consider some of his findings:
I would encourage people to contrast Žižek's social-chauvinistic views on imperialism and democracy, views by the way that are consistent for their lack of any scientific understanding of the relationship of the superstructure to the material base of society and the world system, with such works by Bob Avakian as Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That?, Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy and, once again, Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon.
Slavoj Žižek wrongly and unscientifically negates the whole experience of communist revolution. He agonizes over "no easy solutions" and "honest pessimism" but can comfortably align himself with imperialism. It is political and moral capitulation writ large. It has everything to do with why Slavoj Žižek does not acknowledge—and quite possibly does not, and cannot, recognize—what is in fact new and of decisive importance in the new synthesis of communism brought forward by Bob Avakian. In a world that cries out urgently for radical change, this new synthesis is both viable and vital for carrying forward the struggle for the emancipation of humanity.
Once again, and in closing, I challenge Slavoj Žižek to publicly debate these questions.
Works by Bob Avakian Cited in This Article
Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon.
Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2008).
Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That? (Chicago: Banner Press, 1986).
Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism.
"The End of a Stage—the Beginning of a New Stage," Revolution magazine, RCP Publications, Fall 1990.
Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, Revolution, October 2007-February 2008. Also included in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation, pamphlet (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2008).
Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy (Chicago: Insight Press, 2005).
"Views on Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State, A Radically Different and Far Greater Vision of Freedom," Revolution, March-April 2006.
Other Works and Sources
Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2009).
Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2010).
"On the Strategy for Revolution," Revolution, #226, March 6, 2011.
Set the Record Straight website with materials from Raymond Lotta, at thisiscommunism.org
Raymond Lotta, Nayi Duniya, and K.J.A., Alain Badiou's 'Politics of Emancipation': A Communism Locked Within the Confines of the Bourgeois World," Demarcations: A Journal of Communist Theory and Polemic, Summer-Fall 2009 (1).
1. "The Occupy movement, a renascent Left, and Marxism today: An interview with Slavoj Žižek," The Platypus Review (42) December 2011-January 2012. [back]
2. It is worth noting that in his discussion of the upsurge in Egypt, Žižek contents himself with tailing this movement, even making a principle out of some of its weaknesses and narrow aspects, including (so far at least) the neglect, or negation, to too far a degree of the Palestinian question. See Žižek interview, p. 4. [back]
3. Žižek interview, p. 2. [back]
4. Ibid., p. 2. [back]
5. Ibid., p. 5. [back]
6. Slavoj Žižek Presents Mao: On Practice and Contradiction (New York and London: Verso Books, 2007), p. 10. [back]
7. "Slavoj Žižek at OWS Part 2," October 9, 2011. [back]
8. Žižek interview, p. 2. [back]
9. Ibid., p. 3. [back]
10. In the Platypus interview, p. 4, in his commentary on anti-Iraqi war protests, Žižek faults the U.S. left for not working with the Iraqi left, particularly the Iraqi Communist Party. This utterly revisionist party took part in the elections for the first post-invasion government—elections that were carried out under the auspices and in the service of U.S. occupation. Žižek notes the participation of the Iraqi Communist Party and goes on to say: "The standard narrative was that the Iraqi people should liberate themselves, without the U.S. occupation. But they had the same problem, and got into a deadlock. With attacks on the Green Zone: which side should you take, there? I was not ready to do what some did, to claim that, since they opposed the American occupation, they should side with the resistance. I don't think these radical Islamists should ever be supported."
Under the mantle of not giving quarter to Islamic fundamentalism, Žižek is effectively legitimizing the U.S. invasion and occupation. Contrast this social-chauvinist position with the orientation of the RCP, USA, which is based on the internationalist stand and analysis of Avakian. This analysis a) points to the existence of "two outmodeds": imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism; b) identifies both as being reactionary; c) calls for bringing forward a genuine revolutionary movement in opposition to both; while d) making it crystal clear that, of these "two outmodeds," it is imperialism, and above all U.S. imperialism, that does greater harm to, and constitutes a far greater obstacle to the emancipation of, the masses of people in the world. See Bob Avakian, "Bringing Forward Another Way." [back]
11. Ibid., p. 4. By contrast, see my discussion of the persistence of the savage contradiction between the imperialist metropoles and the Third World in Part 1 of the series "Shifts and Faultlines in the World Economy and Great Power Rivalry." [back]
12. Ibid., p. 4. [back]
13. "Charlie Rose with Slavoj Žižek," October 26, 2011. [back]
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Revolution #256, January 15, 2012
In the aftermath of more than a decade of U.S.-orchestrated sanctions against Iraq, an economic blockade that set the stage for the U.S. invasion in 2003, a 60 Minutes reporter asked U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright this question:
“We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
Albright replied, “We think the price is worth it.”
* * * * *
In 1990, a U.S.-sponsored and enforced UN resolution imposed financial and commercial sanctions against Iraq. The sanctions banned most foreign trade with Iraq, with supposed exceptions for food and medicine. The sanctions were branded an “alternative to war” and stayed in effect until the U.S. invasion overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003.
During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the U.S. not only targeted Iraq’s military, but also its civilian infrastructure, including power plants that supplied electricity for Iraq’s water system and hospitals. Sanctions stripped Iraq’s economy of oil income needed to rebuild that infrastructure and social services, and blocked equipment and materials vital to those systems. This resulted, most devastatingly, in crippling Iraq’s water system. Before the first U.S. war against Iraq in 1991, 96 percent of Iraqis had access to abundant supplies of safe drinking water through a national network of electrically powered pumping stations and treatment plants. Three years later, less than half had such access.
The scope of resulting malnutrition, disease, suffering, and death, particularly among children, is hard to document quantitatively, but by all accounts it was massive and horrific.
A report in the Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal in 2000 described results: “An estimated 1,910,309 children were suffering from other protein-, calorie- and vitamin-related malnutrition in 1998. ... Particularly significant are the unacceptably high infant mortality rate and deaths of children under 5 years. Waterborne and foodborne diseases such as cholera, poliomyelitis and typhoid, vector-borne diseases such as malaria and leishmaniasis, and other bacterial diseases such as tuberculosis are on the increase ... The numbers of infants with low birth weight and women with severe anemia have also increased.”
And: “Unsafe drinking-water, polluted environment and poor sewage systems continue to endanger the health of large sections of the urban and semi-urban population.”
Revolution correspondent Larry Everest, who toured Iraq to investigate the impact of the sanctions, wrote: “In ward after hospital ward I saw hopelessly frail children slowly wasting away, dying the agonizing deaths induced by not enough food, clean water, or medicine, their mothers sitting helplessly beside them, their doctors denied the means to treat them.”
The question by the 60 Minutes reporter, which Albright later said “amount[ed] to Iraqi propaganda” may have been referring to a statement from the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). In 1999, four years before sanctions ended, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that if the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under five in the country as a whole during the eight-year period 1991 to 1998. She cited a UN report: “Even if not all suffering in Iraq can be imputed to external factors, especially sanctions, the Iraqi people would not be undergoing such deprivations in the absence of the prolonged measures imposed by the Security Council and the effects of war [first U.S. invasion].”
Denis Halliday, who had served as United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq until 1997, resigned saying “I don’t want to administer a programme that satisfies the definition of genocide.”
Such massive disease and death among the Iraqi population is a ghastly and historic crime. It brought unimaginable pain and suffering to the everyday people of that country.
But there’s more: The U.S. knew in advance that sanctions would kill children, old people, and sick people. A study in 1991 by the U.S. Department of Defense “Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities,” predicted that sanctions “WILL RESULT IN A SHORTAGE OF PURE DRINKING WATER FOR MUCH OF THE POPULATION. THIS COULD LEAD TO INCREASED INCIDENCES, IF NOT EPIDEMICS, OF DISEASE AND TO CERTAIN PURE-WATER-DEPENDENT INDUSTRIES BECOMING INCAPACITATED, INCLUDING PETRO CHEMICALS, FERTILIZERS, PETROLEUM REFINING, ELECTRONICS, PHARMACEUTICALS, FOOD PROCESSING, TEXTILES, CONCRETE CONSTRUCTION, AND THERMAL POWERPLANTS.” (Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, United States Department of Defense. November/December 2001, all caps in original document.)
How can the U.S. sanctions against Iraq, carried out with the conscious knowledge that this “WILL RESULT IN A SHORTAGE OF PURE DRINKING WATER FOR MUCH OF THE POPULATION” that could “LEAD TO INCREASED INCIDENCES, IF NOT EPIDEMICS, OF DISEASE” be understood as anything but premeditated mass murder of civilians?
This deliberate mass murder and strangling of the Iraqi economy greatly weakened the hold of the Saddam Hussein regime over society, and served to prepare the ground for the U.S. invasion of 2003. When Albright said “the price is worth it,” she meant that the lives of half a million children were well worth the way the U.S. forces were able to quickly roll through Iraq to Baghdad and topple the regime (though the occupation of the whole country turned out to be much more fraught with difficulties for the U.S., and has led to the death of hundreds of thousands more in Iraq).
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. (See “U.S.-Israeli Assault on Iran Escalates: Danger of War Grows” by Larry Everest, Revolution #255, January 8, 2012.)
The latest move in the ratcheting up of pressure on Iran is a law, signed by U.S. President Barack Obama on December 31, 2011, imposing sanctions that would make it very difficult for Iran to sell oil on the world market. The U.S. is threatening to ban any country that has financial transactions with Iran’s central bank (which is how Iranian oil is paid for) from doing business with the U.S. or any financial institutions it controls. As with Iraq in the 1990s, Iran’s economy, including both its military and massive repressive apparatus but also its infrastructure (like water purification plants), food subsidies, healthcare and other essential services, are financed overwhelmingly by oil sales.
And, once again, we are being told that sanctions are an attempt by the U.S. to “avoid” war. In fact, sanctions would bring great suffering and death to civilians. As was the case in Iraq, the sanctions are aimed at weakening and destabilizing the Iranian regime, and to put it in as weak a position as possible in case the U.S. does launch a war on Iran. And sanctions would further back the Iranian regime into a corner from which it might well feel compelled to strike back, which would in turn be invoked by the U.S. as a justification for further U.S. aggression.
Any sanctions by the U.S. would overwhelmingly impact the masses of people in Iran, most viciously the poorest people, and would lead directly to massive disease and death among the civilian population, and would, once again, constitute unjustified, premeditated mass murder of civilians.
For a detailed survey of the impact of, and background behind the U.S. sanctions against Iraq, see: Oil, Power, and Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda, by Larry Everest (Common Courage Press, 2003) especially Chapter 6, “Germ Warfare: America’s Weapon of Mass Destruction.”
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Revolution #256, January 15, 2012
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 #256, January 15, 2012
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 #256, January 15, 2012
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 #256, January 15, 2012
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 #256, January 15, 2012
We are told that the genius of the American political system lies in the pendulum swing. Don't worry... things can't go too far in the wrong direction... because before too long, the pendulum will swing back.
"Don't worry about environmental catastrophe," they say, even as the present course seems, if anything, to be accelerating the horrifying momentum in that direction. "Don't worry about the endless wars," even as U.S. drones rain down terror on at least half a dozen countries, and threats are issued to others. "Don't worry about the evisceration of fundamental political rights," even as Obama signs bills and issues edicts that Bush couldn't even dream about [See the January 8, 2011 Revolution, for example, the National Defense Authorization Act signed by Obama]. "No, don't worry, for after all the pendulum will swing on back soon. And don't worry about the persecution of immigrants, either," even though Obama has deported many more people than Bush ever even tried to... "or the mass incarceration of Black and Latino people," which has ground on just as mercilessly under Obama as it did under Bush, Clinton and Reagan.
Leave aside for now the narrowness of this theory—how it leaves the people of the whole rest of the planet out of consideration. Leave aside its incredibly low sights—really, can we think no higher than the petty improvements offered by the best of what this notion supposedly offers people? Leave aside all that and just consider, right now, how even on its own pitiful terms this theory crashes into the hard rocks of the reality of the Obama presidency.
And yet there is one use of the pendulum metaphor that does strike a political chord. Here we refer to Edgar Allan Poe's classic story "The Pit and the Pendulum." The hero of this story is a victim of the Spanish Inquisition—a centuries-long reign of terror launched by the Catholic Church in Spain in which anyone who was suspected of harboring heretical thoughts (that is, thoughts that differed with Catholic doctrine) was hunted down, tortured, and often killed. The hero at one point lies in a cell, strapped to a board with only his left hand left free, and surrounded by hungry rats waiting to feast on his corpse. Meanwhile, a weighted pendulum descends toward him. As the pendulum swings to and fro and slowly lowers, he notices the gleam of a sharp steel blade at its end, inexorably moving to slice his chest to ribbons. He strains against the ropes, but death seems certain and he almost gives up hope. At the last minute, however, he hits upon a stratagem: he uses his left hand to rub the grease from a piece of meat onto the sash that bound him to the board. Attracted by the grease, the rats gnaw through the sash and the hero rolls free of the pendulum at the very last minute—and just before an invading army throws open the doors of his cell.
We won't belabor the point and we won't claim it fits every particular—and we certainly won't claim that Poe had this in mind when he wrote his classic story. But just think about the way in which the pendulum in Poe's story, though it swings back and forth, ultimately has but one destination; about the way in which the ropes that bind the hero keep him paralyzed as the blade hypnotically progresses toward his chest; and about how his freedom depended upon his ability to free himself from those constraints through daring and imagination. If there is anything to draw from the pendulum metaphor in the American political system, it is Poe who came closest.
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