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Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
|New York City
LaSalle & Jackson
4 pm–Gather & Rally
Public Square Downtown
3 pm–Gather & Rally
The People's Plaza
300 South 6th Street, Minneapolis
4:30 pm–Rally & March
All Across the Country
Demonstrate February 28
|Partial List of Signatories:
Gbenga Akinnagbe, actor on the HBO series The Wire
Fr. Luis Barrios
Lenni Brenner, historian
Renate Bridenthal, Professor of History, Brooklyn College, CUNY, retired
Elaine Brower, World Can’t Wait & Military Families Speak Out
Cynthia Carlson, artist
Lisa Clapier, OWS LA
Nina Felshin, independent curator
Glen Ford, Executive Editor, Black Agenda Report
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, NYC
Harmony Hammond, artist
Camille Hankins, Founder and Director: Win Animal Rights and No Kill New York
Robert Hass, UC Berkeley, former poet laureate of the United States
Ray Hill, producer/host of Ray on the Raydio Internet radio show, Houston, TX
Lee Siu Hin, National Coordinator, National Immigrant Solidarity Network*
Rev. Dr. James Karpen, Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, New York City
Walda Katz-Fishman, Professor, Sociology, Howard University
Chuck Kaufman, Executive Director, Alliance for Global Justice
Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Harlem
Jim Long, artist
Waqas Malik, artist
Lydia Matthews, Dean of Academic Programs, Associate Dean of Parsons/Professor
Ann Messner, artist
Dorinda Moreno, Fuerza Mundial/FM Global/Hitec Aztec, U.S. Liaison Secretariat, International Tribunal of Conscience of Peoples in Movement/TICPM
Nick Mottern, ConsumersforPeace.org & kNOwdrones.org
Alan Myerson, film & television director
National Immigrant Solidarity Network
Alexa O'Brien, US Day of Rage
Scott Olsen, Occupy Oakland
Bradley Olson, psychologist, activist
The Rt. Rev. George E. Packard, Retired Bishop of the Episcopal Church for the Armed Services and Federal Ministries
Craig Phipps, Ombudsman, Casa Esperanza
Boots Riley, The Coup & Street Sweepers Social Club Suzanne Ross, PhD, clinical psychologist
Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz, New Sanctuary Movement
Jayce Salloum, artist, Vancouver
Donna Schaper, Senior Minister, Judson Memorial Church
Alice Slater, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
Stephen Soldz, Director, Center for Research, Evaluation, and Program Development, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis,* Past President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR)*
Rev. Max Surjadinata, Area Coordinator of Friends of Sabeel North America
David Swanson, warisacrime.org
Debra Sweet, Director, World Can’t Wait
Dennis Trainor, Jr, writer, producer & host of Acronym TV
Marina Urbach, independent curator, other projects, New York
Nancy Vining Van Ness, Director, American Creative Dance
Jim Vrettos, Adjunct Professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice*
Vince Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights*
World Can't Wait
Colonel Ann Wright, Ret. U.S. Diplomat, Veterans for Peace
Andy Zee, Spokesperson, Revolution Books, NYC
David Zeiger, Displaced Films
*For identification purposes only
These past several months have witnessed something very different in the U.S. People from many different walks of life came together to occupy public space in nearly 1,000 cities in the U.S. They stood up to vicious police violence, they broke through the confines of “protest as usual,” and in the middle of all that, they built community. Even in the face of media attempts to ridicule, distort, and demonize these protests, their basic message began to get through. People throughout the U.S.—and even the world—took notice of and took heart from these brave and creative protesters.
The political terms of discourse began to shift; the iced-over thinking of people in the U.S. began to thaw. Standing up to the unjust brutality and arrests became a badge of honor. People began to listen to and read the stories of some of the victims of this economic crisis, and to share their own. And most of all, as the protests spread to city after city, the fact of people occupying public space forced open debate and raised big questions among millions as to what kind of society this is, and what it should be. Why does such poverty and need exist in the face of a relative handful of people amassing obscene amounts of wealth? Why do the political institutions of society seem only to serve that handful? Why do so many youth feel they face such a bleak future? Why does the insane destruction of the environment continue to accelerate? And what is needed to overcome all this?
Those who actually wield power in this country regarded these protests, and these questions, as dangerous, and reacted accordingly. Time and again those who wield power violated their own laws and ordered police to pepper spray, beat with clubs, and shoot tear gas canisters at the heads of people who were doing nothing more than non-violently expressing their dissent and seeking community. This reached a peak in the recent coordinated and systematic attacks of the past few weeks against all the major occupations. In fact, the mayor of Oakland admitted on BBC to being part of conference calls that coordinated national strategy against the occupiers. On top of all that, and in another blatant show of illegitimate force and power, they attempted to prevent journalists and photographers from covering these acts of repression—unless they were “embedded” with the police.
To put the matter bluntly, but truly: the state planned and unleashed naked and systematic violence and repression against people attempting to exercise rights that are supposed to be legally guaranteed. This response by those who wield power in this society is utterly shameful from a moral standpoint, and thoroughly illegitimate from a legal and political one.
Now this movement faces a true crossroads. Will it be dispersed, driven into the margins, or co-opted? Or will it come back stronger? This question now poses itself, extremely sharply.
One thing is clear already: if this illegitimate wave of repression is allowed to stand... if the powers-that-be succeed in suppressing or marginalizing this new movement... if people are once again “penned in”—both literally and symbolically—things will be much worse. THIS SUPPRESSION MUST BE MASSIVELY OPPOSED, AND DEFEATED.
On the other hand, this too is true: movements grow, and can only grow, by answering repression with even greater and more powerful mobilization.
The need to act is urgent.
As a first step in the necessary response, there must be a massive political mobilization on a day, or days, very soon to say NO! to this attempt to suppress thought and expression with brutality and violence. This mobilization should most of all be in New York, where this movement started... but it should at the same time be powerfully echoed all around the country and yes, around the world. This is a call for massive demonstrations—soon—carried out in public spaces where they can have maximum impact and exposure and where the authorities cannot pen in, suppress, and otherwise attempt to marginalize these demonstrations.
These demonstrations must be large enough to show clearly that people will not tolerate that which is intolerable... that people will not adjust to that which is so manifestly unjust. Such demonstrations, along with the efforts to reach out and build them, can draw many more people from passive sympathy into active support and can awaken and inspire even millions more who have not yet been reached. Such demonstrations can powerfully answer the attempt by “the 1%” to crush and/or derail this broad movement. Thousands and thousands in the streets, acting together, can seize new initiative and change the whole political equation. The urgent questions raised by Occupy—and other urgent questions that have yet to be raised in this movement—can once more reverberate, and more powerfully than before.
The repression of the Occupy movement must not stand. Act.
* * * * *
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
Letter from Andy Zee
Revolution received the following letter from Andy Zee, spokesperson for Revolution Books, about the February 28th National Protest to Stand with Occupy and Stop the Suppression
Dear Friends and All Those Inspired by Occupy,
The February 28th National Protest to Stand with Occupy and Stop the Suppression is happening. A broad array of people from the arts, legal and religious communities will join together with youth and occupiers to say the suppression of the Occupy Movement must stop. I write today, because in the next 3 days this can be made even more powerful. But, right now this action is not being taken up with the urgency the situation demands.
Mass arrests, rubber bullets, pepper spray, police beatings and tear gas are thrown at the Occupy movement over and over again. Are you pulling out all the stops to make the February 28th national protests against the Suppression of Occupy Wall Street what it needs to be?
The nationwide systematic brutal suppression of the Occupy movement has had a terrible impact on how people throughout the country now think and feel about the possibility for real change, for a different way that people can be. Occupy changed the political conversation. People were asking big questions about the savage inequalities that ravage lives here and around the world. Occupy stepped out of accepting that. It became a badge of honor to be arrested and stand up to police brutality. But all that changed when every Occupy site, when most every protest by Occupy, met more vicious police repression.
When a movement like Occupy which embodies people’s hopes is suppressed and then when that is allowed to stand unchallenged by the whole society, people broadly become demoralized and go back to their lives. The media has an even freer hand to ratchet up its demonization and marginalization of the movement: “they’re just the unwashed misfits who won’t get a job, and they’re violent.” If the suppression of thought and expression is not called out by people from all walks of life for being unjust and wrong, then the lies take hold, the feeling that you can’t really fight the power sets in, and the iced over thinking that had begun to thaw with Occupy begins to ice over again.
What’s just as bad is the government and the 1% it serves get a green light to continue with repressive measures that are immoral and illegitimate—even by their own stated principles and laws.
In Union Square, on February 28th [F28], in NYC — where Occupy began and the first massive military style eviction took place — Wall Street Occupiers will be joined by Rev. Stephen Phelps, Senior Minister at Riverside Church, civil liberties attorney Norman Siegel and musician Peter Yarrow and many others to demonstrate without equivocation that the suppression of Occupy must stop. General Assemblies of the Occupy movement reached consensus to support this action in NYC, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Lincoln, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and San Francisco.
Many within the Occupy movement are throwing heart and soul into February 28. Yet, many people who try to follow the Occupy movement, and even many within Occupy do not know of the F28 protest. There are two reasons for this:  A turning away from really coming to grips with the full scope of the suppression of the Occupy movement and how that is negatively impacting all the positive things that Occupy is doing and planning.  Anti-communist prejudice has caused a few people with access to some of the websites associated with OWS to keep word of February 28 from getting out widely in the Occupy movement and have discouraged people from participating. Compounding this, too many others who do not agree with this prejudice have not vigorously enough denounced it and sufficiently fought for the import of the F28 demonstration.
This is wrong, unprincipled, and harmful.
#1: Failing to mobilize broadly to take on the state’s suppression directly will weaken and not strengthen Occupy and other movements of resistance.
I will not here recount the unrelenting systematic campaign of police brutality. The images: a vet shot in the face, a grandmother dripping with pepper spray, students sitting handcuffed in a line pepper sprayed point blank, reverberate in the mind. From Homeland Security advising mayors and police departments across the country, to a city councilman in Oakland outrageously invoking the specter that Occupy constitutes “domestic terrorism” with all that implies, evidences that dangerous measures are afoot. This is not without consequence.
Many outside of the Occupy movement think it is over. When there is continual police repression against most every protest that even slightly steps outside the bounds of being totally penned in by the police, many outside of Occupy begin to give credence to the media distortion and demonization that this repression might be justified. They think there is too great a risk in becoming a part of the resistance.
Historically, social movements and even whole sections of the people get demonized and repressed. Then, the repression gets invoked to justify even more repression. For example, over the last few decades, all too many people have accepted the legitimacy of the War on Drugs—that drugs were the problem and not the symptom of the oppression of those locked on the bottom of US society. Then, increasing police repression under the guise of “fighting crime” became further justification for all too many to look away while Black and Latino youth have been massively demonized, brutalized and incarcerated.
A dynamic sets in where the unacceptable becomes accepted. That is what Occupy began to crack open last autumn. It became righteous once again to fight against injustice, even at personal risk. This is intolerable to the 1%. The forces of the state were brought in full force and the situation changed for the Occupy movement. Rebecca Solnit, a signer of the Call for February 28 describes this as “a sustained campaign of police brutality from Wall Street to Washington State the likes of which we haven’t seen in 40 years.”
To look past this, to think that Occupy can just keep doing what it has been righteously doing—fighting against and raising awareness of foreclosures, inequality, and much more—without mobilizing people to politically oppose the suppression in its own right and as a part of these struggles, is dangerously wrong. You are deluding yourself to think that new terms have not been set. That which you do not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn—or be forced—to accept. But, if people broadly are mobilized in the streets beginning on F28 to say this use of force against Occupy is unjust and illegitimate then we can be standing on new stronger ground.
The Call for the Mass Action on February 28th is true:
“if this illegitimate wave of repression is allowed to stand... if the powers-that-be succeed in suppressing or marginalizing this new movement... if people are once again ‘penned in’–both literally and symbolically–things will be much worse. THIS SUPPRESSION MUST BE MASSIVELY OPPOSED, AND DEFEATED.”
Should we fail to do this, the Occupy protests will likely dwindle and/or become increasingly severed from the millions who it inspired, or, will find itself accommodating to being literally penned in and/or confining itself to political forms of opposition acceptable to the 1% and become irrelevant as a force for real change in that way.
The Call draws an incontrovertible lesson from past struggles:
“. . . this too is true: movements grow, and can only grow, by answering repression with even greater and more powerful mobilization.”
The 1% has no legitimate answers to the havoc they have wreaked on people’s lives. They have no legitimate answer to the vibrant questioning and discourse that abounded at Occupy sites. Even one hour spent talking with people at an Occupy encampment last fall opened new vistas. The stultifying culture and education promoted by and in the interests of this system stood out as being as bankrupt intellectually and morally as it is financially. Capitalism/imperialism has nothing to offer but exploitation of people and the planet the world over, enforced by brute suppression.
But they are not all powerful. We have two things going for us. One: we have right on our side. Two: the broad masses of people who can be mobilized to stand with Occupy against the suppression. February 28 is the first step in doing so.
If you think about it honestly and objectively, it is essential and beneficial for all the future Occupy protests and plans for—from the protests planned for F29 on through the Spring, that there be a powerful protest on F28, rallying many others so that the powers-that-be feel that the political price for continuing to suppress Occupy is too great and people’s strength grows.
#2: Anti-communist prejudice and disinformation will, and always has, weakened and destroyed movements of resistance.
There are some within the Occupy community who have allowed their personal political and philosophical differences to block word of this protest getting broadly out and have encouraged others to ignore this protest.
What is being spread around is that February 28 is an action by the Revolutionary Communist Party USA—that the Call came from the RCP, and some have even said it is an attempt by the RCP to “take over” Occupy. For those too young to know—in the 1950s and ‘60s this was the run of the mill “red scare” stoking of fears emanating from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover of communists surreptitiously “taking over.” This is bullshit and harmful.
The truth is this: A Call for Mass Action Against the Suppression of the Occupy Movement was first published by Revolution, the newspaper published by the RCP. The RCP did not hide this—it has no hidden agenda. The Call was carefully written with the interests of all the people in society concerned about the future in mind, and in such a way that the whole movement could unite with and utilize it. That is why many people have been signing it and going all out organizing the demonstration from their own and differing points of view than the RCP.
The ad hoc committee organizing F28 is made up of people with widely divergent views who recognize the importance of standing up to the suppression.
The RCP is building a movement for revolution based on a new synthesis of communism developed by Bob Avakian—the revolutionary leader of the RCP, to be able to get to a world without all the horrors and inequities that imperialism ravages on the world. From this vantage point it applied its understanding of the situation and the stakes involved so that this new Occupy movement would continue to open up political space for people to struggle and to debate the life and death questions facing humanity. The RCP recognizes that without taking on the suppression, things will be much worse, for Occupy, and more fundamentally for all those suffering under the workings of this system.
The sectarianism—yes, that’s what it is—putting your or your group’s particular interests ahead of what is needed by the people overall, does harm.
* * *
Last, a word to all of you have been inspired by Occupy—who are not “inside” this movement: you now have a responsibility to step up and denounce the illegitimate use of force against this movement. You must not let the government get away with locking Occupy down with impunity. The issues I have written about here do not live only within the Occupy movement. Be out in the streets on Tuesday, February 28. Mobilize your friends, co-workers, neighbors to stand up so that Occupy can regain initiative as part of fighting for a better world.
There is a way forward—the first step is captured in the closing lines of The Call for February 28:
“Thousands and thousands in the streets, acting together, can seize new initiative and change the whole political equation. The urgent questions raised by Occupy—and other urgent questions that have yet to be raised in this movement—can once more reverberate, and more powerfully than before.”
The repression of the Occupy movement must not stand. Act. Be there February 28th.
Revolution Books, spokesperson
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
We are on a mission to get BA Everywhere. We’re on a mission to reach out to those who are deeply discontented with what is going on in this society and the world, and find the ways to challenge the conventional wisdom that this capitalist system is the best humanity can do. We are on a mission to raise big money to project Bob Avakian’s vision and works throughout society—and we not only welcome but are aiming to stir up controversy and contestation over big questions of the revolution.
As this campaign unfolds, it will be punctuated by intense efforts to raise money to make leaps along the way. At key moments, broad numbers of people across the country should and will join in to reach important financial goals for projects like promoting the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) or taking the BAsics Bus Tour national, as they did last year when hundreds nationwide worked in concert to raise the money for Occasioned by BAsics, A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World, or at year’s end when people partied all over the place to raise money for the BAsics Bus Tour pilot project.
But meeting these important goals and the societal impact of such concentrated national fundraising can only be maximized when it is linked to a whole movement on a mission to get BA Everywhere, a movement that is finding the ways to broaden its reach, draw new forces into the effort, and raise money continuously and in all kinds of ways. To effect 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 demands there be this dynamic or interaction going on between the BA Everywhere movement and these nationwide punctuation points. Take one example: one of our six big ideas is to bring Raymond Lotta, Sunsara Taylor, or Carl Dix to crisscross the campuses, taking on all comers in debates and dialogues. But to maximize these opportunities, it is critical for the BA Everywhere campaign—and for BAsics—to hit these campuses in a big way. Take out Facebook ads, and write letters to college newspapers. Speak in classes. Unleash debate in dorms and cafeterias. Hold fundraising events—and involve students who are gravitating to BA and the revolution. And then, with the students already buzzing about BA, the impact will be all the greater when Lotta, or Taylor, or Dix comes to the campus to speak. And the funds to bring them will be raised through these efforts together with the monthly fundraising events which are being organized.
As we wrote in an editorial earlier this year, “Achieving our goals depends not only on raising big money, but on how we go about raising those funds. Broad publicity and promotion alone will not make Bob Avakian a household word. Achieving our goals depends on who is drawn into this battle, and in what ways and forms. It is critical for people to be engaging with BA and specifically with BAsics. This campaign must reach a wide range of people, from those with little means to those with substantial resources, and everybody in between.”
So, let’s do it! Let’s welcome the debate and controversy. Let’s find the ways to get BA Everywhere, forging a movement which is seizing on every pathway to take this campaign all over the place. Let’s make BA a household word!
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
We are beginning a new weekly feature, “Scenes from BA Everywhere,” which will give an ongoing picture of this multi-faceted campaign, and the variety of ways that funds are being raised and the whole BA vision and framework is being brought into all corners of society. Revolution newspaper is at the hub of the BA Everywhere effort—publishing reports from those taking up the campaign. Revolution plays a pivotal role in building an organized network of people across the country coming together to make BA a household word. We urge all our readers to send us timely correspondence on what you are doing as part of this campaign.
February 8—Raymond Lotta came to Revolution Books in New York City to issue his challenge to philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek to debate. Eighty people took part in a crucial and hotly contested discussion. Žižek, who has put himself forward as a voice for radical thinking in these times, has launched an unprincipled attack on Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism and the RCP. Lotta has replied with a substantive polemic (published in this paper and available at revcom.us), and a public challenge to Žižek to debate “the nature of imperialism, prospects for revolution, and the meaning of the communist project.” After a presentation that included video clips from a TV interview with Žižek, Lotta opened the floor for a very intense hour and half of questions and comments—including some sharp back-and-forth between Lotta and some people defending Žižek, as well as exchanges among the audience members.
From a Revolution supporter: “An amazing gathering of three different generations of immigrants came together at a house party to raise funds to get BAsics to prisoners. It was a great gathering. Everyone there was very familiar with what prison is. Some experienced it first-hand and most have loved ones who have experienced it. People brought food and baked goods and were happy to be there. This party successfully raised $300. It was especially significant considering that the funds came from people who are really struggling financially...” The full correspondence is available online at revcom.us.
Excerpt from a recent letter from a prisoner who has been studying works by Bob Avakian: “The books you’ve sent have had a tremendous impact on the way I view the world and the role I should play in it. I’ve read communist literature in the past, but not until I read Revolution and Bob Avakian’s works was I inspired to become a communist myself. I like to read as widely as I possibly can and it’s been highly unlikely of me to promote the views of any single individual above those of a vast array of others. I have made the necessary exception with Bob Avakian. I’ve come to recognize that the guidance he provides is crucial to the struggle for a better world. I’ve recommended BAsicsto my loved ones on the streets, and I’ve been discussing it with all prisoners willing to listen. I might’ve never been cured of my pessimistic views of the future had it not been for Bob Avakian and the RCP.”
From a reader: “Last week, I got a chance to sit down with about a half-dozen artists who have—to different degrees and with different perspectives—engaged Avakian’s work. We did a collective listen of the interview excerpt Michael Slate did with BA on the Cultural Revolution in China and the role of artists and dissent in a new socialist society (the one that was just reprinted in Revolution newspaper). The discussion was lively and wide ranging! Here’s just some of what we got into: How should this history be approached and does it have to be discussed with such complexity? What is the responsibility of the artist to society and how should we understand ‘political art?’ Can abstract art—whose meaning may not be readily apparent—have any influence? How would the new socialist society envisioned by Avakian handle art that is racist or misogynist? The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) talks about how art can be self-funded, but then what is the role of the masses more broadly in debating out that art? How do we understand that process? And what about the responsibility of artists today? Should art be made ‘more palatable’ in form and/or content in order to ‘get a hearing’?
“It was fun and invigorating with a depth of discussion many people are hungry for. And it was just one important example of what can get broken open through the engagement with Avakian’s work and the burning questions he’s speaking to.”
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
The BAsics Bus Tour (pilot project) rolled out of L.A. a week-and-a-half ago. From Watts and Pico Union in L.A., we drove to some of the further reaches of Southern California—places where the movement for revolution and Bob Avakian's vision and works do not consistently reach or do not reach at all. The Bus Tour, with its eye-catching decorations, is spreading revolution and BA's voice to those hungry for it in these outlying areas. We are speaking in classrooms, engaging with those in the Occupy movement, and going into the inner cities and having dinner with the Unitarians at their church. We are setting up big displays in university quads and at swap meets. Our message: "You can't change the world if you don't know the BAsics." "Get into BA!" As we write, we are now in Northern California and have spent two days at UC Davis, notorious internationally for the cop who brutally and casually pepper-sprayed occupying students who were sitting on the ground and not moving.
What follows are some "snapshots":
Orange County has been the iconic bastion of conservatism for the last half century. It is the home of Disneyland and the infamous fundamentalist Saddleback Church. But over the past two decades, this conservative stronghold has changed as large numbers of immigrants have moved there. There is also a rebellious section of white youth and a punk culture.
While Orange County is now more than 30 percent Latino, Black residents are less than two percent of the population. DWB (Driving While Black) stops are epidemic. A Black man walking to his SUV had just been shot dead by sheriff's deputies near San Clemente High School. Manuel Levi Loggins, a Marine, had been on his daily early morning "prayer walk" with his children before school. One media report said that his Bible was found soaked with his blood.
On Sunday we drove our bus to the Orange County Market Place, set up our displays and looked around. We saw lots of red, white and blue, including a Republican Party booth with a sign—"Yes to freedom, no to socialism. Register to vote here." Our booth, with the BAsics bus as our backdrop, drew many stares and double-takes. Some people hated it. "Communism is for ants. I like my freedom and free will: I'm not living in an ant colony," a white man in his 30s yelled. Another white guy, on hearing the first two quotes from BAsics on slavery, got angry and said he was "tired of feeling guilty." A Latina saw us and intoned, "The end times are coming. We don't need a revolution. Everything is in God's hands. It is all settled." We responded, "The notion of a god, or gods, was created by humanity, in its infancy, out of ignorance." (BAsics 4:17)
Others were more open, and some loved that we had come. A young Latino who had seen us roll by his house that morning bought BAsics and was excited to actually meet us. A Latina who bought the book after reading the quote, "Why do people come here..." (BAsics 1:14) said she never gets to hear people talking about these things. An immigrant who had attended the World Social Forum asked us, "What do you think of Marx, Noam Chomsky, Fidel, Chavez?" He bought the Revolution talk DVD, Revoluton: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, to check out BA. Many people stopped to read the poster with BA's Three Strikes quote.1 Two of those who read the poster bought the book.
A Unitarian Church in Anaheim held an evening pizza dinner for the Bus Tour and contributed money and food for our tour. After dinner, people on the tour did a short program, telling people what the tour is about and calling for financial support, reading quotes from BAsics Chapter 2, "A Whole New—and Far Better—World" and performing the skit drawn from BA's "All Played Out" that the tour has been developing. A wild and stimulating discussion took off from there. People in the room, mostly people older than 50, were coming from many different places and pulling the discussion in a lot of directions at the same time. What about BAsics and the tour? Let's talk about revolution, socialism and communism. Communism has been so attacked and vilified... why do we even use the name "communist"? What about the latest protest in Anaheim? And the next step for the Occupy movement? And we discussed it all.
Santa Ana, the county seat of Orange County, has the highest percentage of Spanish speakers of any city in the U.S. And Libreria Martinez Books & Art Gallery is (according to its website) the largest seller of books in Spanish in the U.S. About 15 people came to the reading there, including a group of high school youth. These students were excited to meet us and especially talked about "Let's imagine if we had a whole different art and culture...." (Lo BAsico 2:8) A man from Mexico City who had bought Lo BAsico in a nearby park that morning came to the reading. He had already read a lot of the book and commented on the sections that impressed him: about religion, seizing power, and learning about the experience of socialism. "These are big solutions to big problems." He said we needed to reach out more to youth, to the schools, that this book "has to be brought to people around the world."
A day or so before our arrival at Davis, news of the tour had already begun to spark some interest on campus. After hearing about the tour, one person helped to arrange a presentation at the campus bookstore and tried to find a way to get our fully decorated Bus Tour RV onto the campus itself. Calls to the campus radio station to talk about the tour inspired a number of DJs and others to send word of the tour out to their friends and other DJs, encouraging them to check it out and, if possible, cover it on their shows.
As we got closer to Davis, we called in to the campus radio station and got on the air on its Local Dirt environmental show. We read the BAsics 1:29 quote, "This system and those who rule over it ... care nothing for the rich diversity of the earth.... These people are not fit to be the caretakers of the earth." We talked about the Bus Tour and BAsics, and announced we would be on campus the next day. During our two days at UC Davis we posted quotes from BAsics in buildings and other high-traffic areas of the campus in the early mornings and then set up on the quad. People would see our table and the giant banner of the BAsics book cover. They wanted to know about the quotes, BAsics, and who Bob Avakian is.
Others were clearly very uncomfortable about us being there, including a woman from a pro-Israel campus group who was offended by a display which showed the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians along with the BAsics 5:12 quote: "After the Holocaust, the worst thing that has happened to Jewish people is the state of Israel."
Others, including a student with a gas mask hanging over her shoulder, liked what they saw and stopped to engage. Many have recently been awakened to politics through the pepper-spray incident. Some people who saw the quote about the role of police asked us if there would still be the need for police, what would be different about their role in the new socialist society? We showed them the Tyisha Miller quote (BAsics 2:16) which talks about how, when the proletariat has had power, and in a future socialist society, a people's police plays a fundamentally different role, and would sooner give their lives than "wantonly murder one of the masses."
A professor expressed big differences with what we were saying, then invited us to come to his class, where we had a 30-minute discussion about BAsics, answering questions on revolution, the historical socialist experience, and communism. We used quotes from BAsics in speaking to some of these questions. But we said that we were not going to try—and it was not possible—to answer all these questions in the limited time we had. The challenge was for them to engage with something very radical and radically different—get into BAsics and Bob Avakian.
Several times we had visited students who had been sitting-in at the bank on campus, blocking the entrance. But we hadn't had a substantive conversation, so we decided to stop back before we left to sit down and talk. A woman there asked, "So I noticed you guys roll pretty hard with Bob Avakian, right? Why Bob Avakian?" But before we could get started, her friend came and she had to go. Another young woman said dismissively, "Yeah, he's not really relevant to what's going on...." We asked her if she had engaged any of BA's works before and she said "no." So we challenged her that this is actually not right; she could not dismiss something in such a facile manner without having any idea what it was! We told her that there are things in the book that she doesn't know anything about and needed to seriously engage. She turned a little red and walked away, but this prompted her friend to come over and engage.
The discussion covered themes ranging from how to correctly assess the history of the previous socialist experience to how the masses become class conscious. And at some point through the back-and-forth, it became clear that we were not talking about the same thing. While the student kept using the word "revolution," what he was describing was not revolution but upheavals and rebellions. He mentioned Greece and Egypt and said the masses there did "all that" without a vanguard organization. In response, we read BAsics 6:2: "What kind of organization you see as necessary depends on what you're trying to do. If all you're trying to do is make a few reforms, if you're not trying to really confront and deal with this whole system, if you're not trying to make revolution and transform society and the world, then you don't need this kind of vanguard party."
The first day at Davis a young woman ran up to us, very excited: "You're like Occupy except with direction and organization, right?" We talked with her and showed her BAsics. She sprinted to the ATM and back to buy the book. The next day she came to help out at the table, periodically calling to a passing student, "Hey, want to learn about revolution and communism?" We sat down on the grass to talk and she pulled out a red sweatshirt with a hammer and sickle symbol she had sewed onto it, and draped it over her lap.
She had been on the quad the day of the pepper-spray incident. "I had these goggles on, and I was there when Lieutenant Pike started pepper-spraying the students who were sitting down. I couldn't believe it! When it happened the rest of us started moving in and the cop freaked, turned around and sprayed us too. I got up close to him, had a camera, I was trying to do a legal observer thing and I think Pike saw my goggles and that made him mad and he let me have it right in the face. I was like, 'That stings a lot, but my eyes are OK,' so I got a great picture of him."
She had started to read BAsics: "Yeah, the world is really messed up, and this country is THE shit hole. I really agree with that." She said she wanted to understand better what we mean by revolution. "Some people I've met in Occupy say their mission is revolution—it isn't really—but what I do respect about them is their open forum and the exchange of ideas: people being able to say whatever they want. It's a place where you can talk about stuff like communism without being silenced by your peers. I think it's an icebreaker. I honestly don't think the university would have allowed you to come here and sell this book if it had not been for Occupy. They do NOT want another Lieutenant Pike incident," she laughed, "Thank you, Lieutenant Pike!"
We talked about the quotes in Chapter 3 of BAsics, "Making Revolution," and the strategy for revolution.
She said BAsics "is real specific: it talks about methodology, which I think is really important." She said she really liked the first chapter but has encountered a lot of people who "say they don't want to hear about the horrors of the world." We talked with her about this and what's in Chapter 4, "Understanding the World," and how fearlessly confronting reality with scientific and critical thinking is an essential part of the BAsics of making revolution and changing the world.
While all kinds of questions are still buzzing in her head, she is thinking about other people she could get together with to discuss the ideas in the book, and talked about posting quotes from BAsics on Facebook, and that she wanted to help get the book into the campus library. She hung out at the table until we had to pack up and leave.
Next stop Berkeley and the Central Valley, one of the agricultural heartlands of the country... stay tuned! And go to our blog for updates: basicsbustour.tumblr.com.
1. "The book by Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, has shined a bright and much needed light on the reality of profound injustice at the very core of this country.
"And this brings me back to a very basic point:
"This system, in this country, in the whole history of its treatment of Black people, what has it been?
"First, Slavery... Then, Jim Crow—segregation and Ku Klux Klan terror... And now, The New Jim Crow—police brutality and murder, wholesale criminalization and mass incarceration, and legalized discrimination yet again.
"That's it for this system: Three strikes and you're out!" [back]
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
SXSW (March 9 to March 18) is one of the largest and most well-known festivals in the world. It is attended by well over 100,000 people each year, and this year will feature the music of more than 2,000 bands and musical acts from 55 countries, together with films, panel discussions and more. In the wake of, and learning from, the experience and positive impact of the BAsics Bus Tour pilot project in California, a team is preparing to go to Austin, Texas to take out the BA Everywhere campaign to the SXSW crowd. To do this successfully means taking many, many copies of BAsics/Lo BAsico as well as lots of BAsics promotional materials. One special aim of the team is to promote and popularize "All Played Out," spoken word piece from the most radical revolutionary communist leader and thinker, Bob Avakian, with music from William Parker, one of the foremost free jazz musicians in the world today.
$5,000 is needed soon to print promotional materials. Meeting this $5,000 goal through fundraising of different kinds depends on you and others across the country who are on a mission to take the BA Everywhere campaign out in a big way. Without raising the necessary funds, the opportunity to reach literally thousands who need to know about BA and his work will be lost. Send contributions to RCP Publications, PO Box 3486 Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654, earmarked for BAsics promotion.
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
An Excerpt from
Democracy—Concentrating Some Essential Understanding
Here I want to return to two brief statements regarding democracy that are run regularly in Revolution newspaper. These statements—one of two sentences, and one of three sentences—are an attempt on my part to capture some essential aspects of reality, and to concentrate much of the complexity bound up with this reality in a scientific way. Especially in light of what is going on in the world today, and the rationalizations that are being propagated to justify what the Bush regime (and U.S. imperialism in general) is doing in the world today, it is worthwhile digging further into these statements.
The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism. What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism.
To take "the two sentences" first, this begins (the first part of the first sentence is): "The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism… " Now, you could get into a whole bunch of arguments about that statement if you didn't correctly understand it, and particularly if you approached it in a dogmatic way. [In a sarcastic voice:] "Well, I thought you said that democracy in the U.S. does exist but it's bourgeois democracy." Yes, but note that what's being said here refers to the essence of what exists. It is emphasizing that, if you want to understand the essential and driving forces in society, don't look to the superstructure of politics and ideology, and don't look to superficialities—look to the economic base first of all.
This is what is brought out in the first of these sentences, taken as a whole: "The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism." Those political structures could be democratic (that is, bourgeois-democratic) or they could be fascistic (or they could be one in the name of the other). But what is their essence? And what is fundamental?
And then this statement goes on (the second sentence is): "What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism." This, again, is the essence of what they spread around the world. The structures to enforce that imperialism may be the Saudi Arabian royalty—or it may be sweeping aside the Saudi Arabian royalty and instituting a more bourgeois-democratic form of government there. But what's the essence? What are the driving forces? It is imperialism—the capitalist system in the stage of imperialism—a worldwide system of exploitation under the overall rule of capital and driven by the laws of capitalist accumulation, as conditioned by the dominance of monopolies, international investment/export of capital, the division of the world among the imperialists as well as the great division between a few imperialist countries and a vast number of colonized and oppressed nations.
In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequality, to talk about “democracy”—without talking about the class nature of that democracy and which class it serves—is meaningless, and worse. So long as society is divided into classes, there can be no “democracy for all”: one class or another will rule, and it will uphold and promote that kind of democracy which serves its interests and goals. The question is: which class will rule and whether its rule, and its system of democracy, will serve the continuation, or the eventual abolition, of class divisions and the corresponding relations of exploitation, oppression and inequality.
In the three-sentence statement on democracy, essential points are emphasized which closely interconnect with the two sentences I have just discussed. Now, I have said a number of times that if I were teaching a course on this subject (on the nature of democracy and its relation to the fundamental character of society, rooted in its economic system), I would read these three sentences, and the rest of the semester would consist of: explain. Because there is a tremendous amount concentrated in these sentences that is very important to understand—and is very widely misunderstood. How many people actually have engaged the substance of this? And how many people need to? So let's look at these three sentences.
The first is: "In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequality, to talk about 'democracy'—without talking about the class nature of that democracy and which class it serves—is meaningless, and worse." How much further ahead would we be if there were a large section of people who understood the essence of that! I've often joked that, with the success of the socialist revolution, one of the first acts of the new revolutionary state—the dictatorship of the proletariat—should be to ban the word "democracy" for ten years, because it has been the source of so much misunderstanding and confusion. But that is, after all, a joke—we can't actually do that, and shouldn't try to do that, for a lot of reasons—just to be clear. But there is a tremendous amount of misunderstanding and confusion about this question of democracy, and people just keep falling, over and over again, into the same kinds of illusions about this. If there were a leap to where a significant section of people understood just this one sentence, think how much further ahead we'd be.
And then this statement goes on (the second and third sentences are): "So long as society is divided into classes, there can be no 'democracy for all': one class or another will rule, and it will uphold and promote that kind of democracy which serves its interests and goals. The question is: which class will rule and whether its rule, and its system of democracy, will serve the continuation, or the eventual abolition, of class divisions and the corresponding relations of exploitation, oppression and inequality."
Once more, if we could actually get people to begin grappling with and understanding this, we would be so much further ahead. This is not just important as theoretical abstraction—which it is. It is theoretical abstraction, and it is extremely important as theoretical abstraction for people to be wrangling with. But it also has everything to do with what's going on in the world and major struggles that have to be waged in the world today. Whether you understand this—whether you grasp the essence of what is being captured and concentrated here—or whether you are full of the illusions that are promoted in opposition to that, is of tremendous importance and moment, literally in terms of what direction the world will be heading in. Because the fact is that not only do the imperialists not understand their own system. But, without negating positive things they do and contributions they make, the fact is that neither is all this understood by the many reformers, populists, and democrats on the political terrain.
To further illustrate the essential points here, I wanted to bring in another great shopkeeper quote from Marx (and in this case, Engels as well). As you know, Marx made a very profound observation about the relation between the democratic intellectuals and the shopkeepers—how, even though in their everyday approach to life, they may be as far apart as heaven and earth, they share an essential unity in that, in their thinking the democratic intellectuals do not get further than the shopkeepers get in their practical dealings; that the one, in the realm of theory, as much as the other in the exchange of commodities, does not get beyond what Marx termed "the narrow horizon of bourgeois right."1 The other quote I am referring to here is from The German Ideology:
"Every shopkeeper is very well able to distinguish what somebody professes to be, and what he really is, [but] our historians have not yet won even this trivial insight. They take every epoch at its word and believe that everything it imagines about itself is true."2
This really captures something very profound. How many people do you know who take every epoch, and in particular this epoch, at its word, and believe that everything it imagines about itself is actually true? How many people do we encounter in the course of our work who, as I put it in the polemic against K. Venu,3 take bourgeois democracy more seriously than the bourgeoisie does—and keep trying various ways in their minds and in their practice to try to perfect this bourgeois democracy into something other than what it is and what it is capable of being?
This goes back to the two sentences and the three sentences I spoke to above. There are so many people who take this epoch in particular, the bourgeois epoch, at its word, and who don't go beyond the appearance of things to get to the essence—to the underlying relations and dynamics that are driving things and that establish the foundation for, and ultimately determine the nature of, the political system and institutions, as well as the dominant culture and ideology, in any society, in any epoch. How many people ignore, or are simply ignorant of, the fundamental reality that, in any society in any epoch, political structures, institutions, and processes must be understood precisely in relation to the underlying economic base and to dynamics that are rooted in that economic base—in the relations and driving contradictions that characterize that economic base? How many people still need to be won to approach the world in that way?
1. The point from Marx, summarized here, about shopkeepers and democratic intellectuals is found in Marx's essay The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. The fuller statement by Marx is:
“… one must not form the narrow-minded notion that the petite bourgeoisie, on principle, wishes to enforce an egoistic class interest. Rather, it believes that the special conditions of its emancipation are the general conditions within the frame of which alone modern society can be saved and the class struggle avoided. Just as little must one imagine that the democratic representatives are indeed all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers. According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven from earth. What makes them representatives of the petite bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter practically. This is, in general, the relationship between the political and literary representatives of a class and the class they represent… ." (Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Moscow: Progress Publishers, pp. 40-41, emphasis in original) [back]
2. This passage from The German Ideology was cited in the article "On Empire—Revolutionary Communism or 'Communism' Without Revolution?" in A World to Win magazine, issue #32, 2006. This article provides important analysis of and polemics against the basic worldview and political positions found in the books Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2000) and Multitude (New York: Penguin Press, 2004) by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. [back]
3. K. Venu was an erstwhile "Maoist" in India who, at a certain point, with changes in the Soviet Union beginning with Gorbachev and with the Tiananmen Square events in China in the late 1980s, began to view as essentially negative the historical experience of socialism in the 20th century, not only in the Soviet Union but in China as well. Venu retreated into a position which, in the final analysis, amounted to upholding bourgeois democracy as the highest objective to be striven for—obscuring the fact that this bourgeois democracy is in fact a form of bourgeois dictatorship and that the socialist state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, makes possible not only a much broader and deeper democracy for the masses of people, but even more fundamentally that this state is essential for, and provides the vehicles for, the advance of communism, worldwide, with the abolition of the division of society into classes, and thereby the elimination of the need for a state of any kind.
The polemic against K. Venu, titled "Democracy: More Than Ever We Can and Must Do Better Than That," is included in Bob Avakian's book Phony Communism Is Dead… Long Live Real Communism! (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2004) and originally appeared in A World to Win magazine #17, 1992. The polemic is available online at revcom.us/bob_avakian/democracy/. [back]
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
Look at the Facts:
Tensions, threats, and the danger of a U.S. and Israeli attack on Iran are escalating dangerously. The U.S. and Israel say Iran presents a grave danger because it is enriching uranium and—they claim—trying to develop the technical capability to build a nuclear weapon. “We’re not going to take any options off the table,” President Obama said in an interview broadcast during the Super Bowl, “and I’ve been very clear that we’re going to do everything we can to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon...”
Nuclear weapons in anyone’s hands are dangerous. And Iran’s Islamic Republic is a repressive and reactionary theocracy driven by its own interests to increase its influence and standing (even while those aspirations are well within the operation of the current oppressive world order). But since the U.S. and Israel have raised the issue of nuclear weapons, it’s only fair to look at what the facts actually show about just who is the biggest nuclear threat to the planet by far.
How much does Iran spend on its military?
How much does the U.S. spend on its military?
$687,105,000,000 (not counting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). This is nearly 100 times what Iran spends.
How many military bases does Iran have outside its borders?
How many bases does the U.S. have overseas?
Officially there are 737 U.S. military bases in 132 of the 190 member states of the United Nations. The actual number may be more than 1,000.
How many nuclear weapons does Iran have?
How many nuclear weapons does Israel have?
Between 75 and 200 nuclear warheads.
How many nuclear weapons does the U.S. have?
Approximately 5,113 active and inactive nuclear warheads and approximately 3,500 warheads retired and awaiting dismantlement. The 5,113 active and inactive nuclear warhead stockpile includes 1,790 deployed strategic warheads, approximately 500 operational tactical weapons, and approximately 2,645 inactive warheads.
The claims that Iran “violated non-proliferation (NPT) obligations.” Iran and others dispute that claim, but what about Israel? Israel refuses to sign the NPT or allow any of its nuclear facilities to be inspected. On September 18, 2009, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called on Israel to join the NPT and open its nuclear facilities to inspection. Israel—backed by the U.S.—refused.
Which is the only country to have ever dropped a nuclear bomb? The United States. In August 1945, it dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, killing 150,000‑240,000 people (with many more dying of the effects of radiation for years after).
Isn’t it true that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. has never used nuclear weapons? Not really. Former Pentagon analyst (turned anti-war activist) Daniel Ellsberg wrote that since then, “Again and again, generally in secret from the American public, U.S. nuclear weapons have been used, for quite different purposes: in the precise way that a gun is used when you point it at someone’s head in a direct confrontation, whether or not the trigger is pulled.... [I]n 1981 I summed up a listing of eleven instances for which there was authoritative evidence in which the American nuclear gun had been pointed,” when a U.S. president “felt compelled to consider or direct serious preparations for possible imminent U.S. initiation of tactical or strategic nuclear warfare, in the midst of an ongoing, intense, non-nuclear conflict or crisis.”
Even if the U.S. has many nuclear weapons, aren’t “our” leaders rational people who seek to avoid conflict, while Iran’s leaders are unstable lunatics who can’t be trusted to possess nuclear weapons? (Or as Obama said in 2009 at Oslo, “modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.”)
Let’s look at a few of those men threatening the world with nuclear destruction: Daniel Ellsberg exposed that during the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. drew up plans to wage a nuclear war that would have obliterated “most cities and people in the Northern Hemisphere.” Ellsberg wrote, “The total death toll as calculated by the Joint Chiefs, from a U.S. first strike aimed primarily at the Soviet Union and China, would be roughly 600 million dead. A hundred Holocausts.”
Former U.S. President Richard Nixon nearly started a nuclear war in 1969 by carrying out his “madman” theory of brinksmanship—whereby he made a conscious decision that it would be good if the U.S.’s opponents perceived he was crazy enough to actually use nuclear weapons as part of playing nuclear “chicken” with them.
In 1984, U.S. President Ronald Reagan (promoted as an American icon by the leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties) “joked”—“My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” He also talked of welcoming Armageddon—the end of the world. Amitabh Pal wrote, “In 1971, he proclaimed to a dinner companion, ‘For the first time ever, everything is in place for the battle of Armageddon and the second coming of Christ.’ In 1980, he told evangelist Jim Bakker on his television program, ‘We may be the generation that sees Armageddon.’”
What about today under Obama? Aren’t nuclear weapons being phased out of the U.S. arsenal and U.S. military planning? No. The U.S. has reduced the size of its nuclear arsenal, but it’s still enormously destructive and still central to U.S. military strategy. The 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance plan prepared by the Obama administration states: “We will field nuclear forces that can under any circumstances confront an adversary with the prospect of unacceptable damage.” Obama’s defense strategy, called “Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” keeps all three legs of the U.S. nuclear weapons “triad,” enabling nuclear weapons to be launched “from ballistic missile submarines, from underground silos housing intercontinental ballistic missiles, and from B‑52 and B‑2 bombers.” Obama’s proposed 2013 budget calls for the highest level of spending on nuclear weapons in U.S. history.
Reactionary Islamic fundamentalists are irrational and callous toward human life. But so are those who rule the U.S.—with one major difference being that the rulers of the U.S. have exponentially more capacity to unleash nuclear horrors. Any nuclear attack would be irrational (and immoral) from the standpoint of humanity. But the rulers of the U.S. are driven by the logic and dynamics of their system of global exploitation and oppression. That capitalist-imperialist system is enforced with violence and the threat of violence. And that is why the rulers of the U.S. demand a monopoly on the ability to unleash nuclear devastation.
Sources for this article:
SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
Bush’s Amazing Achievement, Jonathan Freedland, New York Review of Books, June 14, 2007
Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance, Arms Control Association
Q&A: Iran nuclear issue, BBC News Middle East, January 12, 2012
A Hundred Holocausts: An Insider’s Window Into U.S. Nuclear Policy, Daniel Ellsberg, Truthdig.org, September 10, 2009
Nixon’s Madman Strategy, James Carroll, Boston Globe, June 14, 2005
More Troops in Afghanistan and Preserving U.S. Nuclear Dominance... Is This the Path to Ending the Horrors of War?, Larry Everest, Revolution #187, December 27, 2009
Bombing Iran Is not the Answer, Amitabh Pal, The Progressive, February 3, 2012
Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, U.S. Department of Defense, January 2012
“U.S. to fight modern wars with Cold War machines, Pentagon says, Robert Burns, Associated Press, February 1, 2012
Questioning Obama’s nuclear agenda, Marylia Kelley, San Francisco Chronicle, February 15, 2012
No War on Iran! No Sanctions! No Assassinations!
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
Thoughts on BAsics, Supplement 6
In the supplemental essay to chapter 6 of BAsics, "The Revolutionary Potential of the Masses and the Responsibility of the Vanguard," BA gets right to the point when he says on page 197:
One of the things that I see, something that I haven't lost sight of, is this: I see all the strength of the ruling class, but I also see all the way through all this shit, all the contradictions in society—I actually see a force in this society that, if it were developed into a revolutionary people, actually could have a go at it, could have a real chance of making a revolution, or being the backbone force of a revolution, when the conditions were ripe. I see a force of millions and millions and millions—youth and others—for whom this system is a horror: It isn't going to take some cataclysmic crisis for this system to be fucking over them. The ruling class, ironically, sees them too. It is those who once had but have lost—or those who never had—a revolutionary perspective...it is they who can't see this.
How do you understand this: "...if it were developed into a revolutionary people, actually could have a go at it...being a backbone force of a revolution, when the conditions were ripe..."?
Let's be clear. We are about communist revolution. A revolution that first leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat (socialism) as the transit point to a new era in human history, where social antagonisms of any kind no longer exist and in effect cannot exist.
This is really key to what this revolution is about. Leading, developing those who are most brutally exploited and oppressed under this system—developing, gelling them into the backbone, into leaders of this revolution. Leading them to reach their full potential. To become communist emancipators. This can only happen by us going deeply into BA with people. Into the essence of what he has brought forward. The essentials of his body of work. Method and approach.
Communism and the new synthesis. Bringing them onto this team. Training them in this team's style of play which has been developed by BA. Preparing, fitting these masses to be leaders in the cause of making this world historic transit.
When we step to the masses or when they step to us they should feel inspired and challenged by this. Both things. Inspired and challenged.
Communist revolution is what they should give their life over to. In comparison to what else? Of course there will be all sorts of ideological struggle over all kinds of different ideologies, thinking, and activity. Nationalism. Religion. Conspiracy theories such as the Illuminati that are extremely reactionary and harmful. Or revisionism which is counterfeit communism—a communism without revolution and with no historic transit of any kind. Or the hustling mentality. Just to name a few things that there must be a lot of ideological STRUGGLE with the masses over—some of the things we need to lead them to rupture with—so that they can rise to their full potential.
Quickly: we got to wage ideological struggle with people influenced by the hustling mentality. That is using others so that you can gain an advantage. Where you can "come up" by "playing others." "Running a game on people" as a way to survive. It really comes down to "me first" and "me and mine against everyone else." It is an expression of commodity relations. It is in sharp contradiction to everything this revolution is about.
A lot of people will come to the revolution influenced by the hustling mentality as well as other things, other ways of understanding/looking at one's relationship to the world, i.e., other ideologies. As they read BA, watch the Revolution talk (Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About), study Revolution newspaper—more often than not they are trying to fit this in with what they already think. It's not going to spontaneously "rub off" on them. We got to struggle with the whole ideological framework they have developed for engaging and understanding the world.
These ideologies are in sharp conflict with each other. The masses will also sooner rather than later drop out of the revolution unless they make a rupture, make a break with this way of thinking (these other ideologies). This is where we should come in. We got to struggle with people over this and a lot of other shit. People can change. They can become communist revolutionaries.
If we are not doing this, then what ARE we doing?
Doing this as they fight the power, as they stand up for themselves and others, as they walk around burning with anger, as they spontaneously internalize the shit they get from this system. And as they inquire or search out the movement for this revolution. This is a key component of the whole process of "fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution" (with emphasis on transform the people, for revolution) that's laid out in the strategy for revolution in the Chapter 3 supplemental essay in BAsics.
If we are not doing this, then what ARE we doing? If we are not constantly striving to measure, to gauge, to sharpen this, then what ARE we doing?
Connecting BA with people is key. It is key to giving people scientific grounding. It is key to tempering, key to toughening, key to sharpening the deep anger that boils up daily from hour to hour by those catching some of the heaviest blows from this system, tempering it with revolutionary and scientific understanding. This kind of grounding and strategic thinking prepares people to not only make revolution but to be rulers of a whole different and better society.
Look at the difference it makes among prisoners who have been engaging BA and BAsics. Look at the difference it has made to those who responded to BAsics 3:16 in issue #247 of Revolution. Look how BA and BAsics has resonated with those put in a situation where they are forced to choose between indignity on the one hand and further indignity on the other, all those whom this system has cast off in more ways than just one.
What do we make of this? The effect of their engagement with BA? What it has meant for them? The revolutionary potential it shows? What are we going to do with this?
There is so much more potential from those who responded to BAsics 3:16, potential to be initiators of a new stage of communist revolution, to be leaders, to be a driving force for this revolution (not the only ones—but most definitely essential to developing the backbone, and essential as one of the driving forces for this revolution). Today thousands can be reached, brought forward and trained in a revolutionary way. Influencing millions more, even before there is a revolutionary situation, and then when there is a revolutionary situation, those thousands can be a backbone and pivotal force in winning millions to revolution and organizing them in the struggle to carry the revolution through.
Let's not be complacent and say: "Oh, good, people are responding to BAsics 3:16." We have to win these masses to be leaders of this revolution. Winning them means waging ideological struggle with them.
If we are not doing this, then what ARE we doing?
One of the things that people at the very base of society often say is that when you have leaders like BA the ruling authorities (and their counter-revolutionary henchmen) will rip them off. Basic people have a keen understanding of this. The challenge we must solve is taking this understanding back to those who have this awareness and develop that as part of developing an active movement for revolution and communism. A movement so thick among those at the base of society that it actually turns into a really, really thick political "wall" surrounding this leadership—standing against and determined to frustrate any and every attempt they make to reach our leadership.
If we are not doing this, then what ARE we doing?
Today we got to aim high to find bold, creative, and unconventional ways to reach and bring thousands of them into the movement for revolution, to develop them into some of the most ardent active partisans for the communist cause, and many into Party members! Together with thousands of students, intellectuals, the middle class more broadly—those who may not feel the hardest blows but are demeaned, degraded, alienated, and often outraged by what this system does.
If we are not doing this, then what ARE we doing?
Over the past 30 years, BA has developed a whole body of work that addresses and solves tough problems we ran up against in Russia and China during our first attempts in making this world historic transit to communism. A lot of this is available by way of audio and video and in BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian done in short quotes and essays.
You can see and really appreciate how BA is constantly striving to make what he is doing accessible to those who have the greatest interest in this revolution. But what also comes through is BA is confident that with the right kind of leadership, communist leadership, the masses can lead—can take responsibility for the revolution to emancipate all of humanity.
People need to know about this. That they have a leader like this—a leader who goes all-out for them in this way so that they can rise to their full potential.
This is only a small taste of the deep love and equally deep confidence that Chairman Avakian has in the revolutionary potential of the masses. People need to stand up, step out—defend and protect this rare and precious leader.
This leads to a related point from the same essay in Chapter 6 of BAsics:
...Those who have been kept illiterate by this system are capable of being leaders of a revolution and of a new society that will overcome the things that made them illiterate. We should struggle like hell, ideologically and practically, to enable them to become literate; but, even if they don't, they can still play a leading role in the revolution. You want to talk about the non-professional leading the professional? This is how you do it—you do it with ideology, communist ideology and methodology, in the fullest sense. And you do it with the correct understanding of this ideology.
We can and will solve this problem with state power. This is one of the sweeping goals of the communist revolution—uprooting and overcoming that great divide between mental and manual workers. The way this process will be undertaken and approached is embodied throughout the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) from our Party. I encourage everyone to get their hands on it.
But we can't wait until then to begin transforming this. If we do, there will not be any revolutionary state power to speak of.
We really got to be scientific about this, which means being fearless and materialist in grasping that working with ideas is a human quality/trait and not something that some people are born with and others are not. To not struggle with basic people and to act like they can't do this is a different outlook than communism. It's unscientific. It is condescending and full of the "arrogance of the enlightened" to think basic and oppressed people can't change based on grasping revolutionary theory and humanity's highest and fundamental interest to be rid of oppression and exploitation. That time belongs to the past. Communism and the new synthesis belong to the future.
If we are not acting on this, then what ARE we doing?
What is there to learn from this?
In this essay in Chapter 6, BA is giving emphasis to the basic masses, the outcasts, to them becoming leaders of this revolution. I agree with this emphasis. This is fundamental to there being a revolution. Those at the very base of society must play a leading role. It is an important part of objective reality. It can only get manifested through the Party—through our entire team being deeply rooted in this understanding in how BA approaches this. It is materialist and it is scientific. It is full of confidence and deep understanding of how the vanguard has to play its role for this latent revolutionary potential of the masses, from the base of society and from the middle strata as well to be unleashed and led.
If we are not acting on this, then what ARE we doing?
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
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. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people who do not conform to traditional patriarchal gender and sexual norms are demonized and threatened. Abortion doctors are killed. Women who seek abortions—or even birth control—are stigmatized. 2011 saw the largest spate of legal restrictions on abortion since Roe v. Wade in 1973.
ALL THIS MUST BE STOPPED!
Fetuses are not babies. Women are not incubators. Abortion is not murder.
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; 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 their sexuality without shame or stigma); this culture that demonizes and bullies LGBT people.
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 wage fierce cultural and political resistance to wake others up and to bring forward a new culture that celebrates the full equality and liberation of women.
Contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
|Photo: Faris Mansor|
Gather near St. Patrick's Cathedral (near Rockefeller Center, exact location TBA):
MARCH to TIMES SQUARE:
MARCH to and PROTEST STRIP CLUBS (TBA) in the area!
ALONG THE WAY: Protest "Crisis Pregnancy Centers" & Celebrate Abortion Provider Appreciation Day:
Help make International Women's Day happen:
PLANNING/MOBILIZING MEETINGS are held in NYC THURSDAYS @ 7 PM
If anything in this flier resonated with you... If you care about the conditions of women... If you want to do something that can really make a huge difference – not only for yourself, but for women (and all people) worldwide and for future generations...
3 things you can do right away:
1. Invite us into your class, club or dorm.
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
The following is a slightly edited transcript of a February 10 YouTube by Sunsara Taylor:
I just read in the New York Times that tomorrow, President Obama is going to announce accommodations and compromise with religious institutions who are in revolt against the new mandate for health insurance to cover birth control. He says, or his administration says, they doubt that this will mollify the Catholic church, or that it will set at ease the Republican candidates from the campaign trail, but that he hopes this will demonstrate to the broad public and to the wavering Democrats that he has sensitivity to religious beliefs.
Well, I want to speak up on behalf of being insensitive to certain religious beliefs. I for one am entirely insensitive to a pope who until late 2010 condemned condoms, causing millions of people to die of HIV and AIDS-related deaths around the world. I am totally insensitive to a Catholic institution and other religious institutions that condemn homosexuality as some kind of a “sin.” I am insensitive to the Catholic church teachings that divorce is a “sin,” which has, over the course of hundreds of years, caused millions and millions and millions of women to stay in abusive marriages and be saddled with guilt because if they question it, if they want a divorce, it is supposedly a “sin against god.” I am insensitive to a religious fascist assault that has accumulated over decades against women’s right and access to birth control and to abortion. Forced motherhood is female enslavement. And guess what? I am insensitive to female enslavement.
Finally, I am insensitive to all the arguments, which I am sure some will make, that “Oh, you can’t criticize Obama. You don’t want to criticize Obama, because if you make too much of a big deal about what he’s doing wrong we’ll get stuck with the Republicans.” I am insensitive to that notion, because if your choices are between Republican Christian fascists and a commander-in-chief of the most murderous empire that has ever existed, who continuously seeks common ground and capitulates to those religious fascists, and over and over again makes those compromises over the bodies and the lives and rights of women, that is an illegitimate framework. Those are not choices. That is just a dynamic where yesterday’s outrage becomes today’s compromise position and tomorrow’s limit of what can be imagined. Today we are having a fight over birth control. Again, forced motherhood is female enslavement. Women are not incubators. I am insensitive to the church on this. I am insensitive to the compromise and capitulation from the Democrats on this. And I am insensitive to any argument that is refusing to see that right now there is an all-out war on women being waged. It is on us to get off the sidelines, get out into the streets, rely on ourselves, and beat this back. It’s time to fight. I am calling on everybody to stand up and protest this decision today. Protest the Catholic church, protest the president’s capitulation, and make plans for bigger protests to come.
On International Women’s Day this year, we are having a protest on March 10 in New York City. So again, International Women’s Day, March 10, here in New York City, we are taking to the streets. We are going to protest the many sites of female enslavement, oppression, and degradation. I will tell more about this in a future YouTube. We will go to strip clubs, we will go to Times Square, we will go to the U.S. military recruiting center, we’ll go to the fake pregnancy crisis centers that lie to women and push an anti-abortion agenda.
But note well, we are starting this march at noon and we are gathering and we are going to protest at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the biggest, most prominent and preeminent Catholic institution in New York City. We are going to take it to them and say: “Women are not incubators. Forced motherhood is female enslavement! And we are insensitive to that and, more than that.
More than that, we are incensed by that.
You need to be part of this. Contact me directly at email@example.com. Visit my blog at sunsara.blogspot.com. Spread the word. Organize your friends. Mobilize a contingent. Send a message of support. Send money to help get this known about and spread. There is a war against women and no one in power is going to stop it. It is on us.
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
And now the upside-down charge of domestic terrorism
On January 28, Occupy protesters in Oakland took to the streets to occupy a city-owned building that had been vacant for over six years. Oakland authorities responded with one of the largest mass arrests to take place in the city’s history. For the third time in three months, legitimate dissent and the occupation of public spaces was put down in a hail of rubber bullets, bean bags, tear gas, and flash grenades. Mainstream journalists covering the event were arrested. This was a level of force and state violence that caused serious injury, sending at least two people to intensive care units and hundreds of others to hospitals and jails.
These attacks in Oakland are part of a nationwide, planned, and systematic unleashing of violence and repression against the Occupy movement, coordinated by the highest offices of the land. Repeated state violence in city after city is aimed at driving the movement out of public spaces—and thereby out of public imagination and involvement.
Occupy Oakland protesters were “kettled”—forced into pens where there was no way out and no way to disperse—and then gassed. The next day, Oakland City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, interviewed on CBS News, defended the city’s actions, saying “directions to the police department and our people was to do whatever was necessary to make sure that these people get the message that we will not keep tolerating this.” The councilman even accused the protesters of being domestic terrorists! De La Fuente said, “I think that basically what, in my opinion amounts to a kind of a domestic terrorism, when these people start taking buildings, and they start costing the city incredible amount of resources...”
The charge that the overwhelmingly non-violent resistance of the Occupy movement is domestic terrorism because it costs the city of Oakland an “incredible amount of resources” would be laughable if it were not so dangerous. At a time when the government is passing bills like the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that empowers U.S. armed forces to engage in civilian law enforcement and to selectively suspend due process and habeas corpus, as well as other rights for those the government identifies as terrorists, this kind of labeling is completely unacceptable. It should be taken very seriously. Attempts like this to demonize protesters and marginalize the Occupy movement are meant to rationalize the use of violence against the protesters and to intimidate people. It is nothing more than government counterinsurgency aimed at dissent and designed to silence the movement, to contain and divide it from its very broad base of public support. Such attempts need to be exposed and met with the mobilization of broad public support. They need to be met with powerful expressions in public spaces of people standing with Occupy and against the suppression of the Occupy movement.
Also dangerous and unconscionable is any echoing of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and De La Fuente’s sinister charges by people who are misidentifying the very real obstacles in the face of the escalating government repression—saying these are mainly problems within Occupy. Some lessons from history are worth reflection. In Germany, at the demand of the Nazis, local Jewish authorities and community leaders called the Judenrat turned over “less desirable Jews” to the Nazis. In their minds, this was justified in the name of protecting the larger Jewish community. This lethal logic ended up incrementally assisting and legitimizing each step that paved the way for the extermination camps—and when the gassing began, no one—not even the Judenrat—was spared.
Time and again cities across the country have trampled on constitutionally protected forms of speech and dissent. Time and again dissent in the public square has been suppressed. Force, intimidation, and state violence are being used on people who are doing nothing more than non-violently protesting. This is, as the statement calling for mass action against the Occupy movement calls out, utterly shameful from a moral standpoint—and thoroughly illegitimate from a legal and political one:
“One thing IS clear already: If this illegitimate wave of repression is allowed to stand. If the powers that be succeed in suppressing or marginalizing this new movement. If people are once again penned in both literally and symbolically—things will be much worse.”
As a first step in standing up to the repression of Occupy, people everywhere should demonstrate and also send statements of support from around the country to the demonstration being called in New York City on February 28 at Union Square, and several other cities (see "Stand with Occupy Wall Street").
See more coverage elsewhere in this website, including a letter from Revolution Books spokesperson Andy Zee, “OCCUPY & the Way Forward NOW”.
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
Ask a Communist
The last 30 years have seen a massive and unprecedented imprisonment of millions of people in this country. To give some idea of this, there are more than eight times as many people in prison today as there were in 1970! This comes out to 2.4 million people (and that doesn't even include the 363,000 immigrants passing through "detention centers"—many of which are worse than prisons—awaiting deportation). In addition, millions more are being indirectly controlled through probation and parole. No other country on the planet even comes close to imprisoning as many people, or as high a percentage of its population.
Almost more than the sheer volume, the most fundamental aspect of this massive imprisonment has been its targeting of Black and Latino people in particular. To give some sense of this, the proportion of Black prisoners relative to whites has more than doubled in the past 40 years; and today Blacks are incarcerated at a rate seven times higher than whites. A 2007 study pointed out that "a young Black male without a high school degree has a 59 percent chance of being imprisoned before his thirty-fifth birthday."1 Today in the U.S., more Black men are in prison, or otherwise caught up in the penal system through probation, etc. than were enslaved in 1860!
Meanwhile, the conditions in prisons have become even worse and more severe—with roughly 50,000 people locked down in ongoing solitary confinement in conditions that international law has condemned as torture!
This program has genocidal elements right now and a definite genocidal direction to it. We have seen in history what happens when whole groups of people, whether through explicitly directed racial laws or just what seem to be "the workings of the system" are removed from society, stigmatized as enemies of "decent PEOPLE," and then warehoused in prisons or prison-like conditions; genocide doesn't have to happen overnight, it can develop in stages. People must not be tricked, misled or intimidated into putting up with this. On the contrary: we need—we urgently need—a massive uncompromising movement that refuses to put up with this and calls into question the very legitimacy of a system that would commit such a crime.
And in fact, there is a growing movement around this. Within this movement, there is debate and struggle over the cause of the problem and solution to this horrific outrage. What is behind the ruination of literally millions of lives, and the shadow that is cast over tens of millions more?
One popular explanation is that this has been driven by a "prison-industrial complex." Angela Davis, the most notable advocate of this explanation, or line, has written that this massive imprisonment arose as a convenient "response of first resort to far too many of the social problems that burden people who are ensconced in poverty."2 Once this happens, she writes, mass imprisonment of people in the oppressed communities "literally become[s] big business."
All this work, which used to be the primary province of government, is now also performed by private corporations, whose links to government in the field of what is euphemistically called "corrections" resonate dangerously with the military industrial complex. The dividends that accrue from investment in the punishment industry, like those that accrue from investment in weapons production, only amount to social destruction. Taking into account the structural similarities and profitability of business-government linkages in the realms of military production and public punishment, the expanding penal system can now be characterized as a "prison industrial complex."3
Other people who hold this view note that these prisons are almost always built in rural areas—yet most of the people locked up in them are from urban areas. These prisoners are counted as residents of those rural areas, even though they aren't allowed to vote there or anywhere else. This shifts influence and resources from those urban areas to the rural sites of those prisons. And finally, some of the people who put forward this explanation, including Davis, link this to what she calls "structural racism in the economy," and the demonization of Black and other peoples of color in the institutions and culture more generally, as well as the whole history of white supremacy. They further say that this so-called prison-industrial complex is directly related to the cuts in welfare, the gutting of education and health care, and other essential needs—and that a movement against this could enable moneys to be spent on those needs instead.
Some of this reveals part of the truth about mass incarceration; once this program was embarked upon, a number of corporations did get their snouts into the trough, and there is now a whole structure of interests that has something of a life of its own and tries to influence things. But much of this is wrong. This program was NOT some kind of misguided or even cynical response to crime nor still less to "the social problems that burden people who are ensconced in poverty." This did not cause the gutting of education, health and housing—nor would the reversal of this whole program (which we must definitely fight for) "free up" money for those needs. (The reason this is so has to do with how the U.S. imperialists view their "options" in a period of extremely intense cut-throat competition with their international rivals. Everything that is not absolutely essential to maintaining and expanding their share of worldwide plunder must be cut; and even the military, which they do see as essential to their share of global plunder, and the prisons themselves, which they view as essential to enforcing order and stability "at home" is coming in for some "surgically done" cuts. This, even as the prisons continue to bulge, overcrowded in ways that recall the slave ships of the "rosy dawn" of capitalism, and the military retains its overwhelming advantage against other powers and oppressed nations in carrying out slaughter and destruction.)
This "prison-industrial complex" paradigm as a whole is badly misleading. It does not portray the problem correctly and because of that it blunts the edge of the needed struggle and it leads down dead ends.
This is so for two big reasons:
One: The massive expansion of imprisonment, directed primarily against Black people and other people of color, has NOT happened because some interest groups saw a way to make money out of it and manipulated the government machinery, using white racism, to do that; nor was it a response in any way to "social problems that burden people ensconced in poverty" (to again use Davis' strangely neutral description). It has mainly gone down because the powers-that-be were profoundly shaken by the 1960s, and in particular the Black liberation struggle and the growth of revolutionary sentiment. To deal with that, they set out on a course to crush the movement for revolution and to prevent it from arising again. To do that, and to also deal with other changes and social dislocations brought about by the functioning of capitalism, they "re-tooled" and reinforced the deep roots of the oppression of Black people, and other minority peoples. The result: a "new Jim Crow"—that is to say, a new and more perverse and dangerous stage of the oppression of Black and other minority people by this system. Because it misses this, or at best de-emphasizes it, the prison-industrial complex line covers over the deep roots of the oppression of Black people in this country, the revolutionary potential of the mass upheaval in the 1960s, and the viciousness of the counterattack by the powers-that-be.
Two: This line portrays, or implies, that the core institutions of the state—the courts, police, prisons, army, bureaucracy and executive power—are neutral, or can at least be used for good. It says, or implies, that the state can be used to serve the oppressed groups as well as the oppressor, as if these oppressed groups could learn how to work the machinery of the system to benefit themselves. In fact, this state machinery—both its tools of violent suppression and its "democratic procedures"—historically developed, and is structured, to serve the interests of the capitalist-imperialist class. It is a bourgeois (capitalist-imperialist) dictatorship, serving bourgeois interests. It cannot serve the interests of any other class. To attempt to make it do so will not only not lead to any fundamental change—it will play into the hands of the rulers, and ultimately aid them in their attempts to prevent the development of a movement for revolution among the people and to crush it if it does arise and take root. That doesn't mean that you cannot win any concessions, that doesn't mean that you can't change the way society sees this, that doesn't mean that the masses can't transform their understanding, and it doesn't mean you can't put the ruling class back on its heels politically. All this can happen as a byproduct of determined, relentless mass struggle and sometimes such struggle can be very important and must be waged, both as part of "preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution" and to prevent people from being ground down—as it is now. But such changes will be partial and temporary short of a revolution. And there is plenty of bitter history to prove this. In short, the prison-industrial complex line covers over the real nature of the capitalist state machinery—that is, the prisons, police forces, courts, armies, etc.
There are extremely high stakes to getting both the diagnosis and the cure correct; we use the formulation "genocidal elements and a definite genocidal direction" very seriously. So let's break both of these points down.
In many works published by our Party,4 we show how white supremacy—the oppression of Black people, as well as the genocide against the native American Indian people, the theft of land from Mexico, and many other horrors—has been at the core of America since Day One. This oppression has gone through changes as that system has developed and as people have risen up in struggle against white supremacy. But at every step of the way—even after the Civil War of the 1860s, even after the Black Liberation struggle of the 1960s—instead of doing away with this oppression, the capitalists who actually rule society developed new forms of it.
The movement of the 1960s in particular developed into one with a revolutionary thrust and rocked the system back on its heels. But revolution was not made, and the rulers of this system —the capitalist-imperialists—regrouped and counter-attacked. As a key part of this counterattack, these oppressors developed the program of unprecedented levels of mass incarceration.
This horrific program wasn't the brainchild of a few so-called "special interests." The program of mass incarceration was and is part of a whole multi-level offensive directed from the highest levels and designed to crush revolution and to prevent new revolutionary movements from taking root. The program of mass incarceration was developed by key leaders of the ruling class of imperialists—and it has been maintained and made worse by every top political representative of this system for the past 40 years—beginning with Nixon, and going on through Reagan, Clinton (who presided over the doubling of the prison population and the crippling of legal rights), the two Bushes and, yes, Barack Obama—with his hateful 2008 "Father's Day" speech that puts the blame for this disaster squarely on Black people themselves.
This imperialist counter-revolutionary strategy involved many things, only some of which we can touch on here. Much of the revolutionary organization and leadership of the time were violently repressed, and other forces who called for "working within the system" were built up. Some opportunities were opened up for a minority of Black people and other oppressed nationalities in education, employment, culture and small business, even as conditions were actually made worse for most of those communities. (Then later, these concessions—like affirmative action—also came under attack.) Politicians openly unleashed white racists nationwide as an even more potent and ugly force.
In addition to this conscious policy of the imperialists, and part of the reason for that policy, there were major jolts and developments in the U.S. economy. The economic dynamics of the system—that is, the profit-above-all, expand-or-die, and exploit-to-the-maximum laws of capitalism—had continued to develop. These dynamics led to the elimination of many of the industrial jobs in which Black people had worked in the '40s, '50s and '60s. Factory production was streamlined and shipped from the inner cities to the suburbs or overseas. African-American unemployment in the urban cores went off the charts. In response to this, the ruling capitalists stepped up a policy of penning Black people into the central cities (or in some cases, the older, more rotting out suburbs) and slashing education, health care, and housing—while building up the police and giving them vast new powers and arms.
A key part of all this was the so-called war on drugs. The authorities channeled drugs into the ghettos and barrios as a way to both addict and demoralize the masses AND to provide a pretext for drastically expanding the prison population and police powers and arms. This drug trade also filled the economic void left by the withdrawal of industry. As part of this, a whole dog-eat-dog, look-out-for-number-one, and our-'hood-above-all culture around gangs and "gangsta-ism" was allowed to flourish and then built up.
This in turn was part of a larger ideological offensive (that is, an offensive to shape the way that people think) to not only blame African-American people for the problems of their oppression, but to get Black people to blame themselves. This last point included not only the promotion of Bill Cosby's viciousness, but its reinforcement by Clinton and Obama especially, and it also meant the further building up of the church in the African-American community.
A cornerstone of this offensive in how people think was the ruling class and its puppets saying this: "Black people are equal now. We got rid of those old laws that discriminated. So if people have 'problems'—if they lack an education, or are unemployed, or evicted, or end up in prison—it is the result of 'bad choices' that they made and therefore their own fault." But the reality is this: the old forms of inequality have been replaced by new forms that are deeper and more vicious, precisely because they are masked. Inequality has not been abolished—it has been "retooled," and given an even more deadly, deceiving and destructive new form.
And the rulers launched a major campaign in the political realm, the media, and the educational institutions designed to reverse the real gains that had been made in the '60s: they insisted on this lie that equality had been achieved and that now the problem was that Black people, as well as Latinos, Native Americans, and other oppressed nationalities, were demanding too much and weren't "working hard," and that it was whites who were supposedly being discriminated against. Now, once again, the oppressive conditions—which were growing more intense for the majority of African-American and other oppressed nationality peoples—were blamed on the victims themselves.
To sum up this first point: the heart of the problem is not that some interest groups, drawing on deep-seated racism in the U.S., have used their influence in government to enrich themselves by imprisoning millions of people, and have thereby deprived those communities of needed social services. Yes, that has happened—and it is an ugly testament to how this system plays out. But this is still a description, not a correct diagnosis, and it is a description that leaves out the most important part. The role of racism, which is in fact a central component, is not mainly a question of these interests taking advantage of that racism or even promoting it so as to make profits—no, the role of the massive re-pumping of racist garbage into society is a) much more directly linked to a multi-pronged counter-revolutionary offensive against the legacy of the 1960s and in particular the revolutionary edge of the Black liberation struggle, an offensive that has been launched from the highest levels of the ruling class; b) much more designed to prevent any future upsurge that could conceivably be part of a movement for revolution against the system from happening again; and c) a really insidious campaign to somehow justify the horrendous conditions for African-Americans and to prevent any serious struggle that might develop from gaining allies from other sections of the people. (It is not for nothing that writers or thinkers, some of them attached to the ruling class, have called the minority youth in the urban cores potential social dynamite and have also worried about their influence on the broader culture.)
Nor is the problem that so-called "American democracy" is not living up to its supposed promise. The problem is that "American democracy" has always meant the systemic and systematic oppression of Black and other oppressed nationality peoples; that "American democracy" has always responded to every change and challenge by adopting new forms of this oppression instead of abolishing it; and that now "American democracy" has given this oppression a new, more masked, and more intense and potentially more deadly form.
By making it seem as if this comes from the narrow interests of this or that section of capitalists, the "prison-industrial complex" theory covers over the essential character of the explosion of mass incarceration: that it is a policy decided upon from the highest levels to reinforce the white supremacist foundations of the U.S. empire in a new form. By cutting out the consciously counter-revolutionary character of this offensive, the line of "prison-industrial complex" badly underestimates the depth, the systemic character and the direction of the attack—and it underestimates and covers over the latent potential for a movement for revolution.
This gets to point two: the nature of the state apparatus. In speaking of "the state," we do NOT mean this in the same way that in this country we commonly refer to the different geographic areas that make up the U.S.—for example, the state of Illinois, the state of Georgia, etc. By state, we mean the core institutions of the government—the executive power (the president, the cabinet, and the bureaucracy) and the machinery of force that they wield or embody, which includes the prisons. This is the core because here is where the monopoly on "legitimate armed force and violence" rests—these are the main institutions through which the ruling class exerts its domination of the other classes in society and pursues its interests in the world.
The state is NOT a neutral instrument. It is not a machine that can be wielded equally well by one class or another. The core institutions of this state—the army, the police, the prisons and the courts—were all molded by and developed to serve and ensure a specific form of class rule: capitalism, which has now developed globally into imperialism. U.S. capitalism-imperialism included slavery at its very foundation for its first 90 years (and for 150 years before that, when it was a colony of Britain), outright genocidal war against the native peoples, and the theft of vast stretches of land from Mexico through war—all of which were carried out and defended by the army. This form of class rule has also meant scores of wars, occupations, and military actions against other countries, all of which were in the service of building up or defending a worldwide empire of plunder.5
In regard to prisons in specific, the system of imprisonment in America right down to today has reflected the deep stamp of slavery on U.S. society. (This was convincingly brought home in the Revolution interview with Robert Perkinson, the author of Texas Tough.6) And there are hundreds of examples of how institutions like the prisons, the police, the courts, and the army have been molded to reflect, preserve, and reinforce the values of a class and a system that feeds off the exploitation of billions of people, that oppresses most of the nations and nationalities of the globe as part of that, that is saturated from head to toe with white supremacy, and that subjugates one-half of humanity—women. Beyond the numerous examples in this article, you can read of these every week in this newspaper.
Any attempt to reform such machinery never has and never will change its essential character as the machinery of domination by the capitalist-imperialist class. For all the talk of "democracy," there is no such thing as a democracy above classes; as Bob Avakian has said:
In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequality, to talk about "democracy"—without talking about the class nature of that democracy and which class it serves—is meaningless, and worse. So long as society is divided into classes, there can be no "democracy for all": one class or another will rule, and it will uphold and promote that kind of democracy which serves its interests and goals. The question is: which class will rule and whether its rule, and its system of democracy, will serve the continuation, or the eventual abolition, of class divisions and the corresponding relations of exploitation, oppression and inequality. (BAsics, 1:22)7
Further: there is no such thing as a democracy that is not also a dictatorship—that does not exercise a monopoly on the use of "legitimate" force and violence against those "whose interests are in significant opposition to, and/or which resist, its rule."8 So long as there are different classes in society, any state will either be a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, with democracy (and dictatorship) that reflects and reinforces the maintenance and expansion of exploitation and oppression... or a dictatorship of the proletariat, with democracy (and dictatorship) which aims to overcome relations of exploitation and oppression and the institutions and ideas which reflect and reinforce those relations and to, eventually, transcend the need for a state itself. What is needed is the latter: a new state power, one which "bases itself on, and proceeds from, the fundamental interests of those most bitterly exploited and oppressed under the [capitalist] system, and the masses of people broadly, and provides the means for them to play an increasingly widening role in the exercise of political power and the functioning of society in accordance with those interests—in order to carry forward the struggle to transform society, with the goal of uprooting and finally eliminating all oppressive and exploitative relations among human beings and the destructive antagonistic conflicts to which these relationships give rise."9
These two lines on the U.S. state—"neutral instrument that can be used by different classes or groups of people" versus "machinery of suppression developed by and able to serve only the ruling class of capitalist-imperialists"—ultimately concentrate two very different roads. The second line gets right to the heart of the problem and accurately shows where mass incarceration comes from: its deep historical roots in the oppression of Black people in this system and the needs of the ruling class today to maintain that oppression in new forms. It shows how mass incarceration was actually part of a whole counter-revolutionary response to the revolutionary upheaval of the 1960s. It shows the way forward in a movement for revolution, unleashing people once more—but this time with a clearer understanding of the problem and solution, and with revolutionary leadership with a vision, strategy, and forms of organization and struggle that can take things to full liberation once the conditions emerge that make that possible. And those who take up this line participate in and build the struggle against mass incarceration, reaching out as broadly as possible, and fighting with relentless determination, as part of building that movement for revolution.
The line of "prison-industrial complex" covers over the real nature of the state and thus keeps people locked on the treadmill of this system. It gets people looking away from how deeply rooted the problem is and how radical the solution really must be, and into thinking that a few reforms can solve the problem. And so it leads people on a road of tinkering with the machinery of oppression, instead of uprooting and dismantling that oppression at its very source. Ultimately it will lead them to get in on, or try to get in on, that machinery. This is the logic of this line; and that logic will assert itself despite the good intentions of many who hold it and put it forward. In sum, this line is not only wrong, if followed it will lead to disaster.
With Angela Davis herself, there is a long history of consciously promoting reforms in opposition to revolution. Despite the fact that she came under heavy and unjust attack by the state back in 1970, her actual role in those times—through the line she struggled for and carried out and the organization that she built—was to work to blunt the more revolutionary expressions of the movement. At a time when the Black Panther Party (BPP) and other forces were actually trying to build a revolutionary movement, she worked to turn people toward a party that posed as communist but in fact worked not to overturn the state but get in on it—the so-called "Communist" Party, USA.10 The "C"PUSA at that time made a concerted effort to turn the BPP away from the path of revolution, and Davis was a big part of that effort. Today she sums up that period in such a way so as to erase the revolutionary content of groups like the Panthers and to merge it together with forces that were actually opposed to the road of revolution and were working for reform, like Martin Luther King.11 (See, for example, "The Two Nations of Black America,"12 an interview with Angela Davis on the PBS TV show Frontline, in which she reduces the struggle between the BPP and the cultural-nationalist trend to whether youth should get involved in "campaigns against police violence" or whether they should "wear African clothes," and says nothing about the revolutionary content of the BPP and its fight for an internationalist position—including its orientation toward revolutionary China at the time of Mao's leadership.)
Today, this line of "prison-industrial complex" takes people's outrage and anger at a crime of imperialism and misdirects them as to its cause. It misleads them down a false path that leaves the source of the problem untouched and imperialism in power. It covers up this essential point: THIS SYSTEM CANNOT AND WILL NOT WORK IN THE INTERESTS OF THE PEOPLE AND MUST BE RADICALLY OVERTURNED.
Other people take up this line for different reasons. Some people have not actually heard a revolutionary explanation or have not heard the two different lines compared in a sharp way. Some people sincerely oppose the gross iniquities and horrors of imperialism, but at the same time are drawn to analyses that locate the problem somewhere outside the essential workings of the system itself. They are pulled toward seeing the problem as residing in the powers-that-be violating the rules of the system and the solution being bound up with getting them to follow those rules—as opposed to the cold hard truth that "the rules" themselves (the basic class divisions and social relations of capitalism, and what it requires to function) ARE the problem. Ultimately, this view reflects the position of those in society who are "caught in the middle" between the capitalist-imperialists on top, on the one hand, and those who "catch hell in the hardest ways every day under this system"13 on the other, and whose most fundamental interests can only be resolved by a total revolution.
So, again, this position "in the middle" gives rise to a striving to seek solutions that seek to stand above the fundamental antagonism or conflict, that rend society and that tend to deny the depth of that conflict; but that is impossible—that antagonism defines and conditions everything in society, and must be resolved in either one direction (revolution, leading to emancipation) or another (continued, and intensified, exploitation and oppression). Revolutionaries need to get into this question of the real problem and real solution with people who are drawn to and/or put forward this prison-industrial complex line—as we unite with them at the same time to go forward in struggle together against this outrage.
Right now, the battle against mass incarceration is crucial. There are genocidal elements in this mass incarceration program, and a genocidal dynamic. It is already a human disaster of terrible proportions; if the direction on this is not reversed, it will get far worse. People will and should come into this struggle with all sorts of viewpoints, and it is extremely important to unite all who can be united. This should mean people with many different views as to why this is happening and what to do about it coming together to say NO! And it should and must mean vigorous discussion over, and struggle for clarity about, the real problem and real solution, with revolutionary communists putting forward and fighting for a scientific analysis. Such struggle, on a principled basis, can strengthen unity and sharpen the thrust of a movement—and it is essential to preparing the basis for the struggle for a world where humanity really CAN be emancipated from all relations of exploitation, all the institutions that reflect those relations and keep them going, and all the ideas that grow out of and reinforce that exploitation and oppression.
1. Douglas Massey, Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System, Russell Sage Foundation, New York, 2007. [back]
2. Angela Davis, "Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison-Industrial Complex," colorlines.com, September 10, 1998. [back]
3. Here Davis explicitly draws on the formulation of a "military-industrial complex" that was made by none other than a former U.S. president and general, Dwight Eisenhower. This is actually telling: Eisenhower pointed to certain effects of the massive expansion of the U.S. empire after World War 2 and the explosion in spending on the military that went with it NOT to warn against the empire per se nor still less to call for its dismantlement (!), but to warn against certain "unintended effects" of this empire—that some defense industries and the military itself might put their own narrowly perceived interests above that of the empire (our word, not Eisenhower's) overall. As we'll see, the formulation of a "prison-industrial complex" also looks at certain effects—but, as does Eisenhower's "military-industrial" complex, it leads people away from a true understanding of how the system has required this expansion of state power and makes people think that this can be solved within the terms and framework of this system. [back]
4. Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy, Bob Avakian, RCP Publications, 2008; "The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need," Revolution #144, October 5, 2008. [back]
5. As for the Civil War, in which the army was deployed against the slave-holding class, this took place because slavery had come into conflict with the further expansion of capitalism; and after that war, once the former slave-holding class had been subdued, it was relatively quickly reintegrated into the ruling structures in a different form and the army once again became an instrument of domination against the African-American people. [back]
7. BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, RCP Publications, 2011. [back]
9. Ibid, p. 2. [back]
10. The full role and scope of the "C"PUSA—which both functioned as an instrument of the imperialist interests of the Soviet Union, which by that point was socialist in name but imperialist in actual essence AND pursued its own reformist, get-in-on-the-system agenda within that—is beyond the scope of this article. As a party, it played a dual role of openly attacking the more advanced expressions of the day—particularly any trends or individuals drawn to the example and line of what was at that point the revolutionary example of China, as it was led by Mao Tse-tung—and also undermining those forces by, in some cases, attempting to unite on unprincipled bases, wielding the influence that they did have in certain sections of the people and institutions of society as a lever in that. This party was revisionist—they claimed to be Marxist (or Marxist-Leninist, in their case), but cut (or revised) the revolutionary heart out of communism. [back]
11. As we've written elsewhere, "Martin Luther King made many sacrifices—and indeed made the ultimate sacrifice—in seeking to bring about what he put forward in his 'I Have a Dream' speech. But, as indicated by that very speech, the outlook of Martin Luther King was precisely one of making America 'live up to its promise,' when that 'promise' has always involved, as one of its most essential elements, first the outright enslavement, and then the continuing oppression of Black people in other horrific forms... And the fact is that, whatever King's intent, the realization of this 'dream' could, at most, apply only to a small percentage of Black people, and would in reality come at the expense of the masses of Black people—and millions, even billions, of other people, here and around the world, who will continue to be preyed upon and to suffer horribly as a result of the workings of this capitalist-imperialist system and its systematic exploitation and merciless oppression, all enforced by its organized machinery of mass murder and destruction.
"Consistent with his outlook, King's program was straight-up one of reform, directly and explicitly in opposition to revolution..." ("The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need," Revolution #144, October 5, 2008) [back]
12. "The Two Nations of Black America: Interview Angela Davis," Frontline, PBS. [back]
13. "A Statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party: On the Strategy for Revolution," Revolution #224, February 11, 2011. [back]
"Immigration Detention," American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
"Pushing That Personal Responsibility Poison: Obama Sings Lead in the Blame the Poor Choir," Carl Dix, Revolution #138, August 3, 2008
"Why Does the United States Lock Up So Many People?," Karen Franklin, Psychology Today, January 30, 2012
"Hellhole: The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?," Atul Gawande, New Yorker, March 30, 2009
"The Caging of America: Why do we lock up so many people?," Adam Gopnik, New Yorker January 30, 2012
"1 in 31 U.S. Adults are Behind Bars, on Parole or Probation," Pew Center on the States, March 2, 2009
"Subjective and Objective Indicators of Racial Progress," Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, May 12, 2010
"Prisoners in 2010," U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 15, 2011
"Jail Inmates at Midyear 2010," U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, April 14, 2011
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
Editors' Note: Revolution is serializing an important speech given by Raymond Lotta during his national campus speaking tour in 2009-10. This version of the speech, given at Harvard University in April 2010, has been slightly edited and footnotes have been added for publication. Part 1 was printed in Revolution #257, January 29, 2012; Part 2 in #258, February 5, 2012; Part 3 in #259, February 12, 2012; Part 4 in #261, February 26, 2012; Part 5 in #262, March 12, 2012, and Part 6 in #263, March 25, 2012. Below is the final installment.
I am very pleased to be at Harvard to speak with you about communism. My talk has five main themes:
I look forward to a vigorous and fruitful exchange in the question-and-answer. So let me start.
Imagine a situation in which the Christian fundamentalist creationists have seized power overall, and have proceeded to suppress knowledge of evolution. Imagine that they go so far as to execute and imprison the most prominent scientists and educators who had insisted on teaching evolution and bringing knowledge of this to the public. And they heap scorn and abuse on the well-established fact of evolution, denouncing and ridiculing it as a flawed and dangerous theory which runs counter to well-known "truth" of the biblical creation story and to religious notions of "natural law" and the "divinely ordained order."
To continue the analogy, imagine that in this situation many intellectual "authorities," along with others following in their wake, jump on the bandwagon, saying things like: "it was not only naïve but criminal to believe that evolution was a well-documented scientific theory, and we should not have been forcing that belief on people." And some intellectual authorities make statements like: "But now we can see that it is ‘common wisdom,' which no one questions—and we won't question it either; we can see that it is common wisdom that evolution embodies a worldview and leads to actions that are disastrous for human beings. We were taken in by the arrogant assurance of those who propagated this notion. We can see that everything that exists, or has existed, could not have come into being without the guiding hand of an ‘intelligent designer.'"
To keep with this "thought experiment." Suppose that in this situation, even many progressive and radical intellectuals become disoriented and demoralized. They are cowed into silence.1
Well, this is an analogy to the situation that exists in intellectual life and discourse when it comes to communism. It is now the accepted and unquestioned verdict that communism is a failure. Radical thinkers who at one time took on anti-communist lies and opened their eyes and the eyes of students to the actual and liberating experience of communist revolution—many such progressive scholars have unthinkingly bought into the verdict.
You see, back in the 1960s, the world was alive with revolution. The Chinese revolution inspired people around the world. The most revolutionary and far-reaching movements of the 1960s— whether we are talking about the Black Panthers or radical women's liberation—were influenced by the communist revolution, and especially the Cultural Revolution, in China. And this reacted back on the universities—including right here at Harvard—on how people looked at their lives and the meaning and purpose of intellectual work. But since the defeat of the revolution in China in 1976, for almost 35 years now there has been an unremitting ideological offensive against communist revolution. And this has real consequences.
I know there are people in this room who want to do something meaningful with their lives for the betterment of humanity. Maybe some of you want to devote your energies to solving the environmental emergency we face...or teaching in the inner cities...or going into the arts to explore in the realm of imagination and metaphor the way people are and might be, and the way the world is and might be.
But no matter your passions and convictions, this system has its own logic that shapes everything. I am talking about a system that operates on the basis of profit. I am talking about an economy that is the home base of an empire: a global system of exploitation in which the U.S. arrogates to itself the "right" to wage war and to invade and occupy countries. I am talking about an economic system safeguarded by governing institutions and a military machine of death and destruction. I am talking about the values and ideas that get promoted in this society.
You are someone who knows that radical measures must be taken to reverse looming environmental catastrophe. But what happens—really what doesn't happen in dealing with the environmental emergency, with the Copenhagen summit the most recent glaring example—is driven and circumscribed by the workings of the capitalist world market...by corporate bottom lines...and by the power relations and power struggles between the U.S. and other oppressive great powers.
You want to teach "uncomfortable truths" about America's actual history and role in the world? Well, you should, but you are going to be pressured, threatened, and likely find yourself without a job. You are a woman who wants to break free of convention and stereotype. But you will face a lifetime of menacing gaze, physical threat, and demeaning sexual images that reflect and reinforce enslaving tradition and subordination.
We need a different system. Humanity needs "total revolution": in economy, politics, culture, and morality. And the fact is: we can create a world without exploitation, in which humanity can flourish. But, and this is a cruel irony, exactly at a time when capitalism is in crisis, when all its irrationality and the suffering it inflicts are escalating exponentially—at this very moment, we're told "you can't go beyond capitalism; the best you can do is to tinker around its edges."
It is as though a warning label were affixed to the discourse on human possibility. Danger: anything that fundamentally challenges capitalism is at best a pipe dream and at worst an unworkable utopia imposed from above that will result in nightmare. Caution: the project of making revolution and building an economy and society that promote and serve the common good violates human nature, economic logic, and the very flow of history. Reminder: we have reached the end of history: Western society represents the high point and end point of human development.
At UCLA, NYU, and the University of Chicago, we distributed this multiple-choice "pop quiz" on basic facts about communism. These weren't obscure or arcane things. We asked questions like: what was the only country in Eastern Europe during the 1930s that stood against anti-semitism? The answer is the Soviet Union.2 We asked: what was the only country in the world in the 1960s where the government and leadership were calling on people to rise up against oppressive institutional authority? The answer was Maoist China.3 People did abysmally—the average test score was about 58. In other words, people failed.
This is shameful. Because in the 20th century, something world-historic happened and people don't know the first thing about it. The first socialist societies were forged out of monumental revolutions, the rising up of the wretched of the Earth: in the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1956, and in China from 1949 to 1976. These were the first attempts in modern history to create societies free from exploitation and oppression—socialism. And the experience of these revolutions...it changes everything. The world does not have to be this way, and we can go further and do better in a new wave of revolution.
So what is socialism? Let's clear away some confusion. Socialism is not just government ownership of some enterprises or some government regulation—all capitalist governments do that. And socialism is not something that Obama is doing—Obama is no socialist.
In fact, socialism is three things:
First, socialism is a new form of political power in which the formerly oppressed and exploited, in alliance with the middle classes and professionals and the great majority of society, rule over society with the leadership of a visionary, vanguard party. This new form of state power keeps old and new exploiters in check. It makes possible a democracy that a) unleashes the creativity and initiative of people in all kinds of directions and b) gives the masses of people the right and ability to change the world and to engage in meaningful decision-making, that promotes the most far-reaching debate, and that protects the rights of the individual. This new socialist state that I am talking about is a launching pad for revolution elsewhere in the world.
Second, socialism is a new economic system where the resources and productive capacities of society are socially owned through the coordination of the socialist state, where production is consciously organized and planned to meet social need, and to overcome the inequalities of capitalist class society—like the oppression of minority nationalities and the subordination of women. This is an economy that is organized to promote revolution in the world and protect the planet. No longer does exploitation and profit rule over society and people's lives. No longer are Big Pharma and financial-insurance conglomerates setting the terms for health care provision and research. They won't exist anymore. No longer is there a General Motors or Boeing—they too won't exist anymore, either—skewing transport development and energy production to the needs of profit.
Third, socialism is a historical period of transition, between capitalism and communism, a period of revolutionary struggle and experimentation to transform all the economic structures, all the social institutions and arrangements, and all the ideas and values that perpetuate the division of society into classes.
And what is communism? Here I want to read from a statement, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," from the Revolutionary Communist Party:
Communism [is] a world where people work and struggle for the common good.... Where everyone contributes whatever they can to society and gets back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings... Where there are no more divisions among people in which some rule over and oppress others, robbing them not only of the means to a decent life but also of knowledge and a means for really understanding, and acting to change, the world.4
Now the Russian and Chinese revolutions, in what amounted to a "nanosecond" of human history, accomplished amazing things in the direction I am describing. Not without problems and serious shortcomings...but these revolutions accomplished great things against great odds during their existence.
Why were the odds so great? For one thing, the imperialists worked overtime to crush these revolutions. The socialist revolutions of the 20th century posed a mortal (and, yes, a moral) threat to the established global order of exploitation, privilege, and inequality. They opened new possibilities for humanity and new roads for realizing these possibilities.
But the imperialists didn't say to Lenin or Mao: "Oh, you want to try to create a new society based on cooperation, you want to create a planned economy based on putting human needs first, you want to solve your health and education problems, and you are going to attempt to enable those on the bottom of society to increasingly administer it. Okay, why don't you try that for twenty years? Then come back and we'll compare notes? We'll see whose system does better."
No! The capitalist-imperialist powers encircled, pressured, and sought to strangle these revolutions. Within months of the victory of the Bolshevik revolution in October 1917, France, England, Japan, the U.S., and thirteen other powers sent money, weapons, and troops to aid counterrevolutionary forces in Russia who were trying to restore the old order of exploitation, religious obscurantism.
How many of you know that the world's first oil embargo was applied against the Soviet revolution? How many of you know that during the entire time between 1917 and 1950, the new socialist society of the Soviet Union was either preparing for war, or having to fight war, or dressing the wounds of war?
Or consider the circumstances facing the Chinese revolution after it came to power in 1949. Within a year, U.S. troops were moving up the Korean peninsula and threatening to invade China itself. How many of you know that in the early 1950s, the U.S. imperialists issued veiled nuclear threats, and developed military plans for launching nuclear strikes, against the new People's Republic of China?5 This is real history.
It was in these historical circumstances that millions in the Soviet Union and China made revolution and brought about profound changes in their conditions and in their thinking. And another reason they faced great odds was the fact that these revolutions did not unfold in vacuums. They took place, as will future revolutions, in societies that still contained the scars and influences of the old social order, including class divisions along with the ideas and traditions of the past. This too is part of the reality and challenge of making revolution.
Is that what you have been learning about 20th century history? Did you learn that in the 1920s, when Black people were being lynched in the U.S., when the racist film extolling the KKK, Birth of a Nation, was one of the biggest things in American culture—did you learn that in the Soviet Union something utterly different was happening? At this very time in the Soviet Union, incredible efforts were being made to overcome inequality among nationalities.
The new socialist society was waging struggle against the historical chauvinism of the dominant Russian nationality. Economic and technical resources were being channeled to regions where minority nationalities were concentrated. The new Soviet state established autonomous forms of government in these regions, enabling people in these areas to take responsibility for administration. It promoted the equality of languages and even developed written scripts for languages that previously had none.6
This was an amazing sea change. You see, before the Bolshevik revolution Russia had been known as the "prison-house of nations," with infamous pogroms against Jews, and the domination of whole nations. It was a society where, before the revolution, people of certain minority nationalities were forbidden from using their native languages in schools.
Most of you don't know this because that knowledge has been ruled out of order in the academy and society. You are surrounded by and imbibing the master narrative that nothing good came of these revolutions—and that they failed and could only fail.
There is one small problem with this "conventional wisdom" about communism. It is built on the wholesale distortion of the actual history of socialist revolution; it is built on outright lies.
You know, I have to say it is amazing what passes as intellectual rigor when it comes to communism. And sadly, it's amazing what gets over on people who pride themselves on intellectual scrupulousness.
I want to deconstruct three typical high profile and highly charged examples of what I am talking about.
Let's start with the book Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. This has been hailed in the mainstream as the definitive biography of Mao Tsetung. It was on the New York Times bestseller list. Jung Chang and Jon Halliday want you to believe that Mao was a cynical hedonist who murdered ten times as many innocents as Hitler. They insist that Mao was a cold-blooded murderer—but since they can't substantiate that with facts, their book is strewn with lies and distortions.
Let's go to Chapter 40 of the book. It deals with the year 1958. It has this running head on each page: "The Great Leap: 'Half of China May Well Have to Die.'"7 You see, Chang and Halliday quote from a November 1958 speech by Mao in which he says: "half of China may well have to die."
They cite this as proof-positive that Mao had no concern for human life: let half of China die to fulfill a crazed vision of a new society. But if you read Mao's speech, he is actually saying the opposite:
"In the construction of irrigation works, between last winter and this spring we moved, nationwide, over 50 billion cubic meters of earth and stone, but from this winter to next spring we want to move 190 billion cubic meters nationwide, an increase of well over three times. Then we have to deal with all sorts of tasks: steel, copper, aluminum, coal, transport, the processing industries, the chemical industry—[they all] need hordes of people. In this kind of situation, I think if we do [all these things simultaneously] half of China's population unquestionably will die; and if it's not a half, it'll be a third or ten percent, a death toll of 50 million people.... Anhui wants to do so many things, it's quite all right to do a lot, but make it a principle to have no deaths."8
Mao is pointing out that the economic plan is trying to do too many major things at once, and if we stick to the plan, well..."half of China's population unquestionably will die"—and we don't want that! He's cautioning against overzealousness—that it could lead to overwork, exhaustion, and deaths—and he's doing this in a highly dramatic way.
So Chang and Halliday have totally ripped Mao's phrase out of context and inverted its meaning. They've lied. That would be bad enough. But this lie gets repeated in reviews, in newspapers, and in blogs. It spreads and becomes so frequently cited that it becomes an established fact. So no one has to prove anything. Case closed: Mao was worse than Hitler. This is incredibly dishonest and vicious. And yet it passes for scholarship.
Let me turn to a prestigious academic source with a veneer of scholarly rigor. I'm talking about the book Mao's Last Revolution, by Roderick MacFarquhar, the highly celebrated China scholar here at Harvard, and Michael Schoenhals. This book was published in 2006 and is widely considered to be the "definitive" account of the Cultural Revolution.
MacFarquhar sets the stage for Mao's launching of the Cultural Revolution. Here's how MacFarquhar does it: "Various remarks indicate that Mao craved a measure of catalytic terror to jump start the Cultural Revolution. He had no scruples about the taking of human life. In a conversation with trusties later in the Cultural Revolution, the Chairman went so far as to suggest that the sign of a true revolutionary was precisely his intense desire to kill." And then MacFarquhar presents this alleged statement from Mao: "This man Hitler was even more ferocious. The more ferocious the better, don't you think? The more people you kill, the more revolutionary you are."9
Well, this is a pretty sordid declaration. So I went to the notes and sources at the end of the book, and let me tell you what the endnote says: "From a very reliable source seen by one of the authors."10 Can you believe this! Here you are supposedly citing evidence for the bloodlust that ostensibly drove Mao and the Cultural Revolution. And this is the documentation that MacFarquhar offers? Stop and think about this intellectual outrage. People are given proof that Mao was a monster based on totally unsubstantiated and unsubstantiable hearsay.
It's egregious. The classic "trust me, I can't give you the speech, conversation, or article... but trust me, it's reliable." Kind of reminiscent of George Bush going to war in Iraq: "Look, Sadaam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction. I can't share the evidence, but trust me, my sources are reliable." This hearsay masquerades as something solid and damning.
And then this statement, without any meaningful or provable attribution to Mao, or any meaningful context being specified, gets repeated in the mainstream media and by other lords of academia. Andrew Nathan, a well-known, liberal China scholar who teaches at Columbia includes the statement attributed to Mao in his review of the book in The New Republic.11 I tracked Nathan's review, and it got posted on different blogs and book review sites.
Now suppose one of you in the audience is trying to learn about the Cultural Revolution and you go to Wikipedia. Well, lo and behold, in the entry on the Cultural Revolution, you will find the following statement from Mao Tsetung, presented as part of Mao's guidance for the Cultural Revolution: "the more people you kill the more revolutionary you are." And what is the source? You guessed it, Roderick MacFarquhar, that grey eminence of China studies.12
My question is this: why didn't these other scholars scrutinize this footnote, instead of repeating this sensationalistic claim about Mao? Because they don't have to prove anything: the communist project is declared to be a disaster and horror. And many of these and other so-called scholars have been part of weaving together a narrative of the Bolshevik and Chinese revolutions built on similar distortions and misrepresentations of what these revolutions set out to do, what these socialist societies actually accomplished, and what real difficulties and challenges they faced.
I've issued a public challenge to Roderick MacFarquhar to debate me (my challenge mentions this footnote)—and organizers of my speaking tour turned this into a paid ad and submitted it to the Harvard Crimson last week.13 But guess what? The president of the Crimson refused to publish the ad, saying it was "too controversial." Duh!
Where are the progressive scholars? Why are they not calling this out? Because many of them have bought into these verdicts, in an atmosphere of unrelenting attack on the communist project—while others have been intimidated by the conventional wisdom and what have become the norms of intellectual discourse: before one can even speak of socialism, even positively, one has to disavow the experience of socialist revolution in the 20th century.
Indeed, these anticommunist distortions deeply permeate progressive political thought. Take the activist and social critic Naomi Klein. Here I am drawing on analysis by Bob Avakian that appeared in Revolution newspaper.14 In the early pages of her book The Shock Doctrine, Klein describes the situation in the U.S. after 9/11, and how the Bush administration exploited this.
Klein writes, "Suddenly we found ourselves living in a kind of Year Zero, in which everything we knew of the world before could now be dismissed as 'pre-911 thinking.'" And she is right about this. But then she draws this analogy: "Never strong in our knowledge of history, North Americans had become a blank slate—a 'clean sheet of paper' on which the 'newest and most beautiful words can be written,' as Mao said of his people."15 Klein is actually referencing a short essay by Mao from 1958 titled "Introducing a Cooperative." But she totally rips this passage out of context to make it appear that this was about mind control of the untutored masses by totalitarian leaders.
Let's look at what Mao actually said:
"Apart from their other characteristics, the outstanding thing about China's 600 million people is that they are 'poor and blank.' This may seem a bad thing, but reality it is a good thing. Poverty gives rise to the desire for change, the desire for action and the desire for revolution. On a blank sheet of paper free from any mark, the freshest and the most beautiful characters can be written, the freshest and most beautiful pictures can be painted."16 And then Mao goes on to point out that the masses are in fact using big-character posters in the cities and rural areas to conduct mass debate and ideological struggle—and he says this is a great antidote to "dullness" in society.
In other words, Mao was not saying, "oh great, the peasants are just a bunch of putty and we leaders can shape them however we please." He is saying the opposite of what Klein suggests. He is saying that being "poor and blank" results in people not only wanting radical change but being capable of taking initiative to fight for that radical change. And it is clear, if you read this essay, that Mao is saying the "freshest and most beautiful characters" and "freshest and most beautiful pictures" are being written and painted by the peasants themselves—and, yes, this is happening with communist leadership.
At the start of the essay, Mao observes: "Never before have the masses of the people been so inspired, so militant, and so daring as at present." "Inspired," "militant," and "daring": not exactly the world that George Bush or Barack Obama wants us to live in! Nor the stereotype that Klein implies of communist leaders turning people into mindless robots.
So here we have three different examples of high-profile lies and distortions being spread that reinforce ignorance about communism: from the reactionaries who wrote Mao: The Unknown Story; the liberal anti-communist Roderick MacFarquhar's Mao's Last Revolution; and the progressive social critic Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine. As I have been emphasizing, the effects of this cannot be overestimated: the lowering of sights, a generation of young people being robbed of understanding.
In the rest of this talk, I will be drawing on Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party.17 This Manifesto sums up the history of communist revolution so far, its breakthroughs and lessons. It explains how communism has developed as a living, creative, open-ended science, beginning with Marx, through Lenin, to Mao, and Bob Avakian. This Manifesto provides a framework to initiate a new stage of communist revolution. And let me add that you cannot say that you are educated and up to date on emancipatory human thought if you have not yet read this Manifesto.
Now one of the things we hear so often in discussing communism with students is this: "well, it might be a good idea, but it doesn't work in practice." I want to answer this, precisely by returning to the Cultural Revolution and getting into what it was about and accomplished.
The Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 was the high point of socialist revolution in the 20th century and the whole first stage of communist revolution, beginning with the Paris Commune. The Cultural Revolution was the most radical and far-reaching struggle in human history to uproot exploitation and oppression and to change society and bring about new values and new ways of thinking.18
But the bourgeois "master narrative" is that the Cultural Revolution was Mao's power-mad and vindictive purge of opponents: an orgy of senseless violence and mass persecution that plunged China into a decade of chaos. There is not a scintilla of truth to this narrative. But before I take it on directly, I want to set the stage for the Cultural Revolution by talking a bit about Chinese society before the revolution of 1949.
The vast majority of China's people were peasants who worked the land, but who had little or no land to call their own. They lived under the dominance of landlords who ruled the local economy and people's lives. Peasants desperately scratched out survival. In bad years, many had to eat leaves and bark, and it was not uncommon for peasant households to sell children to meet debt obligations. Agriculture was plagued by endless cycles of floods and droughts and famine. For women, life was a living hell: beatings by husbands, the painful binding of feet, arranged marriages, and young women forced into becoming concubines to landlords and warlords.
In China's largest city, Shanghai, an estimated 25,000 dead bodies were collected from the streets each year by municipal sanitation teams. Meanwhile, foreign-controlled districts of the city glittered. In a country of 500 million, there were only 12,000 doctors trained in modern medicine, and 4 million people died each year of epidemic and infectious diseases.19
This is why people make revolution. This is why millions in China consciously took part in the struggle led by Mao to seize state power and to create a new society.
Distortion One: So-called China experts like Roderick MacFarquhar talk about Mao's obsession with revolution, combating revisionism, and preventing counterrevolution, as though Mao were imagining or contriving enemies to suit his political whims.
The truth is that the revolution of 1949 overthrew foreign domination, big capitalism, and landlordism. But right from the start, there were leading forces in this revolution whose vision of society went no further than to turn China into a major industrial power that would take its place in the world economy and international nation-state system. These forces became a new capitalist class centered within the Chinese Communist Party and state, and by the mid-1960s, they were positioning to take power. Their leaders, like Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, had coherent aims and a coherent program for China: to put an end to socialism, to reinstitute exploitation in the name of efficiency, and to open China up to foreign capital in the name of engaging with the modern world. This is why Mao was warning against revisionism, which is a capitalist program and world outlook expressed in Marxist terminology.
Distortion Two: Bourgeois accounts depict the Cultural Revolution as Mao's horrific attempt to whip people into mass frenzy.
The truth is that the Cultural Revolution was a mass revolutionary upheaval involving hundreds of millions of people in profound and intense struggle over the direction of society:
Would socialist China go forward along the socialist road to communism: to a world community of humanity without classes, where all forms of exploitation and social inequality have been overcome, where men no longer lord it over women, where there are no longer dominant nations and dominated nations and the world itself is no longer divided into nations, where the division of society into those who mainly work with their hands and those who mainly work in the realm of ideas is overcome, where there is no longer a need for a state to enforce the rule of one group of society over another?
Or would socialist China take the capitalist road back to sweatshops and exploitation, to the crowding of the cities with migrants desperately in search of work, to the subordination of women and the reemergence of prostitution and the objectification of women—in short, would China become...the China of today?
Distortion Three: The bourgeois narrative of the Cultural Revolution talks about Mao's "disastrous enactment of utopian fantasies."
The truth is that Mao and the revolutionaries who led the Cultural Revolution had coherent and visionary aims. What were these aims?
*To mobilize people in society to overthrow these new capitalist forces and to revolutionize the Communist Party itself.
*To reinvigorate the revolution by subjecting every level of authority and governance to mass criticism and questioning.
*To promote socialist values of "serve the people" and putting the interests of world humanity first and challenging the capitalist morality of maximizing self-gain and self-enrichment as well as the Confucian mind-set of bowing down to authority and convention.
*To reshape and revolutionize the institutions and fabric of society: a) to create an educational system that, instead of producing a privileged elite, was actually contributing to raising the knowledge and skills of society and overcoming the great divisions of society; b) to forge a new revolutionary culture, like the model revolutionary works in opera and ballet that put new emphasis on workers and peasants and their resistance to oppression (in place of the old imperial court dramas) and that conveyed powerful images of strong and independent revolutionary women; c) to create new base-level institutions within factories, schools, and hospitals that truly empowered people.
These were crucial goals of the Cultural Revolution; this was not "crazed utopianism."
Let's be clear, the Cultural Revolution was a real revolution. It was disruptive of the routine of normal life; it was full of invention and innovation; inspiring tens of millions but also shocking and disturbing tens of millions at its outset. The schools shut down; youth went to the countryside to link up with peasants, students from Beijing went to Shanghai to stir up protest in the factories, workers were encouraged to raise their heads and ask: "who's really in charge here?" This became very wild. There was massive political and intellectual debate: street rallies, protests, strikes, demonstrations, what were called "big character posters," which contained comments and critiques on policies and leaders. Paper and ink were provided free of charge, public facilities were made available for meetings and debates.20
This was about changing society and changing the world in an ever more conscious way. There has never, never in world history, been a revolutionary movement of this scale and consciousness. Mao looked to the youth as a catalytic force to awaken and arouse society. In Beijing, over 900 newspapers were circulating in 1966-67.
In Shanghai in the autumn of 1966, there were some 700 organizations in the factories. Eventually, the revolutionary workers, with Maoist leadership, were able to unite broad sections of the city's population to overthrow the capitalist-roaders who had been running the city. And what followed was extraordinary: people began to experiment with new institutions of citywide political governance; and the Maoist leadership was able to learn from and sum up this experience and these debates.21 In the countryside, peasants were debating how Confucian values and patriarchy still influenced people's lives.
Standard Western accounts charge that violent attacks on people and physical elimination of opponents had the official blessings of Mao—and that, policy or not, thuggish violence was the norm. Both of these claims are false.
Mao's orientation for the Cultural Revolution was clearly spelled out in official and widely publicized documents. In the Sixteen Point Decision that guided the Cultural Revolution, it was stated, "Where there is debate, it should be conducted by reasoning and not by force."22 Yes, there was violence during the Cultural Revolution. But: a) this was not the main character of the Cultural Revolution—its main forms of struggle were mass debate, mass political mobilization, and mass criticism; b) where young activist Red Guards and others resorted to violence, this was sharply condemned and struggled against by the Maoist revolutionary leadership—for instance, in Beijing, workers following Mao's guidance went into the universities to stop factional fighting among students and to help them sort out differences; and c) much of the violence that occurred during the Cultural Revolution was actually fanned by high-ranking capitalist-roaders seeking to defend their entrenched positions.
This Sixteen-Point Decision was not some narrowly circulated inner-party directive that has somehow escaped the notice of our brilliant academic scholars. It was, in fact, put out to all of China as guidance as to the aims, objectives, and methods of this revolution!
The Cultural Revolution accomplished amazing and unprecedented things.
*We're told that Mao was anti-education and anti-intellectual. It's a lie.
How many of you know that during the Cultural Revolution middle-school enrollment in the countryside rose from 14 to 58 million?23 Or that worker and peasant enrollment in the universities soared? The reason Mao is branded "anti-education" is that the Cultural Revolution challenged the bourgeois-elitist idea that education is a ladder for individuals to "get ahead," or a way to use skills and knowledge to gain advantageous position over others.
This was not anti-intellectualism, but rather a question of putting knowledge in the service of a society that was breaking down social inequalities. The old curriculum was overhauled in the universities. Study was combined with productive labor. The old teaching methods of viewing students as passive receptacles of knowledge and teachers and instructors as absolute authorities were criticized.
*We're told Mao did not care about human life. It's a lie.
China, a relatively backward country, achieved something that the richest country in the world, the U.S., has not been able to do: provide universal health care. As a result of the Cultural Revolution, a health system was established that reached and addressed the needs of China's peasants in the countryside who made up 80 percent of China's population.
In a little more than a decade after the seizure of power in 1949, the revolution was able to overcome epidemic diseases like small pox and cholera. Mass campaigns were launched to tackle opium addiction.24 And along with mass mobilization, there was mass education. This was a very important and defining feature of health care in socialist China: to maximize community participation and grass roots awareness and responsibility over health issues and concerns. There was both centralized allocation of needed health resources and a tremendous amount of decentralization.25
One of the most exciting developments of the Cultural Revolution was what was called the "barefoot doctor" movement. These were young peasants and urban youth sent to the countryside who were quickly trained in basic health care and medicine geared to meet local needs and who were capable of treating the most common illnesses. In 1975, there were 1.3 million of these "barefoot doctors."26
The results were astounding. Life expectancy under Mao doubled from 32 years in 1949 to 65 years in 1976.27 Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, made a calculation: if India had the same heath care system as China did under Mao, then 4 million fewer people would have died in India in a given sample year. That works out to a total of some 100 million needless deaths in India from the time of independence in 1947 to 1979.28
Tell me about which economic-social system values human life...and which doesn't.
Now people say that communism can’t work because it goes against human nature...that people are selfish and will only look out for themselves...that people won’t have any incentive to work if they’re not allowed to compete to get ahead of others. These are not scientific statements about an unchanging human nature. They are statements about human nature under capitalism, about how people are conditioned to think and act in THIS society.
Capitalism produces and requires a certain mind-set: me-first, winner-take-all, greed is good. And this outlook and these values stamp everything, every institution and every relation in society. People have to compete for jobs, for housing, for places in the educational system. They even have to compete and perfect themselves in the “marketplace” of human relationships. Is it any surprise, then, that people are indifferent, callous, and even cruel to each other in such a society?
This is what socialism, what socialist revolution, changes. It opens up a whole new realm of freedom for people to change their circumstances and their thinking. This is what happened during the Cultural Revolution.
In China during the Cultural Revolution, there was an economic system based on using resources for the benefit of society and the world revolution. There were new social relations and institutions that enabled people to cooperate with each other and to maximize the contributions that people can make towards a liberating society and the emancipation of humanity. The educational system promoted values of serving the people, using knowledge not for individual self-aggrandizement but for the betterment of society and humanity. During the Cultural Revolution, people were measuring their lives and the actions of others through the moral lens of “serve the people.”
You can read interviews and books by scholars like Dongping Han, Bai Di, and Mobo Gao. These authors grew up during the Cultural Revolution and took part in it—and they write about what it was like coming of age in the social environment of the Cultural Revolution, what it meant for there to be a social framework that valued cooperation and solidarity. They talk about how this affected their attitudes towards other people, their sense of social responsibility, and how the Cultural Revolution influenced what they felt was important and meaningful in life.29
Again, I am not talking about some kind of utopia, and I am not saying everything was done right in Maoist China. But people did change—because socialist society creates this new framework that makes it possible for people to consciously change themselves.
And when capitalism was restored in China in 1976, and the old dog-eat-dog economic relations brought back, people changed again: back towards the old “me against you,” “everyone for him- or herself” outlook. People changed not because a primordial human nature had somehow reasserted itself, but because society had changed back to capitalism.
The Cultural Revolution Mao initiated in 1966 was defeated in 1976. Following Mao's death, a core of capitalist-roaders launched a military coup. They arrested Mao's closest comrades and killed thousands. These counter-revolutionary forces instituted capitalism, while maintaining a certain socialist camouflage.
How could this happen? For one thing, the Cultural Revolution was bitterly opposed by powerful neo-capitalist forces who occupied leading positions in Chinese society: in the Communist Party, in the government, and in the military. These forces, Mao had pointed out, were part of a social-historical phenomenon of the Chinese revolution: they were "bourgeois democrats" who had evolved into "capitalist roaders." Let me explain.
China had been a nation subjugated by imperialism. It was a society kept backward and poor by feudalism. For many who had joined the Communist Party before the seizure of power in 1949, the Chinese revolution was in essence about breaking the grip of imperialism and turning China into a modern, industrialized society. And once the revolution succeeded in driving out imperialism, these forces, many now in leading positions, saw the task before the revolution as building up China's economic power—by whatever methods promised the most efficient results. These "bourgeois democrats" turned "capitalist roaders" were powerful and had a great deal of influence.
But that was not all. Revolutionary China faced enormous international pressures. The Soviet Union, which was no longer a socialist country in the 1960s and '70s, was threatening war, even nuclear strikes, against socialist China. This strengthened the conservative forces within the party. They claimed that the ferment and innovation of the Cultural Revolution were too risky, that it was time to put a stop to the Cultural Revolution—and that all must be focused on defense, stability, and rapid modernization. And they organized and mobilized social forces around this agenda.
Beyond these more immediate concrete factors—at a deeper level, there is the fact that socialist revolution is going up against thousands of years of master-slave relations, tradition, and the ideological force of habit, like people deferring to authority and convention.
It is these objective factors—the strength of counter-revolution and the monumental challenges of transforming class-divided society—that mainly account for the defeat of socialism in China in 1976. But the defeat was also conditioned, though secondarily, by some mistakes in orientation and conception on the part of Mao and the revolutionaries.
To get into this, we need to understand that an event of these world-historic proportions—the defeat of a truly transformative revolution that spanned 27 years in a country of almost a billion people—required a serious analysis. And the only person on this planet who analyzed what had happened in China from the standpoint of: why the revolution had been defeated, its implications, and how we have to not only build on the unprecedented, liberating experience of the Cultural Revolution but also learn from its problems and go beyond it in initiating a new stage of communist revolution... this was Bob Avakian.
This brings me to the last part of my talk: how Bob Avakian's new synthesis of communism enables humanity to go further and do better in making communist revolution in today's world.
Bob Avakian has argued that we not only have to uphold the great victories of the first wave of socialist revolution. We also have to air and get into their problems. We have to understand more deeply where these revolutions came up short, and how we can do better. We have to unsparingly interrogate the experience of proletarian revolution, not just the mistakes and negative features but also its high points and breakthroughs. Not just because we're not scared of the truth, but because we thirst for the truth.
In discussing all of this, I am applying insights from works of Avakian such as Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy and "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity."30
Bob Avakian has examined the Soviet experience and the experience of the Cultural Revolution deeply.
In the Soviet Union in the late 1930s, as danger of attack from Germany was growing and society was mobilizing for war, political and intellectual life grew increasingly restrictive and ossified.31
During the Cultural Revolution in China, many artists and intellectuals were not able to pursue their work. There were revolutionary model works, which were wonderful things. There was a flourishing of the arts among workers and peasants, who had previously been locked out of these spheres as they are in capitalist society. But there was a problem of a single-minded focus on developing model revolutionary works and enabling the masses to take up art—this to the exclusion of much else. There was too tight a hand.32
We have to do better.
Let's be clear: the achievement of socialist state power is a great thing. To allow counter-revolution to capture power would be a betrayal not just of the sacrifices of the masses who make revolution but of the hopes of the whole world.
The revolution must keep a firm grip on that power AND must also make sure that that power must be worth maintaining: it must be truly revolutionary and emancipatory. A new state power and the overall leadership of a vanguard party are indispensable to bringing a new world into being.
Avakian is saying that there must be a "solid core" in socialist society—a "solid core" rooted in the principle of achieving communism and emancipating all of humanity, and maintaining power on that basis. This is essential to really be on the road to getting to a society where there is no longer need for any institutionalized leadership.
On the basis of this solid core, there must also be "maximum elasticity": ferment and contestation, things churning, new and unexpected things "bubbling up" in society. Leadership must be learning from all of this while giving this overall direction, so that this elasticity can contribute to the rich process of getting to communism.
This is a breakthrough in understanding and vision. It requires that leadership be exercised in ways that are, in certain important and crucial respects, different from the understanding and practice of previous socialist societies.
Revolution must set the terms. But that cannot come at the cost of inhibiting dissent, or stifling the richness of individual expression, or putting a halter on the vast middle strata of society. We have learned that you cannot get to communism if society is not sprung into the air, if there is not a profound interplay of experience and discovery and insight, opening new pathways of change.
Bob Avakian has forged new understanding and new appreciation of the vital role of intellectual work and intellectual ferment in socialist society. This has to be happening on a scale that is unimaginable in capitalist society. At the same time that you are working to overcome a situation where only a relative handful of people can engage in the realm of “working with ideas” you must also be giving scope and space to intellectuals, artists, and scientists.
Now there are attitudes and values on the part of intellectuals—attitudes stemming from their relatively privileged position and relative separation from the masses in class society—that must be struggled with. But everyone in society, including those on the bottom, is influenced by bourgeois ideology, and this too must be struggled with. Everyone’s thinking, whether we are talking about workers who may be either deferential to or resentful of intellectuals, or intellectuals and professionals who may look down on the masses...everybody’s thinking must be transformed. This is part of becoming emancipators of humanity.
Handling all of this correctly is a great challenge. Because, again, the communist revolution is aiming to overcome the oppressive social division of labor of class society—but going at this with the understanding that intellectual and scientific ferment are essential to the search for the truth, to adding to the store of human knowledge, to enabling the masses of people to know the world more deeply so it can be transformed more profoundly.
There is something else. The probing and questing character of intellectual activity can contribute to the dynamism and to the critical and exploratory spirit that must permeate socialist society. This is all part of the process of uncovering and struggling over the problems and defects in society. Such ferment contributes to the atmosphere where the policies, structures, direction, and leadership of society are being debated and interrogated throughout society.
Now, socialist society will be promoting Marxism. But Marxism cannot be imposed as an “official ideology” that people have to agree with as part of becoming full members of society. This has been a problem in previous socialist societies. Marxism must be promoted in an atmosphere in which it is interacting and engaging with other intellectual currents and discourses, and actually being enriched through this. And people ultimately have to come to Marxism themselves.
This model of socialist society that Avakian is bringing forward attaches great importance to the need not just to allow but to foster dissent, protest, and contestation in socialist society. Socialism must be pulsing with discovery and upheaval. You can’t have that if you are tightly controlling things, if people are looking over their shoulders, or “watching what they say” for fear of being wrong.
People often ask, “You advocate protest today, but what about the universities under socialism, but will there be student movements and protests?” The answer is “yes, and then some!” The universities in socialist society must be seething with far-ranging intellectual debate and dissent, with protest and with contestation which will, yes, lead to disruption. We’re talking about a society that teems with debate and protest far beyond what exists in capitalist society.
You know, as part of this speaking tour, I issued an open letter and challenge to debate to Jeffrey Sachs. He teaches at Columbia and is an avid advocate of what he considers to be “socially conscious” capitalism. He vigorously opposes communism and sees markets as ensuring freedom. Well, people like Jeffrey Sachs, or social critics like Naomi Klein, and the Roderick MacFarquhars, must and will have the ability to articulate, disseminate, and defend their views widely in socialist society. There will be great debate in society about these views as part of the struggle to understand and change the world. We will not get to communism without this kind of ferment.
Let me move on to another aspect of this new synthesis. In summing up the experience of socialist revolution in the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, and in China under Mao, Avakian has pointed to a particular problem. Yes, it is crucial and necessary for socialist society to have real focuses—from waging struggle to liberate women from the bonds of patriarchy to dealing urgently with the environmental crisis. Yes, it is crucial and necessary for leadership to be developing policies and winning people to see the need to keep things going in an overall direction towards communism, and waging determined struggles to keep the revolution going forward.
But this too has to be understood in a new way. Yes, socialist society must be moving forward in an overall sense towards communism. But people also have to be able to pursue their own visions. They have to be able to strike out in all kinds of diverse and creative ways—whether we are talking about artists and scientists, or the masses of people.
This is not a detour from creating a new and liberating world. This “elasticity” is an essential part of the dynamic of getting to that world. People can only arrive at a truer understanding of society through the fullest possible debate to thrash out right and wrong, and to themselves experiment, discover new things, make mistakes, and be able to reflect and relax.
Now this is another great challenge that is full of risks. You have to be not only allowing but encouraging things to go in all kinds of wild and unexpected directions; but you also have to be doing so without losing your priorities, and without losing power. Make no mistake about it, the imperialists and counter-revolutionaries will try to restore the old order. There is the reality of counterrevolution, of active and organized attempts to sabotage and overthrow the new society. But there is also the reality that you are not going to get to communism unless society is pulsing with ferment and experimentation, dissent, and protest. The Constitution and legal framework of socialist society must reflect that understanding and make the necessary distinctions.
What this new synthesis is underscoring is that intellectual ferment and dissent not only contribute to new and deeper understanding of society, not only contribute to opening up those new pathways to a society without classes, but also, and critically, are vital to the process of enhancing the capacity of people to more consciously and more voluntarily change society and themselves.
I have spoken about the experience of communist revolution in the 20th century and about Bob Avakian's new synthesis of communism. The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA has been applying this new synthesis. It's been doing work on how a new socialist society, achieved on the basis of making a revolution that overturns this system, would tackle major social questions.
Let's take the crucial problem of racism and the oppression of Black, Latino, and other minority nationalities in this society.
The police forces that today degrade and brutalize young people and masses in the ghettos and barrios would be immediately dismantled. The new state would establish new security forces that both protect the rights and interests of the masses of people and that help the people to resolve contradictions and disputes non-antagonistically—without resorting to violence.
The new revolutionary state would take over the factories, land and mines, machinery and technology. A new socialist economy would utilize these means of production to develop an economy to meet the needs of the people, safeguard the ecosystems of the planet, and promote world revolution.
Right away, the revolutionary state would channel economic and social resources into the former ghettos and barrios. It would bring together people in the communities with specialists like architects, state planners, and environmental scientists. People would be debating and figuring out what kinds of housing, recreational facilities, and health clinics are needed.
The youth would not only have jobs, but meaningful jobs that would make a difference in the lives of the communities and in society overall. Society would be mobilizing middle-class professionals, who also have a desire to do something meaningful with their lives and who have skills to share. People would be learning from each other in the context of transforming society. People would be forging new cooperative relations, and carrying on debate and waging ideological struggle over the direction of society.
The new socialist state would immediately outlaw segregation in housing and the apartheid-like system of education in the U.S. and promote integration throughout society. The new society would foster exchanges of experiences and ideas among different sections of people—like Latinos and Blacks.
At the same time, the new socialist state would uphold the right of self-determination for African-Americans, that is, the right to form an independent state. The new society would also make possible forms of self-government and autonomy for African-Americans, Chicanos, Native Americans, and other formerly oppressed nationalities—and provide the resources to make this real and vibrant. The educational system and media would be combating racist and white supremacist ideas and hurtful myths.
The revolutionary state would give initiative and support to people taking on the still-existing racist ideas and ways that influence how people relate to each other and that perpetuate inequality. The arts and the media and the educational system would be giving voice and expression to a rich cultural diversity—in an atmosphere that brings out human community.
Bob Avakian has pointed out that socialist society will be teeming with "unresolved contradictions." There are still tremendous social struggles and ideological battles to wage to overcome patriarchy and the legacy of the oppression of minority nationalities. There are the still-existing social differences between professionals and intellectuals and those who are mainly working with their hands...still the need to use money...still gaps in development between regions.
These still-existing differences and contradictions will call forth questioning and bring forward new ideas—but also engender dissatisfaction and criticism, and spark struggle and even upheavals. Is this a good or a bad thing? Avakian sees this as nothing less than a driving force for continuing the revolution.
The point is that the world does not have to be the way it is now, and Bob Avakian's new synthesis of communism opens incredibly exciting vistas for making revolution in today's world.
Think about how a socialist economy and a socialist society guided by the kinds of principles I have been talking about could in fact address the environmental emergency we face. Imagine a society that was unleashing creative energies and waging soul-stirring struggle to emancipate women and transform all relations between men and women, interrogating traditional notions of gender—and the very idea of what it means to be a man or woman. Think about how art could flourish throughout such a society, and how a new revolutionary culture, with profound liberatory content and rich formal innovation, could take root in society...while social imagination and artistic experimentation take flight.
The experience of communist revolution and the new synthesis of Bob Avakian are things you need to know about. These are not just interesting historical or philosophical questions. We are not talking about a "more balanced" discussion in the academy. What we are talking about is the fate of the planet and the future of humanity. What we are talking about is historical truth and human possibility.
You have been blocked from knowing about the vital history of communism, the real concepts and real development of communism. You have been prevented from debating these questions in any meaningful way. Everything you've been told about communism is wrong. The verdicts and "conventional wisdom" about communism are a profound obstacle to what is most needed: an emancipatory politics and an emancipatory discourse. But we're changing all of that.
You have now finally been told something about communism that is not wrong. So let's get into it.
1. This analogy is taken from Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2009), p. 18 (revcom.us/Manifesto/Manifesto.html) [back]
2. The Russian Revolution of 1917 had brought political and social emancipation to Jews in a country with a history of virulent anti-semitism and violent anti-Jewish pogroms. Equality of rights for Jews continued under Joseph Stalin during the 1930s and World War 2. By contrast, Jews in Hungary, Romania, and Poland faced organized fascist movements and institutional anti-semitism in the 1930s—and, later, death camps. See Arno Mayer, Why Did The Heavens Not Darken? (New York: Pantheon, 1988), pp. 55-89. [back]
3. At the start of the Cultural Revolution, Mao raised the slogan "it is right to rebel against reactionaries" and called on people to "bombard the headquarters" of capitalist roaders who were carrying out elitist and oppressive policies. Providing resources for posters and newspapers, free use of trains for students, and encouragement in the press were some key ways in which mass criticism and struggle were promoted. See "Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" (Adopted on August 8, 1966), in Important Documents on the Cultural Revolution in China (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1970); also at: www.marxists.org/subject/china/peking-review/1966/PR1966-33g.htm. [back]
5. On nuclear threats and nuclear war planning against Maoist China in the early 1950s, see John Wilson Lewis and Xue Lita, China Builds the Bomb (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), chapters one and two; Rosemary J. Foot, "Nuclear Coercion and the Ending of the Korean Conflict," International Security, Winter 1988/89 (Vol. 13, No. 3); Matthew Jones, "Targeting China: U.S. Nuclear Planning and `Massive Retaliation' in East Asia, 1953-1955," Journal of Cold War Studies, Fall 2008 (Vol. 10, No. 4); and "For Eisenhower, 2 Goals if Bomb Was to Be Used," New York Times, June 8, 1984, and Bernard Gwertzman, "U.S. Papers Tell of '53 Policy to Use A-Bomb in Korea," New York Times, June 8, 1984. [back]
6. On the Bolshevik revolution's approach to and achievements in expanding education to minority nationalities, ensuring equality of languages, and promoting instruction in native languages, see, for example, Jeremy Smith, "The Education of National Minorities: The Early Soviet Experience," Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 75, No. 2 (April 1997). [back]
7. Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), Chapter 40, pp. 426-439. [back]
8. Mao Tsetung, "Talks at the Wuchang Conference, 21-23 November 1958," in Roderick MacFarquhar, Timothy Cheek, and Eugene Wu, eds., The Secret Speeches of Mao Tsetung, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), pp. 494-495. Chang and Halliday use the same Chinese-language source but produce a slightly different translation. [back]
9. Roderick MacFarquhar, Michael Schoenhals, Mao's Last Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), p. 102. [back]
10. ibid., p. 515, endnote 2. [back]
11. Andrew J. Nathan, "The Bloody Enigma," The New Republic, November 30, 2006. The statement attributed to Mao by MacFarquhar is prominently invoked by another "reputable" China scholar in a more recent review-article in the New York Review of Books; see Jonathan Mirsky, "How Reds Smashed Reds," November 11, 2010. [back]
12. This alleged statement by Mao originating in Mao's Last Revolution has since been removed from the Wikipedia entry on the Cultural Revolution. [back]
13. "An Open Letter from Raymond Lotta to Roderick MacFarquhar," Revolution #198, April 11, 2010. [back]
14. Bob Avakian, "Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine and its Anti-Communist Distortions—Unfortunately, No Shock There," Revolution #118, February 3, 2008. [back]
15. Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 2008), p. 20. [back]
18. For a historical-theoretical overview of the Cultural Revolution, see Bob Avakian, Mao Tsetung's Immortal Contributions (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1979), chapters 5-6; and Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, op. cit., II. [back]
19. Jonathan D. Spence and Annping Chin, The Chinese Century (New York: Random House, 1996), p. 84; Fredric M. Kaplan, Julian M. Sobin, Stephen Andors, Encyclopedia of China Today (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), p. 233. [back]
20. On the early phases of the Cultural Revolution, see Jean Daubier, A History of the Cultural Revolution (New York: Vintage, 1974) and Han Suyin, Wind in the Tower (Boston: Little, Brown, 1976), chapters 3-5. [back]
21. On the mass struggles in Shanghai, see Daubier and also Elizabeth J. Perry and Li Xun, Proletarian Power: Shanghai in the Cultural Revolution (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997). For how Mao was summing up mass experiences and giving leadership in the struggle to forge new institutions of power, see 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, Summer-Fall 2009, chapter 6, II. [back]
22. From Point 6 of the "Decision of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution," op. cit., and at: www.marxists.org/subject/china/peking-review/1966/PR1966-33g.htm. [back]
23. Suzanne Pepper, "Chinese Education after Mao," China Quarterly, March 1980 (No. 81), pp. 6-7. For useful studies on the expansion of schooling in the countryside and educational transformation during the Cultural Revolution, see Dongping Han, The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Educational Reforms and Their Impact on China's Rural Development (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000); and Ruth Gamberg, Red and Expert: Education in the People's Republic of China (New York: Schocken, 1977). [back]
24. See Kaplan, et. al., op. cit., p. 233, 242; and C. Clark Kissinger, "How Maoist Revolution Wiped Out Drug Addiction in China," Revolutionary Worker #734, December 5. 1993. [back]
25. Victor W. Sidel and Ruth Sidel, Serve the People: Observations on Medicine in the People's Republic of China (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973), pp. 22-24. [back]
26. Teh-wei Hu, "Health Care Services in China's Economic Development," in Robert F. Dernberger, ed., China's Development Experience in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), pp. 234-238. [back]
27. Penny Kane, The Second Billion (Hammondsworth: Penguin, 1987), p. 172. [back]
28. See Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, Hunger and Public Action (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), pp. 205, 214. Noam Chomsky uses Dreze and Sen's comparative mortality rates to reach this estimate of 100 million needless deaths in India (see "Millennial Visions and Selective Vision, Part One," Z Magazine, January 10, 2000). [back]
29. See, Bai Di, “Growing Up in Revolutionary China,” Interview, Revolution, April 12, 2009, revcom.us/a/161/Bai_Di_interview-en.html; Dongping Han, “The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village,” Interview, Revolution, September 6, 2009, revcom.us/a/175/dongping_han_full_QA-en.html; Mobo Gao, Gao Village (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999). [back]
30. Bob Avakian, Observations on Art and Culture, Science and Philosophy (Chicago: Insight Press, 2005); "Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity," in Revolution and Communism: A Foundation and Strategic Orientation (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2008). [back]
31. "On Communism, Leadership, Stalin, and the Experience of Socialist Society," Revolution, June 21, 2009. Audio available at bobavakian.net. [back]
32. See Bob Avakian, "The Cultural Revolution in China...Art and Culture...Dissent and Ferment...and Carrying Forward the Revolution Toward Communism," Revolution, February 19, 2012. [back]
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
March 6, Harvard University:
From the Egyptian uprising to Occupy, 2011 witnessed a fresh wind of resistance against injustice and inequality across the globe and posed big questions about the nature and direction of U.S. society and whether (and how) a better world can be brought into being.
Can ending the political, economic, and cultural domination of society by a super-rich elite class be achieved through a radical reworking of the current political system, framed by and grounded in the existing Constitution of the United States? Or will it require a revolution that actually defeats this ruling class and establishes a whole new economic and political order?
Two provocative thinkers—one an articulate voice of social justice and human rights, the other of revolution and communism—come together to explore this and other questions of radical change in today's world.
BE PART OF THE DIALOGUE AND DEBATE, JOIN IN THIS IMPORTANT DISCUSSION
Tim McCarthy, director of the Sexuality, Gender, and Human Rights Program at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, writes and lectures about the role of dissent in U.S. history.
Raymond Lotta is a political economist who advocates for Bob Avakian's new synthesis of communism. He has given talks at Occupy Wall Street (see "Are Corporations Corrupting the System... Or is the Problem the System of Capitalism?") and has been speaking on the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal).
For further information call (617) 309 0767.
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
The Illinois Appellate Court issued a notice this past week that it will not hold oral arguments in the case of Gregory, who was the target of a politically driven prosecution for videotaping a peaceful political statement by Sunsara Taylor at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago. (For background, see "A Grave Injustice Has Been Perpetrated... Free Gregory! No Jail Time!" and "Judge Slams Videographer with 300 Days in Jail.")
Gregory’s attorney, Jed Stone, had asked for oral arguments, but it’s up to the Court to decide. And the Court notified Stone that they are “of the opinion that oral argument is not necessary.” This means that a decision could be issued at any time.
After serving nearly two months of his unjust and completely unwarranted 300-day sentence, Gregory was granted bond and released from jail (See "NEWS FLASH: Illinois Appellate Court Grants Bond Pending Appeal for Gregory.") In releasing Gregory on appeal bond, the Court acknowledged the fact that he is not a flight risk, that he is not a "danger to the community," and furthermore, that his appeal raises substantial questions of law or fact "likely to result in reversal or a new trial."
Keep checking back here—we will post news as we receive it.
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
A Talk by Carl Dix
Mass Incarceration — Its Source, The Need to Resist Where Things Are Heading and The Revolution We Need!
Carl Dix says, “All this comes down to a slow genocide which could easily accelerate.”
Dix will break all this down and speak to where things are headed if action is not taken. And he will talk about “what kind of revolution is needed to eliminate mass incarceration and all the brutality and misery this capitalist system enforces on humanity once and for all.”
Carl Dix is a longtime revolutionary and a founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party. In 1970, he was part of the largest mass refusal of U.S. soldiers to go to Vietnam. In 1996, he co-founded the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality. In 2006, he coordinated the Katrina Hearings of the Bush Crimes Commission. Recently he participated in a series of dialogues with Cornel West under the theme: “In the Age of Obama: Police Terror; Incarceration; No Jobs; Mis-Education... What Future for Our Youth?” In 2011, he co-issued a call for a campaign of civil disobedience to STOP “Stop & Frisk.”
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
May 9, 2016, originally published February 19, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Editors’ Note: In this issue we are reprinting part of an interview with Bob Avakian, this one conducted in 2004. It originally aired on Michael Slate’s Beneath the Surface show on KPFK radio in Los Angeles, on July 29, 2005. In publishing it here, some editing has been done, particularly for clarity. In some places brief explanatory passages have been added within brackets. Subheads have also been added.
MS: Let’s dig into the Cultural Revolution [in China, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s]. You led communists around the world in fighting to understand what the significance of the Cultural Revolution was, and to uphold it as a dividing line question, and to see it as the highest point of class struggle in human history, the greatest height the class struggle’s gotten to in human history. That’s not exactly—in terms of conventional wisdom today, that’s not exactly what you find on the bookstore shelf. You can find 70 books about how—and you can hear people who are 32 years old talking about how—the Cultural Revolution destroyed their careers, and they had remarkable careers when they were like two years old. But it’s had an impact on people. It’s had a big impact on people.
You had musicians who once were major supporters of the Cultural Revolution who now listen to these stories from people, from artists coming out of China, for instance, and saying, “I was misled. I didn’t understand everything that went on because I didn’t understand the suffering that people have.” Or you have these popular cultural forms, The Red Violin, for god’s sake: a movie that had nothing to do with China, but there was this one scene in it where they had to show the Red Guards banging down doors and pulling people out of their houses, searching for this red violin that they needed to smash. And it was this symbol of artistic freedom and creativity.
Or you had Farewell My Concubine, which was a big, big movie among—I know a lot of my friends, a lot of artists and intellectuals who went to see that film two, three times, and really looked at it as a sign of what was wrong, and how the Cultural Revolution was not an advance for humanity, but something that was actually part of suppression, and particularly suppression of intellectuals and artists.
I wanted to ask you about that—let’s talk a little about the question of intellectual freedom. And I think it’s tied up with the question of dissent, but we can get into that separately. But I think actually this idea of—what you’ve been saying all along, and one of the reasons I asked you about this question about the Party and everything else in terms of people starting to settle in, and that kind of thing—is that you had talked earlier about the need for really just a totally, tremendously creative surge among the people and in the Party and among communists, this constant creative application, and then that Marxism itself is a science that actually, in a living form, really does do that. When you were saying that, I was just thinking, you know, it’s so refreshing to hear this thing because it invigorates you with a sense of like, you know, [what] our science really is—it unleashes the greatest creativity, when you grasp it, it unleashes the greatest creativity possible.
Street scene in China before the revolution
But there’s this common, or this conventional wisdom that actually—here’s this crucial development in the class struggle, this crucial development of the science of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and yet it’s portrayed as this sort of thing that was the suppression of artistic and intellectual freedom.
BA: Well, once again, I hate to sound like a broken record, but this is a complex question and a complex problem that the Cultural Revolution was seeking to address, and was addressing. And once more you have to situate this in what was occurring in the development of the Chinese Revolution, and not come at it from the way all too many people do in this society. They don’t understand the actual dynamics—why these revolutions were necessary in the first place, what they arose out of, and what were the contradictions they faced when they emerged. And some people have some sense of, OK in China people were poor. If you have read those Pearl Buck novels, you know, people of our generation, where you get a sense about the terrible life of the peasants, and you can understand why people would want to cast off that oppression, and so on. But a lot of people are even ignorant of that, especially now. They have no real sense of what China was like, and why a revolution was needed, and how that revolution had to take place.
Foot binding was the custom of breaking the arch of the foot and the toes of a young girl (between the ages of two and six) and then binding each foot painfully tight to prevent further growth. This was practiced mainly among the wealthier classes. The tiny narrow feet were considered beautiful and to make a woman's movements more feminine and dainty.
Bound feet rendered women dependent on their families, particularly the men in their families. When the revolution succeeded in 1949 and the new society was established, foot binding was outlawed as a step towards liberating women.
So that’s one problem. But not only did they have to overcome the whole daunting prospect, or reality rather, of imperialist domination and carving up China, but they also had a whole history of feudalism, of massive exploitation of the peasantry and hundreds of years—or thousands of years, actually—in which the great majority of people were just desperately impoverished and exploited. And they were coming from a society which, because it was dominated by imperialism, and because of the remaining feudalism, was not advanced technologically, or was technologically advanced [only] in a few enclaves. But then the vast part of the country and the people who lived in it were mired in a lot of enforced backwardness.
So you’re coming from that, and you’re trying to make leaps in terms of overcoming the poverty and the oppression of the masses of people. And you come to power, in 1949, and right away, within a year, you’re thrust into a war with the U.S. in Korea—a war in which MacArthur is saying: let’s take the war to China. That was his big dispute with Truman. Let’s take the war to China. Let’s go right to China and cross the border. Not just go near the border, but go across the border, and roll back the Chinese revolution.1
And so right away, you barely have time to celebrate and consolidate your victory, and you’re thrust into this battle with this powerful imperialist force right at your doorstep, literally. And then you fight the U.S. to a standstill, and in effect defeat it—because, in terms of its objectives in Korea, once the U.S. entered the war, they were thwarted in those, in large part because of the involvement of the Chinese in that [war].
So here you are. Now you’re trying to take this country that’s poor and backward, has been dominated by imperialism—you have the situation where [there was] the famous sign in a park in Shanghai, “No dogs or Chinese allowed.” This is just a stark way of expressing what their life was like, even in the urban areas, even if you were among the more educated classes, for example. So what you were referring to earlier—a lot of people did either go back to China [after the victory of the revolution in 1949], or a lot of people in China, intellectuals and others, were very enthusiastic about the new society that was being brought into being, because it was going to overcome this whole situation where China was held down and carved up by different imperialists and the Chinese people and the Chinese nation was going to be able to stand up on its feet and not be run roughshod over and lorded over by these foreign powers, and so on.
But within that there’s also a contradiction, that a lot of people are—it’s sort of captured in Mao’s thing that “Only socialism can save China.” What I’m trying to get at—this is a contradictory statement actually, because he’s saying that without taking the socialist road, China cannot get out from underneath the poverty and the domination by imperialism, and so that’s the only road for China. Which means that a lot of people—the reason I say it’s contradictory is it means a lot of people who were not really won to the communist vision will support the revolution and will even support going on the socialist road because it is true that objectively there’s no other way that the backwardness and domination by imperialism can be ended.
On the one side, there’s obviously a positive aspect to that. You get a lot of people, including in the more bourgeois strata, who are enthusiastic about the socialist road because it does represent the way out for China. But, on the other side of it, they’re coming at it from more like a nationalist point of view, or a more bourgeois point of view. They want China to take its rightful place in the world—and they don’t want it to be stepped on by foreigners, and so on—which is certainly legitimate, and something you can unite with. But it’s contradictory.
And that phenomenon existed, not only outside the Party, but to a very large degree inside the Party in China. A lot of people joined the Communist Party in China for those kinds of reasons. And they had not necessarily become fully, ideologically communists in their outlook, and really being guided by the whole idea of getting to a communist world—and internationalism, of doing it as part of the whole world revolution and sacrificing for that world revolution when necessary—but more from the point of view: this is the only way China can stand on its feet and take its rightful place in the world. Well, a lot of those people were in the Party for a long time. A lot of them were veterans of the Long March and made heroic sacrifices, but never really ruptured completely to the communist viewpoint, which certainly encompasses the idea that China should throw off foreign domination and the poverty and backwardness of the countryside and feudalism, but is much more than that, and it goes way beyond that.
So this is one of the problems, the contradictions that were existing within and characterizing the struggle within the Chinese Communist Party right from the beginning. And then there’s a whole other dimension to it, which is that everybody has the birthmarks of the womb they emerge out of, so to speak. And that was true of China in terms of the world and of the Chinese Revolution. The new society emerged out of the old one in China, and carried the birthmarks of that, the inequalities and so on.
BA continues: But it was true in another important dimension, too, which is that the Chinese Revolution was made as part of the international communist movement, in which the Soviet Union was the model of how you made revolution and how you build socialism. Well, it’s interesting—here’s another contradiction: Mao broke with part of that. In order to make the revolution in China, they had to break with the Soviet model, which was the idea that you centered in the cities, based in the working class, and took power in the cities and then you spread it to the countryside.
The Chinese approach to it that Mao forged, after a lot of defeats and some serious setbacks and bloodshed and bloodbaths that they suffered trying to do it in the cities and being crushed by the forces of the central government, or Chiang Kai-shek’s forces,2 was to finally do it the opposite way—to say we have to come from the countryside: because it’s a backward country, we can start up guerrilla war in the countryside, where most of the people live, and advance to finally taking the cities. So that was the opposite of how they did it in Russia. Now, it’s true that in Russia the majority of people lived in the countryside, but it was a different kind of society than China. And they didn’t really have the possibility of waging guerrilla warfare from the countryside in Russia the same way that they did in China. So right there, Mao had to break with the Soviet model and forge a new model of how you make revolution in China and in countries more generally like China.
But then, when they got to actually—OK, here we are, we’re in power, now we’re going to build socialism—the Soviet Union existed, it was offering them a certain amount of support and material assistance in doing it. And they didn’t have any other model. And they didn’t right away recognize that the model of the Soviet Union first of all had problems in it anyway, and second of all wasn’t necessarily suited to the concrete conditions of China. So the emphasis the Soviet Union under Stalin put on developing heavy industry, you know, to the disadvantage of agriculture and so on, was an even bigger problem for China than it was in the Soviet Union, although it caused real problems there.3 So at a certain point, Mao once again, as he did in making the revolution in the first place, comes up against the realization, after maybe a decade or so of experience in trying to build socialism in China, that this Soviet model has a lot of problems with it. You know, its over-emphasis on heavy industry. That’s not the way we’re going to actually get the peasantry to be on the socialist road, by sacrificing everything just to one-sidedly develop heavy industry, and so on.
Communal dining room in a people's commune during the Great Leap Forward, 1959. People's communes were a new thing that, under communist leadership, brought together millions of peasants to collectively work the land and transform relations between and among people.
So Mao was trying to break out of this model. And that’s really what the much-maligned Great Leap Forward was about.4 Plus the Soviets, once Mao did try to break out of this model and not be under the wing of the Soviets, turned against him, supported people in the Chinese Party who wanted, if not to overthrow him, then force him to go back under the Soviet model and Soviet domination, in effect, and [the Soviets] pulled out their assistance, their blueprints, their technical aid, and so on, right when the Chinese are trying to make a leap in their economy.
So Mao is trying to forge this road in China for socialism, just as he did before, for the road for actually getting power. Now they have power. He’s trying to forge a different road for socialism. But he’s up against not only the Soviet Union but a significant section of the Chinese Party. On the one hand, a lot of them really didn’t break out of the—as Marx said, they really didn’t get beyond the horizon of bourgeois right. They really were still thinking in terms of just—as Deng Xiaoping openly implemented after he came to power—how do we make China a powerful country, even if it means doing it with capitalism? And they weren’t really thinking about how to get to communism as part of the whole world struggle. So you have that phenomenon. And then you have the phenomenon that a lot of the people, to the degree that they are trying to build socialism, are doing it with the Soviet model, and with the methods the Soviet Union used (which we talked about somewhat) as the way you go about doing this. And Mao is trying to figure out how to break out of this, and how to actually have a socialism that much more brings the masses consciously into the process. Mao criticized Stalin, for example, when, in the early ’60s, he was commenting on some of Stalin’s writings about socialism—he said Stalin talks too much about technique and technical things and not enough about the masses; and he talks too much about the cadre and the administrators, and the technical personnel, and not the masses and not enough about consciousness.
So in those ways, too, he was trying to fight for a different model of socialism that would really bring the masses much more consciously into the process. And then, on top of that, the educational system, the culture—all that superstructure, as we describe it—was really unchanged from the old society. A lot of people, even in the Communist Party, didn’t see the problem with the traditional Chinese culture, even though it had a feudal content to it, to a very significant degree, and even though it sort of uncritically repeated or adopted things that came from these imperialist countries that had dominated China. So Mao was saying: how do we break out of this mold that’s not really going to lead us to where we need to go in terms of building socialism in China?
He’s up against people who are not really that much motivated by transforming the whole society, you know, in terms of getting rid of all the unequal relations and oppressive divisions, but just want to build up a powerful country. He’s up against people who, to the degree they even do think about that, are thinking of it in the terms of what the Soviet Union under Stalin had done (and the Soviet Union under Khrushchev5 was modifying but still carrying forward some aspects of it in terms of this way to build the economy). And he’s up against a whole culture and superstructure that’s still reinforcing the old relations from the past. And he tries various methods.
I’m saying “Mao.” It’s not just him all by himself, but to a significant degree, to be honest, it was him by himself. Because not that many other people in the leadership of the Party even recognized these contradictions and saw that it was going to take them somewhere other than [where] they wanted to go, and ultimately back to a form of capitalism. So to a significant degree, although there were some few others in the leadership, mainly there weren’t. It was mainly Mao who was the one who was saying: We have to break through and do something different here.
And he tried things like initiating socialist education movements, that through the channels of the Party would raise the sights of the Party members and the masses more broadly as to why they needed to build socialism in China, and what that meant, and what that had to do with transforming the economic relations of people in production, and the social relations between men and women and various other important social inequalities that needed to be overcome, and the political structures and the culture. But that only got so far, and really didn’t get to the heart or the root of the problem: that there were all these forces taking China back toward capitalism, even if in a slightly different form, a combination of copying what was done in the imperialist countries, and what had been done in the Soviet Union—which, in the conditions of China, repeating that would have led back to capitalism, as Mao was increasingly recognizing.
University students in Peking posting big character posters, a form of mass democracy through which the people could express their views on major economic, social, political and cultural issues.
So all this is the backdrop—the reason I’m going into this much detail—this is the backdrop for why the Cultural Revolution was necessary. And Mao said, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution: we tried various ways to solve this problem, that we were being taken back down the road to capitalism. I mean, the Soviet system—part of Mao’s criticism was it also involved things like one-man management in the factories, instead of really bringing the workers increasingly into administrative and other, similar tasks, and into the development of technology, and the planning of technology, the planning of production. They just basically froze in place the old relations, within the framework of state ownership, and they basically reproduced the same relations in that framework. That was a big problem with the Soviet model of socialism. Mao was increasingly recognizing this. And they [the Soviets] were doing other things that are familiar in capitalist society, like motivating people with piecework and bonuses, rather than trying to motivate them ideologically to want to raise production in order to advance the revolution in China and support the revolution worldwide.
So Mao’s saying: We have to sweep away this stuff, but we’ve tried doing it through the channels of the Party, through things like socialist education movements, and they haven’t really worked, because the way the Party is structured and the way that the leadership of the Party—most of the leadership of the Party conceives of socialism just in a way that’s actually going to lead away from socialism. So if we just do it through the channels of the Party, it’s just going to end up going nowhere, or end up ironically reinforcing what we’ve already got. We need something radically different to rupture out of this—to transform what’s going on in the economy, to transform what’s going on in terms of how the actual decision-making goes on in the society, transform the culture and the thinking of the people. So this is finally—Mao said finally we found the form in the Cultural Revolution, a form through which, as he put it, the masses could expose and criticize our dark aspect, our negative side, in a mass way and from below.
BA continues: And that’s really what they were setting out to do with the Cultural Revolution, which is—the reason I’m going into all of this background is that Mao was trying [to deal with] a really tremendously challenging, difficult thing: to rupture them off one road, really, onto another. Even though the society was still, in an overall sense, socialist, it was very rapidly heading back to capitalism because of all the pulls I’m talking about. And Mao recognized: unless we rupture it somewhere else, the process of attrition, almost, is going to wear us down back to the capitalist road.
So all that is what he was really setting out to do, and he recognized that in doing this, you can’t rely on the same channels of the Party that are sort of sclerotic and frozen in these old ways of seeing what this is all about, with this bourgeois idea of just getting China to be a powerful country playing its own rightful role in the world—and, to the degree that anybody thinks about socialism, it’s the Soviet model, which has a lot of things in it that are actually carryovers from capitalism.
So you’re not just going to be able to go through the channels of the Party to solve this problem, Mao recognized. So we have to have some upheaval that comes, as he said, from below, and in a mass way. And that’s where the whole phenomenon of the youth—who are often the force that’s willing to criticize and challenge everything, and is not just stuck in convention. They were unleashed—you know, the Red Guards—to actually challenge this whole direction, including to challenge the Party leaders and Party structures that were the machinery for carrying things in this direction that Mao recognized would go back to capitalism, for all the combination of reasons that I’m discussing. So that’s really what they were trying to accomplish, and they were trying to make changes in the way society was administered, to draw the masses in; changes in how, for example, health care was done so that it wasn’t only for the city and only for the better-off strata, but was spread out to the countryside where the masses had never had health care. All these were issues that were bitterly fought out in the Cultural Revolution.
And the culture began to put the masses of people—but, more importantly, revolutionary content—onto the stage, instead of old feudal themes, and emperors and various upper-class figures like that as the heroes.
BA continues: So this was what they set out to do. And I think a lot of these horror stories that we hear about from the Cultural Revolution—I think that there’s some reality to what people describe—there were excesses. But they [these horror stories] also reflect a very myopic view where a small, more privileged section of society raises its concerns and needs above the larger thing that was happening to the masses of people in the society as a whole. I mean, I’ve made this analogy. Some people complain: well, intellectuals were made to go to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution; but nobody ever asked the peasants, who made up 80 or 90 percent of the population, whether they wanted to be in the countryside. It was just assumed they would be there, producing the food and the materials for clothes and so on, while other people were in the cities, having a more privileged existence, especially if they were from these strata other than the proletariat.
So that’s one side of the picture. I think that there were excesses. I mean, Mao commented on a peasant rebellion that he went to investigate in China during the 1920s, at the beginning of the revolutionary process, and he made this statement: the peasants are rising up, challenging all the old authorities and overthrowing them, and some people are saying, oh, it’s terrible, it’s going too far. And he said: look, we basically can either try to get to the head of this and lead it, we can stand to the side and gesticulate at it and criticize it, or we can try to stand in the way and stop it. And he also, along with that, said: if wrongs are going to be righted, there will inevitably be excesses, when the masses rise up to right wrongs, or else the wrongs cannot be righted. If you start pouring cold water and criticizing and trying to tamp things down as soon as there are any excesses, then things never get out of acceptable bounds—and if things don’t get out of acceptable bounds, fundamental changes don’t come about. So the same thing applied in the Cultural Revolution.
There were excesses. Mao said to Edgar Snow, when he was interviewed by him in 1971, that he was very disappointed by some of the excesses that occurred and some of the ways in which people carried out struggle in unprincipled ways. And he was very disappointed that there was factionalism that developed among the Red Guards, instead of uniting people broadly around the broad themes of the Cultural Revolution as I’ve tried to outline them. They got into factional disputes and began to actually war with each other. Sometimes literally with arms over which was the one that was the only revolutionary force and all the others were counter-revolutionary. So you know, while he was disappointed and even expressed his disappointment with some of this, he also recognized that the same principles were at work—that if there weren’t a mass upheaval, you were not going to be able to rupture things off the road they were on, and they would very quickly go back to capitalism, for all the reasons I’ve been trying to point to. But if you did have a mass upsurge, you would have excesses. And then Mao tried to move to correct these excesses.
But it’s not possible—first of all, this isn’t like the caricature they paint, like one person sits here and stage-manages the whole thing and literally presses buttons and controls [everything]. The thing is a mass upsurge. It was a revolutionary struggle. I mean, they did overthrow the established leadership of the city of Shanghai through a million people rising up, and replaced it with a revolutionary headquarters, a revolutionary committee, which brought to the fore and incorporated a lot of the masses who’d risen up in these Red Guard groups, including not just students, but workers in the city, and peasants from the countryside around Shanghai. So it was a real revolution—and real revolutions are not neat and clean.
A women's brigade in a commune pauses to read a big character poster, an announcement in 1969 about the 9th Party Congress, summing up the lessons up to that point of the Cultural Revolution.
They did issue directives that tried to give general guidelines to the struggle—including narrowing the scope of the people that were identified as enemies to a small handful of people in the Party who, as Mao put it, were people in authority taking the capitalist road; that among the intellectuals and in academia, they should draw distinctions between a handful of bourgeois academic tyrants who were trying to lord it over people and impose the old feudal and bourgeois standards, and a larger number of intellectuals who were trained in the old society and had a lot of the outlook from that society, but were people that were friends of the revolution and should be won over, even if there were contradictions there. So Mao put out guidelines to try to deal with his understanding that there would inevitably be excesses.
But it was a massive thing of hundreds of millions of people. And a lot of people jumped into it, and some people deliberately carried it to excess in order to sabotage it. People who were at the top who wanted to deflect the struggle away from themselves and what policies and lines they represented would foment factionalism and would carry things to excess deliberately, in order to discredit it, so that then they could step in and say: see it’s all gotten out of hand, we have to put a stop to it.
So this is all the complexity of that. And I have no doubt that there were people who were wrongly victimized in the Cultural Revolution. It’s almost inevitable in this kind of thing. Which doesn’t mean it’s fine, it’s OK. As I said, Mao was upset about some of these things. But, on another level, if you’re going to have a mass revolution to rupture the society more fully onto the socialist road and prevent capitalism—which is what they did—and even to completely restructure and revolutionize the Party in the course of that—which they also did. They basically suspended the Party and disbanded and then reorganized it on the basis of the masses being involved in criticizing Party members, and even having mass criticism meetings where the Party would be reconstituted, as part of mass meetings where the masses would raise criticisms of the Party and evaluate Party members. This was an unprecedented thing in any society, obviously, but including in socialist society. And a lot of errors were made. So that’s one dimension to it.
The Red Detachment of Women (1964) was one of the most popular model revolutionary operas created during the Cultural Revolution in China. Combining beautiful, stirring music with incredible and innovative ballet—the story takes place in the 1930s during the war of liberation. A young woman slave escapes a brutal landlord and joins a women's detachment of the Red Army. During the Cultural Revolution, the masses of people—but, more importantly, revolutionary content—were projected onto the stage, instead of old feudal themes, and emperors and various upper-class figures like that as the heroes.Works like The Red Detachment of Women were part of developing a new art and culture in socialist society–as part of revolutionizing all of society.
BA continues: Another dimension is, I do think there were some errors of conception and methodology on the part of the people leading this—maybe Mao to some degree, but especially people like Chiang Ching and others who put a tremendous amount of effort into bringing forward these advanced model revolutionary cultural works, which were really world-class achievements in revolutionary content, but also in artistic quality: the ballets, and the Peking operas and so on. But who also I think, had certain tendencies toward rigidity and dogmatism, and who didn’t understand fully the distinction between what goes into, of necessity, creating model cultural works, and what should be broader artistic expression, which might take a lot of diverse forms, and not only could not be, but should not be supervised in the same way and to the same finely-calibrated degree as was necessary in order to bring forward these completely unprecedented model cultural works.
And there needed to be more of a dialectical understanding, I think—and this is tentative thinking on my part, because I haven’t investigated this fully and a lot more needs to be learned, so I want to emphasize that—but I have a tendency to think that there needed to be a better dialectical understanding of the dialectical relation between some works that were led and directed in a very finely detailed and calibrated way from the highest levels, mobilizing artists in that process, and other things where you gave a lot more expression to a lot more creativity and experimentation, and you let a lot of that go on, and then you sifted through it and saw what was coming forward that was positive, and learning from different attempts in which people were struggling to bring forward something new that would actually have a revolutionary content, or even that wouldn’t but needed to nevertheless be part of the mix so that people could learn from and criticize various things and decide what it was they wanted to uphold and popularize and what they didn’t. So I think there’s more to be learned there.
I also think there was a third dimension to this. There was an element, even in Mao—and I’ve criticized this, you know, it’s controversial, but I’m criticizing something that [has been pointed to] in various things I’ve written or talks I’ve given, in particular one called Conquer the World?6—that there was a tendency, even in Mao, toward a certain amount of nationalism. And I think this carried over into some of the ways in which intellectuals and artists who had been trained in and were influenced by or had an interest in Western culture—there was somewhat of a sectarian attitude toward some of that. You know, Mao had this slogan: we should make the past serve the present and foreign things serve China. Well, in my opinion, that—particularly the second part of that—is not exactly the right way to pose it. It’s not a matter of China and foreign things, it’s a matter of—whether from another country, or from China, or whatever country art comes from—what is its objective content? Is it mainly progressive or is it mainly reactionary? Is it revolutionary or counter-revolutionary? Does it help propel things in the direction of transforming society toward communism or does it help pull things back and pose obstacles to that? And I think that formulation, even the formulation of “foreign things serve China”—while it has something correct about it, in not rejecting everything foreign, let me put it that way—has an aspect of not being quite correct and being influenced by a certain amount of nationalism, rather than a fully internationalist view [with regard to] even the question of culture.
MS: That even led to some of the bizarre thing around jazz, right?
BA: Yeah, jazz and rock ’n’ roll. They didn’t understand the positive aspect of that. Of course, there’s a lot of garbage in rock ’n’ roll in particular. They didn’t really understand what jazz was as a phenomenon in the U.S., and they just—they negated it one-sidedly. And they also one-sidedly negated rock ’n’ roll, which in a lot of ways had a very positive thrust at that time, in the ’60s, the late ’60s in the U.S. It had a lot of rebellious spirit and even some more consciously revolutionary works of art were coming forward, even with their limitations. So I think what was bound up with that was also part of what I think got involved in the way some intellectuals in China, particularly those maybe who had more inclinations toward and interest in Western culture, got turned into enemies or got persecuted in ways they should not have.
Factory revolutionary committee members meet with workers.
But this is tentative thinking on my part. We need to investigate it more fully. What I was trying to do, though, was to give the backdrop for why this Cultural Revolution was necessary in the first place, and what they were trying to accomplish with it, and why that was not only legitimate, but necessary and tremendously important and why and how it brought forward all these new things. It did bring forward new revolutionary culture. It did spread health care to the countryside. It did involve masses of people who’d never been involved in science before, in scientific experimentation and investigation, and even scientific theory together with scientists, and the same kinds of transformations in education, the same kinds of transformations in the workplace, where they broke down one-man management and they actually started having administrators and managers and technicians getting involved part of the time—not on a fully equal basis, but part of the time—in productive labor, and having some of the production workers getting involved in those other spheres and having, instead of one-man management, a revolutionary committee that drew in significant representatives of the workers as well as of management or more full-time management and technical personnel and Party cadre.
So there were tremendous accomplishments, including in the sphere of art, including in the sphere of education, including in the whole intellectual sphere broadly speaking. I mean, I read articles from that time in China about physics, theoretical physics, wrestling with the nature of matter and the whole—how to understand the question of motion of matter in different forms that it could assume, not just in everyday things but on a more theoretical physics construct.
So there were a lot of tremendous things that were brought forward. This was not a time when the lights went out intellectually. However, there were shortcomings, and I do believe there were some people who were wrongly persecuted in the course of this; and that, I think, gets mixed into the equation, too.
Artwork created by peasants during the Cultural Revolution.
MS: I want to roll on with this. Before I get into the question of actually pursuing more of this question of intellectual and artistic freedom and dissent as a necessity in the future society, I wanted to get into a couple of things about the role of artists in particular. You know, it’s interesting because, 10 years ago, Haile Gerima—I interviewed Haile Gerima, the filmmaker who made Sankofa, Bush Mama. He’s an Ethiopian filmmaker, but he’s been here a long time. He’s kind of been steeped, he’s very schooled in revolutionary theory around the world. And he was influenced a lot by the Cultural Revolution. And one of the things he had, he advanced this idea that the role of the artist in socialist society is to constantly—I’m trying to remember how he actually put it, but it’s to always be opposing the ruling apparatus. He looked at it: the Cultural Revolution went so far but not far enough because this didn’t actually break out that way—that the artists, they stopped short of that.
And then more recently I had the opportunity to interview and spend some time with Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the Kenyan writer, and he has a couple of things that he advances around the nature of art and the relationship between the artist and the state in any society. And one of the things that he talks about is that there’s a conservative part of the state, in that it’s always trying to save itself and preserve its rule and preserve itself, and then that art actually—he says that art, on the other hand, is something that’s always changing. You know, it’s always that—art differs from that, in that it’s always trying to grasp things in their changingness. It’s based on how things are developing, how things are moving and what’s essential and not always what exactly is. And so he sees these two things as being in contradiction to one another, and he says that the artist actually should always be a constant questioner of the state. The artist has a role—his view of the artist in society is that the artist has the role of asking more questions than they do of providing answers, and that’s something that he feels should be enshrined in any society. And I was wondering how that would fit in with your view of socialism and the role of art and the question of artistic freedom and dissent.
BA: Well, I think from what you’re describing and characterizing, briefly quoting, I think there’s an aspect of truth to that, but it’s one-sided, it’s only one side of the picture. About 15 years ago I gave a talk called “The End of a Stage, the Beginning of a New Stage,7 ” basically summing up, with the restoration of capitalism in China following the same unfortunate outcome as the Soviet Union, that we had come to the end of a certain stage beginning with the Paris Commune, more or less, and ending with the Chinese Revolution being reversed and capitalism being restored there. And now we had to regroup and sum up deeply the lessons, positive and negative, of that and go forward in a new set of circumstances where there were no more socialist countries temporarily. And, at the end of that [talk], one of the things that I tried to set forth was certain principles that I thought should be applied by a Party in leading a socialist society. And one of those was that it should be a Party in power and a vanguard of struggle against those parts of power that are standing in the way of the continuation of the revolution. And I actually think that’s a more correct way, a more correct context, or analogy, for how to evaluate the role of art in particular in a socialist society. In other words, by analogy, I think art should not just criticize that [socialist] state, it should criticize those things in the society—including in the state, including in the Party, including in the leadership—that actually represent what’s old and needs to be moved beyond. Not necessarily what is classically capitalist but what has turned from being an advance into an obstacle—because everything, including socialism, does advance through stages and by digging more deeply into the soil the old is rooted in and uprooting it more fully. So things that were advances at one point can turn into obstacles or even things that would take things back, if persisted in.
COMMUNISM: THE BEGINNING OF A NEW STAGE
A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
Available in English, Farsi, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish from RCP Publications, P.O. Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
$5 + $1 shipping. A draft translation into Arabic is now available online. See all translations here.
So I think art needs to criticize all those things. But I think it also needs to uphold—and even, yes, to extol and to popularize—those things that do represent the way forward, including those things about the state. The state in socialist society is not the same as the state in capitalist society. It’s the state that, in its main aspects—so long as it’s really a socialist society—represents the interests of the masses of people, makes it possible for them, provides the framework within which, they can continue the revolution and be defended against enemies, both within the country and the imperialists and other forces who would attack and try to drown that new society in blood from the outside. So the state has a different character, and as long as its main aspect is doing those things—is actually representing rule by the proletariat in which the proletariat and broad masses of people are increasingly themselves consciously involved in the decision-making process and in developing policies for continuing the revolution—wherever that remains the main aspect, those things should be supported and even extolled. But even within that, even where that is the case, there will be many ways in which there will be not only mistakes made but things which have come to be obstacles, ways in which in the policies of the government, and the policies of the Party, and the actions of the state, [there are] things that actually go against the interests of the masses of people—not just in a narrow sense, but in the most fundamental sense even, in terms of advancing to communism—and that actually pose obstacles. And those things should be criticized.
And I do think there is a truth to the idea that artists tend to bring forward new things—although that’s not uniformly true. Some artists—the same old thing over and over, you know, very formulaic—and especially those whose content seeks to reinforce or restore the old, it often isn’t that innovative. Sometimes even that is good [artistically]; often it isn’t. But I do think there is some truth that there is a character of a lot of art that it’s very innovative and it tends to shake things up and come at things from new angles and pose problems in a different way or actually bring to light problems that haven’t been recognized in other spheres or by people who are more directly responsible for things, or by people who are more directly involved in the politics of a society. And I think there should be a lot of freedom for the artists to do that. But I also think part of their responsibility, and part of what they should take on, is to look to those things that are—that do embody the interests of people—including the state. And they should popularize and uphold that, because there are going to be plenty of people wanting to drag down and destroy that state. But I think there’s not a clear enough understanding of the fundamental distinction—even with all the contradictions involved that I’ve been trying to speak to—the fundamental distinction between a proletarian state, a state in socialist society, and a bourgeois state which is there for the oppression of the masses and to reinforce the conditions in which they’re exploited, as the whole foundation of this society, and [which] viciously attacks any attempt to rebel against, let alone to overthrow, that whole system.
So I think there is importance to drawing a distinction—and then, once you recognize that fundamental distinction, then once again, as we say, divide the socialist state into two. What parts of it are power that embodies and represents the interests of the masses in making revolution and continuing toward communism, and what parts have grown old or stand in the way of that continuation? Extol the one, popularize the one; and criticize and mobilize people, encourage people to struggle against the other.
MS: One of the things that sets you against a lot of the past experience of socialist societies, of Marxist thinkers and whatnot, is the point about not just allowing dissent, not just allowing this kind of breadth of exploration among people who work with ideas and among artists and whatnot, but actually talking about the necessity of that to exist. Why do you think that that’s necessary and not just something to be tolerated?
BA: Well, I’m currently wrestling with the question of how you can have that within the Party, and the relation between having that inside the Party and in the society at large, and how you do that without losing the essential core of what you need to hold onto in order to actually have state power when you get it, and in order to actually go on toward communism, rather than getting dragged back into capitalism. So that, to me—that’s something I’m grappling with a lot. It’s a very difficult contradiction.
But to go directly to your question: I think the reason you need it is because if people are going to be fully emancipated—you know, Marx said that the communist revolution involves a transition to what we Maoists have come to call, by shorthand, the “4 Alls.” He said: it’s the transition to the abolition of all class distinctions (or I think literally he said, “class distinctions generally,” but it’s the same thing) and to the abolition of all the relations of production, all the economic relations on which those class distinctions rest; the transformation or abolition of all the old social relations that correspond to those production relations—like oppressive relations between men and women, for example—and the revolutionizing of all the ideas that correspond to those social relations. So if you look at those “4 Alls,” as we call them, and the objective is to get to those “4 Alls,” then that can only be done by masses of people in growing numbers consciously undertaking the task of knowing and changing the world as it actually is, as it’s actually moving and developing and as it actually can be transformed in their interests. So if that’s the way you understand what you’re after and how fundamentally that’s going to be brought about—and not by a few people gathering everybody in formation and marching them in a straight road forward in very tight ranks—then you understand that a lot is going to go into that process. The socialism that I envision, and even in a certain way the Party that I envision, is one that’s full of a lot of turmoil, one that would give the leaders of it a tremendous headache, because you would have all kinds of stuff flying in all kinds of directions while you’re trying to hold the core of all that together and not give up everything.
I had a discussion with a spoken-word artist and poet, and I was trying to describe these things I’m characterizing here—what I’m grappling with as it applies to the arts and lots of other things—and he finally said to me, and I thought it was a very good insight: he said, it sounds to me like what you’re talking about is a solid core with a lot of elasticity. I said yeah, well, that’s very good—because he put together in one formulation a lot of what I was wrestling with.
But it is—how do you keep that solid core so you don’t lose the revolution? Let me be blunt. You need a vanguard, you need a Party to lead a revolution and to be at the core of a new society. When we get there, we’re not going to hand power back and we’re not going to put power up for grabs or even up for election. We’re not going to have elections to decide whether we should go back to the old society. In my view that should be institutionalized in a constitution. In other words, the constitution will establish: this is a socialist society going toward communism. Will establish what the role of the Party is in relation to that, and will establish what the rights of the masses of people [are] and what the role of the masses of people is in fundamentally carrying that out—including, as I see it, having some elections on local levels and some aspects of elections from local levels to a national level, which are contested elections within that framework of going forward through socialism to communism and having spelled out, in some fundamental terms (not in every detail), what that basically means and doesn’t mean, in a constitution, in laws, that the masses of people increasingly themselves are formulating and deciding on.8
But we’re not going to just say: “OK, we’ll have socialism and then we’ll give it back to them [the capitalists] and see if the people want it [socialism] again. If you do that, you might as well not bother to make a revolution. Because think about everything we were talking about earlier, and everything you have to go up against—if you’re going to have an attitude like that, you don’t have any business putting yourself forward to lead anything, because you’re not serious. To make a revolution is a wrenching process, and to continue on the road forward toward communism and to support the world revolution in the face of everything that will get thrown at you is going to be an extremely arduous and wrenching process, and you have to have a core of people who understands that, even as that core is constantly being expanded. I’ve set forth—when I say “set forth,” I don’t mean to make it sound like a proclamation, this is what I’m thinking about, this is what I’m wrestling with—that there’s four things that this core has to accomplish, four objectives. You have to maintain power, at the same time as you make that worth maintaining. And the four objectives I’m talking about are:
One, that core has to hang on to power and lead the masses of people to not be dragged back to the old society—not hang on all by itself, but it has to be determined to hang on to power and mobilize the forces in society that could be won at any given time to seeing that you have to hang on to power and hang on to the revolutionary direction forward.
Two, it has to be constantly expanding the ranks of that core, so you’re not just talking about the same relative few—even if you’re talking about hundreds of thousands or millions, the same relatively small section of the population relative to say a country like this. But is it constantly expanding, constantly in waves drawing in broader ranks to be part of that core of this process?
Three, that it is guided constantly by the objective of eventually moving to where you don’t need that core anymore, because the distinctions that make it necessary have been overcome.
And four, that at every point along the way there’s the maximum elasticity that you can have without destroying that core.
So this is what I am wrestling with in terms of this process. And to me this the furthest thing from everybody marching forward in tight formation, although there are times when you have to do that—when you’re directly under military attack, you have to tighten your ranks up. But, in general, I see it as a very wild and woolly process, if you will, where people are going in different directions and the responsibility of the leadership, of this leading core, is to try, as I put it before, to get your arms around all that—in the sense of an embrace, not in the sense of squeezing it and suffocating it—keeping it going toward where it needs to go and drawing more and more people into the process of doing that.
So seen in that way, this is a very tumultuous thing. And I think there’s even a way in which the Party has to be like that. That this principle of “solid core with a lot of elasticity” has to apply even within the Party, because I’ve been wrestling with the question: can you really have ferment, intellectual ferment, artistic creativity and ferment and experimentation in a society, in a socialist society at large, if you don’t have it within the Party that’s at the core of it? I don’t think you can. If the Party doesn’t have that, then it’s gonna suffocate it in the society. It’s going to be too much uniformity coming from the Party, which has a lot of influence, and so it’s going to tend to stifle and suppress that [creativity and ferment]. So how do you have a solid core and elasticity even within the Party in general, over policy but also as applied to the arts and to the intellectual sphere in the broadest sense, and so on? And, to draw an analogy from physics here, even a solid core—you know, everything is contradiction and whatever level you go to it’s contradiction—so a solid core is solid in one sense, but within it, it also has elasticity. Because if everything is packed together too tightly in your core, so to speak—to continue to torture this metaphor—but if it’s all packed together too tightly in the core, then you don’t have any life in there, so you can’t have the elasticity.
So I see this as a very moving, tumultuous thing. On the one hand, we’re not giving power back and we’re not putting that up even for a vote—and, on the other hand, we’re also not all marching everybody straight down the road, but we’re having all kinds of tumultuous struggle, including within that people who want to go back to capitalism throwing their ideas into the ring. While we supervise the overthrown exploiters and curtail their political activity, and while people who have been demonstrated—through legal processes shown—to be active counter-revolutionaries, in the sense of their actually taking up concrete acts of sabotage, or what we would now call “terrorism,” against the new society (blowing up things, assassinating people, or actively, not in some vague sense, but actively plotting to do that), that’s one thing. I think you need a constitution, laws and procedures to deal with those people. But beyond that, in the realm of ideas, even people who argue that capitalism is better than socialism—those ideas need to be in circulation, and people who want to defend those ideas have to be able to do so, so that the masses of people can sort this out.
And we have to defeat them in the realm of ideas as well as in practice. Right now, we do that all the time. Our attitude now is somebody wants to defend capitalism—bring on all comers, let’s have a debate. We can’t get these [bleep] to debate us! That’s what’s frustrating to us. So my attitude is: yes, things are changed [once you get to socialist society]; there is a new set of circumstances; we are going to be at the core of leading the masses of people. That’s our responsibility. But we shouldn’t be any less anxious to have those debates and to thrash those things out, and to get many more people in them. Why should we fear that then in a way that we don’t now? We welcome it now, so why shouldn’t we welcome it [then]?
I will tell you that, as I envision this, it gives me a headache because I can see how hard it would be to keep all this going in the forward direction it needs to go. But if you aren’t willing to risk that, then I don’t think we can get where we need to go.
1. The Korean War began June 25, 1950 and ended July 27, 1953. General Douglas MacArthur led the United Nations Command in the Korean War from 1950 to 1951. U.S. President Harry S. Truman removed him from command in April 1951. [back]
2. Chiang Kai-shek was a U.S.-backed general who led the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) against the communist revolutionary forces beginning in approximately 1927. The war for liberation went through different and often complex stages, and finally ended in victory on October 1, 1949. [back]
3. See “On Communism, Leadership, Stalin, and the Experience of Socialist Society,” an excerpt from an interview Michael Slate conducted with Bob Avakian in 2005. The excerpt was published in Revolution #168, June 21, 2009, revcom.us/avakian/on_communism-en.html. [back]
5. Nikita Khrushchev was head of state in the Soviet Union from 1956, when capitalism was restored, until 1964. [back]
8. In this connection, see Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, RCP Publications, 2010. See revcom.us/socialistconstitution/. [back]
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
Letter from a Reader
February 12, 2012
To the editors:
I was very glad to hear that Revolution is publishing Michael Slate's interview with Bob Avakian on the Cultural Revolution in China, and the role of the artist in socialist society. I've recently used this interview in two different study sessions with people who from various viewpoints are getting into the RCP's Manifesto and BA's new synthesis of communism, and I want to share that experience and make a recommendation.
First off, I used the audio of the interview itself, which is available online. I didn't make a presentation with my own interpretation of what was said, and I didn't just ask people what they thought of the content; I played it. I would suggest doing the same. Even if people have read it, this interview is deep and layered, and stands repeated listening. In addition, for this generation the content of what's being discussed is very unfamiliar. So hearing it again will refresh people as to its content. (If you are leading discussion of this in prison or otherwise are unable to play an audio, perhaps someone could read the content out loud, and then stop at various points.)
When I led the classes, I began with an orientation that laid out the importance of BA and the work that he has done, including very importantly on the experience of the first stage of the communist revolution; that this first stage—the great achievements, as well as the setbacks—is critical for us to understand if we are going to truly initiate a new stage of this revolution; and that our approach has to be scientific and not religious—we are trying to deeply understand reality, not reassure ourselves as to the "tenets of the faith" or tell ourselves tales of a "golden age" to buck up our spirits or spend an evening discussing something interesting for the sake of discussion (though it is interesting!). This is about learning how to do better the next time. Of course, a program in a bookstore should draw a very broad audience, including people who are checking this out for the first time, and we should take care to be inclusive (to have "big arms," to put it that way); but this orientation should be the leading edge.
This orientation was relatively brief. Then the session proceeded like this: I would play a section of audio, and then stop and ask a few questions on the content. This wasn't random—to do this well, you have to listen to the audio a few times and figure out where the important points are to stop. For example, at one point BA discusses the "birthmarks" of capitalism in the new society—in one group we stopped there and discussed for a while what that actually refers to. In the course of this, people raised many questions and there was quite a bit of discussion and debate. In the other session, in discussing the part of the interview where BA compares Mao's approach to Stalin's, someone raised, "yeah, well you can say all that, but let's face it—Stalin had no choice." This too led to some really engaged discussion and debate. The point is this: by playing the audio and stopping it occasionally, the discussion stayed focused on the content of the material as the solid core—and the elasticity of the discussion (ranging over different concepts discussed by BA and experiences of the first stage of communist revolution) revolved around that. I won't and can't go into all of what we discussed, but we did dig deeply—and one of these discussions, which took place in the afternoon, went well over 4 hours before we finally had to leave to make way for another program. A few major themes: the need to be scientific (and we reviewed what that is), to learn from the content but also the approach of BA, and to do all this coming from understanding that the world really needs a new stage of communist revolution—and the responsibility to bring forward those initiators and be those initiators is before us.
Another way to go at this would be to play the whole interview all the way through, and then focus on key points for discussion. Leaders of the classes should decide which way will work best in their situation.
Second, these discussions actually did NOT go into the second part of the interview—they did not get to the criticisms of Mao and the role of the artist in socialist society. We will do this, but we just weren't able to in one session and I don't think we could have and really have done justice to the first part of the interview. So I would strongly recommend that if discussions of this are being planned—and I strongly feel that they should be—that these be conceived of as two sequential discussions.
Through the course of these discussions, you should be directing people to the RCP's Manifesto, Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage. This document captures the sweep of history and the juncture we're at now—it's really the essential grounding for anyone who wants to understand the historical context of this interview. I would also strongly recommend that people leading these discussions review and, frankly, steep themselves in other works by BA going into this, as well as the polemic against Alain Badiou, the Manifesto, and the appendix in the Party Constitution on the science of communism; there is a hunger among some people right now to learn more and go deeper—to take one example, someone at one point asked "Could you please explain what happened in the GPCR?" This led to interesting discussion where different people put forward their understanding of that, and it was very important to be able to draw on the polemic with Badiou, for instance, in sorting this out.
But again, above all, stay with the interview itself. It's packed! There's nothing more important than bringing forward initiators of a new stage, and this is a very valuable tool in doing that.
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
The uprising in Egypt and the Occupy movements have ushered in a new wave of protest and resistance; they have also opened a vital conversation and debate about the way the world is, and the way it might be different.
In these times, you have put yourself forward as a voice of and force for radical thinking: writing on the summer rebellions in England, speaking to protesters at Zuccotti Park, appearing on the Charlie Rose show. At this very juncture of upsurge and questioning, you have also launched an irresponsible and unprincipled attack (online at platypus1917.org/2011/12/01/) on Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism and on the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
I have written a reply ("Vilifying Communism and Accommodating Imperialism: The Sham and Shame of Slavoj Žižek's 'Honest Pessimism'"). I am now challenging you to a public debate:
Professor Žižek, let us argue these points in the public square. I will be happy to hold this debate in New York or in London.
This debate speaks to big questions on people’s minds. It is about intellectual responsibility...human possibility...and the challenges and pathways of creating a world in which human beings can truly flourish.
I urge progressive scholars and professors, students and activists, and all who recognize the importance of these issues: spread this call and let Slavoj Žižek know that this debate needs to happen.
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
From A World to Win News Service
Note from Revolution: As this article points out: "We can't predict what will happen – how the U.S. and its allies might try to solve their dilemma and make a grab for Syria. But we should know by now, after all that we've seen in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and so many other places, that what the imperialists are capable of is sometimes worse than we can imagine – and the results of their intervention are always disastrous for the people."
In this light, we feel our readers will find this article of interest.
February 13, 2012. A World to Win News Service. The U.S. military has "begun to review potential military options" in Syria, according to the New York Times. (February 11, 2012) An unnamed American military official told this authoritative newspaper, "We're looking at a whole range of options, but as far as going to one course of action, I haven't seen anything." The report says the "possible options" that would be considered include "everything, including humanitarian assistance, army rebels, covert actions, airstrikes, deploying ground troops or doing nothing."
This admission comes as the U.S. is already backing various forms of intervention in Syria, including Turkey's efforts to use Syrian military opposition elements to form an army under its control, and the money and arms allegedly pouring into the country from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are almost undoubtedly backing fellow Sunni Islamic fundamentalists, as they have everywhere else.
The U.S. followed an often ambiguous policy toward Syria for many years, working to isolate and weaken the regime while also recognizing its importance in preserving the status quo in the region at times when that has been a prime American goal. Bashar al-Assad's father, Hafez, crushed the revolutionary Palestinian movement then centered in Lebanon in the 1970s, enforced peace with Israel despite the Zionist occupation of Syria's Golan Heights since 1967, and supported the U.S. during the 1991 invasion of Iraq.
When the Syrian revolt broke out last March, inspired by similar spontaneous revolts that toppled Egypt's Mubarak and Tunisia's Ben Ali, the U.S. did not support its main demand, the fall of the regime. Instead, Washington called on Assad to implement economic and political reforms meant to appease the movement while making it easier to pull Syria into the U.S. orbit.
That revolt, Salameh Kaileh, a prominent Arab Marxist from Palestine living in Syria, told AWTWNS in an interview last August, was unleashed by the middle strata in the countryside. In smaller provincial cities, it now involves all social classes, including the merchants and local capitalists, Kaileh said.
It was not until August 18 that Washington called for Assad to go. This was not because the Obama government had suddenly found out how bloodthirsty the Syrian regime is. There had already been five months of massacres of unarmed civilian demonstrators, and for years the U.S. had turned over prisoners to Syria precisely in order that they be tortured. But the U.S. saw both necessity and opportunity in the current situation.
As Kaileh said, the U.S. was now seeking regime change, but a controlled regime change, hoping to avoid unleashing uncontrollable forces, including the masses of Syrian people themselves, that might lead to an outcome that would destabilize the whole U.S.-dominated structure of the region, including the regimes in neighboring Turkey and Jordan.
"Following the Tunisian and Egyptian model, this change (sought by the U.S. in Syria) would not be a radical one but a change within the regime itself," Kaileh said. One possible form would be a split within the power structure, particularly the armed forces, and a coup, spurred on by or even possibly brought about by foreign military intervention.
The necessity was to step in to resolve a situation – a popular uprising – that imperiled American interests. The opportunity was that it had become possible to envisage taking out a formerly stable regime that formed a bloc with the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Palestinian Hamas, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, posing serious problems for the U.S. and threatening its reactionary regional allies. It is no coincidence that the U.S.'s eagerness to bring down Assad comes amid heightened U.S. threats to attack Iran and/or back Israel in attacking it.
Even as the popular revolt in the Middle East and North Africa continues to acutely challenge some of the existing regimes and forms of imperialist domination, and the genie of the people's awakening has been released from the bottle, instead of giving in to the popular will and or even retreating slightly, the U.S. has worked to advance its interests amid these turbulent waters.
To the so-called Tunisian and Egyptian models has now been added the "Libyan model" in which the U.S. and the European powers (acting both in concert with the U.S. and also out of rivalry with the U.S. and each other) basically invaded (if mainly from the skies) and brought down the Gaddafi regime. This show of force was meant not only to assert control of Libya but also to proclaim and maintain regional dominance in the face of both the peoples and other rivals, including Russia and China.
The foreign interference and stoking of civil war by the U.S. and its allies in Syria is exactly the kind of thing the UN supposedly exists to prevent. A few years ago, the U.S. blustered threats against the Assad regime for interfering in Lebanon and demanded that the UN step in. For the U.S., UK and France, the question is not what is morally right or legal according to international law but what serves their imperialist interests.
Now these powers have taken the opposite position regarding Syria: outside interference can be justified because Assad is "killing his own people." Further, if it is true that forces linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq is now fighting in Syria, this is not unrelated to the Gulf States' backing of other Islamic fundamentalist forces there. The point, for the West, is that their interference (or moves backed by them) is good, while anyone else's is an excuse for... NATO intervention.
As Robert Fisk pointed out in the UK Independent, one particularly sharp illustration of the hypocrisy of the U.S. and Europe is that the absolute monarchs of Saudi Arabia and Qatar are now portrayed as the region's best champions of "democracy" in Syria. The fact that the Saudi regime sent in troops to put down a rebellion by the Shia majority in Bahrain and is shooting Shia demonstrators in eastern Saudi Arabia has been politely overlooked.
The increasing importance of the alliance between the U.S. and the reactionary Gulf States – driven by the dread that the "Arab Spring" inspires in them all – is exemplified by the fact that they were able to change the position of the Arab League overnight, from one of at least apparent neutrality toward the Assad regime to putting forward a stunningly arrogant and detailed plan for what should happen next in Syria, beginning with a transfer of power from Assad to others within his regime, with or without a military coup.
The Arab League has called for a "joint Arab-UN peacekeeping mission" in Syria, but this isn't about peace. It called for providing "all forms of moral and material support" to opposition forces, but this isn't about helping the advance of what has been the main thrust of the people's revolt so far, an end to oppression.
What it resembles more closely is the 19th century "gunboat diplomacy" when Western powers used their warships to force those local governments not already under colonial control to comply point-by-point with an imposed agenda. The fact that these demands come from Arab mouths does not change the fact that the U.S. wrote the script, or at least gave it the green light. How could the Gulf monarchies threaten Syria without the spectre of Western gunboats (and aircraft and armies) looming just behind them?
With the pretext that Saddam Hussein was "killing his own people," two invasions separated by a decade of murderous sanctions not only led to the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of people but also plunged the Iraqi people into as dark a night as they have ever faced before, a situation very unfavorable for revolt. Then, on the same pretext, came the "Libyan" model, in which a regime that had become highly compliant with Western (and especially British and Italian) interests was brought down amidst the unleashing of all sorts of reactionary interests and forces, making life in Libya today as great a hell as ever before.
Right now the U.S. is in no position to mount another large-scale invasion, thanks not to any sudden change of heart but the way the American projects in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned out. On the other hand, the kind of "cheap" war in Libya (cheap to the U.S. and other NATO members, not to the Libyan people who are still paying a horrendous price) may not be possible in Syria, where the last five months of revolt have shown that the reactionary regime does have a stronger social base as well as a real army.
American strategists (see, for example, Foreign Policy.com) bemoan the fact that an "air exclusion zone" would have little affect in Syria, where the regime hasn't been using war planes, and that air power cannot be applied to aid anti-regime forces because to the extent that combat is going on now, it is in densely populated cities. "What is presented as an alternative to military intervention [on the ground] is more likely to pave the way to such intervention once it fails," Marc Lynch warns in that publication.
We can't predict what will happen – how the U.S. and its allies might try to solve their dilemma and make a grab for Syria. But we should know by now, after all that we've seen in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and so many other places, that what the imperialists are capable of is sometimes worse than we can imagine – and the results of their intervention are always disastrous for the people.
(For more about the Syrian revolt, see the interview with Hassan Khaled Chatila in AWTWNS 5-16-11.)
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.
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
From A World to Win News Service
February 20, 2012. A World to Win News Service. Following is an edited version of an interview with Hassan Khaled Chatila, a Syrian revolutionary living in Europe. Although we have done our best to faithfully represent his views on the questions addressed here, they remain his own.
The balance of forces among the opposition now favors counter-revolutionaries, because [under current circumstances] the militarization of the movement against the regime favors international interference. Alongside the unarmed protests in the streets there are now significant armed actions. But there has not been much change in the political consciousness of the mass movement, which remains a spontaneous revolt whose unifying goal is the fall of the regime. Now street slogans call for armed action to achieve this.
The head of the Free Syrian Army [formed by officers and soldiers who left the regime's armed forces] has been calling for foreign intervention since early on. It's not clear who they are. It seems that the name actually covers several armed groups aided and sheltered by Turkey. Because there is no real organization and little political unity among these army deserters, they often act more like armed gangs, carrying out looting and rape. The FSA [claims its purpose is to] protect demonstrations in the cities from government attack. Their tactics are bad – they shoot at government soldiers who return fire and kill civilian protesters. Their real strategy is to militarize the clash between the movement and the regime so as to provoke foreign intervention.
Politically and ideologically the mass movement is not mature enough to achieve a democratic and nationalist state, because of the absence of a revolutionary left. The reactionary forces among the opposition seek to bring to power a military regime that could be even worse than Bashar al-Assad. In Egypt, the U.S. wants the army to protect the state and keep peace with Israel. The issues in Syria are more complicated, because of its relations with Iran, Turkey, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. wants the forces backed by Saudi Arabia to dominate in Syria and keep politics out of the hands of the people, who tend to support the Palestinians and the resistance to Israel, and are generally anti-American – much more so in Syria than in Egypt. Because of its relations with all those forces, Syria can play a key role in the region.
Since the death of [Egyptian President] Nasser in 1970 and the defeat of the Baathist left [associated with Nasser] in Syria around that time, Saudi Arabia has come to be the predominate country in the Arab world. [The weakening of the Saddam Hussein regime and its fall with the 2003 U.S.-led invasion accentuated this situation.] Bashar's father, Hafez, had good relations with the Saudis in some periods, though later they cooled. Both regimes want to avoid war with Israel and the U.S. Rami Makhlouf [Syria's wealthiest businessman, a cousin of Bashar and pillar of the regime] is infamous for having once said that Syria's stability requires a stable Israel.
The Syrian National Council (SNC), an organization of opposition forces in exile in Europe, the U.S. and Turkey, wants to be recognized as the representative of the people. It has no presence in Syria. Its chairman, Bourhan Ghaion, is a French citizen and teaches at the Sorbonne. Its spokeswoman has long worked for the European Union. Their official programme calls for the fall of the regime, a democratic republic and no political confessionalism [politics organized by religious groupings]. Its main forces comprise economic liberals, other secular forces and the Muslim Brotherhood. They are very actively soliciting foreign intervention. Their representatives are going from capital to capital to bring about foreign military intervention but they do very little inside the country.
The SNC has issued statements condemning the Islamic Republic of Iran and Hezbollah, and calling for a diplomatic solution to the Palestinian problem.
Some Muslim Brotherhood members seek what they call a "civil state," a deliberately vague formulation that doesn't make clear whether that state would be Islamic or secular. In other words, all citizens would be equal, but it seems that they would not accept a constitution that does not define Sharia [Islamic law] as the source of all law. So there are significant differences among the members of the Syrian National Council.
While the SNC is backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and, implicitly, Europe and the U.S., it has no control over the Free Syrian Army.
There is also the non-revolutionary Syrian left, which is still seeking "a solution with and through" the Assad regime. This means change from above, not below. Their goal is to be part of a new government. Their influence among the people is limited, especially since they are widely reviled as agents of the regime. The various Local Coordinating Committees include people from the more revolutionary left and Arab nationalists.
The "Friends of Syria" meeting to be held in Tunis on February 24 may be very significant. [This entity is being built on the model of the "Friends of Libya" under whose auspices NATO intervened in that country. In the present case, the purpose is to bypass the need for a UN Security Council resolution to authorize foreign interference in Syria.] It was called by France's President Sarkozy and backed by the [pro-U.S., Islamic-led] Tunisian government. There seem to be some differences among these "friends" about which Syrians to invite.
Opinion in the street is constantly changing. Some people carry banners hailing the SNC and calling for foreign intervention. In contrast, the February 17 demonstrations were called "the Friday of Resistance," with the view that the people should rely on themselves.
The opposition to the regime from within Syria's "political class" has come to be divided between a left that emphasizes the political and social rights of the people but is cut off from the masses, who have no confidence in any of the traditional political groups, and a neo-liberal right that demands foreign intervention. Both favor globalized economic development in Syria and both fear the people.
The divisions among the people on religious/ethnic lines have been exaggerated abroad. There are people from all the religions and ethnicities on both sides. The February 17 "Friday of Resistance" brought several welcome developments in the capital. They hold the potential for bringing about another reversal in the relationship of forces between the armed opposition forces and the people's movement.
[Until now, the anti-regime movement has not shaken Damascus and Aleppo, as it has poorer provincial cities. Protests in Damascus have mainly been confined to the less well-off, mainly Sunni suburbs. The anti-regime protest that broke out in a popular suburb of Damascus on February 17 spread to Mezzeh, an area of government and corporate offices and residences not far from the presidential palace. Alawites make up a large percentage of the population of Mezzeh – and the regime has drawn much of its core support from Alawite clans. Assad's troops killed three protesters in a small demonstration in Mezzeh on Friday. The next day, after their funeral, a small march swelled into at least many hundreds as men and women from the neighborhood joined in.]
If the people were left to themselves, I don't think there could be a civil war among the people. But the situation is complex, and foreign intervention could lead to a reactionary, ethnic/religious-based civil war. In that case, Syria could explode, with enormous consequences for the surrounding countries where all these ethnicities are represented.
As of now, no one in Syria today has a real revolutionary strategy. Activists are doing everything on a day-to-day basis.
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.
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
On Tuesday, January 10, as students, community supporters, Occupiers, and others protested outside, Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) voted to suspend their Mexican-American Studies (MAS) Program indefinitely. Teachers arrived at school the next day under orders not to teach race, ethnic, or oppression-themed lessons. Two days later, Latin American, Chicano and other literature and history books used by the program were confiscated—put in boxes and removed from classrooms as horrified students watched.
Among the banned books: Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, one of the most important books on popular education in the 20th century; Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, the highly regarded history of Mexican-Americans by historian Rudolfo Acuña, which has been used as a standard text in college-level curricula for Chicano Studies for many years; and Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado, described as the "first primer on one of the most influential intellectual movements in American law and politics."
Hundreds of students have walked out of Tucson high schools in protest, and university students, authors, educators, and others across the country are demanding the return of the books and restoration of Mexican-American Studies.
This leap in the assault on ethnic studies goes back to 2010 when the governor of Arizona signed HB 2281 into law just after approving SB 1070,1 the anti-immigrant law that requires police to demand proof of legal residency from anyone they "stop, detain or arrest" if police suspect that person is an undocumented immigrant. The author of HB 2281, Tom Horne, then-Superintendent of Public Instruction for Arizona and now the state Attorney General, made it no secret that the law was aimed at eliminating the TUSD Mexican-American Studies program and ethnic studies programs in general. HB 2281 (now A.R.S. 15-112) declares that school districts cannot include in their instruction any course or classes that "promote the overthrow of the United States government"; "promote resentment toward a race or class of people"; "are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group"; or "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."
Horne's successor, John Huppenthal, whose campaign ads in 2010 vowed to "Stop La Raza," took up where Horne left off. He hired an independent education consultant to audit the program. When the auditors concluded that Mexican-American Studies did not violate the law, that in fact students taking MAS classes did better in school and had better graduation rates than students who did not; and that MAS should be expanded, Huppenthal deliberately disregarded the report, carried out his own investigation, and determined that MAS "promoted resentment toward a race or class of people." He demanded that TUSD shut it down or face the penalty—a 10 percent cut in its budget amounting to $15 million.
TUSD filed an appeal and on December 27, an Administrative Law Judge2 ruled on the side of Huppenthal, who immediately cut $4.9 million from the TUSD budget and said he would continue to withhold funds until TUSD complied. In the wake of all that, the board decided to suspend the program.
We're talking about the courses and the concern over disparaging [disrespecting] our founding fathers while we are teaching systematically that students are oppressed in America, that they can't succeed because the deck is stacked against them. Those two things are core features of what we're talking about. (John Huppenthal)
Honestly they've [the MAS classes] opened my eyes. They're trying to say that they teach racial resentment. But it's the opposite. They're trying to tell us that we can't teach oppression if it's not emotionally balanced. How can it be emotionally balanced? You're talking about a whole history of you being oppressed, your people. It's opened my eyes to a whole new world.... (TUSD high school student)
The Tucson school district is 60 percent Latino. The drop-out rate for Latino students is almost twice that of white students. Latino students tell stories of teachers who say to them, "You will not succeed, you should just drop out of school and work in a restaurant and wash dishes." Mexican-American Studies was created as the result of a lawsuit brought against TUSD for discrimination against Mexican-American students. MAS teachers and administrators developed a program that taught about the history of the oppression of Mexican-American people in an attempt to overcome the legacy of that oppression. The program sought to meet the needs of Latino students so they could learn and thrive academically. Why is that illegal?
The attack on Mexican-American Studies and other ethnic studies programs today is driven, in fact, by the need to reverse the accomplishments of the ethnic studies programs first established in the 1960s. As we wrote in an earlier article:
As the national liberation and anti-imperialist struggles of the 1960s developed and a revolutionary current emerged, one powerful expression was the hard-fought student strikes demanding courses, departments and schools of ethnic studies. While the students of oppressed nationalities had to fight just to get into the universities, what they confronted when they got there was an educational system which distorted or suppressed those aspects of history and present-day reality that challenged and put the lie to the bullshit about America's "shining example," and its "special place" in the world. They began at San Francisco State University in 1968, which saw the longest student strike in U.S. history, led by the Third World Liberation Front (a joint effort of African American, Asian American, Chicano, and student organizations of other nationalities). That strike established the first School of Ethnic Studies.
Ethnic studies programs, which later expanded to include women's studies, gender studies, etc., established a foothold where oppressed nationality students especially could for the first time learn about and be part of discovering their own history; the struggle and resistance; and the contributions to art, culture, science, etc. of Black, Chicano, Native American, Asian and other oppressed peoples in this country. This contributed significantly to bringing to light the truth that America's ultimate global domination rested on the foundation of the kidnap of millions and millions of African peoples and their enslavement in the "new world," the genocidal destruction of the Native American peoples, and the theft through war of 40% of the territory of Mexico as the start of a process of conquest that ultimately spanned the globe.4
As the U.S. attempts to maintain its empire in the 21st century, an ugly and vicious white supremacy is being promoted by some in the ruling class as a cornerstone of the social contract around which to cohere society. An essential element in the reassertion of white supremacy and blind patriotism is the need to restore that "official narrative" about America and its "special role" as the "good guys" in the world. To these reactionary forces, MAS and other ethnic studies programs in schools and on college campuses are an obstacle that must be eliminated. That the state of Arizona is imposing this "official narrative" by law is a very dangerous precedent if allowed to stand.
Hundreds of TUSD students under the threat of suspension walked out of Tucson high schools and middle schools to protest the shutdown of MAS. Occupy Tucson held a series of marches to the school district in support of the program.
I decided to walk out of class in support of Mexican-American Studies. I knew there would be consequences, but I didn't expect to be suspended for the remainder of the week.... Myself and other students who were suspended instead went to the university for class since we were suspended from Wakefield. I wanted to show that even though we weren't in school, we were still learning. And I would do it again because we deserve the chance to learn about our culture. If we have to stand up for our education, we will. (Eighth grade TUSD student)5
The student group UNIDOS held an all-day teach-in off campus on a school day. Students cut school to hear professors from the University of Arizona dig into questions of culture, critical thinking, and Chicano studies, the very topics that are now banned. "It would be illegal now for the teachers to teach us [Mexican-American studies], so we are coming here to learn all the things they don't want us to," said an 18-year-old participant. UNIDOS plans to hold regular teach-ins at the UofA, and UofA ethnic studies classes are welcoming school students who want to sit in.
Across the country, TUSD's confiscation of books woke thousands of people to Arizona's brazen attempt to impose an "official" U.S. history and to outlaw any critical questioning of it. The National Black Education Agenda declared in its petition, "Let's be clear, America's ruling elites want a 'post-racial' society in which white supremacy racism remains unchallenged." And it then went on to say that the ruling in Arizona "jeopardizes all forms of ethnic and gender studies that critically examine U.S. history."
Writers and activists from Houston declaring themselves Librotraficantes (Book Traffickers) will caravan from Houston to Tucson from March 12 to 18, "smuggling" in copies of the banned books. Banned authors who will participate in the Librotraficante caravan include Sandra Cisneros (Woman Hollering Creek), Guggenheim Fellow Dagoberto Gilb (Magic Blood and Woodcuts of Women) and best-selling author Luis Alberto Urrea (The Devil's Highway). (See librotraficante.com for more on the caravan.) Many other banned authors are speaking out as well.6
Librarians who developed the celebrated library at Occupy Wall Street issued a call for donations of the banned books and funds to buy more of them to distribute in Tucson. The American Library Association and other organizations of academics, writers, civil libertarians, publishers, and booksellers have signed statements condemning A.R.S. 12-115, defending the MAS program, and upholding the right to intellectual freedom and freedom of speech.
The national network of Teachers Activist Groups called for a month of solidarity in support of Tucson's Mexican-American Studies Program. "In the month of February, we invite you to strike back against this attack on our history by teaching lessons from and about the banned MAS curriculum..." Nearly 1,300 K-12 teachers and college professors from across the country and internationally have pledged to teach these lessons. (Lesson plans can be found at "No History Is Illegal," Network of Teacher Activist Groups.)
These are very good and important developments. The resistance to this reactionary law must continue to grow and spread. For people broadly who want to see a world free of national oppression and the domination of one country over others, the attacks against ethnic studies must be resisted.
1. This law became the model for anti-immigrant laws in Utah, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Alabama. [back]
2. An administrative hearing is presided over by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who hears appeals to decisions made by state or federal agencies. The judge is not part of the court system. In Arizona, ALJ rulings have no legal standing and can only serve as recommendations to an agency. [back]
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
Letter from Andy Zee:
Dear Friends in the Occupy movements and all inspired by Occupy:
Stop. Pull back the lens. See the reality. Address the real and urgent problem we face. Mobilize. Act.
1} The problem and the juncture confronting Occupy across the country does not reside within Occupy.
2} What confronts Occupy is massive, nationally coordinated brutal suppression of the Occupy movement that continues.
3} It is this suppression by the forces of the state that must be confronted and stopped. The first and next step must be calling forth into mass protest the broad public support that still exists for Occupy. The violent repression by those who wield power in this society of rights that are supposed to be legally guaranteed is utterly shameful from a moral standpoint, and thoroughly illegitimate from a legal and political one. Right is on the side of Occupy. It can only be regained by bringing to bear the great strength of what Occupy calls the 99% against that suppression.
4} Make February 28, 2012 a day of such resistance. A Call has been issued, signed by a thousand people, including Cornel West, Scott Olsen, Boots Riley, Robert Hass, Rt. Reverend George Packard and many others. The message is direct and simple: "Stand with the Occupy movement! Stop the Suppression of Occupy!” The General Assembly of Occupy Wall Street reached consensus February 11 in support of this action.
The Call for mass action is blunt and true:
if this illegitimate wave of repression is allowed to stand... if the powers-that-be succeed in suppressing or marginalizing this new movement... if people are once again “penned in”—both literally and symbolically—things will be much worse. THIS SUPPRESSION MUST BE MASSIVELY OPPOSED, AND DEFEATED.
On the other hand, this too is true: movements grow, and can only grow, by answering repression with even greater and more powerful mobilization.
This can be done. Reach deep into the consciences of all inspired by Occupy. Mobilize thousands upon thousands now. Act Together.
Revolution Books spokesperson
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
We received this correspondence:
An amazing gathering of three different generations of immigrants came together at a house party to raise funds to get BAsics to prisoners. It was a great gathering. Everyone there was very familiar with what prison is. Some experienced it first hand and most have loved ones who have experienced it. People brought food and baked goods and were happy to be there. This party successfully raised $300. It was especially significant considering that the funds came from people who are really struggling financially.
Our host was very energetic in pulling this event together. In addition to the sharing of food, we had a discussion about different questions, including what was going on in the world.
We talked about BAsics and the call to those cast off by society, read a few letters from the prisoners, and talked about their hunger strike. We talked about the impact that BAsics could have in society. We read parts in the main editorial; some loved it passionately and some did not, and others just wanted to inform themselves about the debate and dialogue that could be brought into the society and what impact it could have. The letter from the prisoner who said that he has people on the waiting list for BAsics was very intriguing.
Many sharp questions got posed, including about what would it take for revolution to really come about here.
Do you have enough revenue to have activists go out and propagate your cause?
There were discussions about the Arab uprising and the Occupy movement and where they might end up.
Does your organization visit prisoners in an ongoing way, because this would make a difference for prisoners to have visitors? What is up with the Occupy movement now and what you are doing about that? What can a teenager like me do to help?
Our host, who had lived in another country for a while, talked about how different life was in that country that once was considered a socialist country, but it wasn't really one. The host said the lifestyles and values were different than what exists here in the U.S., but remarked on imagining what a real socialist country would be like. Someone asked a question about socialism that if they were so good and so intelligent, then why did they lose? We ended up talking about socialism as a transition and what Mao developed in understanding that.
We got into what BA has summed up and brought forward in the new synthesis. She ended up getting a copy of the Manifesto, as did one of her relatives who has only been here for a few months. At the end, most wanted to meet at to get into the questions more. It was an excellent evening, both in raising the funds and in having discussions about such deep questions about the possibilities and ways of changing the world.
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
Posted March 1, 2012
Women the world over are facing a growing assault on their lives, their rights, and even their recognition as full human beings.
In the U.S., Catholic bishops have turned women's basic right to birth control into a national controversy. At least 20 percent of U.S. female soldiers are sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers. Every moment we are bombarded by images of women's bodies, half naked and half starved. And strip clubs, which serve up the subordination of women to men in the living flesh, have become so mainstream that men annually spend an estimated $16 billion on them (compared to the $4 billion they spend on baseball).
In the Congo, tens of thousands of women have been so brutally raped they can no longer hold their bladders or bowels. From Moldova to Thailand and beyond, millions of girls and women are sold as sex slaves. Throughout the world, fueled by the massive dislocations caused by imperialist development as well as imperialist wars, Islamic fundamentalism is rising with its "honor" killings, forced veiling, and hatred of women. And from China to Honduras to Silicon Valley, the near-slave labor—and sometimes outright slave labor—of women and girls has disproportionately fueled the growth of cheap manufacturing.
These are not "just a bunch of different bad things happening to women." These are but a few of the many fronts in an all-out war on women. While the forms this takes may appear different—or even unrelated—a common rope is tightening around nearly every dimension of the public, social, political, and intimate lives of women.
It is urgent that every one of us who cares about the half of humanity that is born female join together to inaugurate a new era of struggle for the liberation of women. On March 10, in commemoration of International Women's Day, this is what we aim to do—and you must join us.
To be clear, there have been significant changes in the status of women in the last century, particularly those which were hard-fought and won through the women's liberation struggle and the broader revolutionary upsurges of the 1960s and '70s.
But even more significant today is the way that despite the winning of formal equality and the conspicuous advances that have been made by some women in some arenas, this war on women is claiming victories—over the lives, the bodies, and the rights of women—every single day. And it is gaining momentum. This is true not only worldwide, but also in the U.S. where women have supposedly "achieved their equality."
I could have spent pages detailing the violence that stalks women beneath the veneer of U.S. "civility": the woman beaten every 15 seconds, the three to four women killed daily by their partners, the one in four college women who will be sexually assaulted. I could have filled more pages detailing the way that pornography has become increasingly violent, degrading, and humiliating towards women even as it has become more mainstream; with "extreme anal gaping," "ass-to-mouth" penetration, "vicious gang-bang scenes," and titles like "My Stepdad Made Me Do It"—just a fraction of what men now commonly pick from. And I could have spent many pages more detailing the way that abortion has become more difficult to access and more dangerous to provide than at any time since Roe v. Wade in 1973, and in many ways more stigmatized than even when abortion was illegal.
But instead, I will say simply this: open your eyes, look around, and stop denying what you see.
A big part of why this war on women is unrecognized is because there have been conspicuous changes in the role and status of women today from the time of the 1950s. But probably just as big a reason so many fail to see this war (which we are currently losing) is precisely because they have become so acclimated to it. The body count of battered women never makes the front page. It's easier not to consider the crushed spirits and ravaged bodies of the trafficked women who are locked inside the "massage parlors" we walk past. It's too degrading to consider how many of the men we interact with get off on depictions of women being "throat-fucked" till they gag. It's too much energy to respond every time a religious fascist insists women "keep their legs closed" and be forced to bear children against their will.
And frankly, it is painful to confront that most people—including most progressive people as well as probably you yourself reading this—have learned to accept and to live with this escalating hatred of women.
But it is time to be brutally honest. We must look this war in the face without flinching and dare to take it on. Only by doing so, only by speaking the cold truth and acting as radically as that truth demands, can we stir those others out of denial, win them to this fight, and reverse the momentum and direction of this war throughout society and the world.
Contrary to what is constantly preached at us, all this is not the reassertion of "human nature" after the movements of the 1960s and '70s "went too far." There is nothing "hard-wired" about men which mandates that they thuggishly rule over women's lives and ravage their bodies. Nor is there anything innately more nurturing, docile, weak, or emotional about women.
What we are living through is the nature of the system we live under, the system of capitalism-imperialism, reasserting itself precisely because those great liberation struggles didn't go far enough!
While the movements of those times shook this system to its foundation and accomplished tremendous things, while people's thinking and their lives went through dramatic and liberating changes, revolution wasn't made. This system wasn't overthrown. Its state and its military wasn't defeated and dismantled. And a new state power and a revolutionary society—with a socialist economy and radically different culture—wasn't brought into being.
Instead, this system set about reversing every advance that has been made. Among other dimensions of this, this system sought vengeance against—and to wipe out of people's imaginations—the very idea of women as full human beings capable of participating fully and equally in every realm of human endeavor together with men. And particularly as this system has confronted global challenges, economic dislocation, and destabilizing demographic changes internally, it has increasingly relied on the reassertion of the "traditional family" and good-ole-male-supremacy as key pillars of stability and social control.
The forceful reassertion of "traditional family values" was a key part of knitting back together a social fabric which had been significantly frayed through the overall upheaval—the Black liberation struggle, the anti-war movements, etc.—of the '60s and '70s. Patriarchy was a means of bringing many who had been in radical revolt against this system not only back "into the fold" but quite frequently into being enforcers of the system itself.
All this was even more important to the U.S. ruling class as they faced increasing challenges internationally, first through the "Cold War" and now through the so-called "Global War on Terror." The strengthening of the "traditional family" and male supremacy has been a big part of their efforts to reforge a unified national identity. Patriarchy, like patriotism, is essential in winning people to sacrifice "for God and for country."
It is only in this broader context that we can truly understand the ferocity, the magnitude, and the accelerating momentum of the current war on women.
Decades ago, Richard Viguerie, an architect of the anti-abortion movement, captured a great deal of this when he said, "The abortion issue is the door through which many people come into conservative politics, but they don't stop there. Their convictions against abortion are like the first in a series of dominoes. Then we lead them to concern about sexual ethics and standards among young people. This leads to opposition to secular humanism. Then... we point out that secular humanism is identified as both the godfather and the royal road to socialism and communism which points the way to commitments to minimally regulated free enterprise at home and to aggressive foreign and military politics to counter the communist threat from Russia and its many surrogates."
Among some sections of the U.S. ruling class, Christian fascism—with its absolute assertion of patriarchal male authority and its mandate that women bear children and submit—was aggressively fought for. Among others, this was conciliated with and "common ground" with this was sought. But every section of the ruling class has for decades agreed that Christian fascism ought to be allowed to play a much bigger role in politics and law as a key part of combating the many centrifugal forces pulling U.S. society apart. While there have been the frequent skirmishes where a few Democrats lob criticisms and make petty amendments, no one in the halls of power has been willing to risk the upheaval and instability it would cause their system to really do battle against this Dark Ages Christian fascism. So, the dynamic has continued where yesterday's outrage becomes today's compromise position and tomorrow's limit of what can be imagined. How many of you reading this would have imagined a few years ago that we'd be losing ground on birth control?
From another end, the rise of violent pornography and the sexual enslavement of women has been driven both by the spontaneous workings of capitalism (a system which commodifies everything—even misogyny and degradation), as well as by the way this system has unleashed a revenge (often through whipping men up to be the enforcers of this revenge) against women for daring to challenge thousands of years of tradition's chains. There is an almost direct relationship between the advances women have made in public, political and professional life and the dramatic increase in strip clubs as the new bastion of unchallenged male chauvinism. Or, as veteran porn producer Bill Margold put it, "I'd like to really show what I believe the men want to see: violence against women... The most violent we can get is the cum shot in the face. Men get off behind that because they get even with the women they can't have." And, the tremendous growth in the global trade in women's flesh cannot be separated from the quasi-official reliance on brothels as a "perk" to male soldiers in the U.S. military, or—even more profoundly—from the whole oppressive and exploitative world order which the U.S. military is the key enforcer of.
None of this is going to "just go away." It is not even going to stabilize in the intolerable situation it is now. As Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, put it some years ago—and as has only become more acute since, "The whole question of the position and role of women in society is more and more acutely posing itself in today's extreme circumstances... It is not conceivable that all this will find any resolution other than in the most radical terms... The question yet to be determined is: will it be a radical reactionary or a radical revolutionary resolution, will it mean the reinforcing of the chains of enslavement or the shattering of the most decisive links in those chains and the opening up of the possibility of realizing the complete elimination of all forms of such enslavement?"
If any lesson has been learned in the decades since the '60s—and paid for in the blood, the humiliation and the sacrificed dreams of women as well as others worldwide—it is that the world cries out for a real all-the-way revolution.
This time around and for this generation, a revolution must be fought for and won. This must be a revolution that digs up the very division into antagonistic classes which lays the foundation for and requires the continued subjugation and enslavement of women. It must be a revolution that takes the fight for the full liberation of women as a driving force all the way through. It must be a revolution which aims at the emancipation of humanity from all forms of physical as well as mental enslavement. This is the communist revolution that Bob Avakian has re-envisioned and is actively leading. The Revolutionary Communist Party, which he leads, has published a Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal). It outlines how the new revolutionary state power will not only immediately make major changes in the laws and the structures of society, including in regard to ending pornography and other forms of sexual exploitation as well as guaranteeing full reproductive freedom for women—but would actually unleash and back up people's initiative in fighting for liberation against all this.
"But what do we do today?" people often ask when they hear of this revolution. You dig into the work of Avakian and to Revolution newspaper each week. You spread this to others. And you join with others right now to fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution. This is key to building up the strength and preparing people politically, organizationally, and ideologically to hasten the development of a revolutionary situation and to be able to win a revolution when such an opening emerges.
Right now, and very urgently, this requires reversing the whole direction of this war against women. It means refusing to pick and choose which particular aspect of this war seems most "possible" in the current climate to tinker with. It means refusing to rely on, or be confined within the terms set by, those (including both the Republicans and the Democrats) who represent the system that rules over us. It means connecting up the many fronts of this war and revealing it for the all-out assault on women's lives that it is. It means manifesting public resistance -- in the streets and relying on ourselves -- which punctures the atmosphere of acceptance of the unacceptable and the veneer of "equality has been won." It means going up against—and seeking to change—the reactionary terms in every realm of society, culture, politics, and intimate relations.
If you are unconvinced about—or even strongly opposed to—this kind of revolution, we can wrangle about that—including the tremendous achievements of these revolutions where and when they did hold power, for all too short a time, as well as the ways in which we can and must do better. But I don't want to hear anyone use that as an excuse to stay on the sidelines and refuse to get out there together with me and others as we resist and fight to defeat this war.
This brings me back to International Women's Day. On Saturday, March 10, a new effort I am part of to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women is taking to the streets against many of the institutions which are hurtling women backwards. We begin at St. Patrick's Cathedral on 5th Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets in Manhattan at noon to protest the Catholic Church's leading role in the assault on birth control and abortion. From there, we march to Times Square to protest the massive billboards which objectify women, as well as to the U.S. military recruiting center for all the ways it concentrates violence against women. Along the way we will protest one of the anti-abortion fake "clinics." And to cap it all off we'll protest in front of some of the area's many strip clubs.
This march and protest will connect up these seemingly unrelated crimes against women. We will not only reveal them as parts of the unified war against women, we will announce to the world that from here on out—and until we win—this war will be two-sided. There is not a single person reading this article who lacks a way, or the responsibility, to make this outpouring as powerful as possible. Spread the word, contribute money, send a statement, and join us in the streets.
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
Posted March 1, 2012
In this video, Sunsara Taylor takes on the logic of the mainstream "pro-choice movement" which keeps "winning victories" while losing the overall war on women's right to abortion and birth control. She exposes the lie behind the so-called "right to know" legislation that mandates that women who want an abortion be forced to view an ultrasound of the fetus. She asks, "What about the 'right to know' that a fetus is not a baby?" and other extremely pertinent questions. She insists, “In sum, this system has no right to talk about the 'right to know'... further, they have no 'right to rule'!" Taylor talks about the need for revolution to liberate women as well as humanity as a whole and the need today to fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution. In particular, join her in the streets on March 10, 2012 for International Women's Day to say: End Pornography & Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women! Abortion on Demand and Without Apology! Fight for the Emancipation of Women All Over the World!
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
Posted March 1, 2012
Four hundred people rallied in New York City to say: "We stand with Occupy! Don't Suppress the Occupy Movement." The rally was infused with the spirit of "The Call for Mass Resistance Against the Suppression of the Occupy Movement." An Occupy activist led the crowd in "a mic check" of a portion of the Call, and occupiers perched on ladders in the crowd told their stories of repression.
A significant diversity of prominent speakers took the stage in Union Square with a sense of gravitas, because they felt a real need for a platform to say to the world—and to express to the Occupy movement—how important it was that Occupy cracked open a huge public conversation about inequality and injustice, and that it must not go away and the suppression must be stopped. Actor Susan Sarandon said that Occupy "opened up a very public debate... and it exposed brutal practices of suppression." Noam Chomsky, in a recorded message, told Occupy that "one sign of their success is the suppression," and that suppression must be resisted.
In addition to Sarandon and Chomsky, the rally was kicked off by Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary, the well-known folk group from the '60s) exuberantly taking the stage and singing, accompanied by his daughter Bethany Yarrow. Other speakers included civil liberties attorney Norm Siegel; NYU professor Andrew Ross; Father Luis Barrios; attorney Margaret Ratner Kunstler; the Rev. Stephen Phelps, Senior Minister at Riverside Church; retired Philadelphia police captain Ray Lewis; spokesperson for Revolution Books, Andy Zee; an OWS activist, Aaron Black; and past president of the NYC chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, Danny Meyers. Three musicians from Occupy the Music performed. And Outernational played a set of their revolution rock, ending the rally with "Fighting Song."
More than half the crowd was from Occupy Wall Street and was joyous to experience once again the broad expression of support. In finally speaking out against the unrelenting wave of suppression, several occupiers spoke of how they felt a weight lifted from a sense of marginalization and demoralization that had set in among many. After the rally, there was a spirited march to Zuccotti Park, where buttons were passed out that read: "Occupy. Return. Stronger."
February 28 was an inspiring first step to mobilize broadly all those who have been inspired by the Occupy movement to say NO! to the attempt to suppress thought and expression, to say no to the systematic and nationally coordinated attacks, to say no to the demonization of Occupy, to say this is intolerable and must not stand. The breadth and diversity of people on the stage and the spirit that ran through the day pointed to the basis to move forward.
Revolution #261 February 26, 2012
Posted March 1, 2012
The following speech was given by Andy Zee, spokesperson for Revolution Books, NYC, at the Occupy rally in Union Square on February 28, 2012:
Today we say to the 1% and to the political and police structures that enforce their interests that your suppression of Occupy must stop. We are creating a political situation—an understanding—an ethos—where every time these bullying police pepper spray a student, or a grandmother... 1,000 more see them as thug enforcers of a system that has no future for the youth or the elderly. Where every cop baton swung into the gut of a protester... every rubber bullet ordered by mayors and governors and the Obama administration causes more people to see them as the representatives of a system that destroys lives of millions of people here and around the world.... Every lie the media tells must become reason for more people to say "Enough—not in my name—I stand with Occupy and you have to come through me."
By what we do today more people can come to see the links between the violence this system brings down on legitimate protest and the daily violence it carries out—from the genocidal mass incarceration of millions of Black and Latino youth ... to murdering people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Middle East with drones ... millions from Africa to the U.S. hungry and dispossessed of jobs and homes. What hypocrisy and BS for you to say that you had to evict Occupy because of a few ugly and repugnant acts of sexual violence [ed note: one of the pretexts for removing occupiers were complaints of sexual harassment] when every 15 seconds in the U.S. a woman is beaten and 25% of female college students will be raped or sexually assaulted while in college. It’s this system that needs to be evicted.
I speak today for Revolution Books and I say WE NEED A REVOLUTION. We are building a movement for a revolution based on a new synthesis of communism developed by Bob Avakian to bring about a world “where human beings everywhere would be free of exploitation and oppression, where people could really flourish, where humanity could be fit caretakers of the earth.” Don’t say that can’t happen. There is a strategy. The workings of the system give rise to crises where people are more open to big ideas and change. In such moments, advances can be made in the work of getting to revolution and a whole new society.
Occupy broke open acceptance of the status quo. People began to ask why. Does it have to be like this? They put their lives on the line. A frozen spirit of resistance began to thaw and a new wind of change began to blow. Be clear: Even this questioning and beginning resistance was intolerable to those who rule and they methodically moved to crush Occupy. That alone speaks loudly that this economic and political system has nothing to offer but brute force.
Now, the continuing suppression of Occupy poses new questions. But, in taking this on, more people can come to see the intolerable injustice and move into struggle.
Today we are showing that. We come from very different political perspectives and with different goals. That’s part of the process. Principled debate and ferment are essential to changing the world. Blaming and targeting so-called "bad" protesters, so-called "bad" occupiers, or engaging in anti-communism weakens the struggle against the system we confront.
Today we unite that we will not allow Occupy to be suppressed. To all occupiers: Make plans—continue to struggle against what this system does. But, recognize and take on the suppression and call forward many more to stand against it. And to everyone else: You have a responsibility to mobilize and act.
Occupy has been shown the instruments of unjust state power and they are formidable.
But there are two things we have... that they do not, and can never, have: (1) Justice. That is on our side. (2) The people—potentially in their millions—whose interests are not with immoral and illegitimate suppression and who can be mobilized to stand with Occupy.
Today this phase of the struggle has begun. Dare to struggle. Dare to win. Keep the whole world in your hearts and minds.