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Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
2012 has brought a flood of war talk and aggressive preparations for war on Iran. Indeed, war looms more ominously week by week.
The U.S., Israel, and the European Union have intensified their economic, political, and diplomatic assault on Iran. They claim it's needed to force Iran to halt its nuclear enrichment program, which they say is actually aimed at giving Iran the ability to build a nuclear weapon. Iran says its program is peaceful and is simply for generating nuclear power.
For further background and analysis, see:
Sanctions have been imposed aimed at crippling its economy and devastating the lives of millions of Iranians. Several Iranian scientists have been assassinated in the streets of Tehran. U.S. drones illegally fly over Iran, violating its airspace. U.S. carrier strike task forces have twice this year sailed within a few miles of Iran's coast, carrying missiles and dozens of war planes which analysts call "larger and more capable than the entire air force of many American allies." Every day some provocative new claim is uttered by some politician or pundit in the U.S., or Israel claims that Iran is a grave and immediate nuclear threat or is hatching worldwide terror plots. In these ways, the U.S. and its allies are already waging forms of warfare on Iran.
Meanwhile, they're openly discussing waging a military war. Foreign Affairs—the premier U.S. imperialist policy journal—has published at least two essays calling for military action: "Time to Attack Iran: Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option" (January/February 2012) and "Why Obama Should Take Out Iran's Nuclear Program" (November 9, 2011). On January 25, the New York Times Magazine published a lengthy piece, "Will Israel Attack Iran?" laying out the Israeli case for war. Its author, Ronen Bergman, concluded: "After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012." The Washington Post reported Defense Secretary "Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June." ("Is Israel preparing to attack Iran?" David Ignatius, February 2, 2012)
Throughout, there have been reports of extremely tense debates within the U.S. ruling class and between the Obama administration and the Israeli government over how to deal with Iran, with one high-level delegation after another shuttling between Washington, D.C. and Israel's capital Tel Aviv. On Sunday, March 4, President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who reportedly pushed him to issue an ultimatum to Iran: either halt your nuclear enrichment program entirely or face attack. All this is taking place against the backdrop of ongoing upheaval in the Middle East, in particular in Syria, where Western military intervention is being intensely discussed.
Faced with a campaign to destabilize, crush, or overthrow its rule, the Islamic Republic of Iran has responded with counter-moves of its own. Iran's military has staged exercises and missile tests, and Iranian generals have stated it would be easy for them to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world's oil supply flows. Other Iranian military officials warn that Iran could strike first if it felt an attack was imminent. Iran's leader Ayatollah Khamenei has declared Iran will refuse to bow to U.S. pressure to end its nuclear program and will strike back against any attacks.
This U.S.-Israel-initiated dynamic of threat and counter-threat, move and counter-move has created an escalating trajectory of confrontation and very possibly war in the not distant future.
A narrative is being created—with each spin of the news cycle—that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. The New York Times routinely reports that "Western politicians believe Iran is building a nuclear weapons capability," or that "Iran's nuclear program has a military objective." In his interview with NBC's Matt Lauer broadcast during the Super Bowl, President Obama stated: "Iran has to stand down on its nuclear weapons program." He then threatened, "Until they do, I think Israel rightly is going to be very concerned, and we are as well."
This narrative is built on lies, half-truths, innuendos, and distortions. In reality, top Western politicians know there's no proof that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, and that there is no definitive evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. The 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), representing a consensus of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, stated: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." This estimate continues to be upheld as valid, a basic fact that is hardly ever even mentioned in U.S. media coverage or official statements. Nor was this disproved by the oft-cited November 2011 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Officially, Obama and his cabinet also state—at least for the moment—that Iran doesn't have a bomb and hasn't decided to pursue one. But nonetheless, the dominant public perception is that Iran is doing something illegal and probably working on a nuclear weapon.
So this fabricated "certainty" that Iran is building nuclear weapons then becomes grist for even wilder threats and fear-mongering. After Israel claimed that Iran was developing missiles with a 6,000-mile range, capable of hitting the U.S. (without a shred of proof and in contradiction to everything known about Iranian capabilities), Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich warned voters in Ohio: "You think about an Iranian nuclear weapon. You think about the dangers, to Cleveland, or to Columbus, or to Cincinnati, or to New York." Gingrich said, "Remember what it felt like on 9/11 when 3,100 Americans were killed. Now imagine an attack where you add two zeros. And it's 300,000 dead. Maybe a half-million wounded. This is a real danger." ("Gingrich Warns of Iranian Nuclear Attack," New York Times,February 8, 2012)
The specter of Iranian terror attacks has also been added to this nuclear nightmare stew. On January 31, national intelligence director James Clapper testified to Congress that "Some Iranian officials—probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States." Recent bomb attacks on Israeli embassies in Georgia, India, and Thailand were blamed on Iran. The day after the explosions in Georgia and India, an opinion piece by the head of the New York Police Department's intelligence analysis unit in the Wall Street Journal argued that "As the West's conflict with Iran over its nuclear program heats up, New York City—with its large Jewish population—becomes an increasingly attractive target." ("The Iranian Threat to New York City," Mitchell D. Silber, February 14, 2012)
No evidence has been produced for these charges. Meanwhile, there is evidence of Israeli and perhaps U.S. involvement in the January 11 assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist (the fifth targeted, the fourth killed in the last several years). An Obama official told NBC News that Israel was supplying the reactionary Iranian group M.E.K. with money, training, and weapons in order to carry out these assassinations.
Weaving together these distortions, half-truths, speculations, and outright lies paints a picture of Iran as a reckless violator of its legal agreements and international law, a rogue state preventing a peaceful resolution of differences, instead escalating the conflict by refusing to agree to the reasonable demands of the U.S. and its allies.
Most fundamentally, this narrative is designed to obscure the actual nature of the regimes that are clashing—the U.S. and Israel versus Iran—what interests they're fighting for and what the clash is really all about, as well as what's driving the dynamic of confrontation and possibly war. Put another way, if Iran does not have a nuclear weapon, and the U.S. and Israel know this, why are they threatening war?
In a nutshell, the U.S., Britain, and France represent the most militarily, politically, and economically dominant coalition of predatory capitalist-imperialist powers on earth, which together possess thousands of nuclear weapons. Israel is their heavily armed surrogate and enforcer in the Middle East with an estimated 75-200 nukes. Iran, on the other hand, is a much less powerful Third World capitalist state without nuclear weapons. The U.S. can project power thousands of miles from its shores and has 737 military bases around the world; Iran's navy rarely ventures beyond the Persian Gulf/Arabian Sea area and has no foreign military bases. The U.S. spends 100 times as much on its military as Iran, and has over 2,000 deployed nuclear weapons. Its population is over three times as large as Iran's; its economy is nearly 18 times larger and much more technologically advanced than Iran's.
At bottom, this is a battle by the U.S. and its allies to maintain their dominance over the Middle East and the world. This need is rooted in the core functioning and power of their entire system, which is based on the global exploitation of labor, control and access to key resources and markets, and the military-political control of vast swaths of the globe. Controlling the Middle East has been a key part of the entire structure of U.S. global dominance for the past 60-plus years because together with Central Asia it contains roughly 80 percent of the world's proven energy reserves. Control of this energy spigot is a key lever on the entire global economy—and on all the other powers that depend on oil and natural gas—from allies in Europe and Japan to rivals Russia and China. The region is a crossroads for global trade and a critical military-strategic pivot.
In short, the U.S., Israel, Britain, and France are battling for empire and hegemony—not for justice, liberation, or a nuclear-free world.
Why is Iran such a problem for them? The Islamic Republic of Iran is a reactionary theocracy that may or may not be seeking the ability to build a nuclear weapon—nuclear weapons are extremely dangerous in anyone's hands!
However, Iran is definitely not seeking to break out of the framework of or fundamentally challenge the system of global capitalism-imperialism. It is attempting to maintain its hold on power in Iran, expand its influence in the Middle East, and develop relationships with a range of world powers such as Russia, China, Pakistan, and India. Iran is a relatively strong and coherent state with enormous oil wealth. It has strengthened Islamist trends across the region that are clashing with the U.S. It poses a military, political, and ideological challenge and in some ways is an alternative to the whole structure of U.S. control of the Middle East—from the settler-colonial state of Israel to the U.S.-backed network of torturers, tyrants, and potentates from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States—on which U.S. control rests.
Add to this the fact that Iran has historically been a huge "prize" for rival empires. It sits on the world's second largest reserve of natural gas and third largest oil reserve at a time of growing energy competition. It's located at the crossroads of two key energy routes—the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea—and two key regions—Central Asia and the Middle East.
Shortly after the Islamic Republic took power in 1979 with the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah (who was a key ally in the region), the U.S. broke and never restored diplomatic relations and has never recognized the Islamic regime, but instead sought to contain, undermine, even overthrow it. In the 1980s the U.S. did this by instigating the eight-year-long bloodbath known as the Iran-Iraq War. During the 1990s, the U.S. attempted to strangle Iran through sanctions and "containment." As soon as the so-called war on terror was launched in 2001, Iran was named part of the "axis of evil" and slated for regime change via escalating sanctions, covert actions, and threats of war.
The U.S.-Israeli position on Iran's nuclear program only makes sense within this context. This crisis has brought more fully into public view U.S.-Israeli insistence that Iran not even or ever have nuclear capacity. The word "capacity" is often used in the media as if it means having a nuclear weapon. But what the U.S. and Israel mean by nuclear "capacity" or "capability" is actually the technological ability to enrich uranium, even for nuclear power plants and for medical purposes, despite the fact that they are given that right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The answer is because even the possibility that Iran could build a bomb, even if it never did, could change the regional balance of power including the military balance of power—and that's the core issue driving this clash. "Iran could be seeking to enhance its influence in the region by creating what some analysts call 'strategic ambiguity,'" The New York Times acknowledge in a February 24 analysis. "Rather than building a bomb now, Iran may want to increase its power by sowing doubt among other nations about its nuclear ambitions." ("U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb," James Risen and Mark Mazzetti)
So the fear is NOT that Iran will simply build a bomb and wipe Israel off the map. The imperialists' fear is that Iran's influence in the region—which has already broadened in certain ways due to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, spiking oil prices, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, and the rise of new powers globally—will grow further if it is perceived as militarily stronger and less vulnerable to U.S. and/or Israeli attack. This could erode the U.S. grip on the region, including its ability with Israel to attack anyone, anytime, anywhere—including Iran itself.
Nuclear weapons in anyone's hands are a terrible thing. But the U.S. and Israel are not threatening Iran to eliminate nuclear weapons—they're threatening Iran to maintain their monopoly of nuclear weapons and military dominance of the region.
This is why negotiations have failed and why the U.S. refused Iran's 2003 offer to negotiate all outstanding issues in return for recognizing the IRI and its interests in the region, and calling off the dogs of pressure, intervention, and bullying. The U.S. negotiating position to date has been akin to the godfather attempting to force a smaller rival to accept an offer "they can't refuse": that Iran essentially forfeit its right to enrich uranium.
To this point, Iran's clerical rulers have felt this is not an offer they can accept given the fissures in the Iranian ruling class as well as the mass hatred of their oppressive rule (particularly after the uprising following the June 2009 elections). To do so in their view would amount to a public capitulation which could undercut their strength and legitimacy while not ending U.S. hostility, thus threatening to unravel their rule.
The U.S. refusal so far to make any major agreement with the Islamic Republic has also been shaped by the U.S. refusal to do anything which could strengthen the Iranian regime—because its strategic objective all along has been bringing down the regime.
This confrontation between the "red line" interests of Israel and the U.S. on one side and the Islamic Republic of Iran on the other have also accelerated in the past year because of the profound changes that have shaken the region. This is a key reason the current rise in tensions is much, much more serious than periods of increased U.S.-Iranian tensions in recent decades.
The two key regional developments are first, the U.S. failures—in many senses defeats—in Iraq and Afghanistan, and second, the Arab upheaval. The first has meant that the U.S. has failed in creating reliable bases in the region from which to solidify its dominance, project its power, and, as a part of this, strangle Iran; instead, Iran has been strengthened by these U.S. failures. The second has meant that the region's political terrain is shifting rapidly, and in unpredictable ways—with the potential to seriously shake U.S. influence and control and increase Iran's influence. Iran's insistence on continuing its nuclear program, and the failure of previous U.S.-led efforts to topple or shake the regime, are intensifying these concerns.
Right now Syria, a close ally of Iran, is the focal point. Thousands of Syrians have risen up against the hated Assad regime, which has killed over 6,000 Syrians in attempting to put down the opposition, which is a mixed bag of various political forces. The U.S. and other powers are now attempting to take advantage and take control of this revolt to take down the Assad regime in order to strengthen their position in the region and to weaken Iran.
Efraim Halevel, former director of Israel's intelligence service Mossad, writes in the New York Times: "The public debate in America and Israel these days is focused obsessively on whether to attack Iran in order to halt its nuclear weapons ambitions; hardly any attention is being paid to how events in Syria could result in a strategic debacle for the Iranian government. Iran's foothold in Syria enables the mullahs in Tehran to pursue their reckless and violent regional policies—and its presence there must be ended." ("Iran's Achilles' Heel," February 7, 2012)
British author and journalist Patrick Seale called the battle over Syria "a struggle between the United States, on the one hand, and its allies, and its opponents like Russia and China ... for regional dominance, who is to be top dog.... [T]his as a concerted attack, assault, on not only Syria, but Iran, as well. You see, Iran, Syria and their ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, that trio, a sort of Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah axis, has in recent years been the main obstacle to American and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. And the attempt now is to bring that axis down.... Now, [U.S.] ally, Israel, has also suffered recently, in recent years. It tried to crush Hezbollah in 2006, when it went into Lebanon. It tried to crush Hamas in Gaza when it invaded Gaza in 2008, '09. It feels that the combination of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah has made a dent in its military supremacy in the region. It's seeking to restore its overall dominance. Now, both these powers, United States and Israel, its ally, believe, I think, that overthrowing the regimes in Tehran and Damascus will allow them to restore their supremacy and come back on top. So that's what we're witnessing. It's a struggle for regional supremacy, regional dominance...." ("A Struggle for Regional Supremacy: Syria Conflict Escalates as World Powers Debate Assad's Future," Democracy Now!, February 7, 2012)
War is not a foregone conclusion, and there are indications that the Obama administration is resisting Israel's demand for an immediate ultimatum to Iran. (See "Is Israel Driving the Threat of War?"). Nor is the point that any of the parties simply want war. But the current moves by the U.S. and Israel are ominously similar to the moves by the U.S. leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Iran's continued pursuit of nuclear enrichment impacts and intensifies U.S.-Israeli concerns about its regional influence (including because of the possibility that Iran's nuclear facilities could become more difficult to destroy). For Iran, the threats against it, as well as the dangers the regional upheaval pose for it, increase its perceived need not to back down on the nuclear issue.
So tensions are rising, and the U.S., Israel, and Iran remain on a collision course, which is very difficult for any to back away from. And there are powerful forces within the ruling class demanding the U.S. not back away. In early March, 12 senators warned Obama in a letter not to engage in negotiations with Tehran unless and until it halted its enrichment program first, and a recent resolution submitted in the Senate demanded the U.S. not accept any policy of "containing" a nuclear Iran, or even allow it to enrich uranium on its own soil. It was in effect, a road map for war. One of its sponsors, Senator Joe Lieberman, stated it was intended "to say clearly and resolutely to Iran: You have only two choices—peacefully negotiate to end your nuclear program or expect a military strike to end that program."
Martin Indyk, hardline imperialist strategist and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, writes that events are "spinning out of control." "As the Obama administration ramps up the sanctions pressure on Iran to accept meaningful curbs on its nuclear program, it is following a strategy of coercive diplomacy that has a fundamental design flaw. Consequently, President Obama is in danger of achieving the opposite of his intention: Iran may well decide that rather than negotiate a compromise, its best choice is actually to cross the nuclear weapons threshold, with fateful consequences for all." Indyk concludes, "Sadly, the dynamics of the current situation appear to make conflict inevitable. We are now engaged in a three-way game of chicken in which for Khamenei, Netanyahu and even Obama, physical or political survival makes blinking more dangerous than confrontation...." ("Iran Spinning Out of Control," New York Times, February 29, 2012)
Iran is capable of exporting terror and it is not impossible that it is pursuing nukes. But there is no evidence of either. And whether or not Iran is working to develop the ability to make a nuclear weapon, this does not justify any U.S. or Israeli military action, which would be a towering crime as well as an illegal and illegitimate war of aggression—a war crime—under the Nuremberg Principles of 1950.
It bears repeating and emphasis: The U.S. and Israel aren't attacking Iran's nuclear program to end nuclear weapons; they're doing it to preserve their regional monopoly on the freedom to threaten the people with these weapons of mass destruction (and whenever U.S. rulers say that "all options are on the table," that's exactly what they're doing). It's the U.S. and Israel—not Iran—who are the main sources of violence in the Middle East.
The U.S. condemns Iran for being a repressive theocracy. It is a repressive theocracy, but the U.S. isn't assaulting Iran to liberate Iranians. Look at Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. All had repressive regimes. Then the U.S. invaded—and made things WORSE by causing enormous death and destruction, imposing new forms of oppression, and fueling religious fundamentalism!
Just what is it the U.S. and Israel are really defending and seeking to preserve? They're working to preserve U.S. domination over this whole region in service of a global empire of exploitation imposed and maintained by massive violence. And if there's a debate among them, it's over how to best pursue that reactionary and criminal aim.
The rulers of the U.S. and Israel realize any attack on Iran could have unpredictable consequences. But they are committed, as they repeatedly state, to keep "all options on the table" when it comes to preserving their global dominance.
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
There is a lot of speculation in the U.S. press and among opponents of attacking Iran, that Israel is pushing for an attack on Iran and driving the war danger, while the Obama administration is seeking to restrain Israel and avoid war. And a lot of people feel that this is another instance of the "Israel lobby" having decisive influence in U.S. politics. (A number of anti-war groups will be protesting at the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Convention in Washington March 4 - 6.
These perceptions have been fueled by a torrent of news reports. For instance, a February 8 New York Times analysis, "U.S. and Israel Split on Speed of Iran Threat," a February 28 AP report that Israel has told the U.S. it would not inform them before striking Iran, and February 26 public statements by both General Martin Dempsey, chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague urging Israel not to attack Iran.
Israel looms large because it plays a crucial role for the U.S. in preserving its control of the Middle East. Israel functions—not as the homeland of Jewish people—but as America's "unsinkable aircraft carrier," as a U.S. official once put it, and the most solidly reliable ally and military outpost in the region. Particularly in this period of upheaval and transition, Iran's rising power and the other changes in the region do have the potential to undermine Israel's position as a Western settler-colonial outpost in the heart of the Middle East.
This is why Barack Obama stated in his Super Bowl interview that in relation to Iran, "[W]e have closer military and intelligence consultation between our two countries than we've ever had. And my number one priority continues to be the security of the United States, but also the security of Israel, and we are going to make sure that we work in lockstep as we proceed to try to solve this, hopefully diplomatically." Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak states, "The U.S. is what helps us to preserve the military advantage of Israel, more than ever before. This administration contributes to the security of Israel in an extraordinary way and does a lot to prevent a nuclear Iran." ("Will Israel Attack Iran?" Ronen Bergman, New York Times Magazine, January 25, 2012)
This is why the U.S. has stood by Israel. But the U.S. is also "stuck with" Israel, whose perceived needs and interests are not always identical to those of the U.S. imperialists. There now appear to be sharp arguments taking place between the rulers of Israel and the U.S.—and within the ruling classes of these countries—over the exact state of Iran's nuclear program, where exactly to draw the "red line," the dangers and difficulties of any military strike, and how overall to advance the imperialists' interests regionally and globally.
It is possible that the U.S. position on Iran's nuclear program—based on its overall and strategic imperial considerations—could be shifting and diverging from Israel's, with Israel drawing a "red line" at Iran having the capacity to make nuclear weapons, i.e., enriching uranium (although that's not all that is involved in making a nuclear weapon), while the U.S. seems to be more ambiguous about this and sometimes stating its "red line" is Iran's actual pursuit of nuclear weapons. This has given rise to speculation that there could be a negotiated resolution to the crisis which would enable Iran to continue enriching uranium to 3.5 percent but under much tighter supervision/inspection and abandoning enrichment to 20 percent and probably being forced to open its research files, disclose suppliers, etc. (And recently Obama officials have also called the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) "rational actors" not madmen, and said they were unlikely to start a war with the U.S. or Israel. See: "Iran Is Ready to Talk," Dennis B. Ross, New York Times, February 14, 2012.)
This has apparently led to tensions with elements in the ruling classes of both the U.S. and Israel which, at least in public, have not adopted this position. "Our policy is that in one way or another, Iran's nuclear program must be stopped," Israel's Barak said. A letter to Obama, sponsored by Republicans John McCain and Lindsay Graham, independent Joe Lieberman and New York's two Democratic senators, and signed by 32 Senators in all, pledges to oppose "any proposal ... in which Iran is permitted to continue enrichment on its territory in any form."
And the New York Times reports that the debates between the U.S. and Israel are not over whether Iran needs to be dealt with, but exactly how and when, including "whether Iran's crucial nuclear facilities are about to become impregnable ... the circumstances under which Israel would judge it could no longer hold off from an attack because Iran's effort to produce a bomb would be invulnerable to any strike." ("U.S. and Israel Split on Speed of Iran Threat," February 8, 2012)
Less Than Meets the Eye?
Whatever debate is taking place between the U.S. and Israel—and their key secret deliberations are not often carried in the media—they are both proceeding from the reactionary interests of empire, and their unity remains much greater than their differences. In addition, there may be less than meets the eye here, with elements of a division of labor as much as a division of opinion.
Obama gave a lengthy interview to Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic during which he more directly and forcefully laid out his insistence that Iran would not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons, that the U.S. would not implement a strategy of acceding to and then "containing" a nuclear Iran, that preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons was a top priority for U.S. global interests as well, and that his concern about an Israeli attack right now is that it could help Iran and hurt Israel.
Goldberg writes: "[T]he United States 'has Israel's back,' and that he will order the U.S. military to destroy Iran's nuclear program if economic sanctions fail to compel Tehran to shelve its nuclear ambitions.... The president also said that Tehran's nuclear program would represent a 'profound' national-security threat to the United States even if Israel were not a target of Iran's violent rhetoric, and he dismissed the argument that the United States could successfully contain a nuclear Iran.... Obama went to great lengths to caution Israel that a premature strike might inadvertently help Iran: 'At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally, [Syria,] is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as a victim?'" ("Obama to Iran and Israel: 'As President of the United States, I Don't Bluff,'" March 2, 2012)
In other words, Obama is assessing whether or not to wage war on Iran from the standpoint of U.S. imperialism's global and regional interests—not from the perspective of opposing war.
The Obama strategy may be: Israel, don't attack right away; let's see if sanctions and covert operations force Iran to cave, or lead to the weakening/destabilization of the regime, particularly given the potential for taking down the Assad regime in Syria. But if this doesn't work, we're in a much stronger position to wage war if we're seen as having walked the last mile for peace by giving sanctions "a chance," and engaging in some negotiations. And given the dangers of war, it's important to be in the strongest possible position.
One Israeli think tank notes that the U.S. has not decisively demanded Israel not attack:
"Statements made by administration officials are clear evidence of the administration's unwillingness to be viewed as the one giving Israel even a tacit green light to attack Iran. Nevertheless, even now, the administration's conduct in this context, especially the lack of threats against Israel should it ignore US entreaties to desist from attacking Iran, cannot but project the lack of a decisive stance. In the foreseeable future and the closer the administration approaches the moment of truth with regard to Iran, it may very well be—though there is no certainty here—that the administration will consider changing its current negative attitude regarding an Israeli military action against Iran." (Zaki Shalom, Institute for National Strategic Studies, February 29, 2012)
Obama told Goldberg that U.S. differences with Israel were "tactical and not strategic" and this may be such an instance. AntiWar.com reports: "While insisting that they 'want to see sanctions work,' Obama Administration officials are convinced that the sanctions won't lead Iran to abandon its civilian nuclear program and that either the US or Israel will attack Iran as a result.... Officials say Obama has been telling Israel he wants to 'give sufficient time' to the current round of sanctions before starting the war, though they say that in the end the result will...be a war because Iran is 'behaving like sanctions don't matter.'" ("US officials believe Iran sanctions will fail, making military action likely," Jason Ditz, AntiWar.com, February 17, 2012)
The U.S. and Israel claim their threats and moves towards war are to prevent a dangerous regime from obtaining nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons in anyone's hands pose a terrible threat to humanity. But the U.S. holds a massive stockpile of nuclear weapons and has already used them to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the Middle East, it is Israel that has an existing arsenal of 75 to 200 deliverable nuclear weapons. Those nukes are in the hands of a regime built on ethnic cleansing, a regime that carried out repeated wars against its neighbors since its inception.
Whether Israel first attacks Iran alone, or together with the U.S., both are guilty and both should be condemned worldwide.
The U.S. and Israel are already working together in attacking Iran in many ways and spreading lies and pretexts for war. They are both working to weaken or topple the Islamic Republic. They are making military preparations in the region. And they are both determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear capacity. And bottom line: Israel could never even think about attacking Iran without U.S. aid, arms, military collaboration, and the all-around U.S.-led assault on Iran—and the preservation of Israel and its security is a key U.S. imperialist objective.
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
BA Everywhere is a campaign aimed at raising big money to project Bob Avakian's voice and works throughout society—to make BA a household word. The campaign is reaching out to those who are deeply discontented with what is going on in the world, and stirring up discussion and debate about the problem and solution. It is challenging the conventional wisdom that this capitalist system is the best humanity can do—and bringing to life the reality that with the new synthesis of communism brought forward by BA, there is a viable vision and strategy for a radically new, and much better, society and world, and there is the leadership that is needed for the struggle toward that goal.
Success in this campaign can bring about a radical and fundamental change in the social and political atmosphere by bringing the whole BA vision and framework into all corners of society where it does not yet exist, or is still too little known, and getting all sorts of people to engage and wrestle with it.
BA Everywhere is a multi-faceted campaign, involving different key initiatives and punctuation points, at the same time sinking roots among all sections of the people and reaching out broadly in myriad creative ways. Revolution newspaper is where everyone can find out what's going on with all this: reports on what people are doing, upcoming plans, important editorials, etc. We call on readers to send us timely correspondence on what you are doing to raise money for BA Everywhere, why people are contributing, and what they are saying.
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
$15,000 is needed by the end of April for the next round of the BAsics Bus Tour.
The BAsics Bus Tour pilot project impacted thousands of people in California. Traveling from Southern to Northern California and back, a crew of people filled with determination and spirit called on people to get into BAsics and the revolutionary communist work and leadership of Bob Avakian. It was liberating—and it was fun! This boldly decorated bus rolled onto campuses and into swap meets and through the neighborhoods, and its riders got copies of BAsics into the hands of college and high school students, homeless people, immigrants and Black people and others living on the desperate edges in this society and people from the middle classes. We urge all our readers to get into the interview with one of the youth who rode on the bus.
Plans are coming together for the next trip of the BAsics Bus Tour this spring. Learning from and building on the experience of the pilot project—the next tour will be expanding the reach of BAsics and BA Everywhere to more campuses and communities where people who do not yet—and need to—know of Bob Avakian. Because of what BA has done, there is a viable and much better alternative and the strategy to achieve a different and far better world for all of humanity. And this bus tour is aiming to break through and bring to people what we have in and what is possible because of the leadership of BA.
And as the bus tour continues, one goal is for it to become known in society that there is a determined and dedicated group of people on a mission to make BA, BAsics and BA Everywhere a mass social question—puncturing through the oppressive “ways things are” and taking on all comers as they straight-up struggle for people everywhere to know about the revolution we need and the leadership we have.
Over March 31/April 1 we are calling for a concentrated weekend of fundraising for the BAsics Bus Tour across the country. In a unified way, over this weekend people from many different areas will set their sights on raising the $15,000. Make plans now for all the different ways this could be done. Groups of people can get together to have yard and bake sales, house parties and phone banking to draw in those who have been impacted by BA Everywhere and who should be urged to join in. Perhaps there could be citywide fundraisers. Individuals should be asked to donate.
This weekend effort should both bring together people to put their energies to raising thousands for the bus tour—and it should be a springboard to go out even further, reach the fundraising goals for the tour—and continue to expand the ranks of those joining in the campaign to get BA Everywhere.
Read the interview in this issue of Revolution and, once again, imagine what difference it will make for this experience to be built upon and the next round of the tour to have an even greater impact on the people it encounters and in society more broadly. And then think about the fact that this takes money. Money to secure the bus and decorate it. Money for gas for it to travel from town to town. Money to feed and support the crew of riders. Money to buy the materials that will be distributed on the tour. Money for the tour to be documented on film so that the message and impact of the tour can be multiplied and spread throughout society.
Fundraising itself is a key way people can get in on and build support for the tour as a part of taking BA Everywhere. Utilize Revolution newspaper. The articles on the pilot project need to get into the hands of people to let them know what this tour can—and will—accomplish. And as we raise substantial funds, many more people must join in finding the ways to spread the word and let people know this tour is again hitting the road. There are innumerable creative ways for people to join the collectivities coming together to make this tour and its objectives a reality. One very important way is to ride the bus, to join the crew on a mission to get BAsics and BA out into society. And know that this will be an exciting experience full of learning about the society and the people who live in it—and wrangling with the big questions of the revolution.
Raise money for the BAsics Bus Tour! Volunteer to help the bus and its participants get ready! And become part of the crew who will be taking BA Everywhere to all corners of society.
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
An interview from the BAsics Bus Tour:
The following is an interview with someone who was part of the core of people involved in the recently concluded BAsics Bus Tour pilot project.
Q: You were part of a core of people who dedicated two weeks of their lives to go out on the BAsics Bus Tour and bring BAsics and Bob Avakian, his work and his vision, out to places where people had never seen anything like this. What was the political landscape you encountered?
A: Since we didn't know most of these areas, it was all very fresh and new. I remember rolling into Fresno and seeing how big of a city it is, but also how isolated it was. And then somewhere like Santa Ana which is just one exit on the freeway and that's it. I mean, on the superficial level it would seem like there wasn't any political landscape. You come from particularly a big city and you're sort of jaded by people having a voice or having a stand on something. You didn't really get that in some of these areas. The best way I could capture it, even metaphorically, it was like people were just sort of walking with their heads down, walking with sort of no end in sight. It was just sort of depressing in some sense how isolated these areas are but then also like people just sort of going about their daily activities in a way that's just dragging them. And you can see that in people's faces, but people would also say that. That was something that was pretty unexpected. It just kind of hit you in the face.
But there was also a real openness that this could connect. The BAsics Bus Tour came splashing onto the scene and splashing out with BAsics. It cut through people's daily existence of whatever sort of thing they were thinking about. It's not like people didn't have opinions on things. But you could tell that this was something that they'd never seen before, an RV fully decorated with BAsics, the front and back covers in English and Spanish. You had music, you had these multicultural people stepping off these buses and very alive with revolution, alive with a vision of a new world, but really wielding this book BAsics. It was something unexpected, it was something very new, but it was also something very welcome.
People at this Mardi Gras Festival in Fresno were running, especially youth near the end, running up to us and like, "What is this about?" "This is so cool, people who took two weeks off to like do this." "I could do this," or "I could see myself doing this," and things like that. It was like we brought color to it, color in the sense of the splash that we made on this black and white painting that was there. And it was with substance, and people saw that.
Q: Let's talk about the impact of the tour.
A: The impact of the quotes from BAsics: I think that was a very sharp awakening as to the potential of this BA Everywhere campaign, as far as introducing people to BA's work, and the content of that, people being sort of transformed as they're reading these quotes and really kind of getting inspired.
Specifically I remember the one about "Why do people come here from all over the world?" That just sort of had a transformative effect on individuals, on families, and really kind of saying, that's actually true. The world is fucked up and people are being dragged into different parts of the world and specifically into this country. It really gave fire to all those kind of repressed sentiments or feelings that something's going on, something's not right. But then when reading these or when engaging with some of BA's work, the content of BAsics, it was just sort of a switch, where people got angry that this was the reality of this, but then also felt inspired, like, "How do I stay connected with this?" Or "How do I keep in contact with this?"
And I felt for others it was more like they felt compelled to like argue their points out, even as we're going back and forth there's some real engagement. Especially on campuses—"This is what I've learned about this country," not in those words, but about this country and what it does to the world and really putting forward a position of like, well things can't change. But even when we sharply cut through that and said, actually things can be radically different. They have been. A whole other world is possible because of what BA has brought forward and because of what is concentrated in this book. It was sort of a mind trip for folks, like it took some time to even walk through that process.
It was very interesting on these college campuses especially because of that. Because, it was sort of the landscape of not having this movement for revolution be out there, on a continuous basis or whatever, the freshness of that. But then when introduced to it, or when challenged with it or kind of confronted with it, it sort of brought something out in people, they didn't even know they had sort of consolidated in their thinking of how to understand the world and how to go forward and what's possible and what isn't.
I think that was sort of the edge and the vibe and the feel throughout the whole tour, this lack of revolution out there, no revolutionary pole in society. I feel like that's sort of the thing, imagination being locked and being confined to this putrid culture and system. And through the engagement we had with people, then it was a thing of people kind of clearing the fog a little and really being inspired in one way. But then also really challenged and really provoked to figure out what this is all about and how they can be a part of this. There's sort of a different edge that this BAsics Bus Tour has because of what it objectively represents and how it's speaking to things that nothing else is speaking to.
In the Watts area, that was really interesting too because we were set up not too far from one of the high schools in the area and all these youth who ordinarily would kind of brush us off or whatever felt because of everything, because of sort of the crew that was out there and because of the revolution that was out there and people were mixing it up and engaging with it, really felt compelled to like get at this. And one of their friends was talking to us. It was a mix. Everybody was all over the place and all over the spot in all these multiple conversations, and all being guided by BAsics. And really some of the arguments, like the Scarface mentality being put out there but when that was sharply challenged, it was, oh, like I've just got to revert back to my own ideas and not like—I've got to stop engaging this or something. It was interesting because it was split. All of a sudden you had a clique of friends that were repolarized in some sense, and then some were more vibing or jiving with what was being said and others were that whole thing of like, "Well, I think I have to stop this conversation, 'cause I don't think I can argue further my position in what you're saying."
I think it was, you know, it almost seemed like things were on the terms of this system, right? It almost felt like that's what people thought was the only solution to things. When this thing of you can change the world was brought more into it through the works of Avakian, it's almost as though people had closed that idea off. The world, you can actually change the world? Then it became well what do you mean by that? What do you mean you can change the world? And then, revolution? What kind of revolution? What are you talking about? And then the thing of you actually have a leader. Well, for most people there was a lot of "Mao was a horror," and "millions of deaths."
So we put an emphasis on chapter 2 of BAsics ["A Whole New—And Far Better—World"]. A lot of the quotes in there and really even the first one like, communism, the emancipation of all humanity and not the last shall be first and the first shall be last.
Q: So this was part of that downpressed imagination you talked about in terms of what people think is possible.
A: Yeah. I think so. On the one hand you understand these are the choices that the system offers people and you can get down to that. I guess that's sort of the impact of no revolutionary pole in society. People are then just sort of arguing with what exists and trying to find accommodations within that. Even if not consciously. You had a lot of youth who were just sort of like, well, the oppression of women, yeah it's bad, but it's not that bad. Or like the stuff that happens to youth in the neighborhoods or things like that. It's not that bad. Even one of these youth from Watts said well, you just gotta watch out for yourself or whatever.
It's like so that's what's there. So then you've just gotta work with that. You've gotta find amends with that. You've gotta find your own place within that. I felt like even with a lot of students, like that's the struggle with, "What am I going to do with my life? Am I going to go onto this field or am I going to go into that field?" I felt like that was the thing of like, that's it, and that's where your creativity gets stifled and that's sort of what you think is possible. And beyond that what you think other people should also think. Then reiterating that throughout society. Even these youth who work with other youth, or other community organizations or whatever. And then we come and say "No! That's not it. And if that were it, that's fucked up." So this is the thing of BAsics, and really connecting that up because of what exists.
Before going on tour, you could understand it theoretically, there's no revolutionary pole, people don't know of BA, there's no whole new generation of revolutionaries. But in a concentrated time of two weeks that just sort of slapped you in the face because that is exactly what is out there.
It can be very frustrating, but on the other hand I think there was a lot of like continuous wrangling even with the immediate situation that we dealt with in these individual places that we had to go to. And it shows the urgency of both this campaign of BA Everywhere but then the larger campaign of really bringing into existence a whole new stage of communist revolution.
I think that feeling—I've never been confronted with something like this—I feel like that was sort of the impact, that you could see that, like people were just, "What?" "What, something else is different? This isn't all that we can live under?" I feel like that was just a sharp edge in people's daily routine, even daily understanding of things. No other way would they have thought of this, I feel honestly—just because of the way it's captured in these quotes. Because of the way BA brings it out very sharply but also very simply for people to get through these quotes.
Q: What kind of response did you get to boldly bringing out Bob Avakian and the importance of his leadership in the world today?
A: I would say that in one sense it wasn't something that people were like, "No leadership or leadership," because of the newness of it. But in another sense it was a thing of like, leadership, and the leadership that is alive and that is guiding this. And then it became a more sharply posed thing of, well, what is it that makes this leader so great? Why this person? When things were put in that context—and people were being honest, it wasn't like trying to challenge you—when put in the context of the importance of what BA represents and the work he's developed, the leadership he is providing, the crucial leadership that he is providing now, it's just sort of the thing of people stepping back and getting in some sense that this is really serious, this is really different.
I had this one student just run away from me, 'cause he felt like it was too much. But on the other hand when it was in like the neighborhoods, it was deeply appreciated that you had this leadership still alive. People would ask questions about where is he? Things like that. And when you got it reframed in the context of what this system is capable of doing to leaders, and what the system has done, this thing of really taking that serious and understanding that this leadership cannot be lost.
I felt that was more the terms that needed to be shifted. This isn't just like whatever. This is someone that needs to be engaged because of the urgency ahead of humanity, but it's someone that also needs to be protected. That was more of the common thread that would come up.
Q: You mentioned this big hole that exists in this society, that there's no revolutionary vision and no revolutionary pole. What impact do you think this BAsics Bus Tour had in terms of starting to change that?
A: Thinking back to that piece in Revolution on the BA Everywhere campaign of what difference it could make, it's sort of the beginning of cutting through that. It's sort of like that. Because on the one hand, it's these very concentrated areas, like in Orange County there were smaller cities that we went to. We even happened to like crisscross some people who had seen us on campus one day or had seen us somewhere else and then they were like, I have to just stop and talk to these people and find out what this is all about.
So that was on the one hand, the concentration of that. We also went to places like Fresno. One person who had met us at some gay rights protest a while back and had bought the DVD [Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About] and had watched it and it just left this sort of impact on him. When he saw us again, he was like, "Whoa, you guys are here again." Another young woman in Fresno saw the DVD, maybe the first 15 minutes of it, and her immediate comment afterward was, "Whoa, I can tell this person is under-appreciated. And I can totally understand why you are on this bus to get him out there everywhere, to get him out there because he does need to be out there for what he's saying."
So I feel like that's the immediate sort of crisp to that, that it introduced people to this leadership. It introduced people to who BA is, through a multifaceted way, through videos, through displays, through engaging with the revolutionaries, things like that. But I also feel that those who did sort of make that initial step of getting some of these materials, the book, or signing up with us or things like that, like, there's a sort of yearning to want to stick with this, or want to continue this.
We've raised the level of the thing of like what is possible, what is obtainable. I think that's sort of the reshifting of things. Putting the potential not only of humanity but the potential of individuals to be a part of bringing that into existence. Putting that into that level, that a whole other world is possible is really raising questions as to what I usually can surmise to be possible, what I've been told is true, like it's not vibing no more. So it's a cut but it's a very important one.
At one of the homeless encampments we went to in Fresno I spoke to a group of Spanish speakers, immigrants I would imagine, and I really put out, read these quotes, and one quote was read out loud, about if you can see the world as it is, there's two roads you can take. So after he finished reading it he was saying, "I like this. I like this because it says we can be a part of changing things. This is about bringing something different." Just captured in that quote. And then somebody else read the one about "bitches and hos," and at first they giggled that even those words are in there, but then they were like, I agree, we do need something different. This very basic capturing of something different. We need something different and you're right. At whatever level and whatever understanding. And people sat there and read this special issue of the paper [on BAsics]. And the one group that I did leave Lo BAsico with were more like, I want to take this to other people and I want to share this, to people within their own encampments, but then to whoever else they met. And so they took a stack of the papers and they took a copy of the book and they were very appreciative. They were appreciative of the fact that we had come and talked to them, but then that we had talked to them about this. And by that they mean what we're talking about, BAsics.
Q: This was a pilot project for a national tour; have you thought about the impact of this going all over the country?
A: The thing about these shackles or these weights being lifted off of people. You know, I feel principally, that was something that we weren't necessarily prepared for, but as it unfolded, you really saw the thing of those hungry for something different, and those that didn't even know that they were hungry for that, but when confronted with this, were just like, you could see sort of something change into something different.
This was just one state. But if you think about that on a nationwide scale and going to all these places where this movement for revolution has never touched before, and what it's coming with. I don't know. It just seems like things can uncork in a way of people even vying for something different. And even within that, even those who thought they knew what revolution and communism was about like totally being confronted with what it actually is about. And then there being the sort of like, sort of the image that's painted—well, I've been reading such-and-such and what do you think about that? What do you think about what BAsics says, or what BA says, or what BA says about, you know what a whole new world is going to be about, or the socialist transition to communism—you can definitely see that really transforming and happening. And I think that even the impact in a very concentrated time, the impact of people really on a mission to change that and to do that, and standing on that. Not for like showmanship or whatever, because it actually is based on this whole new way that humanity can exist and the connection and the urgency of that coming into existence and people being a part of that. I feel like that captures it, these sort of shackles or these weights being lifted off of people. Not that everybody's just going to transform or whatever, but even like the resetting of terms, the repolarizing for something different in society.
And then the possibility of that, I think today, anyway, I'm thinking about this thing of preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution. And the difference it would make if you had cores of people in all different parts of this country that were studying BA's new synthesis of communism, that were engaging with BA's work and that were really sort of transforming, even not necessarily directly connected to us. You think of the thing of like a revolutionary situation arises, and then the heightening possibility for the establishment of a new socialist state, and for even taking that further, into the emancipation of humanity, communism.
That gets back to the impact that it did have on folks, like Whoa! Whatever way it got manifested I think the basic understanding that you do have a people on a mission to build a movement for revolution, and I need to check it out, I need to look in that direction, or I need to get into it a little bit deeper. I need to be a part of that. I feel like that was some of the mix of the sentiments.
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
Week of March 19
"Scenes from BA Everywhere" is a weekly feature that gives our readers 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.
Michael Slate's interview of Bob Avakian (in Revolution #260, online at revcom.us) about the Cultural Revolution in China has been the focus of a lively and exciting series of discussions at Revolution Books, NYC. The discussions have touched on a wide range of issues, including how Mao was fighting for the socialist road and at the same time breaking with the Soviet model of socialism, why the Cultural Revolution was a revolution, and how Mao was giving leadership to it. A Chinese professor and scholar who took part in the Cultural Revolution has shared her own direct experience, including what it meant to be trained as a barefoot doctor who went to the countryside. People are wrangling with Avakian's assessments of the great breakthrough represented by the Cultural Revolution and its shortcomings and problems as well.
We received the following correspondence:
We are in the midst of the production process for the film Occasioned by BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World. This is a film about an event that took place last spring—where a range of artists came together in a cultural performance occasioned by the release of BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian—a book of quotations and short essays that speaks to the essential questions of revolution and human emancipation. Last December, through the efforts of hundreds of people across the country, $25,000 was raised for the production of this film.
We wanted to give an update to Revolution readers on one important way a number of people are participating in the production, and what we're learning from that.
The production process includes transcribing many hours of interviews with the artists who participated—exploring the range of reasons they wanted to be part of this event, their thoughts on BA's work, and what it means to them, taking off from that, to celebrate revolution and the vision of a new world. Several volunteers have dedicated dozens of hours to transcribing these interviews—an important contribution that will enable this film to get out into the world as part of the promotion of BA's voice, and what can get opened up in society when that is projected and engaged. The volunteers are themselves coming from different perspectives but appreciated the experience.
Here's what a few volunteers said about why they wanted to be part of this, and what they're getting from this process:
* * * * *
"...As a supporter of jazz and member of the Jazz Institute of Chicago I am fully aware of the struggles of brilliant musicians. Transcribing interviews for BAsics gave me insight into many injustices surrounding arts and culture. The American way has failed. I hope the movie will impel a movement to right these wrongs."
* * * * *
"Volunteering in general, and very much so in the transcribing of these interviews, brings about a tremendous learning experience... I enjoyed hearing the different perspectives on the book, the party, the movement, and the man. I was excited to be a part of something (the film) that is going to be a wonderful, important gift for people." In another comment, the same volunteer said, "I am enjoying the interviews—I agree that the BAsics book is a great addition to the BA library... this book just gives you little punches of important brain and 'soul' nourishment. I like the fact that the interviewees so far, although agreeing on some things also have differing thoughts and opinions—demonstrative of embracing and encouraging questioning and accepting differing opinions around the main goal thought process..."
* * * * *
"As for my thoughts, like many of the people whose words I transcribed, I'm not particularly interested in promoting communism or Bob Avakian because I am not convinced they have a perfect solution... however, I believe it is immensely important for someone—anyone—to expose the ills of capitalism and imagine alternatives. I did find it comforting that most of the people who shared their art and time were in it for the same reasons as I am, and I appreciated the opportunity to hear them talk about their poetry, art, etc. on the topic. I think the best thing this film will probably do is to give people some hope that there are a LOT of intelligent, talented people who want change in our system and are willing to work at it, so there is no need to feel powerless or apathetic. This was a lot of fun, thanks!"
From a reader:
BAsics is now available in three library systems in and around our city. Following the suggestion from librarians at the American Library Association written about in Revolution ("Get BAsics into Your Library," at revcom.us), a number of readers from our area submitted online Purchase Suggestions through their library websites. Within a few weeks, the books were ordered, sometimes multiple copies, and they are now on the shelves at different library locations. The last time I checked, all the copies in one library system were checked out and there was a waiting list. We also learned that many libraries share a common online catalogue called Bibliocommons, that has social media features that make it interactive, similar to Facebook. Anyone with a library card can log in and post reviews, videos, quotations, add searchable tag words, and rate the book 1-5 stars. When you rate a book, it scrolls across the computer screens of everyone looking at the catalogue's main page at that moment. Now when anyone looks up BAsics in any library around the country that has a Bibliocommons catalogue, they can watch a YouTube clip of Bob Avakian from the Revolution Talk. (Editors' note: Do this in your city!)
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
Whose Consent Really Counts and How Decisions Are Actually Made
Editors’ Note: This is taken from the talk “Why We’re In the Situation We’re In Today...And What to Do About It: A Thoroughly Rotten System and the Need For Revolution,” one of the 7 Talks given by Bob Avakian in 2006. Audio of the 7 Talks, plus the Question and Answer Session, with Concluding Remarks, is available on revcom.us in the Audio and Video listing for Bob Avakian, and at bobavakian.net. The author has edited this for publication here.
I’ve used this example before—that elections in the U.S. are like a very complicated audition. Complicated audition in the sense that it’s like the popular shows where people get on and perform, like “American Idol.” In these situations, secondarily you’re trying to get the approval of the audience, but primarily you’re trying to get the approval of the panel of judges. Even in terms of getting to perform, getting your chance to be out there before the audience—and in terms of how the audience is influenced—you have to get the approval of the judges. Now, part of getting the approval of the judges is showing that you can move the audience in a certain way—but in a fundamental sense it comes back to the judges. It’s the same thing in elections.
In these elections, under this system, the “audition” (in other words, participation in primary elections to determine who the final candidates will be) is geared primarily to the panel of judges—to where the big money is to finance a campaign, to where the people are who control the media and other major institutions—you have to win their approval, above all. But part of auditioning for them is to convince them that you can influence the “audience” (the public) in a way they want it influenced. That is a big part of the way you audition, of what this audition is really for—not for “the public” but for the “panel of judges”—for those people who are in a position to decide whether they will (or will not) get major finances funneled into your campaign, and will (or will not) cast your “audition” (your efforts as a candidate) in a favorable light in the mass media, and so on.
The “deciders,” in fundamental and ultimate terms, are not “the American People,” as they like to pretend, but that small part of “the American people” which dominates the economy and therefore the politics, the media and in general the means of molding public opinion, and every other sphere of social life: the capitalist-imperialist ruling class and its political and literary representatives.
How does this “panel of judges” decide whether your audition is any good—or, on the other hand, when to bring out the Simon Cowell type to tell you: “You stink, get the hell out of here!” [audience laughter] This is based on their calculation of their strategic interests and how what you’re doing, and what you stand for, a) will (or will not) serve those interests directly; and b) will (or will not) serve them, so to speak, indirectly—by influencing the populace in the way they want it influenced. That’s what makes the audition complicated. You’re not just auditioning for them, to see if they like “the key that you sing in,” but this is also, in a real sense, about whether or not they think you can influence the audience, the electorate (“the American people”) in the way they want to influence it.
Both things are part of the audition—but it’s all on the terms of the dynamics of this system. And what happens if you get outside of the dynamics of this system? For example, if you start saying: “It’s ridiculous that we spend so much on the military when people are so hungry in the world—we should cut the military budget in half and use that money to feed the people in the world—I was just listening to Bono the other day, and he convinced me.” [audience laughter] Well, you could run that out, but you’re not going to be a serious candidate for any significant elective office in the U.S., and certainly not for president, if you’re saying that. Why? For all the reasons I was discussing earlier: because that does not conform to the underlying dynamics of this system, and to the superstructural expressions—politically and militarily and geo‑strategically—of those underlying dynamics. You would be totally out of line with the way things actually work, to put it in simple terms, and you would get nowhere. Maybe you’d get an article in The Nation, or something [audience laughter], but you will get nowhere in terms of actually getting close to exercising any power or any significant influence on the direction of government and society in an overall sense. Because you’re “wack”—or you’re “out of whack”—you’re out of line with what the actual dynamics are and how that expresses itself in terms of the political and geo‑strategic needs of the people who are the dominant, ruling class within this system of capitalist-imperialist production relations—those who control this system and who fashion and use elections to function as a key part of the political structures to reinforce that system.
They have found this, up to this point at least, to be a convenient and actually a brilliant device as they have developed it—to do this in the form of elections. It serves their interests all the better, at least up to this point, to rule through a political system that involves “popular elections”—but popular elections in which and through which they exercise fundamental and ultimate control. That is what is really going on, and not something else. And that is why programs that may conform to what a lot of people would like, but are not in the interests of the ruling class, will get nowhere under this system. For example, if you took a poll and you asked people to indicate, up or down, how they felt about what I just articulated about cutting the military budget in half and using the half that was cut to end world hunger—probably a majority of people who identify as “Democrats” would be strongly in favor. But that has nothing to do with what the Democratic Party will adopt.
Why? That’s a question that people should be challenged to seriously engage. Why that discrepancy, what does that flow out of, what does that reflect, what does that tell us?
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
|Times Square, New York City
Photo: Special to Revolution
|People flipping off Hustler in Los Angeles
Photo: Special to Revolution
Photo: Alex Garland
Photo: Special to Revolution
|New York City
Photo: Li Onesto/Revolution
International Women’s Day—In New York and in other cities from Los Angeles. to Houston to Cleveland, people marched to end the war on women, to end pornography and patriarchy. The protests were something NEW—they were fierce, bold, rude, and unapologetic. Participants were all ages, all genders, many nationalities and included Occupiers, readers of Revolution newspaper, revolutionary communists, people from the projects and community organizers, high school and college students, and older women (and men) who had been part of or influenced by the women’s movement and other radical and revolutionary movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
In different cities the marches visited and supported health centers and clinics that provide abortion and birth control; protested at Christian fundamentalist churches and Catholic archdioceses; poured out rage at porn shops and strip clubs. Yellow crime-scene tape stretched across centers of abuse and degradation. After the marches in several cities, people sat down to eat and talk over what lies behind this war on women and what lies ahead to stop it.
People drew courage from standing up together and spoke bitterness about the real-life brutal experience of patriarchy and pornography. In NYC the march began outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral and grew in size to 65 people. The march made many stops: Times Square, Fox News, the military recruiting center, a strip club, and then a porn shop. Street theater portrayed how the church and the pornographer both steal women’s humanity and turn them into things to be used—objects for men, and incubators.
A Harvard student joined the march, telling a Revolution reporter of how he and his girlfriend had to figure out on their own and in secret how she would get an abortion at 16, because their parents were religious fundamentalists. Outside a porn shop, an older woman recounted the horror of a young woman who committed suicide after having been brutally gang-raped. A woman in her 20s took a stand against pornography and made the connections with the attacks on abortion, defiantly declaring “I AM NOT AN INCUBATOR!” A young man spoke about the prevalence of pornography within military culture, and how being exposed to pornography at the age of 10 “turns a little boy’s natural curiosity into something perverted.” A woman, describing herself as from an urban community, unleashed anger and spoke viscerally and personally about how, throughout her life, from family history to riding the subway train each day, “I wear many different hats and it’s a shame that I feel that as a woman of color I’m already being reduced down in society because society sees me as a fucking bitch trick or whore.”
People who encountered the protests were shocked and challenged—some welcomed what they learned, others did not want to know or wanted to defend porn and women’s subordinate position in the world. In L.A., a car stopped, a woman rolled down her window and said, “I’ve been making porn for 28 years—fuck you.” Ten minutes earlier, a driver in a Rolls Royce had stopped, rolled down his window, and handed a protester a $20 bill.
Organizers reached out to challenge young people in particular. In one city, a young man walked up to the images on the ground of women’s bodies with footprints labeled with the abuses of women, and wrote “I love ho’s.” And when demonstrators challenged the hundreds of youth crowded around waiting for a bus, some were dismissive but several young women joined the rally and carried a placard, “Stop Pornography and Patriarchy.” A Black female high school student, holding up the flier for the march, called out, “Yeah, porn fuels rape!”
One middle-aged woman, who came to the L.A. march after hearing Sunsara Taylor speak on Michael Slate’s radio show on KPFK the day before, said, “I’m here because I recently discovered that the feminist movement is being eroded by all kinds of different things in this world; pornography, religion, government. It’s like waking up after 20 years thinking that women had made all of these advances and now I find out it’s slowly coming out from beneath our feet. ... I thought [porn] was dying, on the way out. And then [Sunsara] talked about when she took these women who felt the same way I felt into a porn shop, and showed them the wall of torture, and my jaw dropped. I was like oh, my god. It’s not about sex any more, it’s about torture. And men are getting off on it.”
At the conclusion of the NYC march, Sunsara Taylor led the participants in making a pledge, described on her blog (sunsara.blogspot.com) about the day: “Together we made a promise, to ourselves, to the faces around us, to the women throughout the country, and to the women throughout the world, that we will not stop until never again is a woman demeaned, degraded, enslaved, disrespected, spit upon, set on fire, beaten, raped, humiliated, mocked, tortured, stalked, devalued, or dismissed simply because she is born female. As people made this promise together, as we all looked in each others’ faces as we did, the change in all of us was palpable. People felt alive with fury and lifted up with joy.”
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
Revolution received the following reports on International Women's Day actions organized around the call:
There was something fresh and bold and new about the IWD protest Saturday in L.A. that dared to "connect the dots" between the different ways that a war on women is raging in this country, and throughout the world, today. The protest began at HER Medical Clinic near USC, (University of Santa Cruz) where abortions and other medical care is provided for women, and which has been regularly targeted for protests by Christian fascist anti-abortion forces. From there the march caravanned to the Catholic Archdiocese in mid-town L.A., headquarters of Archbishop Gomez, who echoed New York's Cardinal Dolan by calling birth control "immoral and unconscionable." And finally the protest moved to the Sunset Strip, where it set up right in front of the Hustler Porn Store.
At each stop along the way the demonstration electrified the atmosphere with its banners and signs, and its loud, rude, and totally unapologetic chants! Many drivers honked in support, while others flipped protesters off. Many women and men welcomed the fact that pornography and patriarchy were being called out as ideological weapons in the enslavement and degradation of women—at the same time, this was disturbing and challenging to many more.
At noon the corner near HER Medical Clinic came alive as women and men, younger and older, held banners and signs and shouted slogans like: "Control over women is what you want, furious women is what you've got." Teenage women stopped to find out more; a Latina in her 20s tried to sort out her opposition to abortion but not to birth control, and her disagreement with her church which opposes both.
At the end of the day one teenage protester said: "Actually, we had a really fun day! Going around the city, getting honked at by people who support our cause, yelling chants, saying a lot of obscene words in those chants, and just speaking my mind. And I got to go to HER abortion clinic and give the doctors flowers and tell them how much we appreciate what they're doing."
She talked about reading about the war on abortion providers: "They have to wake up every morning, say good-by to their families, and before that they put a bullet-proof vest on just to go to work. Just to make an income and help people. And practice what they've learned in school. I think that's what inspired me to come out here. Cause not many people have the balls to do that, honestly."
When the protest reached the Archdiocese, it was joined by several people from Occupy L.A. who'd gotten flyers and Revolution newspaper at their downtown event early in the day. One woman said she came because women are going to lose their ability to have birth control if people don't stand up and stop it right now, because that's where it's heading. If you become pregnant she said and you'd really rather be in school than be a mother at that time, then women need the right to control their body however they wish to. She described being taught in Catholic school that if the choice is between the life of the mother and the life of the baby inside you, then they will let the woman die so the baby gets born. "And that's killing women. I'm sorry, that's the way it is; they will kill women to save babies. That's insanity to me."
Several people were compelled to come after hearing Sunsara Taylor speak on Michael Slate's radio show on KPFK the day before. One woman said: "I'm here because I recently discovered that the feminist movement is being eroded by all kinds of different things in this world; pornography, religion, government. It's like waking up after 20 years thinking that women had made all of these advances and now I find out its slowly coming out from beneath our feet. And I just decided that this is where I need to be now, to be out here fighting for women, women not only in America but in the world."
She said when she first heard Sunsara: "I was like 'Who the hell is this?' 'Boy, she sounds pissed off'... but I couldn't stop listening, because she started touching on subjects that I hadn't heard touched on in a long time. And my idea of porn, I thought it was dying, on the way out. And then she talked about when she took these women who felt the same way I felt, she took them into a porn shop, and showed them the wall of torture, and my jaw dropped. I was like oh, my god. It's not about sex any more, it's about torture. And men are getting off on it."
The final stop of the protest was in front of the Hustler porn shop. This is not an area that sees many protests, and the traffic includes many who are more upper middle strata and wealthy. The signs and chants made it clear that this had nothing in common with the religious reactionary targeting of pornography as part of promoting religion.
The expressions of support came less often; but there were people who rolled down their windows to get flyers, buy Revolution newspaper, or honk their support. Most drivers just stared straight ahead.
At one point a car stopped, a woman put down her window and said "I've been making porn for 28 years—fuck you." Ten minutes earlier a driver in a Rolls Royce had stopped, rolled down his window, and handed a protester a $20 bill.
The protest ended with food at Revolution Books, where people stayed to watch the talk that Sunsara gave at New York Revolution Books a week earlier.
On Saturday, a small but loud group of people celebrated International Women's Day in the streets of Houston. We started off by rallying and marching in the uptown Galleria area. When we stopped to agitate outside the mall, people stopped and listened and several people took bundles of flyers to get out at their jobs and schools.
A few blocks away, we stopped in front of a fundamentalist Christian church that preaches the literal interpretation of the bible where we read from Deuteronomy, and exposed today's Christian fascist reality. Not two blocks away from the church, we stopped at the Men's Club, a prominent strip club that caters to executives and businessmen. Some people taped the outside of the club with yellow tape and stickers that read "porn fuels rape", to the sound of people chanting "Women are not chicks, women are not things, women are not dogs. Women are human beings."
Our last stop was protesting in front of American Apparel in the Montrose. Here we got into more engagement and debate with people. A lot of this centered on the question of "individual choices" and using BA's quote helped change the dynamics of this discussion. One guy said that he sees the oppression of women as systematic, like capitalism; and the question is so big and how can it be changed? One woman said that being out in the streets, like we were, is how conversation changes and women are empowered to speak out. Other people spoke out about sex trafficking and the role of the U.S. military in it, and how we can stop the intensifying war on women.
Most of the response we got throughout the day was positive. There was a lot of horn honking in support and several people in their cars stopped to buy copies of Revolution. The breadth of the slogans on the signs brought out the different fronts of the war on women and it shocked a lot of people. One person in the march said that the message was not just about one issue and that it raised people's sights to fighting for the emancipation of women all over the world. Several people stopped to thank us for being out in the streets.
We encouraged them to join us but no one did. The people who came out to protest were excited about having been out in the streets, even though small in numbers, because they thought it was so bold. A couple of the younger folks started taking turns taking the bullhorn halfway through the march. Throughout the protest, the people who came out also began to put together in their thinking the totality of this war on women. Many of them had come out based on strongly uniting with one or another element of it and in the course of the march, began grappling with questions like abortion and what is it going to take to stop this war on women.
There is only one statue of a woman in downtown Chicago—a 26-foot Marilyn Monroe with her dress blowing up so everyone can see her underwear and crotch. When such a huge glistening symbol of the objectification of women gets promoted as a "tourist attraction," something loud and defiant clearly needs to be said. So that was where we launched the campaign to "End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women" with a militant rally and march celebrating International Women's Day 2012. Around 30 people—students, a professor, revolutionary communists, activists from World Can't Wait, men and women, old and young, gathered in front of this statue to kick off this national campaign.
In the heart of Chicago's Magnificent Mile, we boldly challenged tourists and shoppers to take a stand against the all-out war that is being waged against women. In front of the Monroe statue, a banner proclaimed "End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women," "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology" and "Fight for the Emancipation of Women All Over the World." A large banner from members of World Can't Wait demanded "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology." Signs with the slogans dotted the sidewalk and drew responses from people passing by. A Black man stopped and said he knew that a third of the women in the U.S. military get raped and he denounced the dominator mentality that permeates the army. A large chalk outline of a body lay on the ground with footprints all around it containing details of the terrible crimes committed worldwide against women. One young man stopped in amazement over the fact that men spend $4 billion on baseball and $16 billion at strip clubs!
Speakers challenged people—especially the youth—to resist this war on women. "It is long past time that this new generation stand up and reject and RESIST this culture of rape and pornography." Excerpts from the statement from 8 March Women's Organization (Iran and Afghanistan) were read. A young Black woman delivered a fiery spoken word piece denouncing the oppression of women that resonated off the surrounding skyscrapers—as did the following chants of "Control over women is what you want! Furious women is what you got!" Speakers focused on how a rope is tightening around the necks of half of humanity—strangling women in nearly every dimension of their public, social and intimate lives. Horrific statistics from the war on women were read. Women were called on "to get the fuck out of the military." And the need for resistance was accompanied by a call to dig deeply into how today's attacks are linked to thousands of years of patriarchy which can only be uprooted and ended through a revolution aimed at emancipating all of humanity.
As the rally progressed, two general responses among passersby emerged. Some people tried to ignore the demonstration and just snap pictures of their friends and family under Marilyn Monroe's dress. But others stopped to take pictures of the rally, with some openly wondering what kind of society was being left to the next generation. One man agonized over why the Republicans are attacking women's health care and contraception. It made no sense to him. "Wouldn't we save more money in the long run if women had these services?" Another young man thought the struggle over birth control was a diversion to take people's minds off the economic hardship they face. Deeper discussions with Revolution newspaper sellers led many people to buy the paper. Seventy papers got out. One group of young white women checked out Revolution and responded: "I like the way you think!"
Then the march took off down Michigan Avenue. Some people stood in amazement; some looked away. But a significant number nodded their heads or honked their horns in agreement. One elderly Chinese woman gave the power salute. Some of the chants really snapped people's heads around and brought smiles to the faces of many women.
I don't know but I've been told,
Women are getting mighty bold,
We won't shut up, we won't submit,
We won't stand for this women hating shit.
Women aren't breeders
Women aren't toys
Women aren't objects
For the boys
From Michigan Avenue, we headed over to Holy Name Cathedral—the home base of Cardinal George who is a major player in the Catholic Church's women-hating attacks. A line of people spread across the front of the church chanting: "Get your rosaries off my ovaries!" and "Not the Church, Not the State, Women will decide our fate!"
The march ended with a call to take the rebellious spirit of the day and use it to build a mass movement against this war on women. In particular—hook up with the national campaign; dig deeply into Sunsara Taylor's recent speeches; and take this out to the campuses and the basic masses.
As people left, two young women stayed to talk about how much they had enjoyed the day. They really liked boldly exposing what is being done to women and challenging people to confront that. They said that they were not afraid to go up in people's faces because what they were talking about was the truth—and a lot more truth is sorely needed. They talked about the suffocating culture on campus that keeps women from speaking up about the abuse and degradation they suffer. They described a culture so saturated with sex and paranoia that a young woman can not have both a boyfriend and a male friend because the boyfriend will never believe that she is not sleeping with the other guy.
On Friday, March 9th people formed up in downtown Cleveland with a banner "International Women's Day/ Stop the War on Women" and lots of placards, such as "Stop Pornography and Patriarchy" and "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology." The rally was made up of Occupiers, some readers of Revolution, a woman from a Black community group, and some Black youth and others who joined the action. The rally began across from the Horseshoe Casino in downtown Cleveland. One of the targets for the day, the Casino will be opening soon and there are already concerns from anti sex trafficking groups that women will be trafficked to supply the Casino with prostitutes.
A paper with an outline of a woman on it with foot prints with such oppressions as "rape", "anti-abortion" and more. A young Occupier wrote "Anorexic standard of beauty" on it. Hundreds of mainly youth gathered at a bus stop where we started, so we agitated to the youth, calling for them to join the action and to debate the issues and not stand to the side and look as though the horrors against women don't matter. In fact, a youth walked up to the paper and wrote "I love ho's." The agitator took it on and called on the youth to come out and debate it. He did not. The agitator and others went among the youth and called on them to join and discuss the issue on the spot. A few dismissing comments were made by several youth, others ignored what was being said but also a few young women joined the rally and carried a placard, "Stop Pornography and Patriarchy." A Black female high school student held up the flyer calling out, "Yea, porn fuels rape!" Other youth, boys and girls, did listen to what the rally was calling for. A woman said she had some things to tell the youth and she got their attention, calling on them to respect women and stand out to stop the oppression of women.
The rally began with a woman speaking from the heart about all kinds of assaults on women from pornography to rape to attacks on abortion and birth control rights. Then someone read parts of the Statement from 8 March Women's Organization (Iran-Afghanistan), "The Separation of Religion from the State and the Overthrow of the Anti-Woman Islamic Regime in Iran is the First Step Toward Women's Emancipation!" A distributor of Revolution newspaper spoke about how all the abuses spoken about are part of an all out war on women, tightening a rope around every dimension of the public, political and intimate lives of women. He called on people to dig into the work of BA and Revolution newspaper, and to fight the power, and transform the people for revolution. He said that from now on the war on women will be two sided. He ended by calling on people to join him in taking out Revolution newspaper to build the movement for revolution.
The MC for the event said the Horseshoe Casino is a place where women are playthings of men, sex objects, degraded by men. Then people took to the streets, chanting "Stop Pornography and Patriarchy Now!" and as we got closer to St John's Cathedral , "Not the church, not the state, women will decide our fate!" Standing in front of the cathedral, the MC said the Catholic Church condemns abortion, birth control, homosexuality and recently urged "non-compliance" with new regulations requiring health insurance to cover birth control, all part of the chains on women. The march took off from there to a strip club. There was loud agitation about how these strip clubs serve up women as dominated by men in living flesh, how men spend $16 billion on these clubs, 4 times more than what they spend on baseball. At one point, a manager walked out followed by a stripper. He took a picture of her in a degrading position and then walked away. A woman went and spoke to her about what we were doing there protesting what she is put through. She seemed to be interested but then the manager made her go in.
As we were marching back to Public Square a woman came up to us and said how much she liked us opposing the strip club, and at lunch she and her co-workers were discussing how women are degraded and something needs to be done about it! A couple of women saw our banner and signs and said, "That is what we need" and they bought Revolution papers and one contributed money.
At dinner, after the march and rally, people felt we had begun to take on the war on women and from now on, it will be two sided.
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
From a reader:
In the midst of the national debate on birth control, which exposes the real agenda of the anti-abortionists—"women are breeders"—states across the country are introducing and passing bills to allow institutions to opt out of paying for birth control through their insurance coverage. At the same time, dozens of states continue on the march to further restrict abortion rights with the goal of outlawing abortion altogether, and in many cases criminalizing doctors. Georgia is no exception.
On Monday, March 12, close to 500 people, mostly women of all ages, came together at Georgia's state Capitol to protest an outrageous bill called "Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" (SB 954), that once again places all of the emphasis and value on the fetus and leaves the woman completely out of the picture. The bill, passed by the House and now awaiting Senate approval, seeks to cut the time for elective abortions by six weeks, from 26 to 20 weeks, and requires any abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy be done in a way to bring the fetus out alive! This will create an even more dangerous climate for doctors than already exists, because doctors who are involved in abortions past 20 weeks that do not meet the bill's restrictions could be charged with a felony and face up to 10 years in prison. The bill, commonly referred to as the "fetal pain" bill, says that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, therefore the state has an interest in protecting it.
The outpouring of people at the Capitol to speak out and protest this bill was urgent. But the anti-abortion political and ideological assault has had its effects on people. Particularly in sub-dividing women state by state. This was evident in many of the signs; one example was "Trust Georgia Women." Although the Democratic women in the legislature had a righteous action by locking arms and walking out of the chambers saying, "We are not your property," as par for the course, the Democrats did not fight against this outrageous and dangerous bill as a whole or call people into the streets or occupy the Capitol. They only sought petty amendments.
There were some really powerful homemade signs at the protest to express the views and outrage about the bill and the ongoing attacks on women's lives. There were quite a few signs that said "Women the 51%," others that referred to the current battle over birth control, and one said, "Cows, Pigs, Sluts, Stop the War on Women!" The "slut" quote refers to the remarks by Rush Limbaugh about a Georgetown University woman who testified on the Hill in favor of birth control. The "Cows and Pigs" refers to a Georgia representative and Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Terry England, who compared women to pigs and cows: "I have had the experience of delivering calves and pigs dead and alive, and I want to tell you...it breaks our hearts to see those animals not make it. But..." (YouTube) These are the kind of idiots who are ruling over women's lives! Some of the best signs were held by two young women, one reading "I have a biology degree, I know what a fetus looks like" and the other with a picture of a uterus with MINE printed below it. We brought a large banner that said "STOP THE WAR ON WOMEN, revcom.us" along with a few placards saying "Fetuses Are NOT Babies, Women Are NOT Incubators, Abortion is NOT Murder," and "Abortion Providers are Heroes!" The new initiative's call to action (End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women! Abortion on Demand and Without Apology! Fight for the Emancipation of Women All Over the World!) was passed out widely with a link to Sunsara Taylors' new talk online, and lots of the current issue of Revolution newspaper were sold.
The continued attacks on abortion rights (and now birth control), one of the principal fronts of the war on women, really underscores the need to become part of and spread the initiative that was launched on International Women's Day, "End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women! Abortion On Demand and Without Apology! Fight for the Emancipation of Women All Over the World!" As Sunsara Taylor says in Revolution newspaper, "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." (Revolution #262, "Out of Denial and Into the Streets") But ultimately it is the system of capitalism-imperialism that is directly responsible for the oppression of women and the daily horrors it creates for women here and around the world. And until we make revolution and uproot this system, women will never be truly liberated.
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
After reading about the "War On Women" art piece that was done in another city and how it was taken to people in building for the March 10 International Women's Day protests ("Report on Taking Out Our Amazing 'War on Women' Display..." at revcom.us), we decided to re-create this here at the monthly Downtown Artwalk, which happened to land on International Women's Day. Downtown Artwalk is a monthly celebration of art from local galleries and draws a lot of people. We laid the butcher paper out on the sidewalk in a well-lit spot in front of some galleries and from the first tracing of a female body outline, people began to stop to see what this was about. As we put down boot prints over the women's bodies and laid out facts about the war on women, we discovered we had a continuous flow of people stopping to look and standing around reading all the facts.
The effect on people is hard to describe. It shook some people up. One couple with a young boy stopped. They all stood reading together. They were standing in front of the words, "Every day 3 to 4 women are killed by their partners." The husband tried to make light of it, telling his wife jokingly that she'd better be careful. She wasn't laughing or smiling. The child, practicing his reading, read the words out loud. Husband and wife were silent and stone-faced. We showed them Revolution newspaper and said this is a war on women, a war we're losing, and it's time to change that. She pulled out a dollar and her husband fished out two more to make a donation.
Most people had never heard ANY of these facts, much less seen them all laid out together. Several people pointed in shock to what was written about El Salvador, where women are arrested out of hospital rooms and their uteruses used as evidence against them. The metaphor is apt of people using muscles they've never used before. For example, even in some of the conversations with people who oppose abortion, it was the first time they had ever thought about the question of abortion as a question of liberation or enslavement of women (instead of life or non-life of "unborn babies"), and there was real engagement about this. An ex-military guy said it is true that the degradation of women is everywhere, the strip clubs, the pornography, and that right on that corner we were standing within a block of two brothels. He said he found violent porn on his daughter's boyfriend's phone and asked why are you watching this shit? And the boyfriend said the apps are there, it just gets sent to me. A gay woman confided that she hates this violence and domination and it happens in lesbian relationships too.
Most of the responses we got were very positive, but the controversy was very much alive. One woman wanted to know why we say the church keeps women oppressed. One guy who has been part of Occupy saw the boot prints that read, "porn," "church," "`beauty' standards" and said, "that's perfect!" But when it came to abortion, the struggle began. The biggest controversy was about porn, with many people saying it is just a choice made by women. One guy who came to be part of our crew brought a couple friends with him and the struggle broke out before they even made it to where the display was, with one friend saying, if women are going to disrespect themselves, why should I do anything different? The guy from our crew fought for the position that women should be treated like human beings and not objects. Though the friends didn't stick around, he stayed the whole night, specifically to struggle with other men.
Swirling around in all these discussions were questions of how to deal with all this—the need to act, and specifically to get into the streets on March 10, and the need for revolution. A high school student took a stack of flyers to pass out at school and broke into a huge smile when we tagged him with a sticker that said, "If you can't imagine sex without porn, you're fucked!"
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
Call Issued for National Day of Action April 19
A significant statement has recently been issued titled: Raising the Fight to Stop Mass Incarceration to a New Level. Issued by an impressive group of initial signers, it is calling for a National Day of Action on April 19, 2012.
The statement points to the fact that in the past several months, important advances have been made in developing resistance to mass incarceration and exposing the horrific, many, and deep ways this afflicts so many people in society. Many new organizations have come into being to join the fight; already existing ones have grown and developed; students have become involved. And the statement points out as “especially important, the several hunger strikes by prisoners in California’s Special Housing Units (and the statements of support for the strikers issued by prominent voices of conscience) and the civil disobedience campaign in New York aimed at stopping ‘stop & frisk.’”
But, the statement goes on to say, much more needs to be done. And it points to how the reality of mass incarceration in the United States remains horrific. It points out “ More than 2.4 million people, most of them Black or Latino, remain warehoused in prisons across the country; Black and Latino youth are treated like criminals by the police and the criminal justice system, guilty until proven innocent, if they can survive their encounters with police to prove their innocence; former prisoners wear badges of shame and dishonor even after they serve their sentences—discriminated against when applying for jobs, denied access to government assistance, not allowed in public housing, denied the right to vote.”
This is an outrageous and totally unacceptable situation that must be met with uncompromising resistance. But part of the problem is that, as the statement points out, “many people in the country still don’t know about this ugly reality and most of those who do know about it feel it is the result of criminal activity by those in prison and that it helps to keep them safe from crime.”
One of the purposes of the National Day of Action will be to address this problem, to take the message out broadly in society that, as the statement says:
“THIS IS NOT TRUE! MASS INCARCERATION RESULTS FROM THE SYSTEM HAVING CRIMINALIZED GENERATIONS OF YOUTH! WE HAVE THE FACTS TO MAKE THE CASE ON THIS. AND WE MUST STEP UP OUR EFFORTS TO DO THAT!”
The statement also points out that there is great urgency to all this, especially with the presidential elections coming up and how mass incarceration isn’t being mentioned as a problem by either Obama or any of the major Republican candidates.
“On the contrary, we are getting the kind of ugly racism that goes with and reinforces the whole program of mass incarceration... and conciliation with that racism. This must be transformed. Mass incarceration, what leads to it and its consequences have to become something that people across the country are aware of and feel compelled to take a stand against. And many more of them need to join the resistance to it. Only our efforts can make that happen!”
The statement proposes four things:
1. A day of national action in April. On this day, demonstrations, rallies, teach-ins, and other actions would be held focusing on bringing out the reality of mass incarceration and calling on people to join the resistance to it in cities across the U.S. These actions need to draw in many different institutions—especially schools and churches—and different sections of people in society. A special focus of this activity should be college campuses and high schools.
2. A national conference drawing together the forces working to build resistance to mass incarceration. Such a conference could bring together organizations and individuals working on different fronts of this battle; discuss and debate the cause of and solution to this outrage; develop a comprehensive approach to this battle and a plan of action going into the fall. THIS CONFERENCE SHOULD AIM AT NOTHING LESS THAN RADICALLY CHANGING THE NATIONAL TERMS OF DISCUSSION ON THIS.
3. A statement of conscience that sharply and concisely lays out the harsh and unjust reality that mass incarceration inflicts on millions. This statement would be circulated for signature among prominent voices of conscience, published in various significant publications and publicized nationwide.
4. A major concert or other cultural event opposing mass incarceration, featuring a broad spectrum of artists.
The statement ends by urging people to respond to this proposal, including with additional ideas for how to advance this fight.
The signees (in formation) are:
Gbenga Akinnagbe, Actor
Rafael Angulo, Professor of Social Work, USC
Nellie Bailey, Occupy Harlem
Kendra Castaneda, Prisoner Human Rights Activist with a family member in CA State Prison Segregation Unit
Solomon Comissiong, Executive Director, Your World News Media Collective (www.yourworldnews.org)
Carl Dix, Revolutionary Communist, co-initiator of Campaign to Stop “Stop & Frisk”
Kelley Lytle Hernandez, Professor of History, UCLA
Robin DG Kelley, Distinguished Professor of History, UCLA
Wayne Kramer, Jail Guitar Doors USA, Co-Founder
Sarah Kunstler, Esq., National Lawyers Guild NYC*
Rev. Janet Gollery McKeithen (United Methodist Clergy), President, Methodist Federation for Social Action, Cal-Pac
Mary Ratcliff, Editor, San Francisco BayView, National Black Newspaper
Cornel West, author and educator, co-initiator of Campaign to Stop “Stop & Frisk”
Clyde Young, Revolutionary Communist, and former prisoner
March 12, 2012
*For identification purposes only
To download the letter go to "RAISING THE FIGHT TO STOP MASS INCARCERATION TO A NEW LEVEL".
For more information contact: email@example.com
P.O. Box 941 Knickerbocker Station,
New York, New York 10002
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
A Talk by Clyde Young
Mass Incarceration—Its Source, The Need to Resist Where Things Are Heading and The Revolution We Need!
Clyde Young says, “All this comes down to a slow genocide which could easily accelerate.”
Young will break all of 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.”
SATURDAY, MARCH 24, 5:00 PM
United University Church,
University of Southern California Campus, Los Angeles
For more information, contact Revolution Books at 323-463-3500
Clyde Young is a Revolutionary Communist and a former prisoner. He served time in juvenile facilities as a teen. His transformation from a life of crime to a revolutionary, while serving a 20-year prison sentence for armed robbery, is discussed in an interview in The Bandana Republic: A Literary Anthology by Gang Members & Their Affiliates (Soft Skull Press, 2008)
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
With the presidential elections approaching, there are those who argue, yet again, that whatever problems there are with the Democrats and Obama, the "alternative"—the Republicans—are much worse. So when it's all said and done, the argument goes, people who don't want the "right wing" to take over must fall in line behind Obama and the Democrats. The reality is that in key ways, Obama as U.S. president has been even worse for the masses of people, in the U.S. and worldwide. This is a fact that can be clearly demonstrated. Here are six main ways that Obama has gone beyond Bush in fascistic, brutal, reactionary moves, in service of the ruling system of capitalism-imperialism.
Before becoming the president and commander-in-chief, Obama opposed the prison set up by George W. Bush at Guantánamo to indefinitely hold hundreds of people without charges, simply based on U.S. accusations of links with terrorism. Obama said then that "a perfectly innocent individual could be held and could not rebut the Government's case and has no way of proving his innocence."
Once in the White House, Obama has not only reaffirmed the policy of indefinite military detentions with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act last December. He has actually gone further than Bush by claiming, and acting on, a supposed presidential authority to assassinate anyone, including those with U.S. citizenship, anywhere in the world just based on the presidential say-so that those targeted are "terrorists" and a danger to U.S. interests.
The world saw this outrageous policy in action last September when missiles fired from a U.S. drone hit a car driving across a desert in Yemen and killed seven men, including Anwar al-Awlaki. Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, was a spokesman for al-Qaeda. (Another man killed in the attack was also a U.S. citizen.) A few weeks later, another U.S. drone attack took the lives of al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son along with his 17-year-old friend. The U.S. claimed that al-Awlaki had a role in planning and directing al-Qaeda terrorist attacks—but refused to provide any evidence or present actual charges, and there was, of course, no trial. This was simply a cold-blooded "hit" ordered by the leading U.S. imperialist godfather.
According to news reports, there is a secret panel of government officials within the executive, part of the National Security Council, that discusses who to place on the kill list, with the president making the final decision. There is no public record of this process, no laws regulating it, no judicial review. In a March 5 speech, Attorney General Eric Holder made the ludicrous but chillingly fascist claim that this ultra-secret process inside the administration makes this executive assassination policy constitutional. As Leon Panetta, Obama's CIA chief, put it, "[The] President of the United States obviously reviews these cases, reviews the legal justification, and in the end says, go or no go."
For an in-depth analysis of this issue, see "Obama Administration: Judge, Jury, and Executioner."
In a series of Father's Day speeches since coming into office, and in various other public remarks, Obama has consistently put the onus for the poverty, high prison rates, poor education, and the whole oppressive situation that Black and Latino youth face on the people themselves. Like Bill Cosby, Obama claims that the problem is "personal responsibility"—absentee fathers, youth with sagging pants, too much TV, and so on. Left totally out of this is the reality: how this system has devastated communities of the oppressed; left little "choice" for millions of youth except the underground economy or the military; targeted young men with "stop and frisk" racial profiling and outright police murder; and thrown millions into prisons, many for minor drug violations.
And at the core of this message is the revival and strengthening of the patriarchal family, with the father at the head and acting as "role model." In a sick "joke" at a 2010 White House dinner, Obama combined his reactionary push for patriarchy with the broadening war of drones. Addressing the members of the pop band Jonas Brothers who were in attendance, and referring to his two daughters, Obama said, "Sasha and Malia are huge fans but, boys, don't get any ideas. Two words for you: Predator drones. You will never see it coming."
As Carl Dix said in 2009 on the radio program Democracy Now! about Obama's message: "The people are being blamed—and who better than Barack Obama, the first Black president, to blame Black youth for their plight? If George Bush does it, people would say it's racist. But when the first Black president does it, it actually draws people into it."
At a March 4, 2012 speech at AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), Obama made one of his most direct and overt threats of war against Iran. He declared, "Iran's leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests."
As legal commentator Glenn Greenwald notes, "Here we have the Bush administration's most controversial war theory explicitly embraced: that the U.S. has the right not only to attack another country in order to preempt an imminent attack (pre-emptive war), but even to prevent some future, speculative threat (preventive war)."
Obama's adoption of the principle of preventive war against Iran is worse because, for one, the danger of a U.S.-Israeli war against Iran is even greater today. As Revolution writer Larry Everest has pointed out, "Ground is being laid daily in the headlines and statements by politicians of every stripe in mainstream U.S. politics calling for aggression against Iran—all justified by unsubstantiated assertions that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. Whether or not Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons technology (and there is no proof they are), this U.S. imperialist narrative and framework is an outrageous effort to turn reality upside down—the reality of which of the clashing oppressive forces in the region is the dominant threatening oppressor and bully."
And it is also worse because Obama's assertion of the U.S. "right" to launch war on Iran, to prevent alleged attempts to build nuclear weapons, is treated in the current political atmosphere, and by the media and too much of the "left," as perfectly reasonable and normal.
The attack that targeted al-Awlaki in Yemen (see #1) is part of the huge leap under Obama in the use of pilotless Predator drones by the U.S. military and CIA to kill people. The Washington Post called it "an emerging global apparatus for drone killing" and noted that "no president has ever relied so extensively on the secret killing of individuals to advance the nation's security goals." When Obama took office in 2009, the war by drones was confined to Pakistan, where there were 44 strikes over the previous five years, killing about 400 people. Now, drone attacks have spread, including to Yemen, Afghanistan, East Africa, Libya, and Iran. And the "global apparatus" for murder from the air includes dozens of secret drone facilities in the Middle East, Africa, and Southwest Asia—with the operational hubs within the U.S., thousands of miles away from where the drones actually kill people.
According to a study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in England (TBIJ), there have been 253 drone attacks in Pakistan alone under Obama as of early August—one about every four days. The U.S., while keeping the drone wars veiled in secrecy, claims that the targets are terrorists and that very few civilians are killed. "Drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties," Obama said this January.
According to the TBIJ, at least 2,347 people have been killed in Pakistan by U.S. drone attacks, and there are "credible news reports" that as many as 781 of those killed were civilians—more than 175 of them children. Another study by the New America Foundation from last May put the figure killed by drone attacks in northwest Pakistan at between 830 and 1,210 individuals, of whom between 180 and 360 were civilians.
But according to Obama—in other words, from the viewpoint of the head of the U.S. empire—these are "not ... a huge number" of human lives.
The war on immigrants inside the U.S. borders began before Obama—but Obama has been intensifying this brutal, inhumane offensive to record levels. Last October, the Obama administration released figures showing that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had deported almost 400,000 people in fiscal year 2011. This is the highest yearly number of deportations in the eight years of ICE. More than a million people—overwhelmingly Latinos—have been deported under Obama.
A key part of Obama's war on immigrants is a federal program called "Secure Communities," under which local police send the fingerprints of every person they arrest to the Department of Homeland Security. Those suspected of being undocumented are transferred to ICE detention centers. There is a vast network of immigration detention centers around the U.S., now numbering about 250 and growing. Exposés about these ICE prisons—like the Frontline film Lost in Detention that aired last year on PBS—have revealed widespread brutality, sexual abuse, racist treatment, and other outrages against vulnerable detainees who have no access to lawyers or other help. Secure Communities has expanded under Obama to about 1,600 local police forces, and the administration plans to further expand it to all local jurisdictions by 2013.
Obama officials claim that this anti-immigrant offensive is targeted at people who have committed serious felonies. But the truth is that this has led to mass deportations of people whose only "crime" is to cross the border for work to support themselves and their families. People have been suddenly separated—perhaps forever—from their children and spouses, simply because they were stopped for a minor traffic violation. ICE calls such deportees "collateral"—bringing to mind the civilians the U.S. kills in its wars and drone attacks, and callously dismisses as "collateral damage."
Before taking office, Obama attacked the Bush administration for fixation with government secrecy and a lack of "transparency," and he expressed support for whistle-blowers—those who leak or publicly come forward to expose various kinds of official crimes, corruption, and wrongdoing. Once in office, Obama has used the Espionage Act to press charges, with potentially very heavy punishment, against people accused of "national security leaks." According to Jane Mayer of the New Yorker magazine, under Obama there have been "more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined."
And Obama has gone after, with extreme vindictiveness, Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of passing on to WikiLeaks, the whistleblowing site, hundreds of exposing war reports and diplomatic cables, and the infamous 2007 video showing a U.S. Apache helicopter gunning down civilians on a Baghdad street. After his arrest in May 2010, Manning was subjected to 10 months of intense solitary confinement—basically, physical and psychological torture. He is now under military trial, facing more than 30 charges, including one of "aiding the enemy" that carries a possible death penalty. (Prosecutors are recommending life imprisonment, but military judges have the option of the death sentence.) The persecution of Manning is clearly meant to send a threatening message to whistleblowers within the government and military, as well as to journalists, that they will pay a heavy price for exposing crimes being committed by the U.S.
In April 2011, when confronted by Bradley Manning supporters at a fundraiser, Obama said that Manning "broke the law"—thus declaring a verdict before Manning had even been tried. Contrast this with how Obama has refused to even investigate, let alone prosecute, top officials of the Bush regime who blatantly carried out torture and other crimes under U.S. and international law.
Sources (in alphabetical order by name of article)
"Attorney General Holder defends execution without charges," Glenn Greenwald, salon.com, March 6, 2012
"Cornel West and Carl Dix on Race and Politics in the Age of Obama," July 22, 2009, Democracy Now!
"Drone War Exposed—the complete picture of CIA strikes in Pakistan," Chris Woods, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, August 10, 2011
"Jane Mayer on the Obama war on whistle-blowers," Glenn Greenwald, salon.com, May 16, 2011
"'Lost in Detention': As Obama Admin Deports Record 400,000, Film Explores What Immigrants Face Behind Bars," October 20, 2011, Democracy Now!
"Obama administration reports record number of deportations," Brian Bennett, Los Angeles Times, October 18, 2011
"Obama Administration: Judge, Jury, and Executioner," Revolution online, March 19, 2012
"Obama says military force is option to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons," Lesley Clark, March 4, 2012, McClatchy Washington Bureau
"Obama, Iran and preventive war," Glenn Greenwald, salon.com, March 5, 2012
"Remarks by the President at AIPAC Policy Conference," March 4, 2012, whitehouse.gov
"The Secret Sharer: Is Thomas Drake an enemy of the state?" Jane Mayer, New Yorker, May 23, 2011
"Under Obama, an emerging global apparatus for drone killing," Greg Miller, Washington Post, December 27, 2011
"The Year of the Drone: An Analysis of U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan, 2004-2010," Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, New American Foundation," February 24, 2010
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
On September 30, 2011, several men driving across a remote desert in Yemen stopped for breakfast. They spread a rug on the ground and were eating dates when one of them noticed a pilotless drone above them.
They ran to their vehicle and tried to escape, but it was too late. Missiles fired from the drone—which was operated by the U.S.'s Central Intelligence Agency—hit their truck, killing seven people and leaving their bodies "totally charred." Two of the men killed, including Anwar al-Awlaki, were U.S. citizens. The men killed had not been charged, much less convicted, of any crimes.
On March 5, 2012, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at Northwestern University near Chicago. Holder did not mention the CIA assassination of al-Awlaki, but his speech was a defense and justification of the policy behind the Obama administration's "war on terror" in general, and specifically its policy on what are called "extrajudicial killings."
"Extrajudicial" does not mean there are more judges involved, or more legal examination before a killing is ordered. It means there are no judges; no legal procedure or examination. It is an action taken outside the oversight of existing law, or review by panels of judges.
The Obama/Holder policy is based on a memorandum that has never been made public. It is a dangerous and ominous escalation in the U.S. government's "war on terror" that is both morally corrupt and a brazen repudiation of longstanding principles of U.S. and international law. It also is the act of an imperialist empire deeply involved in murderous wars across the globe, and determined to stop at nothing in its efforts to defend and expand that empire. Mass opposition to this and all the other deadly crimes of the U.S. is urgently required.
Last October, a group of Obama administration officials discussed selected parts of the secret memorandum with a correspondent for the New York Times. He wrote that "the secret document provided the justification for acting (against al-Awlaki) despite an executive order banning assassinations, a federal law against murder, protections in the Bill of Rights and various strictures of the international laws of war, according to people familiar with the analysis."
With the killing of al-Awlaki and the speech by Holder, the Obama administration signaled to the world that the U.S. can kill anyone, anywhere in the world, who it declares to be a "terrorist." No charges filed. No judicial review. No trial. A "finding" from the president is enough to trigger a deadly worldwide manhunt that pours out death from the skies.
If these government crimes are "legal" against U.S. citizens—who, after all, are supposed to have certain rights guaranteed by constitutional law—think what it means for people in every country across this planet. Not even the flimsy pretense of a "secret memorandum" is required to obliterate people.
The heart of Holder's speech was his claim that "due process and judicial process are not one and the same." Due process has been a principle of U.S. law since the country's founding.
The Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution supposedly guarantees certain rights to people accused of crimes. In it, the 5th amendment says that "No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," and the 6th states that "... the accused ... shall be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense." In other words, people accused of crimes by the government are supposedly guaranteed the right to know what they are accused of, to face their accusers in an open court, and to have a lawyer to help represent them in a trial. And everyone is supposed to be given their "day in court" before they are executed or sent to prison.
On a profound level, the right to due process has always been a sham—over the 200-plus years of this country's existence, countless people, especially people of the oppressed nationalities, have been railroaded to prison on the flimsiest of unproven charges; countless people have been gunned down by murdering police acting as judge, jury, and executioner. Due process has never been applied to the people slaughtered by the United States military in Vietnam, El Salvador, Haiti, and the many other countries it has invaded.
The laws in the U.S., the enforcement of these laws, and the use of the U.S. military have always been used to serve capitalism and to enforce the rule—the dictatorship—of the capitalist-imperialists. As Bob Avakian wrote, "the essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism. What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism". (BAsics 1:3).
But the Obama administration's open repudiation of this longstanding tenet and legal right of U.S. law is a dramatic escalation in what the rulers of the U.S. claim to be their "right" to kill anyone who opposes them, without any restraint.
Holder's sleight of hand was to try to draw a distinction between "due process," which he claims still exists, and "judicial review," which he claims is not only unnecessary but would "endanger American lives" by causing delays in getting on with the killing.
Judicial review is the examination by judges of the laws and actions by the country's executive (President) and legislative (Congress) branches, to ensure that they abide by the country's Constitution. Judicial review is intended to make due process meaningful. After all, if the officials who perpetrate an illegal act are themselves responsible for determining whether or not it is illegal, everyone would know the whole process was a joke and cover-up.
What is the "due process" that Holder and Obama claim still exists? As reported by Reuters, "American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions.... There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House's National Security Council.... Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate."
No one outside this "secret panel" knows what evidence is produced. No one knows where it comes from. People put on this government hit list have no right to appeal—often they do don't even know they're on it.
Leon Panetta, Obama's Secretary of Defense, summed it up this way: "[T]he President of the United States obviously reviews these cases, reviews the legal justification, and in the end says, go or no go."
And there's your "due process."
Holder laid out four criteria for killing U.S. citizens: "The principle of necessity requires that the target have definite military value. The principle of distinction requires that only lawful targets—such as combatants, civilians directly participating in hostilities, and military objectives—may be targeted intentionally. Under the principle of proportionality, the anticipated collateral damage must not be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage. Finally, the principle of humanity requires us to use weapons that will not inflict unnecessary suffering."
Every single word of this is hypocritical bullshit. The "principle of humanity" as applied by the United States has killed, maimed, displaced, impoverished, and made homeless millions of people in the 11 years of its "war on terror." None of these atrocities were put under the microscope of due process or judicial review.
Now Holder is saying that the Obama policy is the same towards U.S. citizens who are declared to be "terrorists" by the U.S. government. As journalist Glen Greenwald wrote, the policy developed by Obama gives the president "the authority to secretly target U.S. citizens for execution by the CIA without even charging them with a crime, notifying them of the accusations, or affording them an opportunity to respond, instead condemning them to death without a shred of transparency of judicial oversight."
When he was a U.S. Senator, Barack Obama denounced then-president George W. Bush's policy of indefinite detention without trial, saying that a "perfectly innocent individual could be held and could not rebut the Government's case and has no way of proving his innocence." But as president, Obama has gone much further than Bush dared to go. He has given himself a license to kill.
And the response from those in authority?
The assassination of al-Awlaki in a CIA operation was immediately praised by leading U.S. politicians. Peter King, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the killing of al-Awlaki is a "tremendous tribute" to President Barack Obama and the U.S. intelligence community. Presidential contender Mitt Romney said, "[T]he killing of Anwar al-Awlaki is a major victory in our fight against Islamist terrorism and proper justice for the numerous attacks and plots he inspired or planned against America. I commend the president, the members of the intelligence community, our service members, and our allies for their continued efforts to keep Americans safe."
Obama said in a prepared statement that the death of al-Awlaki was a "major milestone" in the U.S.'s efforts against al-Qaeda, and that others declared "terrorists" by the U.S. "will find no safe haven anywhere in the world."
But Morris Davis, who was once chief prosecutor for the U.S. government in its Guantánamo Bay torture center, hit at the truth when he said of the policy developed by Obama and defended by Holder: "I think what we are sanctioning here is murder."
Nasser al-Awlaki, the father of Anwar al-Awlaki, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government's policy of extrajudicial assassinations before his son was killed. On December 6, 2010, a federal judge dismissed the case, saying that these killings were a "political question" for the executive branch of the government to decide, not judges.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights, in a statement against the ruling, said that with this ruling "the government has the unreviewable authority to carry out the targeted killing of any American, anywhere, whom the president deems to be a threat to the nation."
And the killing continues.
Less than a month after al-Awlaki was killed, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, who had run away from home to try to find his father, was killed in another attack, along with a friend, age 17. A spokesman for the U.S. said that the drone strike was supposedly intended to kill a man they had identified as an "al Qaeda leader," who was not among the dead.
Abdulrahman's grandfather said to an American journalist the other murdered youth "was a 17-year-old kid, who was not an American citizen but is a human being, killed in cold blood. I cannot comprehend how my teenage grandson was killed by a Hellfire missile, how nothing was left of him except small pieces of flesh. Why? Is America safer now that a boy was killed?"
One of the youths' friends asked, "I have one question for you. Who can't America kill?"
Revolution #263 March 25, 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 #263 March 25, 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 #263 March 25, 2012
World and national developments, including the uprisings in the Middle East, Occupy, the California prisoners’ hunger strikes, the growing consciousness about and movement against mass incarceration, as well as prisoners’ engagement with Revolution and BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, have created a situation which has outstripped PRLF’s volunteers’ ability to meet prisoners’ needs. Literature needs to get to prisoners, and the letters they write need to get much farther out into the broader world.
There are many ways you can help! Much can be done online.
Women’s Project. Many more women prisoners need to read Revolution and BAsics. Circulation of literature mainly spreads by word of mouth. Help with all aspects of getting 200 BAsics and 100 Revolution subscriptions to women prisoners, as part of getting 2,000 BAsics to prisoners and 1,000 Revolution subscriptions to prisoners in the hellholes of the U.S.
Transcribing prisoners’ letters. As one volunteer from Occupy said, “There is an entire underworld of forgotten people who are seeking to educate themselves in order to transform a world that has condemned them to subhuman servitude. Their voices need to be heard... Transcribing... is simple enough... It is enriching, enlightening and informs a more holistic critical worldview.”
Fundraising. Help with all aspects of fundraising.
Artistic skills. PRLF needs online and print designers, spoken word and video artists, people who can organize cultural performances, and more.
To volunteer: email PRLF at contact@PRLF.org. Whether you can spend an hour every couple of weeks or several hours a day, your time and effort will make a real difference.
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
From a Reader:
In the early morning hours of February 7 in San Clemente, California, an Orange County deputy sheriff shot and killed Marine Sergeant Manuel (Manny) Loggins, Jr. in front of his 14- and 9-year-old daughters. The story of this shooting is familiar. Cop shoots unarmed Black man, and the facts are obscured as the police continue to revise what happened in order to protect their asses.
The continued changing of their story of what happened that morning is consistent with standard police operating procedures to "get their stories straight" in order to point the blame of the killing to the person who was killed.
The Sheriff's Department story as unfolded by the San Diego Union Tribune (U-T) is fishy at best. At first they say that Loggins had been stopped for a traffic violation. Then they change that and say he crashed his vehicle through the gate of a high school parking lot. The early stories have the sheriffs saying that the cop was by himself. They later hint that additional cops had arrived before the shooting. The first reports were that Loggins was walking away from the cop when he was shot, and then that was changed where it was stated that the cop shot Manny through the window of his car. (The picture of the vehicle shows the front window broken out.) But here's the kicker: The early stories say that the cop feared for his life, but when it was clear that Manny was unarmed, the story was changed to where the cop feared for the life of Manny's two young daughters, and that story has further been changed from at first stating that the girls said nothing to later stating that the girls said that their father "was acting crazy."
In a letter printed in the Orange County Register, an angry writer stated, "It is obvious that a 'cover-up' is in the making, and those involved want to put forth the story most palatable to a public still upset over the beating to death of an unarmed homeless man, Kelly Thomas [see below], by the Fullerton police. I pray that the Orange County District Attorney has the guts to bring to justice those involved both in the cover-up and in the incident itself. Public trust in law enforcement is fast fading here in Orange County."
Blogs and websites have been full of comments by people in the area who are outraged by this killing, and the contradictory facts being presented by the Sheriffs Department have been reported in other papers in the U.S. and Europe.
The Los Angeles Times reported that a memorial organized by a friend of Loggins that had been planned to take place in front of the sheriff's station in San Clemente—as "a show of support for Manny and his family" was cancelled "over concern it might provoke further fury." "When the memorial was announced online 'it got really huge, really quickly,' she (Manny's friend) said. 'I don't think the Loggins family or myself knew how many people would respond.'"
The Kelly Thomas murder by the Fullerton police, about 40 miles north of San Clemente, sparked large demonstrations and outraged a significant section of the white population in Fullerton. In order to head off another Kelly Thomas situation, the Orange County deputy sheriffs union, in an unusual move, made a lengthy statement immediately after the killing, backing the cop and depicting Manny Loggins as "irrational" and stating that "his actions put his own children into immediate danger and resulted in his death."
The Marine brass at Camp Pendleton have countered the picture presented by the sheriffs that depict Manny Loggins as a "crazed" person who was going to "harm his children." The statement by the Marines points out that the Manny they knew was a devoted father who mentored many Marines on the base. Major Christopher Cox stated that, "Loggins regularly took early morning prayer walks at the high school track with his family" and that "his wife usually went to the track but stopped going because she is nearly nine months pregnant" and the couple also has a toddler. Many emails and phone calls have been coming from Marines who knew and respected Manny, saying that "he was a deeply religious family man with a non-confrontational nature" countering the picture of him being given by the sheriffs.
A further outrage in this case was revealed this week in the Los Angeles Times by the attorney for the Loggins family who reported that the Orange County sheriffs held Manny's two traumatized daughters for 13 hours after he was killed and refused to let them see their mother. The sheriffs "basically incarcerated them," he said, describing the daughters' treatment as "false imprisonment" where the sheriffs "probably kept asking them over and over what was going on till they got the answer they wanted."
The LA Times article indicated that the district attorney's office is dragging its feet when it told the Times that "the investigation could take six months to a year to complete."
We will be reporting more on the killing of Manny Loggins as events unfold in this case.
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
Revolution received the following correspondence from Houston:
The New Year came in hard and cold in Brownsville, Texas.
On January 7, the body of 15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez was laid into the ground of the Buena Vista Burial Park in Brownsville. Jaime's body was dressed in the uniform of the Cummings Middle School band, for which he was a drum major. Family members, neighbors, and hundreds of Jaime's classmates were at the cemetery.
Jaime died three days earlier, bleeding to death in the corridor of his barrio school. His life was blown away by Brownsville police, who murdered him with two shots to the chest and possibly one to the head. Jaime Gonzalez was pronounced dead at 9:15 a.m. January 4, little more than an hour after school started.
Police claim that Jaime had punched another student, and was walking through school corridors with a gun. It is unclear if Jaime had been involved in a fight with another youth at the school. The gun Jaime was supposedly carrying was actually an air gun that shoots BBs.
None of this mattered to the cops who swarmed into Cummings Middle School that Wednesday morning. The school was put on lockdown and students were held in their classrooms while heavily armed police prowled the corridors.
The McAllen Monitor reported the chilling words of the murderous encounter when the police came upon Jaime: " 'take him out' a policeman yells, according to the radio records. The sound of fired shots reverberates on the radio call. Officers quickly call for emergency medical crews. 'Subject shot,' an officer repeats on the radio call."
Brownsville is a city of about 175,000 people on the southernmost tip of Texas. It is directly across the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) from Matamoros, Mexico, its "twin city." The Brownsville Herald reported that a 2006 report from the U.S. Census Bureau concluded that Brownsville is "the most impoverished city in the nation." Brownsville also has the highest rate of child poverty in the U.S., according to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. The Brownsville School District has been featured in several national news stories for the chess champions that it produces year after year. But for most kids in Brownsville, school is a dead end to nowhere, and almost 50% never graduate.
The afternoon of Jaime's death police and other authorities began a vicious, slanderous assault to condemn and vilify Jaime, and justify his murder. The slanders of Jaime continue to this day. Interim Brownsville police chief Orlando Rodriguez said that "The suspect was ordered numerous times to drop his pistol and he disobeyed officers' commands. He pointed the weapon at the officers, at which point the officers that were actively engaged by the suspect fired at least twice."
A large picture of the gun Jaime was supposedly carrying was displayed at the police press conference, and police spokesman Jose Trevino said, "It has the exact appearance of Glock"—as if this explained why it was perfectly reasonable for these pigs to gun down Jaime Gonzalez. This same police department, joined by the notoriously racist and abusive Texas Rangers, went on to conduct an "investigation" (a.k.a. cover-up) into the death of Jaime Gonzalez. The cops who took part in the shooting were put on paid leave.
A shameful and obscene chorus of police, city and school officials, priests, and even professors at a local university also painted Jaime as a "troubled youth," perhaps involved in gangs and drugs. None of this has been proven. Photos of Jaime mugging for a camera are the only "evidence" they offer.
These authorities are saying that Jaime somehow left the cops who shot and murdered him no other choice, and they supposedly were only defending themselves and protecting other students when they unloaded on Jaime Gonzalez. At his press conference, Chief Rodriguez made the utterly stupid and hateful comment that "we think it looks like this was a way to bring attention to himself."
Norma Navarro, Jaime's godmother, told the Brownsville Herald that days before Jaime was murdered "Both principals (from Cummings) went to the mother a week ago and told her 'Jaime is an excellent student. He's a great person. His grades are real good and we're real proud of him.' So, how can they come and say that he's a terrible kid?"
But even if everything the cops are saying about the killing incident at Cummings Middle School is accurate—which is far from certain—how the hell does that justify the cold-blooded murder of a 15-year-old youth? The basic truth is this—no matter what had happened between Jaime Gonzalez and another student, no matter what Jaime Gonzalez may have had in his hand—nothing justifies the brutal murder of a 15-year-old middle school student.
What does it say about this system when its armed "officers of the law" brazenly and openly defend the shooting death of a young student in his school? What does it say about this system when these cops are joined by other authorities in trying to concoct something in Jaime's background or character that somehow justified his murder?
It says that they are enforcers of an unjust, illegitimate system, a system that has no future for the youth. As Bob Avakian said in his talk Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, "The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness."
The murder of Jaime Gonzalez has sparked huge controversy in Brownsville, Matamoros, and the entire lower Rio Grande Valley. Some people have bought into the lie that the cops were justified in killing Jaime. A Facebook page set up for Jaime has been filled with debate and anguished outpourings about his life and death.
Many youth from Cummings and throughout Brownsville are seething with anger, outrage, and support for Jaime's family. They organized a car wash that raised enough money to pay for Jaime's funeral and burial. They remained at the side of his coffin during a 24-hour vigil in which many left mementos and tokens of their friendship and love for Jaime.
The Brownsville Herald reported that the day of Jaime's burial, "as the funeral procession wound through the cemetery, the youths stood on two trucks shouting 'Justicia!' and 'Te queremos, Jaime!' They wore matching white shirts that read 'I love Jaime' on the front and had his picture on the back with his date of birth and death. Some cars carried messages—'RIP Jaime' and similar sentiments—while at least one had an anti-police message with an obscenity. Constables and the Sheriff's Department escorted the funeral procession."
After Jaime's burial, the youth held their own protest/memorial for Jaime, first marching and chanting in front of the Brownsville Police Station, then marching to Cummings Middle School.
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
Letter from Prisoner from California, March 5, 2012
I hope this letter finds all your staff in good health and full of revolutionary enthusiasm.
I received a renewal request form and Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow, last week so I wanted to write to thank you and all those generous donors who give to the PRLF. It is impossible to overstate the importance of your work or how much I appreciate the subsidized subscription to Revolution newspaper and all the literature you've sent me since I first started writing, without the least bit of exaggeration, I can honestly say that the liberating revolutionary ideas that you've introduced me to have changed my life. I know that your work will continue to change the lives of others like me.
I was first arrested on trumped up drug possession charges when I was just thirteen years old, but I had a sense, vague as it was of the inherent racism and unjustness of this system even before then. In my neighborhood I saw the police harass and assault not just gang bangers and drug dealers but everybody from street vendors to my five-year-old brother, whom a pig grabbed by the throat for throwing rocks at the neighbors kids. I hated the way things were around me, but I felt helpless to change them. I've been arrested several times since that first arrest, and I've actually done what I've been accused of most, though not all, of those times, including the charge that I'm currently doing time for. I've been in and out of the juvenile system, the county jail, and this my third term in state prison.
I started reading in prison and some of the radical literature I read led me to question the way I'd been living my life. I tried distributing political pamphlets, magazines, and books to prisoners around me even while I myself was unsure whether or not change was actually possible. I developed a healthy hatred for this system and what it does to people, but I still felt helpless to change it. As good as the exposure of society's ills were, nothing I read seemed to offer any real solutions. Some of the answers put forth were so unrealistic that I wondered why the author even bothered pointing out these problems in the first place. Fortunately a fellow prisoner from a different cell block sent me PRLF's address, I wrote to ask for a subsidized subscription to Revolution newspaper and this led to a more substantial transformation of my outlook and consequently of the person I was. As luck would have it, soon after I got my first issue of the newspaper another prisoner who had been a reader of Revolution for some time moved into the cell next to mine. He shared some of the books and pamphlets that he had received from the PRLF and I read all I could about Bob Avakian and RCP's ideology. I read every single page of every issue of Revolution the moment it came to my cell. I discussed what I was learning with my neighbor and pulled others into our conversations. The more progressive-minded prisoners became more interested in communism once they learned about the RCP, the Party's formulation of an actual strategy for carrying out that revolution. I felt reinvigorated and experienced an optimism that I hadn't felt ever before we began to form a study group around some basic communist concepts and articles that appeared in Revolution newspaper. Unfortunately, prison lockdowns kept us from getting together, and cell moves, transfers, and people getting thrown in the hole broke up our little group before it was able to take form. This, however, hasn't left me discouraged. Disappointments no longer lead me to act out in unthinking, self-destructive ways. A setback doesn't affect me the way it did before I got into BA. Though there's much that I still need to understand, I understand enough to know that perseverance is both worthwhile and necessary in a struggle filled with innumerable twists and turns. Setbacks, whether small or huge, don't eliminate the need or the possibility for revolution. If there's one thing I've learned from BA, it's that no matter how great the challenges there's nothing greater my life can be about than contributing whatever I can to the revolutionary transformation of society about the world. I want to give my sincerest and most heart-felt thanks to the PRLF staff and all their donors for helping people like me come to that conclusion.
Thank you all for the work that you do. I hope to hear from you again soon.
P.S. I'm enclosing 20 stamps to help pay for a small part of your mailing costs. Wish I could do more.
Revolution #263 March 25, 2012
From staff members of Revolution Books store in one city:
Our most successful fundraisers have been our “Dinner and a Movie” events, raising about a thousand dollars per dinner, and we held our most successful of these last November. On this night we transformed the bookstore into a dinner theater complete with a big screen, nicely set tables and a buffet. We showed the Banksy film Exit Through the Gift Shop and served delicious Egyptian food donated by a local restaurant, along with desserts made by friends and supporters. We always try to pick a movie that’s both entertaining and politically provocative, and the use of the film projector is donated by a progressive organization called Meaningful Movies. All of this builds political relationships with the donors and allows us to keep the costs of hosting the fundraiser to a minimum.
The dinner tickets are $50 per person. This was based on the need to raise a significant amount of money in a short time and starting from our goal to raise $1000 from the 20 guests we could fit into the space. The price was controversial at first, among both staff and supporters. Some of us thought it would be too difficult, even impossible, to get people to agree to come at that price, certainly not enough people to fill the bookstore. One viewpoint holding us back from inviting everyone we knew was thinking that only people who saw the need for revolution and communism would want to give the bookstore money. Other people thought it wasn't a fair price, since the amount would restrict some people, particularly proletarians, from attending. All of this was shown to be dead wrong. It was by discussing and struggling out these questions along the way as we carried out the preparations for the dinners that people were won to see and then seize on the potential.
As different staff people articulated, there are other organizations that do fundraisers (including the Democratic Party) that charge much more for tickets than we do, and have nothing more to offer people than some tinkering around the edges of a horrific system. Revolution Books is an entryway to a movement for revolution that won’t accept the world as it is, where people can meet BA and learn about a new synthesis of revolution and communism that is both viable and liberating. As far as being "fair" goes, we live in a capitalist society which is inherently and brutally unfair, and we can't let our hopes for a more just and equitable world blind us to the reality that some people have more money to contribute than others. This is about liberating all of humanity, and there are many, many people, including people who have significant financial means, that also deeply desire a far better world. Whether they fully agree with revolution and communism, there are those that see Revolution Books as a very important place to support and sustain, and the dinners are a way for us to invite those people to contribute to keep our doors open to the world, including people who are just learning about this movement for revolution.
For each of these dinners we've packed the house! We put some thought into who to invite, and we've seen over the course of the three dinners we’ve hosted that they attract a different type of crowd than we normally have at bookstore events. About half of those who attend are personal friends and family of the staff and other supporters. This time when we were planning the dinner, there was a lot going on in the world, and in we were going down to the Occupy encampment frequently, and also building for and marching on October 22nd, the National Day of Protest To Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation. So there were Occupy activists, as well as people active around O22. And because of our participation in the regular "Art Walk," and the relationships we’ve developed through this work, we invited several artists. The dinners are also a way for us to build and maintain relationships with people who sustain the store on a monthly basis. Some of our sustainers we see only at the dinners, and it’s an important way that we stay in touch with them, and let them know their money is appreciated and being used every month to keep the store open and active.
We start inviting people at least a month in advance, sending out formal invitations, email invitations, and then calling people to follow-up. The follow-up is key; it always looks like almost no one is coming up until the day before the event! Some people who can’t or don’t want to attend but do want to donate, purchase tickets and ask that we invite someone who otherwise couldn’t afford to come.
Another new experience for us this time was approaching the restaurant that donated all of the food for the dinner. We knew about them from statements that they made during the uprising in Egypt, but we had never talked to them before. The owner welcomed the opportunity, and even though we asked him to contribute only one dish, he replied that he would cater the entire dinner. He was quite insistent, and really wouldn't let us turn him down!
To paint a picture of how the evening goes: As people arrive, beverages are available and people talk and mingle until dinner is served buffet style. A host welcomes everyone to Revolution Books and then invites a couple people (who’ve been asked ahead of time) to say a few words about why they support Revolution Books. We’ve learned a lot from this part of the program, mainly about how much elasticity there is in regards to how people view the bookstore and why they support this movement for revolution, how they find their unity in relation to the solid core of what we’re all about. People have a lot of appreciation for us as good organizers who stand with the people through initiatives like October 22nd, or as revolutionary intellectuals who understand the role of art in resistance and revolution, for example. Some people express their love of independent bookstores and critical thinking. Then it is up to us to make clear, through our call for more funds and new sustainers, that while all this is true, it’s not enough and it’s not all that is possible. Revolution Books is more than a bookstore. It’s the place to come when you want to understand and engage what's happening in the world and learn how it can be radically different, to connect with BA’s new synthesis that provides a way out and a way forward. Yes, we’re in the streets but in the midst of that resistance we are fighting to have people understand the reality of the system of capitalism, and building a movement for revolution and communism. It matters a great deal if people donate to keep the doors of this bookstore open to the world.
Throughout the dinner and after the movie, there were many interesting discussions in the room. The book BAsics was at the forefront of many conversations. One woman who decided to buy a copy had questions about how this revolution viewed immigrants and what is so special about BA that makes us promote him and his book in such a central way. A young person who recently read the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) said he loved talking about politics, and how the world could be different, but that most people his age hate talking about those things. He was grappling with why this is the case, and if that could ever change. At the end of the dinner, he decided to become a monthly sustainer of Revolution Books.
Through these dinners, we have done some things we (at least some of us) thought may not be possible. We’ve raised thousands of dollars for the bookstore to continue its mission of being at the center of building a movement for revolution. We have learned—and continue to learn—from people who are deeply involved in other spheres, while remaining clear that it will take a revolution aiming for communism to ultimately and fully change the world. We have celebrated the bookstore and had a lot of fun! Our last dinner was a great night, and there’s enough of a buzz that's been generated that people are looking forward to being invited to the next one.