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Revolution #271 June 10, 2012
The second leg of the BAsics Bus Tour, which went through parts of the South in May and rolled into Sanford, Florida, had a big impact. It spoke to and captured the imagination of thousands... in the South and throughout the country—and many hundreds of people across the country were part of making something very important happen. In doing so, those people around the country and those who the bus tour met in the South have been part of beginning to cohere a national movement around the mass fundraising campaign to project Bob Avakian’s vision and works into every corner of society: BA Everywhere... Imagine the Difference It Could Make!
$30,000 and more was raised to support this leg of the BAsics Bus Tour. Small to large contributions from all over the country mounted in the days leading up to the launching of this leg of the tour. And importantly, at the core of this effort were groups who came together to raise funds through raffles, making and selling food, and other fundraising events.
These funds enabled the bus to travel in the South and deliver a very important message to people in Sanford, Florida, where Trayvon Martin was killed by the vigilante George Zimmerman. In Sanford, the volunteers distributed copies of a collage of banners signed by people all over the country with a declaration from Bob Avakian: No more generations of our youth, here and all around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed, who have been condemned to an early death or a life of misery and brutality, whom the system has destined for oppression and oblivion even before they are born. I say no more of that. BAsics 1:13
People in housing projects, at high schools, in immigrant neighborhoods... all over... sent messages like, “I’m hurt, seeing no future for our youth,” “I’m disgusted of the system,” “No more violence among the people,” “All races should come together, young and old too, and make revolution!” They wrote, “We are with you” and “Let’s make a better world.”
From coast to coast, people went to basicsbustour.tumblr.com to follow the bus and share the posts. Many began to get deeper into BAsics 1:13 and the whole of BAsics. Through all this, people found out about who Bob Avakian is, the significance of his work... and what it means that there is a leader who has developed a strategy for revolution, and a new synthesis of communism that has opened up the possibility for the Party and the movement he is leading to make good on that pledge of “no more.”
And all this has made a big difference. If you contributed to the bus tour or signed a banner, know that your contribution, as a part of a national movement, made and is making a difference. Download the collage from basicsbustour.tumblr.com and continue to follow the BAsics Bus Tour blog for ongoing reports and videos. Read in this paper more about the responses from the people of Sanford.
Now is the time, building on the nationwide momentum created by the bus tour, to make BA known even more broadly and to raise big money. As a part of the campaign to get BA Everywhere, BAsics 1:13 has become one way for people to get in on and into this movement for revolution: raising money for palm cards and distributing them, bringing people together to discuss the quote and others in BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, as an introduction to Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About (the Revolution talk), and more. It provides a form for people to come together and have a very big impact, spreading the voice and works of Bob Avakian, the leadership we have for the revolution we need. And through all of this, changing how people think about revolution and leadership, society and the world—and seeing more ways to join this movement for revolution.
BAsics 1:13 taps into and draws forward something very deep from people—their outrage at things as they are, and their hopes and aspirations for a world where generations of youth aren’t crushed down in the way BA describes. It opens the door to a whole new future for the youth. And this is only accelerated and heightened at a moment when the murder of Trayvon Martin and the outpouring of rage have put these questions before all of society: What future for our youth? What is the history and present-day reality for a whole generation of youth in America? This quote captures a defiance and a refusal to lie down and accept these outrages. Know that as this message gets out and up all over, this is an important form of struggle and defiance up in the face of the powers-that-be.
Work with others to raise money and make plans to get stacks of BAsics 1:13 palm cards out to and debated by tens of thousands. Go out to graduation ceremonies, to parks and to wherever youth hang and congregate. Get these cards into the hands of all those who are fighting for Justice for Trayvon. Post this quote all over the Internet... in places where it will be accessible to hundreds of thousands here and around the world. Make banners and display them where thousands will see them.
It’s time to prepare for the next leg of the BAsics Bus Tour. There are many, many more people in other regions of the country who need to know about Bob Avakian. Tens of thousands of dollars must be raised to make the next leg of the tour possible. And this bus tour will not only spread the word of the leadership of BA far and wide, it can continue to be an important focal point in cohering a movement nationwide to make the whole of this campaign a success. As we go out far and wide during this month of June with BAsics 1:13, we can let people know this tour will be hitting the road again and raising money to make that happen. Get out the articles in Revolution newspaper on the tour through the South to make people aware of the exciting impact this tour has wherever it goes.
Begin now to look ahead and raise the funds needed for the BAsics Bus Tour to set out again. Volunteer to ride the bus and become part of the crew on the next leg of the tour. 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 and what BA and his leadership means for the future of humanity. (To volunteer contact your local Revolution Books store.)
Revolution #271 June 10, 2012
For two weeks in May, ending on May 28, the BAsics Bus Tour went through parts of the South, spreading the word about the vision, works, and leadership of Bob Avakian and connecting people with the movement for revolution. This was the second leg of the bus tour, after the pilot project in California earlier this year. Volunteers, of different nationalities and ages, came from all over the country. Over $32,000 was raised to make the tour possible. After spending several days in Atlanta, going to different neighborhoods and schools, the tour volunteers—riding in an RV covered with large reproductions of the covers of BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian—went to Athens, Georgia; Gainesville, Florida; and then to Sanford, Florida, before heading back to Atlanta.
A focal point of this leg of the bus tour was BA’s BAsics 1:13 quote. Hundreds of people signed a banner with this quote that the volunteers brought on the tour, as well as similar banners in different cities around the country. The bus tour presented a collage of photos of these different banners to the people of Sanford (see “BAsics Banners Collage”), which had a powerful effect. At Sanford, the tour held a speak-out at the steps of the police station. Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party came to Sanford to meet up with the bus tour and spend the weekend standing together with the people there, speaking bitterness about Trayvon’s murder, all the other Trayvons, and bringing a revolutionary message concentrated in BAsics 1:13.
As the bus tour through the South was in progress, people around the country followed it on basicsbustour.tumblr.com and spread it through Twitter. Following are a few excerpts from on-the-spot reporting from the tour. Go to basicsbustour.tumblr.com for the full versions and much more, including videos and new updates.
The neighborhood has been completely abandoned. Expanses of lumpy shrubs and deep grass surround it on three sides. On the fourth side, the sun glints off razor wire, row after row of it surrounding a federal prison; men inside are forced to live in captivity, routinely brutalized, insulted and humiliated and forced to do backbreaking labor, often on chain gangs in the Georgia sun. Across a busy street from the lone apartment complex, a tiny parking lot hosts three little shops. No fresh fruits or vegetables are available, but liquor is in abundant supply. Despite the luscious green that surrounds almost everything down here in the South, many of the courtyards of the apartment are filled only with brown dirt. This is where the children play.
The first time we visited this neighborhood, I didn’t make it fifteen feet out of our car before a young Black man who had been sitting in the shade on the curb pointed at the poster I carried. “That was me,” he said. The first time he was beaten by police he was just 15 years old. They held him up against a wall by his neck, hanging and choking him before they worked his whole body over with their fists and batons. “Over there,” a slightly older man added as he pointed toward one of the nearby fields. Someone had been killed by police over there just a few months ago.
I told them that I was part of the BAsics Bus Tour, a group of revolutionaries who had come together from across the country to live and travel on an RV through the South to connect people up with Bob Avakian, the leader who has re-envisioned revolution and communism, and to bring people like them into the movement for revolution.
The poster I was holding featured the quotation from Bob Avakian which reads, in part:
“This system, in this country, in the whole history of its treatment of Black people, what has it been?
“First, Slavery... Then, Jim Crow—segregation and Ku Klux Klan terror... And now, The New Jim Crow—police brutality and murder, wholesale criminalization and mass incarceration, and legalized discrimination yet again.
“That’s it for this system:
Three strikes and you’re out!”
Alongside those words are three pictures. One has an enslaved Black man whose back is welted with thick scars from the slave whip. One shows a Black man hanging by his neck from a tree, surrounded by a mob of white men. The final photo, the one that this man—and many, many others before and since him—pointed to as mirroring his experience, shows a Black man grimacing in pain under the boot of two beefy cops...
“This has to end,” I said, “and that is what this revolution is about. Things don’t have to be this way. We have a way out. The reason we got on this bus to come down to places like this is that all of you, people who need this revolution, have to get into it and be part of it in order for it to succeed.”
It wasn’t hard to get people talking. Beyond that, they were extremely open to hearing about any kind of revolution that could put an end to all this...
... What emerged on the steps of the police station was a defiant and spirited core of revolutionaries that gave real hope to those watching, and a small core of people from the area that stepped forward to speak bitterness—they themselves representing many more—who were watching and knew about this speak-out and supported it. One woman who came said her friend had called her up and said, “They’re protesting down on 14th Street. Get down there!!”...
The speak-out continued for over an hour and a half. After emphasizing the importance of how people stepped out in protest against the murder of Trayvon Martin, the determination of his parents and tens of thousands of others to fight for justice, Carl Dix brought it to a close with the following: “We have to firm up our determination. Right now, people are being told ‘it’s time to get out of the streets, it’s time to step back and let the system work.’ Well, look, we’ve been looking at this system work. We’ve been seeing how it’s worked for centuries. We’ve been seeing it stealing generations of our youth. NOT THIS TIME and NO MORE. We have to deliver this message now—we are not getting out of the streets. We are not stepping back to see how your system works. In fact, we’re gonna try to stop the way your system works by stopping your system once and for all through revolution... when the time is right. Bringing this quote and the voice of Bob Avakian out to people throughout the South... and it will be going on and going to other places... spreading that voice and that work and opening up hope for the future, hope that this declaration of ‘no more of that’ can be made real by making revolution and getting this system off the face of the earth once and for all.”
When we rolled in on the BAsics bus, projecting the leadership of Bob Avakian and calling on people to get into the movement for revolution to put an end to the system that has foreclosed the lives of so many generations of Black youth through the entire history of the USA and of millions more throughout the world, it didn’t take any work to get people to open up with their outrage or their own bitter experience at the hands of the police, in the prison system, or in their dealings with the thick white supremacy which permeates the entire country but is more openly trumpeted in this part of the confederate-flag-waving South...
What took work—in many cases it took repeated and sharp struggle—was for people to really hear and get the meaning behind the word REVOLUTION. Not just protest. Not just “marching till our feet bleed” or “screaming until our voices are hoarse,” which is what many people told us was good but would never change things. But REVOLUTION. An actual victorious struggle for power and the defeat and dismantling of the oppressive institutions of the old state power, when the time for that is on the agenda—when the system is deep in crisis, when millions of people are ready to put everything on the line to bring the system down and with the necessary leadership and strategy.
This was what was new to people—and getting into BAsics with them opened up not just outrage, but also their hopes and, with struggle, their beginning serious involvement in this movement for revolution...
Revolution #271 June 10, 2012
This photo collage was delivered by the BAsics Bus Tour to people in Sanford, Florida, in late May. The photos in the collage represent hundreds of people across the country coming together to send a message to the people of Sanford by signing banners with BA’s BAsics 1:13 quote: “No more generations of our youth, here and all around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed, who have been condemned to an early death or a life of misery and brutality, whom the system has destined for oppression and oblivion even before they are born. I say no more of that.”
Sunsara Taylor, writing from the bus tour, described the reaction of people in Sanford to the collage: “When they not only heard, but particularly when they saw, through the form of a beautiful collage that was made of all the banners with BAsics 1:13 that had been signed by hundreds and hundreds of people throughout the country, their faces lit up with amazement. ‘Chicago! Los Angeles! Wow... Cleveland? Honolulu? Holy shit, I can’t believe that!’ The photos on the collage, which showed people from across the country—many, many Black people, but also white people and others—joining together with them and with Bob Avakian to declare ‘NO MORE!,’ the whole thing became more real, more possible, and more hopeful.”
Revolution #271 June 10, 2012
BAsics Bus Tour
"I was once ignorant of the society that has surrounded me. Not long after getting out of the service, I became an Occupier. I had the experience of having many of the world's problems laid out in front of me, and for the first time having a voice to speak out against them. This was very exciting and uplifting. I was also out looking for so many answers to why the world is the way it is. Then I met the revolution. Listening to Bob Avakian for the first time in the midst of sleeping in a park, and spending my days searching for answers, asking why we live with rising poverty, people in other countries working their fingers to the bone, or why are people, Black and brown, still being oppressed, was in itself inspiring.
Very soon after I found out that BA was not just a good speaker but over a period of 30 years had been working on answering the questions that I was now asking and many more, and had developed a strategy and a party that can get us out of this mess that we are currently wallowing in.
When I first heard about the BAsics Bus Tour, I immediately wanted to be on it, spreading the message of revolution and the new synthesis of communism. Now in light of everything that has taken place in the last few weeks with the death of Trayvon Martin by some wannabe cop, it has further increased my desire to be on this bus tour, so that in the future, we don't have a world filled with Trayvon Martins, cops, or wannabe cops that can only see the color of someone's skin, but instead we can have a world filled with emancipators of all humanity."
"Greetings from New York City. When I first heard about the BAsics Bus Tour I was immediately reminded of the Freedom Riders who traveled boldly and courageously into the belly of the beast, the Deep South, some forty years ago. Their mission was to desegregate interstate bus travel. Today, 40+ years later, the bus tour's goals are more far-reaching – to question and to confront the existing system of capitalism and imperialism. The good news is that the tour is providing the answers and solutions to all of this through the works of Bob Avakian."
Professor at an inner-city school, NYC
"[I am giving to the BAsics Bus Tour] because you have to start with the youth and because numbers count. It matters that many youth from many backgrounds, especially Black youth, learn about and participate in the bus tour. In 1970, when I was in the fourth grade, my brother was sent off to Vietnam; a kid, barely 10 years old, in my class was using heroin; and I just refused to say the pledge of allegiance. The whole class refused... The school said, 'Ok, this kid is going against the grain' and they took me out of class. This revolution can inspire youth to go against the grain, to go against the conventional wisdom, and not just accept everything and never speak out – thinking this is just the way life is. I want the bus tour to be a success. Even Malcolm X needed this kind of inspiration. I look forward to hearing reports about the bus tour and strongly encourage others to donate as I am."
A barber in Harlem
"A bus tour through the South bringing revolution and communism? Do you realize how historic this is? I hope to fuck you are filming this, and if you're not, you are depriving generations of chronicling an historic event... Taking it to the people. This is such a great idea. The imagery of a BAsics bus in the parking lot of a shopping mall or a school or neighborhood or any area of congregation or just motoring along a highway to spread the word is visionary."
A media studies professor
"Capitalism has proven itself not only to fail people in the U.S., but to fail people EVERYWHERE! The system has failed us, from poor families struggling to survive in the ghettos, to LGBT adolescents struggling with basic acceptance and equality, to workers trying to keep their right to a fair wage and collective bargaining, to ordinary citizens struggling for human rights. If a system fails and doesn't govern or work for the good of the people, then it needs to be replaced. It has lost its legitimacy by not working for the common good. There is a better way, and it is coming."
A young man who came into a Revolution Books
to contribute $50 after receiving a phone call
about the BAsics Bus Tour
"The world today aches for change, real change, and there are literally billions of people who want to see a different world than this, but who do not know how or even that such a change is even possible. Because of authorities' tyranny over us collectively, both over our minds and our very physical beings, even imagining a different world is hard for most people. Avakian's thorough reading of the experience of people trying to understand and change the world throughout history and specifically his close study of past revolutionary movements are an extraordinary tool in the fight to change the world. I urge you to dig deeply into his works. When you do you will see what I mean."
Dr. Dennis Loo
"The BAsics Bus Tour adds an important dimension to the national and international mobilization that the Occupy Movement has inspired. In these times of increasing and outrageous disparities of wealth and power, it is vital that all progressive voices are heard. This tour represents a crucial part of the continuing dialogue about the need for truly structural change in America and throughout the world."
Paul Von Blum, Senior Lecturer, African American Studies, UCLA
"I wanna put in my strong endorsement of this freedom bus... Courageous brothers and sisters going down to the gut-bucket South. The old Jim Crow senior, still the Jim Crow junior, of course. Whole lot of lynching used be going on in the past, still police brutality taking place, unemployment and underemployment taking place. Dilapidated housing in place, disgraceful school system's in place... Revolutionary Communist Party bearing witness in a serious kind of way. And I just want to let folk know... I'm behind what they're doing... keeping track of the injustice here in the state. Keep track of the freedom bus—the Avakian bus!"
"First thing, I am only not part of this BAsics Bus Tour because my health issues will not allow it. Otherwise, I would have my seat reserved on the bus. I hate that I am going to miss this, because when I think about it, it reminds me about the beginning of the Black Panther Party: the enthusiasm and determination of being a significant part of a great movement to change things in this country. Participating in and being a significant part of change is addictive—once you have experienced it, you'll do anything to get that feeling again—because it is not an irrelevant act. It is being part of a conscious movement to make change—and when you do that it develops you as a human being and a true fighter for the rights of all people. I won't be there physically but my revolutionary spirit travels with the tour.
"All Power to the People!
"And, Fuck the Police!"
Former Black Panther
"I have pledged $100 to the BA Everywhere Bus Tour because....well, because we need BA's voice everywhere. In a society so deprived of critical voices, Bob Avakian has the ability to break down the biggest questions facing humanity in a way that is scientific, deep, understandable, and damn funny. How many political thinkers are offering an actual solution to the horrors facing millions and can lay it out by drawing on Mao, basketball, and a Richard Pryor routine? Millions are literally dying for a way out this mess, so millions need to know about Bob Avakian. This bus tour should be the begining of a movement for a way out."
From a public school teacher in Atlanta
"The citizens of the United States need to be disturbed. Bob Avakian will certainly do that. He has the ability to provide the criticisms and alternatives that Americans need to hear about and decide for themselves whether they will accept or reject the solutions being offered. Mainstream media will not provide Bob Avakian with the vehicle to do this; therefore, the bus tour needs to come to the country."
From a radio show host in Atlanta
"Face-to-face conversation with people in their own communities offers a pathway to radicalization like no other. I salute the RCP efforts to organize the South, where the labor movement and others failed."
Andrew Ross, NYU professor
"I feel invested in making this BAsics Bus Tour a reality by selling raffles to raise money for it. It's second best to being able to go myself, and the reason I can't go is because of health issues and various family crises as one of the most marginalized groups of people in the United States of America—a Black woman. My people—who have been stolen from Africa and who mainly settled in the South—the fact that this tour is bringing revolution to this area of the country is great. The analogy I like to use is the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, and he ran out of digits with the capitalist dam busting and this BAsics Bus Tour giving people a chance to have a face-to-face dialogue with revolution and an alternative to this system where they otherwise would not."
Black woman from Harlem
"I am cautiously optimistic [about revolution and communism]. More than good news is needed. There is resistance to communism. Getting people to listen with an open mind is hard. The propaganda has been around too long. It stigmatizes socialism and communism. But this one [bus tour] is worth fighting for. Again, I am cautiously optimistic. I appreciate the energy [the bus tour conveys]."
Man who spent time at Occupy Wall Street making buttons
and a supporter of World Can't Wait
"As prospects for working people shrink, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the capitalist-imperialist system cannot deliver decent jobs with dignity and security to those left unemployed, underemployed, and, most critically, the misemployed, who are paid to destroy wealth and the environment. The more poorly and cruelly the system functions, the more support grows for alternatives, especially humane, rational systems.
"The ruling class has long had a campaign to convince us that although human society has gone through many stages, capitalism is the final stage—this is the end of the line. There is no alternative ('TINA')... Considering contemporary horrors of malnutrition, war, and environmental despoilment, it is obvious that a far better world is possible. I can't tell you what the best of all possible worlds is, but I see potential for enormous improvement.
"Occupy gained attention. This tour is part of the next step—provoking discussion about that better world—and how to get there. There is much on the table. Let the discussion begin!"
Roger Dittmann, Ph.D., Scientists without Borders
"I am a retired sociologist. Having grown up and spent most of my life in the South, I've seen starkly the need for a radically different kind of society. And Bob Avakian has and continues to speak not only to that great need, but with passion and scientific thoroughness, to what it will take to bring about the kind of revolutionary society that people would truly want to live in. His voice and his vision needs to be heard, ever more broadly. As a southerner, I applaud the kickoff of the new BAsics tour from Atlanta."
Hayne Dyches, St. Simons, Georgia
"The BAsics Bus Tour is the right thing for the times we are in. I give my support to the BAsics Bus Tour that has stepped right into the fight for Justice, equality, and freedom for all. What the Bus Tour is doing is vital to the struggle that seeks to bring to light the disparities of the criminal justice system and its criminalization of young men of color. Those who are on this tour are courageous men and women who will not settle for anything less than a Free and Just government system. All power to the BAsics Bus Tour, We Say No More!!!"
from Oscar Grant's uncle, Cephus Uncle Bobby Johnson.
Oscar Grant was a 22-year-old Black man
who was killed by transit police in Oakland. Calif., on January 1, 2009.
He was handcuffed and face down when the pigs shot him in the back in cold blood.
"The BAsics Bus Tour is a part of the revolution in a big way—spreading the word of revolution. You can't change society if you can't change people's minds, and BAsics gives people a deep understanding about the different aspects of revolution. With what's going on in the world, religious fundamentalists and imperialists both trying to convince people they are the only alternative—Bob Avakian puts out a radically different way to change the world, internationally, not just for the US. He has been leading a vanguard party since almost 40 years ago. From back then to now, the leadership of Bob Avakian has been crucial. He was the only one after 1976 going deeply into grasping the positive and negative of the communist experience, analyzing what went wrong in China when everyone was confused. Bob Avakian is not only a leader for the U.S., his leadership goes beyond that, internationally. No communist in the world can truly call himself a communist if he hasn't been touched by Bob Avakian's writings. Look at what's happening in Greece right now—the revolutionary situation is there, people are ready. But there is no party to lead the revolution. Here it is the opposite—the situation is not ready, but there is a vanguard party equipped with the most advanced communist theory. When a revolutionary situation comes, there is a possibility for big changes. But as Bob Avakian says, if you don't fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution, you'll never get to that possibility."
An Iranian living in the U.S.
"To the new freedom fighters;
"Greetings. I would like to let you all know that I think that what you are aiming to do and the messages that you are conveying is very important and very much needed and you are all on a great journey in the troubled areas in the South, or the lynching belt dubbed as the bible belt. I only wish that I could've been there with all of you, but I am here helping to raise monies and awareness to the cause, and hopefully the message will be heard and there will be more freedom caravans in the future in all areas of the South and all other places where the 'Stand your ground' law exists, which is a law that is made from biased politicians and is the reason that the murder of Trayvon is allowing his murderer to be free on bond, and is possible he won't see the inside of a courtroom.
"Anyway, as I said, what you all are doing is very important, much needed, and hopefully more people will open up and be in the mindset to think critically to what is happening in our society and not no longer turn a blind eye to the way this nation is at the present time, with injustice, oppression, racism, and a government that is set on instilling fear and telling lies to the people. I sincerely hope that you will find more people to join the cause for revolution and instill the hopes that we can all change things in this society and rid us from all the digressions of this government that is motivated by greed and instills fear and control upon the people with their so-called law enforcement that incarcerates and kills millions without provocation for Uncle Thomas Sam for many decades. The time has come to stand up and count ourselves...a revolution is needed and the machine and regime must be broken.
"Here's wishing you all on the tour a safe journey, and I am with you all in spirit. Blessing to you all!
"Power to the people,"
A jazz musician in Cleveland
From members of Black on Black Crime Inc., a Black community organization in Cleveland, OH.
"BAsics. The future of revolution has evolved through Bob Avakian and the BAsics Tour. Come our way and onto Sanford for Justice."
"BAsics—This is not only a local movement but an international movement and this bus tour is going to all the hot spots as injustice is burning out of control and we are smoldering for real change. Thank you Bob Avakian for real courage and the courage of the Bus Tour for going to Sanford. Thank you again 4 this Bus Tour."
—Alfred Porter Jr., Vice President of Black on Black Crime Inc.
"This is the front line corruption, wickedness in high places. The lighter you are the righter you are as long as it stay on the agenda of wiping out the Black race one way or the other be it locking the Black men up in jail or filling our inner city streets with drugs. It's good revolution is going to Sanford, letting them know the world is watching and standing with the Martins. They are not alone. There will be no sweeping this under the rug. You are being WATCHED!"
"Greetings from Art McCoy. No Truth, No Justice, No Peace! Congratulations RCP on your notable, very important Bus Tour. It is important that you get your message out to the people in many cities, cities such as Atlanta, Albany, GA, and on this route what better city to stop in than Sanford. What better city to get the word out and touch the people than that city where Trayvon Martin was murdered. The upcoming month will be trying times in the cities in America, particularly Sanford. Spread the word, RCP on your BA Everywhere Bus Tour."
—Art McCoy, founding member and leader of Black on Black Crime Inc.
Trayvon Martin was a young Black youth . Just because he was suspended from school or supposedly had traces of weed in his locker doesn't mean that his murder is justified in any way. Why not kill innocent children playing at the park. Our youth are judged by their color and their level of education, their neighborhood, and income. Just because of a lack of resources does not mean murder is ok. I think this tour is just what we need. We as a people should stand together and fight for the defenseless. A people united can never be defeated. The Tour to Sanford is a great idea to be the voice for the voiceless. Trayvon is our sons and our daughters. I feel strongly that action need to be took on his death and to prevent future racial genocide.
—An 18-year-old Black girl at the Black on Black meeting
"As one who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., both in support of civil rights and in opposition to the war in Vietnam, I want to go on record in support of the BA Bus Tour into the southern USA and in my strong admiration for the courage of those who are making this witness to the deepest values of this great country and all its people."
Dr. S. Scott Bartchy,
Professor of Christian Origins and the History of Religion, UCLA;
former Director of the Center for the Study of Religion
Be Part of Taking It Higher
Revolution #271 June 10, 2012
The BAsics Bus Tour through the South in May captivated the attention of people around the country, who followed the tour closely and took part in supporting it in various ways, including donating funds and giving support statements. Hundreds signed banners with the BAsics 1:13 quote from BA, a focal point of the tour (see the collage of the banners, which was delivered by the bus tour to people in Sanford).
On Memorial Day weekend, people in different cities organized picnics—or went out to where masses were picnicking—to build support for the bus tour and spread BAsics 1:13. A fundraising picnic in East Oakland, for example, involved 60 people, including 40 from two neighborhoods of oppressed people nearby. Along with a report-back from the tour, a highlight of the day was the reading of BAsics 1:13 by a Black man and woman and a junior high “shorty.” A young man, a member of the People’s Neighborhood Patrol, then did a “call-and-respond” with the quote in Spanish. Go to basicsbustour.tumblr.com for snapshots from different cities.
The following are excerpts from a letter from one city on experience taking out a banner with the BAsics 1:13 quote to a couple of Black neighborhoods.
* * * * *
We got many signatures [on the banner], though this was not the main thing we emphasized; we put more attention to soliciting statements. We discovered that this simple form was able to unleash a lot of deeper thinking from the masses, and it was a good way to invite people into the movement for revolution that we are building.
We had done political work in these ’hoods before, though we didn’t go back to these areas in the last year or so until most recently. People we met told us that they had missed us and were glad to see that the revolution is back.
During the course of taking out the banner, we also made some adjustments in our approach. Instead of keeping agitating while waiting for people’s response, we would take an approach of letting things unfold. While sometimes we would read out loud the quote from BA, a lot of times we would let people read it and allow time for the quote to “sink in,” so to speak. Then we would ask what they feel about the quote. As for the bus tour, we took the same approach: after we told people briefly about the bus that was spreading revolution and communism developed by our leader BA and that the bus was going to the South, the “lynching belt” (after the trip to Sanford was announced, we would add that it was going to Sanford where Trayvon Martin was killed), we would let that sink in, and then ask what people think about that. This often brought out speaking bitterness and higher aspirations. Again, this has revealed the tremendous potential that the bus tour and the quote by BA can tap in terms of unleashing the masses.
We made another adjustment in our approach after we found out that sometimes people who had a lot of good, bold things to say “froze” when they started writing. This might be due to literacy problems or it might be due to the fact that they are not used to transferring what they would say into writing. For example, we encountered one guy who was saying a lot of encouragement to the bus tour ended up only writing “world peace” when he put the marker down. That was why after a few tries, instead of having people immediately write down what they think (after giving them time to first think about it), we would ask them to say it out first, and we took that down in a notebook.
Was there struggle and engagement in this process? Yes, there was. I remember a middle-aged Black woman who was very talkative, encountered in front of a Walmart. After hearing that the bus was going to the South, she started telling us that she was from Florida and how repressive the place was. We challenged her back that all these terrible things must stop by making revolution and this bus tour is indeed a beginning to change all this through spreading revolution and communism and by fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution, with the fight against the killing of Trayvon Martin being the case in point. This made her think again, kind of breaking the “permanent necessity” in her mind, at least for that moment. She ended up writing on the banner “Make the change happen. A temporary solution to a permanent problem? No! Just do it!” There were other experiences similar to this—after engaging with us about what the bus tour was going to do, people’s aspirations would start to soar. But it took some struggle.
Revolution #271 June 10, 2012
March with Thousands Against U.S.-NATO Wars
I’m going to toss this medal today for the 33,000 civilians who have died in Afghanistan that won’t have a monument built for them.
Brock McIntosh, Army National Guard, deployed to Afghanistan
I’m giving back my medals for the children of Iraq and Afghanistan. May they be able to forgive us for what we’ve done to them.
Steve Acheson, U.S. Army Iraq war vet
On May 20, more than 40 vets—men and women, from different branches of the military—made a dramatic statement to the world.
Veterans of America’s so-called “war on terror” courageously tore off their medals and denounced what they represent: “Global War on Terror Service Medals,” “Operation Iraqi Freedom Medals,” “National Defense Medals,” “Good Conduct Medals,” “Expeditionary Medals.” They spoke from the heart about why they were rejecting these “cheap tokens,” given to them, as one vet put it, “in an attempt to fill the void where our conscience used to be,” and repudiating what they had done to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. They talked of the children. The women. The innocent. The destruction. The pain. The sorrow. The hurt. The lies. In a message that now must be spread, these vets hurled their medals toward where the leaders of NATO, the U.S.-led military alliance, were meeting and plotting their next bloody moves.
This action, organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), culminated a spirited march by more than 5,000 people—Occupiers, antiwar activists, students, and many others—from all over the country who had come to Chicago to protest NATO’s May 20-21 summit, its ongoing war in Afghanistan, and its military aggression across the globe. Joining the vets in leading the march and rally, under the theme “Honor the Dead, Heal the Wounded, Stop the Wars,” were women from Afghans for Peace—representing the Afghan people, the victims of the U.S.-NATO invasion and occupation.
This was a powerful, significant action. These veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have directly experienced—and participated in—the horrors and crimes being committed by the U.S. around the world. It took gut-wrenching reflection and enormous courage for them to face, then come together to call out painful truths of what they’d seen, done and been part of—in direct opposition to the empire of carnage they’d once served.
What these men and women did on this day was a call not just to other vets and military personnel, but to everyone in the U.S. and millions around the globe: Wake up. Muster the courage to face the truth—your rulers are committing horrific atrocities and towering crimes around the world. They’re cloaking it in bald-faced lies. They’re doing it in our names, enlisting us to carry it out. Think about the people of the world! Don’t go along! Stand up! Speak out!
Adding to the significance of this action was the unity expressed between the vets and those who they had been taught to treat as “the enemy.” Suraia Sahar of Afghans for Peace told Democracy Now!, “It’s the first time an Afghan-led peace movement is now working side by side with a veteran-led peace movement. And so, this is how—this is the beginning of something new, something better.”
And how did the media in this self-proclaimed land of democracy and free speech cover this? Largely with silence. These cheerleaders for America’s blood-soaked military and predatory wars were not going to allow veterans—who they claim to honor and cherish—to puncture their post-911 narrative of the U.S. as the “victim,” the “good guys” fighting “terror” with harsh truths from the front lines—especially not when their empire is facing daunting problems and perilous waters ahead.
The vets’ action in Chicago was consciously modeled on the 1971 anti-Vietnam War “Dewey Canyon III” protest organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which brought hundreds of veterans to Washington, DC to throw their medals back at Congress. (For an account of Dewey Canyon III, see vvawai.org/archive/sw/sw31/pgs_35-44/dewey_canyon.html.)
In Chicago, Alejandro Villatoro, an Army veteran, told the crowd, “Nowhere else will you hear from so many who fought these wars about their journey from fighting a war to demanding peace.” Then he began, “Some of us killed innocents. Some of us helped in continuing these wars from home. Some of us watched our friends die. Some of us are not here, because we took our own lives. We did not get the care promised to us by our government. All of us watched failed policies turn into bloodshed. Listen to us, hear us, and think: was any of this worth it?.... We tear off this mask. Hear us.”
Then vet after vet mounted the stage to give their stories, moving personal testimonies about why they came to march and why they were throwing back their medals. There was a sense these vets were regaining their humanity and forging a new morality in the course of facing agonizing truths, standing up, speaking out, and refusing to be silent. One vet said, “I stole the humanity of Iraqis and lost mine.” Another talked of how now he can “live by my conscience rather than be a prisoner of it.” There were comments about the importance of integrity, and about learning from our mistakes and joining together. Seven months after being severely wounded in a police attack on Occupy Oakland, Iraq veteran Scott Olsen threw back his medals, his presence an example of courage and moral certitude.
A cornerstone of the testimony was facing the impact U.S. wars had on the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries in the region. Iraq war vet Scott Kimball said, “I’m turning in these medals today for the people of Pakistan, Iraq, Palestine, and all victims of occupation across the world.” Steven Lunn, an Iraq combat veteran, stated, “This medal I’m dedicating to the children of Iraq that no longer have fathers and mothers.” Greg Broseus said, “I’m here to return my medals because I cannot stand in solidarity and peace with my brothers and sisters in Iraq and Afghanistan as long as I wear them.” One vet who took part in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in the U.S. Navy simply said: “I apologize to the Iraqi and Afghani people for destroying your countries.”
Members of Afghans for Peace added their own searing indictments. Samira Sayed-Rahman said, “...The Afghan people have had enough. They are sick and tired of being nameless, faceless beings, sick and tired of being treated as collateral damage, sick and tired of 11 long years of this war with no end in sight. We don’t want another Abdullah whose fingers were chopped off and used as trophies of war, we don’t want another Fatima who has had her face burned by acid for trying to get an education, we don’t want another Najeeb and his entire family being killed in a drone strike, we don’t want another little five-year-old Zainab left to fend for herself as she watches as her mother is raped by forces while her father has the barrel of a gun shoved in his mouth, we don’t want our country burnt to ashes over and over again for NATO’s bombs....” (afghansforpeace.org/archives/2646)
Revolution recently talked to two vets who threw their medals back that day, about how this moment had come together, what it meant to them and other vets, and its overall impact.
Army vet Raymond Knaeble told us, “It was a special moment. It brought hope for all the vets and active duty to bring awareness that war is an illegal occupation—not about peace but violence against peace, war of aggression and torture. It was very personal, I was proud to earn the medals but it was all based on lies, not truth. It wasn’t about bringing freedom to people but killing innocent people. I wasn’t in Afghanistan but I’m in solidarity with all the people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
“Many of us broke into tears, it was such a moment,” he continued. “We can’t change the past but we want other people to know that this war needs to be stopped. We have a war right here to bring these politicians to justice. They’re war criminals. Lots of the vets were in Iraq and Afghanistan so they saw it firsthand. The military lies to the soldiers and puts us on medication that can be worse than street drugs, and they’re told to kill whoever they see. Lots of soldiers have committed suicide because we have a conscience. The soldiers want to come home. They ask, why are we here?”
John Anderson, Marine Corps, who was deployed to Iraq two times, 2007-2009, and threw back his “Global War on Terrorism” and “Iraq Campaign” medals, said, “You lose yourself in the military. This was reclaiming my own person. It was a powerful emotional release when I saw my medals flying toward NATO. And I got more of a sense of peace with myself. It had a profound effect. When we left the stage, we all walked to a park. Everyone kept to themselves for 10-15 minutes, just processing.
“A lot of veterans who are not as politically conscious feel a sense of, like my buddy in Tennessee, an attitude of—I don’t want to think about the ramifications of what we did. They realize it wasn’t okay, but it’s hard to come to terms with it. My guys see me and felt a sense of validation and empowerment.” Anderson said he has had mainly, overwhelmingly, positive responses. A Marine vet at the school he attends said the May 20 action was “so cool.”
* * * * *
All quotes from veterans, except those interviewed by Revolution, from Democracy Now! video and transcriptions of May 20 action: “Memorial Day Special: U.S. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan Return War Medals at NATO Summit,” May 28, 2012.
See also: “IVAW and Afghans for Peace Lead Historic March on NATO: Veterans Hurl Global War on Terror Medals towards NATO Summit As Thousands Cheer,” Jose Vasquez, May 23, 2012, at Iraq Veterans Against the War website, ivaw.org.
Revolution #271 June 10, 2012
In the category of Current Events I
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Revolution #271 June 10, 2012
George Zimmerman shoots Trayvon Martin dead and then walks free. All over the country, tens of thousands take to the streets in protest. Finally, more than six weeks after this horrible crime, Zimmerman is charged with second degree murder. But the struggle for justice is far from over.
The modern-day American lynching of Trayvon Martin put a big spotlight on the history and current reality of what it means to be a Black person in the United States of America. It raised big questions about whether things could be another way. It created a moment where many people might begin to question the very legitimacy of the whole system responsible for the murder of Trayvon—to see this as NOT an isolated incident but only the latest in an endless chain of such acts perpetrated, condoned, and covered up by the powers-that-be.
Yet now we’re being told to calm down, shift our focus to the legal arena, stuff our anger back inside, and “let the wheels of justice turn”—no matter what the outcome. Now there is all kinds of speculation, talk, and many in the media are trying to create public opinion in a certain direction, before this case even goes to trial.
This is the underlying message: Forget all the BIG questions this murder raises about the way society is; about how Black youth are racially profiled and criminalized; how this murder echoes the murder of Emmett Till in the Jim Crow South of the 1950s. Forget your anger and perhaps your determination to work for a world in which there will be no more tragedies like the death of Trayvon Martin.
Instead, we hear: Let’s endlessly discuss what George Zimmerman did in the “context” of what happened after he got out of his car. In other words, let’s just forget about the fact that if Zimmerman had done what the 911 dispatcher told him to do, which is to NOT follow Trayvon Martin, then none of this would have happened. But instead there is discussion after discussion about who started the confrontation, who was crying for help, who was on top of who, how bloody was Zimmerman’s nose, and so on.
But let’s step back one step. What is the actual context for what happened? Again, Zimmerman called 911 and was told to stay in his car. But he got out and followed Trayvon, who had gone to the store to buy Skittles and iced tea and was walking through the neighborhood—all perfectly legal, something millions do every day in this country. But he ended up dead, murdered, taken from his loved ones.
In fact, a report from the Sanford Police Department dated March 13, nearly a month before charges were brought against Zimmerman, concluded:
“The encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin was ultimately avoidable [my emphasis] by Zimmerman, if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and awaited the arrival of law enforcement, or conversely, if he had identified himself to Martin as a concerned citizen and initiated dialog in an effort to dispel each party’s concern.”
One political analyst put it this way: “As for Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense? Bullshit. That defense went out the window the second he stepped from his locked car with a loaded semi-automatic weapon.” (Andy Ostroy, Huffington Post, May 21, 2012)
To get caught up in arguing what happened after Zimmerman left his car will put you into a deadly trap that covers over and leads away from the real issues of right and wrong, just and unjust.
Now, let’s pull the lens back even further to the bigger context.
The oppression of Black people has been woven into the whole economic and social fabric of U.S. society, from the days of slavery to today. It continues to be part of the very glue that holds U.S. society together—even as it has gone through different changes and been enforced in different ways. The outright ownership of Black people under slavery gave way to Jim Crow segregation and Ku Klux Klan terror. And now we have what has been called “the new Jim Crow” of police brutality and murder and the mass incarceration of hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino people.
The murder of Trayvon Martin and the outrage that erupted around the country reveal important truths about the nature of this society.
* * * * *
The cold, hard fact of American life is that a Black youth wearing a hoodie is considered suspect by the standards of the powers-that-be. This capitalist system has no way to profitably exploit these generations of Black youth, and its response has been criminalization and incarceration: decades of a so-called “war on drugs,” aimed mainly at locking up Blacks and Latinos; a whole section of society has been criminalized; and now, in the minds of many people someone like Trayvon Martin is nothing but a thug who deserves to be hunted down, locked up and if need be, tortured in solitary confinement.
This is the workings of a system that produces killer cops and vigilantes like George Zimmerman. This is what leads to things like the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy where hundreds of thousands are racially profiled and harassed, or worse. This is how we have gotten to a situation where 2.4 million people are imprisoned, the majority Black and Latino.
It was tremendously important—and it made a real difference—that tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. No doubt, Zimmerman would be walking free today if this hadn’t happened. But now, we’re being told it’s time to just let their “justice system” work. But the system was working when it let Zimmerman go free the night of the murder; when it tested Trayvon’s dead body for drugs, but not Zimmerman; when it portrayed Zimmerman as the victim and Trayvon as a juvenile delinquent. Right now it’s critically important that we not sit back, but instead, find the ways to express our determination to get justice, that we not be silent.
We need to fight for justice for Trayvon Martin. And we need to link that to the importance, and urgency, of building a determined mass movement against mass incarceration.
Justice for Trayvon!
Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide
Revolution #271 June 10, 2012
This was posted at the Carl Dix blog on May 29.
I just got back from Sanford, Florida, where I spent the weekend standing together with people there, speaking bitterness about Trayvon's murder, and about all the other Trayvon's; and taking to them a message of No More—"No more generations of our youth, here and all around the world, whose life is over, whose fate has been sealed, who have been condemned to an early death or a life of misery and brutality, whom the system has destined for oppression and oblivion even before they are born. I say no more of that." [BAsics 1:13]
I'll write more about that trip soon. Right now I'm writing you about June 5, which is 100 days since the vigilante murder of Trayvon, and the call to make that day a day of Justice for Trayvon; a day to wear hoodies and say defiantly "We Are All Trayvon."
Whether or not people act on June 5 matters. Right now the mouthpieces of the system are telling us that protest has done its part now that Zimmerman has been indicted and that it's time to get out of the streets and let the courts work. The truth is that the system was working when it let Zimmerman walk free the night he murdered Trayvon and when it drug tested Trayvon's dead body but didn't drug test his killer. And it's still working as story after story turns up in the media portraying Zimmerman as the victim and dragging Trayvon's reputation thru the mud.
IT IS CRITICALLY IMPORTANT THAT WE ACT WITH DETERMINATION TO DECLARE THAT WE WILL NOT SIT BACK IN SILENCE WHILE THE SKIDS ARE GREASED TO EXONERATE TRAYVON'S KILLER AGAIN!
June 5, 2012—Wear your hoodies, and encourage others to wear theirs too. Organize others to get involved thru Facebook and on Twitter. Create posters that say, "We Are All Trayvon!" and spread them to others. Take this message into your schools; bring it out at rallies after school, in your communities and in every way possible.
And take pictures of whatever you do and send them in to the Stop Mass Incarceration Network at email@example.com so people everywhere know that this is happening all across the country. Make sure there are no secret actions on June 5.
People in Sanford were very heartened to hear that people around the country haven't given up on fighting for justice for Trayvon. Some of them are talking about what they could do there to be a part of this nationwide action. Join with them and others all across the country.
June 5: WE ARE ALL TRAYVON; THE WHOLE DAMN SYSTEM IS GUILTY!
May 29, 2012
Revolution #271 June 10, 2012
June 5 marks 100 days since Trayvon Martin was killed. A call has gone out from the Stop Mass Incarceration Network to “Wear your hoodie, and get others to wear theirs too. Do this in your high school, in your neighborhood, wherever you are.” Speak-outs and marches are planned in some cities.
To Revolution readers: Send snapshot reports and photos from June 5 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Revolution #271 June 10, 2012
Three Years Later:
On May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller was assassinated as he acted as an usher in his Wichita, Kansas church on a Sunday morning. Dr. George Tiller was a hero. Dr. Tiller’s commitment to women went far beyond merely providing abortions to women, as essential as that is. Dr. Tiller withstood years and years of targeted harassment, threats, and terror directed at him and his family. When his clinic was firebombed, he posted a sign outside during its reconstruction which read, “Hell No, We Won’t Go!” When he was shot in both arms during a previous assassination attempt, he went immediately back to work.
Not only did he provide abortions, he provided late-term abortions. These types of abortions make up only 2% of all abortions but are some of the most essential; women who seek them tend to be those who discover a life-threatening problem late in the pregnancy or women who were unable to get abortions earlier due to being extremely young and/or extremely poor and/or in places with extreme restrictions to abortion access. Women traveled from around the world seeking out his services.
Not only did he provide these late-term abortions at great risk to himself, he did it with extraordinary compassion. Once, Dr. Tiller heard that a woman who was driving up from the South to visit his clinic was sleeping in her car because she couldn’t afford a motel. Despite the fact that he had already offered to provide her abortion for free, he instructed his staff to pay for her hotel and her meals during her travels. When he heard that an extremely young woman who had been impregnated through rape was traveling from another city to his clinic, he had his entire staff dressed in T-shirts which read, “Friends of Annie” [the young woman’s name] when she arrived! When I attended his memorial three years ago, many women from Wichita told me the stories of their own abortions, adding, “Dr. Tiller gave me my life back.”
While Dr. Tiller was assassinated by one man, his death was the result of a whole nationwide campaign over many years to demonize, isolate, criminalize and stop—by any means—abortion providers from giving women the ability to terminate a pregnancy. Every time someone—whether a Christian fascist, a “pro-choice” Democrat, or a television drama—refers to abortion as “killing a baby” they are contributing to an atmosphere where providers are seen as people with “blood on their hands” who “deserve” violence and retribution. In reality, fetuses are NOT babies and abortion is NOT murder!
Further, every time lawmakers restrict abortion access, they commit an act every bit as illegitimate, immoral, and violent towards women as the assassination of George Tiller was. The question is not whether these attacks are carried out “by individuals” acting “outside the law” or by a fascist movement acting through the power of the state. Forcing women to have children against their will is enslavement. It is an act of violence against women every bit as damaging as rape.
This is something that many providers understand, and this is why they risk so much to provide abortion services to women.
In the three years since George Tiller’s assassination, lawmakers have passed an unprecedented level of restrictions to abortion nationwide and violence against clinics and threats to providers have continued unabated.
On this anniversary, let us never forget the life of commitment to women lived by Dr. George Tiller. Let us never forgive the movement which took his life and which threatens the lives and futures of the half of the population who have been born female. Finally, let us redouble our determination to protect and defend those who risk everything to provide abortions to women and let us fight for a world where providing abortions no longer requires such risk and abortion and birth control are available to all women all the time on demand and without apology!
To get involved in the fight for Abortion on Demand & Without Apology as well as the fight to End Patriarchy and Pornography: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women altogether, contact: email@example.com.
Revolution #271 June 10, 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 #271 June 10, 2012
The U.S. Constitution and the Constitution for the
New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)
In January 2011, for the first time, the opening session of the U.S. Congress included a reading of the U.S. Constitution. Tea Party activists had just helped win a significant number of new Republican congressional seats. And this reading was widely acknowledged as a symbolic gesture to emphasize a new Republican rule requiring that all proposed bills must cite text from the U.S. Constitution permitting them to become law.
For 90 minutes, members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, took turns reading the Constitution. But in consultation with the Congressional Research Service and others, they read an edited version of the country’s founding document.
The version they read covered over the fact that the U.S. Constitution was not only written at the time of slavery, but in order to uphold and defend the practice of owning human beings as private property. This version did not include the sections referring to slaves as “three-fifths of all other Persons,” indentured servants “bound to Service for a Term of Years,” and the fugitive-slave clause that required that slaves that escaped to another state be returned to the owner in the state from which they escaped.
* * * * *
It is an ugly exposure of America’s foundations that slavery is openly sanctioned in the U.S. Constitution. But part of the “genius” of the U.S. Constitution is that it is a charter that appears to treat everyone the same—while concealing and reinforcing the profound inequalities, disparities, and class divisions at the heart of the capitalist economic, social, and political system. Indeed, since the abolition of slavery, the U.S. Constitution has provided the legal framework for the continuing oppression of Black people.
The National Civil Right Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, provides people with some powerful history of the struggle against this oppression.
Before the Civil War, Memphis, Tennessee, was a major slave market. Auction Square on North Main Street still displays the original plaque which commemorates the two kinds of trade that shaped much of the economy of Memphis at the time—slaves and cotton.
At the National Civil Rights Museum, you can go on a searing and unforgettable journey that deeply and artistically depicts the lives, struggles, resistance, and aspirations for the liberation of Black people in the United States. The museum’s corridors and galleries pull you through hundreds of years of horrific oppression and courageous resistance.
Beginning with the European-controlled slave dungeons on Africa’s western coast in the 17th century, through the savagery of the “middle passage” across the Atlantic, in which millions of African people died, and into the centuries of slavery. Exhibits display the heroic efforts of the Black soldiers who fought for the Union in the U.S. Civil War and the bitter results of emancipation’s betrayal that came not long after that war ended. Then the long nightmare of Jim Crow and legal segregation, the lynch mobs, the rise of the KKK and other racist vigilantes. The museum sweeps a visitor into the upheavals and transformations of the 20th century: the great migrations out of the rural South into the cities of the North and Midwest, the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement in the ’50s with battles around public education and against the savage lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955.
The heart of the museum focuses on the upheavals of the ’50s and ’60s, struggle that began as the Civil Rights Movement and then erupted into the radical and revolutionary movements for Black Liberation.
Many people who walk through this tour leave it emotionally drained, filled with turbulent and intense emotions, with indelible images of centuries of oppression—and heroic resistance—etched in their memory.
A theme of this museum is that the U.S. Constitution, from its origins and at key junctures, provided a basis for greater and expanding numbers of people to be included in its aims of equal civil rights for everyone—won at the cost of great struggle, sacrifice and bloodshed.
But the question must be asked. What lessons should actually be drawn from this legacy of horrific oppression and courageous resistance? Can the liberation of Black and other oppressed people be won through the provisions and in the framework of the U.S. Constitution? Or is a radical—a revolutionary—leap beyond and away from that framework required for the emancipation of all of humanity, including Black people?
* * * * *
The U.S. Constitution was drafted, debated, and approved by slave owners and exploiters. This is a profound truth about the historical birth of the United States and the character of its founding legal document.
Still many people argue that the U.S. Constitution, despite its origins in a society that practiced slavery, has protected and expanded the political and civil rights of ever broader numbers of people. The Constitution is seen as something that continues to provide the legal foundation and political vision for overcoming existing inequalities and injustices. In particular, the argument goes, Black people in the U.S. have gone from being enslaved to the point where a Black man is president, a development that could only have happened because of the provisions and foundation established by the U.S. Constitution.
This message—that the U.S. Constitution establishes a vision and basis for achieving a society where “everyone is equal”—is profoundly UNTRUE and actually does great harm.
From its writing and adoption in 1787 to today, this Constitution has provided the legal framework and justifications for a society torn by deep inequalities, and the preservation of a whole economic and social setup in which a relatively small number of people rule over an exploitative society, and maintain that dominance. As Bob Avakian has pointed out:
“Over the 200 years that this Constitution has been in force, down to today, despite the formal rights of persons it proclaims, and even though the Constitution has been amended to outlaw slavery where one person actually owns another as property, the U.S. Constitution has always remained a document that upholds and gives legal authority to a system in which the masses of people, or their ability to work, have been used as wealth-creating property for the profit of the few.”
In particular, the subordinate, oppressed—and, for almost a century, enslaved—position of Black people has been sanctioned by this Constitution. And this oppression has been reinforced by laws and court rulings flowing from this Constitution and the social-economic system based on exploitation that it serves.
* * * * *
In 2010 the Revolutionary Communist Party published the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) (CNSRNA). This visionary document is based on the new synthesis of communism developed over decades by Bob Avakian.
|Take a Radical Step into the Future...
This Constitution (Draft Proposal) is written with the future in mind. It is intended to set forth a basic model, and fundamental principles and guidelines, for the nature and functioning of a vastly different society and government than now exists: the New Socialist Republic in North America, a socialist state which would embody, institutionalize and promote radically different relations and values among people; a socialist state whose final and fundamental aim would be to achieve, together with the revolutionary struggle throughout the world, the emancipation of humanity as a whole and the opening of a whole new epoch in human history–communism–with the final abolition of all exploitative and oppressive relations among human beings and the destructive antagonistic conflicts to which these relations give rise.
Buy online at:
revcom.us/socialistconstitution or at amazon (search for: Constitution-Socialist-Republic-America)
Send money orders or checks of $8 plus $2.78 shipping/handling/tax to: RCP Publications, PO Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
This Constitution is nothing less than the framework for a whole new society: a new political system in which the will of the people will be expressed... and a new economic system that will actually be geared to meeting people’s material needs, as well as taking care of the environment and contributing to the revolutionary international process of eliminating all exploitation. Even more fundamentally, this is a framework to advance to a communist world—a world in which exploitation and oppression will be things to read about in history books and people will no longer be divided into antagonistic social groups but will instead live and work together as a freely associating community of human beings all over the planet.
The CNSRNA is a draft proposal for an actual Constitution: the framework, the guiding principles and the processes of a radically new government, a radically new form of state power. We ARE building a movement for revolution—a revolution that WILL put this document into practice. These are the rules of a whole new game... a guide for those who will lead the new power for what to do on Day One, and after.
On the question of doing away with national oppression the Preamble to the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) states:
“The New Socialist Republic in North America is a multi-national and multi-lingual state, which is based on the principle of equality between different nationalities and cultures and has as one of its essential objectives fully overcoming national oppression and inequality, which was such a fundamental part of the imperialist USA throughout its history. Only on the basis of these principles and objectives can divisions among humanity by country and nation be finally overcome and surpassed and a world community of freely associating human beings be brought into being. This orientation is also embodied in the various institutions of the state and in the functioning of the government in the New Socialist Republic in North America.”
* * * * *
This article begins a series that will compare and contrast the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)—in relation to the enslavement, oppression and emancipation of African-American people. We encourage readers to discuss and study this series; spread and share it among your friends; get it into the classrooms, communities and prisons; and send us your comments.
The U.S. Constitution was drafted, debated, and approved by slave owners and exploiters. Despite this profound truth about the historical birth of the United States, many people argue that the Constitution has protected and expanded the political and civil rights of the people; and that it continues to provide the legal foundation and political vision for overcoming existing inequalities and injustices. But this message—that the U.S. Constitution establishes a vision and basis for achieving a society where “everyone is equal”—is profoundly UNTRUE and actually does great harm. From the very beginning this Constitution has provided the legal framework and justifications for a society torn by deep inequalities, and the preservation of a whole economic and social setup in which a relatively small number of people rule over an exploitative society and maintain that dominance.
In 2010 the Revolutionary Communist Party published the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) (CNSRNA). This visionary document, based on the new synthesis of communism developed over decades by Bob Avakian, provides the framework for a whole new society, a framework to advance to a communist world—a world no longer divided into antagonistic social groups, where people will instead live and work together as a freely associating community of human beings, all over the planet.
This series compares and contrasts the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)—in relation to the enslavement, oppression and emancipation of African-American people. We encourage readers to discuss and study this series, spread and share it among your friends; get it into the classrooms, communities and prisons; and send us your comments.
* * * * *
American enslavement of African people and their descendents was a never-ending hell of work, abuse, torture, rape, and degradation. It was enforced by whips, chains, shotguns, and vicious bloodhounds. The culture and outlook of white supremacy penetrated every aspect of life in the U.S., South and North alike. And all this was enshrined in the “law of the land,” starting with the U.S. Constitution—the binding legal document of the new country.
The U.S. Constitution was, and is, dedicated to the defense of “private property rights” based on exploitation, and for eight decades that included the enslavement of Black people. James Madison, the main author of the U.S. Constitution, wrote that the law in the U.S. regarded slaves as “inhabitants, but debased by servitude below the equal level of free inhabitants.... The true state of the case is that they partake of both these qualities: being considered by our laws, in some respects, as persons, and in other respects as property.... This is in fact their true character. It is the character bestowed on them by the laws under which they live; and it will not be denied that these are the proper criterion.”1
Here Madison was arguing for and defending a legal principle that established Black people as a form of property in U.S. law.
“Inhabitants, but debased by servitude below the equal level of free inhabitants”—which meant slaves had no rights whatsoever under the law.
“Being considered by our laws, in some respects, as persons, and in other respects as property”—which meant they could be put on an auction block to be bought and sold, and witness their loved ones taken from them as someone else’s purchase.
“It is the character bestowed on them by the laws under which they live”—which meant they could be forced to work like animals under the whip, chained up and hounded by dogs if they dared to escape; subjected to subhuman conditions of life, and the constant knowledge that the slave master could end their lives on even the slightest whim.
During more than the first 70 years of the United States, constitutionally sanctioned and court approved cruelty towards enslaved Black people knew no limits. The system of “justice” developed under the U.S. Constitution was dedicated to providing the legal basis for complete control of the slave master over their human property. For example: “In one case, a Missouri court considered the ‘crime’ of Celia, a slave who had killed her master while resisting a sexual assault. State law deemed ‘any woman’ in such circumstances to be acting in self-defense. But Celia, the court ruled, was not, legally speaking, ‘a woman’. She was a slave, whose master had complete power over her person. The court sentenced her to death. However, since Celia was pregnant, her execution was postponed until the child was born, so as not to deprive Celia’s owner’s heirs of their property rights.”2
The enslavement of African people and their descendents was integral to the development of what Europeans called the “new world” beginning in 1502. By the time the U.S. declared its independence from England in 1776, slavery existed in all 13 colonies, but it was most concentrated in the southern colonies—Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina, and Georgia, especially in the cotton and tobacco plantation regions.
In May 1787, 55 delegates gathered in Philadelphia to write a constitution for a nation formed from the 13 newly independent British colonies. Since winning their war of independence, the former colonies had until this time been held together tenuously, by a weak and largely ineffective central power.
Whether these delegates could compose and agree upon a document capable of uniting the colonies into a coherent national state was not a settled question. Sharp, contentious debate expressing the conflicting interests of representatives from different states, in particular the slave owners of the South and the merchant capitalists of the North, continued for over four months before a complete document was drafted and approved by the delegates.
Much of their contention was shaped and driven by the question of slavery. George William Van Cleve writes in A Slaveholders’ Union: Slavery, Politics, and the Constitution in the Early American Republic, that by 1770 slavery in the American colonies “had become a central economic institution ... slaves had become a major economic asset, with a conservatively estimated collective market value of about 14 million pounds sterling (about $2.4 billion today). Slaves constituted nearly 20% of total private wealth in the 13 colonies in 1774.”3
Two convention delegates delivered speeches denouncing slavery. But the debate here was not about the morality of slavery at the Constitutional Convention. There were no passionate speeches condemning this barbaric atrocity inherited from a colonial empire. There were no demands for its immediate abolition. The arguments concerning slavery centered on several inter-related issues: whether property or population would be the main factor determining representation in the new government’s congress, and the power of the new central government to control trade, commerce, and treaties—and most specifically, the international slave trade.
Defenders of the U.S. Constitution often note that it doesn’t contain the word “slavery.” There are several possible reasons for this, including that at least some of its writers and signers recognized the contradiction in overtly recognizing slavery in a document that proclaims to be based on and represent “the people.”
But the fact is that this Constitution—the highest, binding political/legal document of the United States—acknowledged and defended the outright ownership as “property” of an entire category of human beings: Africans and their descendents. Building upon this constitutional foundation, the U.S., through both its political apparatus and its system of courts and laws, continued in its first 70 years to uphold this status of human “property” as a legal category.
The newly formed U.S. included two co-existing economic systems—capitalism and slavery, two ways of organizing society on a foundation of exploitation. These two systems were mutually dependent on each other. The merchants, lawyers, slave traders and slave owners, bankers, ship owners and other prosperous men who debated and wrote the U.S. Constitution needed to create a framework in which both capitalism and slavery could continue to develop. They needed a central state structure capable of protecting their sometimes clashing interests, while at the same time holding them within a unified federal state. They needed a constitution—a document that established the legal and political “rules” of the new country.
From the beginning, the U.S. was formed with the understanding that such a unified state was needed to forge a powerful new country in the Western hemisphere, one capable of resisting domination or interference by European powers, and with a central government strong enough to work out differences between northern capitalists and southern slave owners, especially as it expanded into its western territories. The Constitution’s “pro-slavery character” was the result of efforts to deal with this contradiction. Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution declared the slaves to be three-fifths human beings. In this way, the property of the slave owners, i.e. human slaves, were counted in the system of political representation—giving the South an advantage in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College—while denying slaves legal rights as persons.
Slavery was concentrated in the southern states. But it existed in a mutually reliant economic structure with the mercantile capitalism then dominant in the northern states and within a common political framework. Slavery was decisive to the growth, expansion, and prosperity of the entire country. The economic well-being of both southern slave owners and northern capitalists depended on each other’s activities. Cotton and other agricultural products from the slave plantations were processed in northern factories and shipped from northern ports, which also dominated most of the trade coming into the new country.
The Constitution that emerged from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia protected both the capitalist and slave forms of exploitation and enrichment for a small number of people and established a means for their often intense differences to be worked through. The framework that the U.S. Constitution provided for the coherence and development of the new country enabled the U.S., as a whole, and in both its slave and non-slave components, to expand dramatically in the decades after independence was won.
The years after the U.S. Constitution was written and adopted were years of rapid westward expansion, into areas that are now states like Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana in the North, and Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee in the South. Genocidal campaigns against the Native Americans who lived in areas coveted by white Americans made this expansion possible. And agreements made in Congress, under the provisions of this Constitution, established the legal basis for areas south of the Ohio River to be developed as slave territories, soon to be slave states.
Missouri, which lies mostly north of the Ohio River, became a battleground—as both pro- and anti-slavery forces were moving into Missouri in large numbers by 1815. The question of what the character of that state would be was up for grabs. As Van Cleve notes, “the Missouri controversy of 1819-1821 was a titanic economic and political struggle between America’s sections over their westward expansion. The dispute placed slavery in a clash with an emerging free-labor ideology.”4
The resolution of these “disputes” firmly upheld the legal, constitutional basis for slavery as a long-term social institution in the United States. Missouri was admitted to the union as a slave state. In exchange the non-slave state of Maine entered the union so that Congressional “equilibrium” between the two sections of the country would be maintained.
The equilibrium proved to be fragile. For the next 40 years disputes between northern and southern states erupted repeatedly as the country continued to push westward. The key point of ongoing, unsettled contention—whether the territories being opened up to American expansion would be slave or non-slave—was argued and fought over repeatedly. But the outcome of the Missouri Compromise further strengthened and emboldened pro-slavery forces, and led them to push for further expansion of slave territories. It also further solidified the constitutionality of slavery in newly formed states or territories, not just the states that had originally been part of the union.
From the time the Constitution was approved in 1788 to 1821, when the Missouri Compromise had been finalized, the number of slave states and the total number of enslaved people had both more than doubled. A huge proportion of the national wealth—in the North as well as the South—had been amassed from the backbreaking, never-ending labor of slaves—people who had no rights and no legal ability to resist their oppression; who were routinely worked to the point of death, sold away from families and loved ones, cruelly maimed and tortured, and systematically denied any education. The growth and expansion of slavery, as well as the enshrined right of slave masters and overseers to mete out any punishment they desired to their “property,” were built into the U.S. Constitution and were constitutionally protected.
As bargains and compromises were made in the halls of Congress, and as rulings came down in the U.S. Supreme Court, millions of human beings continued to have the legal, constitutional status of “property” without the rights of citizens. The blood of countless slaves was a mortar that bound together the increasingly clashing northern and southern sections of the country.
“No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.” Constitution of the United States, Article 4, Section 2
Put in plain English, this section of the U.S. Constitution said that a slave would remain the property of his or her “owner” wherever the slave may go, even into areas where slavery was not recognized. It further stipulated that officials in non-slave states who came upon escaped slaves were obliged to deliver the “property” to the “rightful owner.” To make things perfectly clear, Congress in 1793 passed the “Fugitive Slave Law” to require the return of “runaway” slaves.
But by the late 1840s, runaway slaves were becoming a major problem for slave owners, especially in areas on the perimeter of the slave states. A network of safe houses and secret trails called the Underground Railroad was operated by Black people and white abolitionists to help escaped slaves get to non-slave territory in the North and in Canada, and by the 1840s and 1850s thousands of Black people were escaping from slavery through the railroad.
Further, several northern states had enacted measures called “personal liberty laws” which were aimed at nullifying the Fugitive Slave Act and preventing bounty hunters from snatching Black people off the streets in northern cities and sending them to slavery. In several instances crowds of white abolitionists forced the release of slaves who had been arrested. Well-known intellectuals and writers such as John Greenleaf Whittier and Ralph Waldo Emerson condemned the law and called for people to defy it.
Around the same time, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850—called the “Bloodhound Law” by abolitionists because of the bloodhounds used to track slaves—was passed as yet another “compromise.” But it in fact went even further than the original Fugitive Slave Act—it required that citizens of non-slave states capture and return slaves to their “rightful owners,” under severe penalty of law.
A ruling concerning a slave named Dred Scott was a stark and concentrated example of the logic of the constitutionality of slavery. Dred Scott was a Black man who had been born into slavery, and served as a slave to a U.S. Army officer who had been stationed throughout the U.S. After the officer was transferred from Minnesota to the slave state of Missouri, Scott and his wife filed a suit in federal court seeking their freedom, which he said had been established because they had lived in non-slave states.
In 1857, the United States Supreme Court ruled that neither Dred Scott nor any person of “African descent” could file a lawsuit in a U.S. court, since they could not be citizens of the U.S. The Supreme Court further ruled that simply living outside an area where slavery was established did not establish Scott’s freedom, since this would “deprive his owner of his property.”
Roger B. Taney, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, summarized his ruling with these infamous words: saying that the authors of the Constitution—the “founders”—regarded and legally institutionalized Black people as “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
The Supreme Court’s decision emboldened the southern slave owners, and infuriated many anti-slavery forces throughout the North. The slave owners argued that the Supreme Court’s decision in effect negated the Missouri Compromise, and would restore to them their constitutional right to bring their slaves anywhere in the United States. Many northerners regarded the Dred Scott decision as a culmination of a decades-long drive to expand slavery, and vowed to defy and oppose it. The differences between the two sides could no longer be reconciled.
Four years after the Dred Scott ruling, the U.S. Civil War began.
“We has a right to the land where we are located. For why? I tell you. Our wives, our children, our husbands, has been sold over and over again to purchase the lands we now locates upon; for that reason we have a divine right to the land.... And then didn’t we clear the land, and raise de crops ob corn, ob cotton, ob tobacco, ob rice, ob sugar, ob everything. And den didn’t dem large cities in de North grow up on de cotton and de sugar and de rice we made? ... I say dey has grown rich, and my people is poor.”5
Freedman Bayley Wyat, 1867,
after he and other former slaves were
evicted by the U.S. Army from land
they were farming in Virginia
After northern victory in the Civil War, a key demand and need of Black people was land and the basic means to work on the land. As Bob Avakian wrote, “Land ownership was at that time crucial for Black people to have as some kind of economic ‘anchor’ and basis for them to resist being forced back into conditions of virtual if not literal slavery, of serf-like oppression, on the southern plantations.” In 1865, as the war was reaching its end, U.S. Army General William Sherman issued an order providing 40 acres of land and surplus army mules to newly freed Black people in coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina. But this order was overturned by President Andrew Johnson soon after he took office that year, and ownership of the land was returned to the white former slave owners who had possessed it before the war. The phrase “40 acres and a mule” became a bitter reminder of the betrayal of Black people by the federal government.
But in the brief period after the Civil War known as Reconstruction, there were major transformations in the lives of Black people. As Avakian wrote, these years witnessed “significant changes and improvements in the lives of Black people in the South. The right to vote and hold office, and some of the other Constitutional rights that are supposed to apply to the citizens of the U.S. were partly, if not fully, realized by former slaves during Reconstruction. ...During these ten years of Reconstruction, with all the sharp contradictions involved, there was a real upsurge and sort of flowering of bourgeois-democratic reforms. This was not the proletarian revolution, but at that time it was very significant.”6
Three constitutional amendments—the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth—were passed during the years of Reconstruction, as were some federal laws (the Enforcement Acts and two Civil Rights bills), which were supposed to give substance to these amendments.
The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery—“except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”; i.e., prisoners. The heart of the Fourteenth Amendment granted U.S. citizenship to “all persons” born in the U.S., and extended the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution to states, saying that “no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of its laws.” The Fifteenth Amendment said that no citizen of the U.S. could be denied the right to vote by the federal or state government because of their “race, color, or condition of previous servitude.”
From the onset, these developments were met with convulsions of mass violence across the entire area of the former Confederacy. The Ku Klux Klan was founded and grew dramatically in these years, carrying out lynchings, night raids, and terroristic assaults upon newly freed Black people across the South. Historian Eric Foner wrote that the KKK and similar racist organizations were “in effect ... a military force serving the interests of the Democratic party, the planter class, and all those who desired the restoration of white supremacy.”7
This violence pervaded every aspect of society, and was intended to enforce a culture of white supremacy, and of degradation and fear among Black people. Foner wrote, “More commonly, violence was directed at ... ‘impudent negroes’—those who no longer adhered to patterns of behavior demanded under slavery. A North Carolina freedman related how, after he was whipped, the Klan assailants ‘told me the law, that whenever I met a white person, no matter who he was, whether he was poor or rich, I was to take off my hat.’”8
Louisiana was a particularly violent inferno of racist mob violence against newly enfranchised Black people. In a book appropriately titled The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction, Charles Lane wrote that, “Over three days in September , [white terrorists] killed some two hundred freedmen in St. Landry Parish. Later that month, in Bossier Parish, just across the Red River from Shreveport ... hundreds of armed whites poured into Bossier Parish, scouring the countryside ... this soon turned into an all-out ‘nigger hunt,’ complete with bloodhounds. The killing lasted through October and the death toll reached 168.”9
On April 13, 1873, a mass slaughter of Black people occurred in Colfax, Louisiana, a town in the center of the state on the banks of the Red River. Of the almost 200 people involved in carrying out the mass murder in Colfax, only nine were eventually charged with any crime. Only three were convicted,10 not of murder, but of the federal crime of conspiring to prevent two of the murdered Black men from their constitutionally mandated “free exercise and enjoyment of the right to peaceably assemble.”
Such outright murderous, racist terror, when legally challenged, was backed up by the courts which ruled such acts constitutionally legal. Three years after the Colfax Massacre, the case appealing the conviction of these three was heard in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court unanimously reversed the guilty verdicts on the three racist killers. The essence of the ruling was that “federal law ... could not protect Blacks in exercising their right to vote.” And that “Federal law could not protect the ‘lives and liberty’ of Black people from murderous conspiracies. They [the Supreme Court] found this charge in the indictment ‘even more objectionable’ than those based on rights to assemble and vote ... because the power to bring prosecution for murder ‘rests alone with the States’ ... and the Fourteenth Amendment’s provision that prevents ‘any State’ from depriving ‘any person’ of life or liberty of any person adds nothing to the rights of one citizen against another.’”11
In other words, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution prevented state governments from organizing lynch mobs or preventing Black people from participating in political life. But if a mob of “ordinary citizens” did so, and the local and state officials allowed it to happen—that was no violation of the U.S. Constitution.
This ruling gave a green light to an onslaught of unprecedented racist terror against Black people in every southern state. As Bob Avakian wrote in the article “How this System has Betrayed Black People: Crucial Turning Points”: “...in 1877 something very dramatic happened. The federal army was withdrawn from the South and the masses of Black people were stripped of even the partial economic and political gains they had made and were subjugated in the most brutal ways and once again chained to the plantations, only now essentially in peonage instead of outright slavery.”
In what has become known as its “Cruikshank ruling” (after one of the murder defendants) the Supreme Court put what amounted to the U.S. Constitution’s seal of approval on the Colfax Massacre, and helped put a legal seal on the end to Reconstruction, when it seemed that equality for Black people could possibly be attained within the United States.
In ruling that the federal government would do nothing to prevent the mass murder of Black people by organized racist mobs, the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to decades of night riding KKK terror. In Louisiana an explicitly and overtly white supremacist state constitution was adopted, and became a model for other Southern state constitutions.
Other cases involving lynching came before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1883, 1906 and 1945, but the court’s decision in Cruikshank enshrined in U.S. constitutional law that the federal government would not intervene to end lynching in the South.” Lane wrote that in the Harris ruling—which came to be known as the Ku Klux Klan case—“The Supreme Court had meanwhile interpreted Black people’s other constitutional rights almost out of existence ... In 1883, the Court decided United States vs. Harris. The case stemmed from a federal indictment of twenty members of a Tennessee lynch mob for violating section 2 of the Enforcement Act, which outlawed conspiracies to deprive anyone of the ‘equal protection of the laws.’ Invoking Cruikshank, ... the Court unanimously struck down section 2. The lynching was not a federal matter, the Court said, because the mob consisted only of private individuals.”12
This ruling is worth repeating: Lynching was found not to be a federal matter, because the mob consisted only of private individuals.
Thus, the Supreme Court, the highest legal authority in the country, gave a legal green light to the lynching of Black people.
Indeed, during the years 1882-1951, the Tuskegee Institute (in figures many historians regard as an underestimation) —determined that 4,730 people were lynched in the United States; the vast majority of them Black, and almost all of them in Southern states.
Also in 1883, the same year as the Harris case, the U.S. Supreme Court heard what became known as “the Civil Rights Cases of 1883.” The Court ruled by an 8-1 vote to, in the words of historian Don E. Fehrenbacher, “void the Civil Rights Act of 1875.” Specifically the court ruled that “invasion of individual rights” by private individuals was not a matter in which the federal government could intervene. The “whites only” signs that had begun to appear throughout the South and in many parts of the North multiplied many times over, and took on the sanction of approval by U.S. law and Supreme Court ruling. Frederick Douglass, himself a former slave who became a great leader in the fight to abolish slavery, said that in this ruling “the spirit or power of slavery lived on”. Legally sanctioned segregation of Black people began to exert its grip across the South.
In the last three decades of the 19th century, the United States rapidly developed into a world capitalist power, and transitioned into a monopoly capitalist, or imperialist, country. Large-scale factory and mining industries mushroomed in the cities of the North and West. Slavery was no longer legal in the Southern states which had formed the Confederacy, but the former slave economies transformed into semi-feudal territories integrated into the capitalist-imperialist framework, and were dominated by sharecropping and other extreme forms of exploitation of Black people.
Agriculture—still based on extreme exploitation of Black people—remained the most profitable component of these states, and their most essential contribution to the entire capitalist economy of the U.S. Sharecropping—a harsh form of rural exploitation which differed slightly from place to place but always was founded upon ownership of the land and means to work it by white people, and.intense, year-round work by impoverished and overwhelmingly Black laborers—took root across the South. Millions of Black people were tied to land they worked endlessly but did not own. Under this system the crop harvested by former slaves would be taken by the white landowner to be sold. Out of the proceeds the landowner would deduct the costs of seeds and other supplies—and out of what was left, the Black farmers would get some share. But if the harvest was bad or the price of cotton fell, the Black farmer would end up in debt. And the white landowners typically defrauded the sharecroppers. So the situation was one where Black farmers were locked into debt and brutal poverty.
Also, as mentioned above, the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution had abolished slavery “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” After being arrested and imprisoned, sometimes for something as minor as vagrancy, hundreds of thousands of Black people continued to be forced into slave conditions and what amounted to slave labor. Across the South, and several places, such as Sugarland in Texas and Angola in Louisiana, large slave plantations were transformed into prisons housing huge numbers of Black people who performed the same back-breaking labor for no wages as their ancestors had.
Across the entire South a system of degradation and oppression that became known as Jim Crow was being institutionalized in the laws of every state and municipality. Black people were systematically, legally, and violently purged from voting rolls, prevented from riding in public transportation, living where they wanted, entering public buildings or using public facilities, and a thousand other humiliations that were woven deep into the fabric of everyday life. The so-called “color line” became a barrier Black people could not cross.
On June 7, 1892, a man in New Orleans named Homer Plessy decided to challenge this line. Plessy bought a ticket for a train ride from New Orleans to Covington, Louisiana—on a “whites only” car. Homer Plessy, as the Supreme Court wrote in its final decision, “‘entered a passenger train, and took possession of a vacant seat in a coach where passengers of the white race (sic) were accommodated.’ The conductor then ordered him to ‘vacate said coach, and move to one of persons not of the white race.’ When Plessy refused to move, ‘he was, with the aid of a police officer, forcibly ejected from said coach and hurried off to and imprisoned in the parish jail of New Orleans.’”13
Four years later, in the case known as Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Plessy’s eviction and arrest, taking the infamous “separate but equal” doctrine of Louisiana’s white supremacist state constitution and making it federal case law. The ruling issued by Supreme Court Justice Henry B. Brown’s final words were “If one race be inferior to another socially, the Constitution of the United States can not put them upon the same plane.”
In response to this ruling, the New Orleans Comité des Citoyens (Committee of Citizens), which brought the suit to challenge the segregation law in Louisiana, replied, “We, as freemen, still believe that we were right and our cause is sacred.”14
The Cruikshank and Plessy rulings put in place the legal, constitutional basis of the savage oppression, discrimination, and outright murder perpetrated on Black people for decades. In these instances, the Supreme Court did not “misinterpret” the U.S. Constitution. It did not, in an argument echoed by many defenders of this constitution, “turn the clear intent of Congress into legislative impotence.”15
These rulings were not “aberrations”; they were consistent with the U.S. Constitution, and concentrated in important ways the changing needs of the capitalist ruling class, at a time when the U.S. had developed from a largely agrarian society to an industrializing imperialist power contending on a world stage. They were intended to provide a legal basis for maintaining, and actually intensifying, the subordinate, deeply oppressed condition of Black people, and in particular their status as sharecroppers providing cheap labor and enormous profits to the plantation economy of the South, and to the capitalist system as a whole
Lynch mob terror was a continual presence in the rural and urban areas of the U.S. South in the seven decades following Reconstruction, always threatening to inflame spasms of horrific violence against Black people. State and county officials often participated in or even organized and publicized such violence. The constant, inescapable degradation of Jim Crow was woven into every aspect of life in the South, and many parts of the North.
Federal policy remained (officially) “hands off,” while in fact, legally aiding and abetting these lynchings and allowing them to continue, and letting their perpetrators remain unpunished. Ida B. Wells, a Black woman from Mississippi who was active in the Civil Rights and women’s movements until her death in 1931, wrote in January 1900, “The silence and seeming condoning [of lynching by the government] grow more marked as the years go by.”
Anti-lynching bills were put forward in the U.S. Congress several times in the early 1900s, but never came close to being passed. Not until 2005—yes, 2005—did the U.S. Senate pass a resolution expressing its “remorse” for never having passed an anti-lynching bill.
The betrayal of Reconstruction in 1877 began an era of lynching, segregation, and constant humiliation of Black people in the U.S., upheld and reinforced by constitutional law. But the economic and social conditions that had characterized the U.S. in the years prior to the Civil War were undergoing rapid and dramatic transformations.
By the beginning of the 1900s, the U.S. developed into a major imperialist power on the world stage, and then on the basis of the outcome of World War 2, had become the dominant imperialist power in the world. Domestically, by 1950, the U.S. transformed from a country whose population and economy were dominated by agriculture to an industrialized, urban society. Agriculture became increasingly mechanized, and the sharecropping that had characterized southern farming became less and less profitable. These changes had profound effects on the masses of Black people in the United States.
Lynch mob terror was a brutal fact of life in the rural and urban areas of the U.S. South following the federal government's abandoment of Reconstruction in 1877, always threatening horrific violence against Black people. In 1898, Ida B. Wells, a courageous African-American journalist and civil rights advocate, wrote an appeal to President McKinley to act against lynching, saying that "nowhere in the civilized world save the United States of America do men, possessing all civil and political power, go out in bands of 50 to 5,000 to hunt down, shoot, hang or burn to death an individual, unarmed and absolutely powerless." But McKinley didn't respond to Ida Wells, and widespread lynching continued well into the middle of the 1900s.
State and county officials often participated in and sometimes organized and publicized the lynchings. They routinely allowed them to happen. Federal policy, in every body of government and under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, in effect gave a green light to the lynchings by doing nothing to prevent them. U.S. constitutional law and Supreme Court decisions reinforced and gave these organized murders a stamp of legitimacy (see Part 2 above).
In these years a set of restrictions, rules, and deeply embedded cultural, social, and economic norms called Jim Crow reinforced the outlook and practice of white supremacy at every turn. This was America under the "rule of constitutional law"—a nightmare of blatant and ever present white supremacy, and the continual, unchecked use of the most savage mob violence against Black people.
William S. McFeeley, a professor of history whose book discussed slavery, lynching and the death penalty as a tool of social control, wrote that "by the close of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, lynching, disenfranchisement, and the formal categorization of Negroes as separate of the Jim Crow laws caused African Americans to be as powerless in America as they had ever been. Such humiliations as separate drinking fountains were part of the wall deliberately erected between Americans. Not even under slavery had African Americans been so excluded from any recourse to those in authority."16
Most Black people in the U.S. still lived in the South during the first half of the 20th century. The sharecropping economy of the South, integrated into the overall capitalist-imperialist system, provided great profits to both plantation owners and capitalists generally. But as the 1900s went on, changes in the international and domestic economy, including the increasing use of more advanced machinery to plant and harvest crops, began to transform the nature of southern plantation agriculture—requiring less labor than before. These changes in the economic foundation of southern society, and the continuing racist violence and degradation across the South, forced growing numbers of Black people in the South off the land their ancestors had worked for centuries.
In the first few decades of the 20th century, more than a million Black people left the rural areas of the South, moving into cities both northern and southern. This was the first wave of what became known as the Great Migration, and it transformed the face of the U.S. forever.
Migration of Black people out of rural southern areas subsided in the years of economic depression in the 1930s. But beginning with the onset of World War 2 in 1939 and continuing for three decades, millions more Black people moved out of the South, seeking jobs in the industrial areas of northern and western cities, and seeking to get away from the lynching and Jim Crow of the South.
Large numbers of Black people became a major and growing part of the population and workforce of cities like Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and New York. The blatant Jim Crow of the South didn't exist in the same way in most northern cities. But Black people in these northern cities faced discrimination and humiliation at every turn. They were crowded into overpriced ghettos and overwhelmingly forced to work in the lowest paying, most dangerous industrial jobs.
In these changing conditions, new expectations and demands arose from among Black people. A Black soldier returning from World War 2 expressed the anger many people felt at that time: "The Army Jim-Crows us. The Navy lets us serve only as messmen. The Red Cross refuses our blood. Employers and unions shut us out. Lynchings continue. We are disenfranchised, jim-crowed, spat upon. What more could Hitler do than that?"17
Beginning in the late 1940s, in cities and towns across the country—not just in the South—Black people fought to overcome the deeply engrained and legally enforced oppression that confronted them at every turn. Some of the initial, and most intense, battles focused on public education.
In 1951, Oliver L. Brown, a Black man living in Topeka, Kansas, attempted to enroll his daughter Linda in an all-white elementary school seven blocks from their home. He was denied by the Topeka Board of Education, and Linda was forced to attend an all-Black school a mile from home. Oliver Brown and others in Topeka filed a lawsuit to end the Board of Education's policy of maintaining segregated public schools, using the pretext of the "separate but equal" standard established in the Supreme Court's Plessy ruling. (See Part 2 for discussion of Plessy v. Ferguson case.)
Three years later, this lawsuit was combined with four others and argued before the Supreme Court in a case that became known as Brown vs. Board of Education. The Court held two hearings over a five-month span. Earl Warren, who had recently been appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, spent the months between court sessions working to assure that the vote on Brown was unanimous to overturn Plessy. Warren and fellow Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter were concerned about what kind of message the Supreme Court would send to the world and the people in the U.S. if it didn't unanimously reject legal segregation. Warren thought it would take "all the wisdom of this Court to dispose of the matter with a minimum of emotion and strife. How we do it is important."18 As we shall see, this "wisdom" was driven by larger political and international concerns.
Warren pressured, cajoled, and argued with wavering judges until all agreed to mandate an end to legal segregation in public schools. In the spring of 1954, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling that overturned the segregationist precedent established in the Plessy ruling. The Court stated that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."
The Supreme Court's Brown ruling is regarded by many lawyers and scholars as "in many ways, the watershed constitutional case of the 20th century," and is often held up as an example of how the U.S. Constitution provides the framework and foundation to put all citizens on an equal footing. Judge Stanley Reed, who was on the Supreme Court when Brown was decided, said "if it was not the most important case in the history of the Court, it was very close."19
But in reality the decision in this case was not an example of the highest court in the land standing up for and enforcing equality. Rather, the Brown ruling came about mainly in response to great necessity faced by the U.S. ruling class—to dramatic economic and social changes in the U.S. and to international and domestic challenges, and the need to deal with this in a way that would result in the least amount of social disruption, upheaval, and confrontation.
Within the U.S., Black people—especially youth—and some whites had begun to challenge the deeply engrained practices of Jim Crow and lynch law. And the migration of millions of Black people out of the South into cities in the North resulted in profound social changes and expectations.
Internationally, the U.S. faced mounting difficulties as it tried to secure its position as the leading imperialist power in the world. In particular, national liberation struggles in oppressed countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin Ameria were beginning to challenge U.S. domination, foreshadowing much more profound upsurges that would come in the late 1950s and 1960s. At the same time, and very much related, the communist movement worldwide, which stood for the abolition of exploitation and inequality, had enormous influence across the planet. In the face of all this, for the U.S. to continue to maintain a legal system of flagrant discrimination, oppression, and brutality against Black people within its own borders tarnished the image it was projecting of itself.
But still, even with these larger concerns influencing the Supreme Court's ruling, significant limitations were built into the Brown decision. The ruling applied only to public education. Other areas of society could legally maintain their "whites only" status. The Court left open the question of who was responsible for enforcing the decision, and put off to the indefinite future when it had to be applied and enforced. The way Judge Reed put it was that enforcement should not be "a rush job. The time they give, the opportunities to adjust, these are the greatest palliative [soothing influence] to an awful thing."20 To be clear, the "awful thing" Reed referred to was the end of constitutionally enforced segregation of Black school children in dramatically inferior schools.
The Brown decision was immediately met with vehement opposition from leading political figures in the U.S., especially in the South. Senator James Eastland of Mississippi, who was a leading white supremacist and a leading figure in the Democratic Party, said the South "will not abide by or obey this legislative decision by a political court."21
The first major test of the Brown decision came three years later. On September 4, 1957, in Little Rock, Arkansas, nine Black students tried to enter Central High, regarded as the premier public high school in the state. A white mob carrying Confederate flags had started gathering at the school the day before, when a federal court in St. Louis legally cleared the way for Black students to enter the long segregated school.
In response, Arkansas governor Orval Faubus—who in mainstream politics was widely regarded as a "racial moderate" by the standards of the time—announced on statewide television that "blood will flow in the streets" if the Black students entered Central High."22 Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround the school and prevent Black students from entering.
Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Black students who tried to enter Central High, was turned away by soldiers with bayonets and confronted by an angry crowd that surrounded her and began yelling, "Get her! Lynch her!" Someone said, "Get a rope and drag her over to this tree!" Eckford was protected by a white NAACP member and was able to escape the mob and get on a city bus.23
For the next several weeks, both the racist mobs and the National Guard prevented the nine students from entering Central High. The country, and the entire world, read and saw televised stories daily about the nine youths prevented from getting an education, and besieged by hate filled racist mobs while the federal government stood aside.
This was a big problem for the rulers of the U.S. They were trying to solidify and expand their global empire, and everywhere claimed that the U.S. was "the greatest country in the world," the land of "freedom and democracy," the place where the rights of the individual were cherished. Yet here were scenes broadcast worldwide of young Black students being viciously assaulted, having their lives threatened not just by racist lynch mobs but by the forces of the government itself.
Dwight Eisenhower, then president of the U.S., was on a golf vacation at the time the confrontations in Little Rock began, and didn't want to be interrupted. Then, on September 20, an Arkansas judge ordered Governor Faubus to remove the National Guardsmen from Little Rock. But the racist mob remained at the school, and the terrifying specter of a public, possibly televised lynching of the nine youths loomed into focus.
Eisenhower, and the ruling class of capitalist-imperialists he represented, felt compelled to act. He called in U.S. Army Airborne troops, federalized the Arkansas National Guard (taking them out of the control of Governor Faubus), and ordered the Army to escort the youths into the school. They remained there until the end of August.
To be clear, Eisenhower was not particularly concerned with protecting Black students under assault by a mob of howling racists. In fact, in private conversations Eisenhower said to companions that he had sympathies for white parents who didn't want their children to be educated in the same school as Black children. Publicly, he said he acted to "prevent mob rule and anarchy," and most of all because the white mobs in Little Rock had harmed "the prestige and influence of our nation...,"24 not because of the injustice and cruelty that was segregation.
The nine students finally entered Central High in late September 1954, under military escort. They endured a year of constant assault, insult, and abuse.
Little Rock was the first major test of the Brown decision. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and into the 1970s, ugly, racist opposition to different forms of integrating public school education arose in different parts of the country, and battles that reverberated across the planet were fought to integrate major state universities in Alabama, Mississippi, and elsewhere.
But again, Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka only applied to public education, not to the open, legal segregation that permeated every aspect of life in the southern U.S. And it took massive and courageous boycotts, sit-ins, voter registration drives, freedom rides, rebellions, and other forms of protest to begin to batter down other barriers to legal segregation across the South, until finally in 1964 the U.S. Congress passed a civil rights law that outlawed many open forms of discrimination against Black people and women.
The Supreme Court rulings on Little Rock and Plessy illustrate the link between legal rulings and ruling class interests. And they also show how laws not only reflect prevailing property and fundamentally production relations but how the interpretation of these laws does as well, at various stages. Here, Bob Avakian has pointed out:
"A prime example is the contrast between Plessy vs. Ferguson at the end of the 19th century (1896), which upheld segregation as Constitutional, and the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in the middle of the 20th century (1954) which overturned it. Nothing fundamental affecting this had changed in the Constitution: the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which codified the end of slavery and important related changes, had been passed well before Plessy vs. Ferguson—and between Plessy vs. Ferguson and Brown vs. Board of Education there were no changes in the Constitution which clearly prohibited segregation—but the ruling class, and its prevailing representatives, in the Supreme Court specifically, saw its interests one way in one historical period and another way in another historical period."25
The historic and ongoing oppression of Black people is built deeply into the foundation of U.S. society, and is manifested economically, politically, socially, and culturally. Establishing one formal expression of "equality" was not intended to, nor could it change this basic reality, even in the one realm of public education. And more recent Supreme Court rulings in the years after the Brown ruling have in fact served to undercut the actual impact in any ongoing way of Brown's end to the "separate but equal" doctrine.
Today, schools in the U.S. are more racially segregated than they were 40 years ago. The average white child in America attends a school that is 77 percent white, while the average Black child attends a school that is only 29 percent white. Overall, a third of all Black and Latino children sit every day in classrooms that are 90 to 100 percent Black and Latino.26
A phenomenon of the last half of the 20th century, continuing to today, has been the growth of suburban and "exurban" areas. This development has been promoted and encouraged by various government policies, including conscious decisions to allow subsidized growth in the suburbs through tax policies, development of freeways and other mass transit, etc. In most metropolitan areas of the U.S., a great divide has arisen between what are usually relatively better off, and largely white, suburban areas, and inner cities populated by Black and Latino people.
Public schools are primarily funded through property and other forms of local taxation, and one outcome of suburban growth has been the vastly different resources allotted to schools in the inner cities and schools in more affluent suburbs. Two lawsuits in the 1970s, one in Texas and one in Michigan, sought to overcome the effects of the impoverishment of many urban school districts, the conscious neglect towards the education of Black and Latino youth, and the enormous inequalities of public education that remain a glaring, conspicuous feature of life in the U.S. after the Brown ruling.
The suit in Texas, Rodriguez v. San Antonio, argued that tremendous differences in tax-based funding for urban and suburban school districts had reinforced long-standing practices of seriously underfunding education for Black and Latino children, keeping them in dilapidated buildings, overcrowded classrooms, and with limited or no extracurricular activities available.
The Supreme Court emphatically rejected any attempt to overcome this enormous inequality that masquerades as equality. "The [Supreme] Court recognized that disparities in state funding of schools based on property taxes lead to Black schools and white schools, good schools and bad schools; nevertheless, they said, the Court should not intervene, for poor students were not a protected class, education was not a federally protected constitutional right, and thus, the Court should do nothing."27
In the Michigan case, Milliken v Bradley, the Supreme Court ruled that integration of schooling in the Detroit metropolitan area could not take place across school district lines, despite the undisputed fact that any "leveling of the playing field" in the Detroit area would have to involve both the overwhelmingly Black Detroit schools and the overwhelmingly white suburban schools.
With these rulings, the era of even pretending to allow meaningful attempts to provide a quality education to all Black children, under the constitutional sanction of the Brown decision, had ended. As researchers at UCLA concluded in a 2009 report: "Millions of non-white students are locked into 'dropout factory' high schools, where huge percentages do not graduate, and few are well prepared for college or a future in the US economy."28
The U.S. Constitution, and the way it has been interpreted and upheld for almost two-and-a-half centuries, has consistently sustained, deepened, and enforced the oppression of Black people. It is, as Bob Avakian has written, an "exploiters' vision of freedom," and it has been adapted not only to continue old forms of oppression, but to enforce new ones under changed economic and social conditions. This continuity of oppression is expressed vividly in the realm of public education.
1. Cited in The U.S. Constitution: An Exploiters' Vision of Freedom, by Bob Avakian [back]
2. Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction, by Eric Foner and Joshua Brown [back]
3. A Slaveholders' Union: Slavery Politics, and the Constitution in the Early American Republic, by George William Van Cleve, p 6 [back]
4. Van Cleve, p. 225 [back]
5. Reconstruction 1863-1877: America’s Unfinished Revolution, by Eric Foner, p. 105. [back]
6. “How This System Has Betrayed Black People: Crucial Turning Points,” by Bob Avakian, Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution) #894, February 16, 1997. [back]
7. Foner, p. 425. [back]
8. Foner, p. 430. [back]
9. The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction, by Charles Lane,pp. 18-19. [back]
10. A People’s History of the Supreme Court, by Peter Irons, p. 205. [back]
11. Ibid., p. 294. [back]
12. Lane, p. 253. [back]
13. Irons,p. 222. [back]
14. We As Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson: The Fight Against Legal Segregation, by Keith Weldon Medley. [back]
15. Irons,p. 197. [back]
16. A Legacy of Slavery and Lynching: The Death Penalty as a Tool of Social Control, by William S. McFeeley, Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia. [back]
17. A People's History of the Supreme Court, by Peter Irons, p. 368. [back]
18. A History of the Supreme Court, by Bernard Schwarz, p. 293. [back]
19. Ibid., p. 286. [back]
20. Ibid., p. 296. [back]
21. Irons, p. 399. [back]
22. Ibid., p. 405. [back]
23. Ibid. [back]
24. New York Times, September 25, 1957. [back]
25. Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon, by Bob Avakian, available online at revcom.us [back]
26. Gary Orfield, Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge (Los Angeles: The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA, 2009), p. 13. [back]
27. Courting Disaster: The Supreme Court and the Unmaking of American Law, by Martin Garbus,p. 212. [back]
28. Orfield, p. 3. [back]
Revolution #271 June 10, 2012
A recent New York Times article on President Obama’s “kill list” explains the method used for counting civilian casualties in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan:
“It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent. Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. ‘Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization—innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,’ said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.” (“Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” May 29, 2012)
Similarities in the logic behind foreign and domestic thinking as applied to perceived “suspects” and “enemies” have been noted by at least two writers who responded to this article.
Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic wrote: “The Obama administration considers any military-age male in the vicinity of a bombing to be a combatant. That is an amazing standard that shares an ugly synergy with the sort of broad-swath logic that we see employed in Stop and Frisk, with NYPD national spy network, with the killer of Trayvon Martin. Policy is informed by the morality of a country. I think the repercussions of this unending era of death by silver bird will be profound.” (“The Kill List,” May 31, 2012)
And Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote:
“...the harm that’s caused by raining death from machines in the sky down onto far too many civilians—including someone’s son, brother, or father who wasn’t ‘up to no good’ at all—vastly outweighs any good. Righteous anger over the killing of civilians creates new terrorists faster than the killing of any old ones. As for the morally indefensible position that any male killed in such an attack is ‘probably up to no good,’ isn’t the Obama administration saying the EXACT same thing that George Zimmerman said about Trayvon Martin?” (“If you’re probably up to no good,’ President Obama wants to kill you,” May 29, 2012)
Revolution #271 June 10, 2012
May 30 witnessed a major escalation in the persecution of Julian Assange when Britain’s Supreme Court rejected his appeal to not be extradited to Sweden, where he could possibly face charges of assaulting two women, charges Assange strenuously denies. Assange is the founder of the WikiLeaks website that has published more than a million documents from governments and news organizations, many of them classified. Among these were hundreds of thousands from the U.S. State Department and cables from U.S. embassies worldwide.
These documents include files that have become known as the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan war diary, and 779 secret U.S. documents about its torture camp in Guantánamo. The public release of these documents revealed much of the truth about the bloody wars the U.S. has been waging in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most damning file released was a video of U.S. helicopters in a series of cold-blooded assaults on Iraqi civilians, attacks that killed 11 men, including two Reuters journalists, and seriously wounded two children. Assange titled this video “Collateral Murder,” saying “you can see that they also deliberately target Saeed, a wounded man there on the ground ... This is why we called it Collateral Murder. In the first example maybe it’s collateral exaggeration or incompetence when they strafe the initial gathering, this is recklessness bordering on murder, but you couldn’t say for sure that was murder. But this particular event—this is clearly murder.”
Assange and WikiLeaks have been hounded relentlessly by the governments of the U.S. and its imperialist partners in crime since the release of the “Collateral Murder” video and other documents, and Assange himself has been living under virtual house arrest in England as he has fought his extradition. The British Supreme Court has given Assange and his lawyers two weeks to respond to the extradition order.
Look for coverage of this important case soon in Revolution newspaper and read the interview with Glenn Greenwald on Democracy Now! last week (“Divided British Court Upholds Extradition of WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange to Sweden,” May 30, 2010), which has important insights into this situation.
Revolution #271 June 10, 2012
Two Years Since Israel’s Attack on the Mavi Marmara:
Two years ago—in the pre-dawn hours of May 31, 2010—Israeli military forces stormed the Mavi Marmara, one of six ships carrying humanitarian relief to the Gaza region of Palestine. The Israeli commandos attacked the ship in international waters, a blatant violation of international law. The Mavi Marmara and the other boats were carrying tons of concrete, toys, workbooks, chocolate, pasta and substantial medical supplies to Gaza, items that Israel banned from Gaza.
Nine unarmed activists on board were killed by Israeli commandos, who injured 189 others. Autopsies performed revealed that five of the activists were killed by gunshot wounds to the head and at least four were shot from both back and front. A UN report concluded that six were the victims of “summary executions.” The attack on the Mavi Marmara was, by any objective measure, a terrorist massacre.
This was a massacre to enforce the oppression of a whole people. The 1.5 million Palestinian people in Gaza live in what those who know it call the world’s largest outdoor prison. At the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009, Israel launched a one-sided massacre of Gaza, delivering weeks of collective punishment to the people of Gaza, destroying schools and shelling hospitals, killing some 1,400 people. Efforts to break the siege of Gaza, including the Gaza Freedom March at the end of 2009, were blocked by Israel and Egypt, with the full backing of the U.S. government. Since then, Israel has enforced a blockade to prevent the rebuilding of Gaza, and to suffocate and punish the Palestinian people.
Israel and the U.S., for whom Israel serves as a global enforcer, were and remain cold-bloodedly unapologetic for the massacre. Months after the deaths on the Mavi Marmara, Israel’s Defense Minister said, “We are not apologizing for the blockade and we are not apologizing for using force.” The U.S. blocked any meaningful investigation or resolution at the UN.
The aftershocks of the massacre on the Mavi Marmara resonated around the world. Protests were held throughout the Middle East and beyond—including in Turkey (all nine murdered activists were Turkish citizens, one held joint Turkish-U.S. citizenship). The massacre further charged the political atmosphere that was to erupt in uprisings in the Middle East—particularly in Egypt, where there is wide and deep anger at the complicity of the Egyptian rulers in the blockade of Gaza. This year, the anniversary of the killings was marked by protests in Turkey, and a Turkish court indicted four former Israeli military officials for murder.
The massacre on the Mavi Marmara shines a light on the essential nature of the state of Israel. This is a country that was literally built on the blood and bones, and the bulldozed villages and farms of the Palestinian people who were driven from their homeland by ethnic cleansing. It has carried out brutal oppression, acting as mercenary and trainer for the most barbaric U.S. puppet dictators—from apartheid South Africa to the fascist generals who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of indigenous peasants in Guatemala in the 1980s.
And Israel’s massacre on the Mavi Marmara is consistent with the (im)morality that the appropriate response to a horrific crime (the Holocaust) is to carry out horrific crimes against others. When the real lesson of the Holocaust is that never again should people stand by, passive and immobilized, when such crimes are being carried out. In a world of injustice, pain and brutality, Israel’s ongoing displacement of, and ongoing terror against the Palestinian people is a particularly egregious and intolerable outrage.
The two-year anniversary of the Israeli massacre on the Mavi Marmara comes amidst a volatile and complex situation in the Middle East. There are uprisings of the people. And there is the U.S. and other oppressive powers working with and through Israel and backing all manner of reactionary forces to maintain and strengthen their position atop a world of exploitation and oppression.
In the midst of all that, there is a basic question of right and wrong. There must be justice for the victims of the Mavi Marmara massacre, liberation for the Palestinian people. The massacre on the Mavi Marmara, and the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people shine a light on the need for a genuinely liberatory force to emerge all around this world.
Bastion of Enlightenment...
Revolution #271 June 10, 2012
From a Prisoner in the Deep South:
I deeply thank you'll for sending me the subscription notice and all of your'll support, love. And again i must say BAsics is a must have book for the people. It's the "Truth," it's what the people need other then the many many Lies been told to them. Me myself I am not a communist but my understanding of it is growing and i am still learning all i can. "Being Condition" by Ruling class all my life then being put back into Slavery. One really can't help but to have a mind set of a slave, but for me I'm so tired of this Bullshit all of it. So in my quest to better myself and break away the chains around my mind, i read the Books that will help me to break those chains and give me a new way of thinking and a better way to look at this LIFE i live. And my situation being a Black male 28 yrs old Shit is really looking Bad for my people and its looking fucked up for a lot of white people too in the U.S.
But as you already know Blacks been catching "Hell" ever since the slave ship called Jesus! And we are still caughting hell today. But a lot of "sellouts" don't see it that way nowadays cause they have been too condition believing in this America imperialism "Dream." Now their is nothing wrong about Dreaming but the wrong dream is believing that, well I'm a America. But fact of the matter is the U.S. Constitution when it was first draft didn't include Black people in it. So to add all the amendments you can to it, it just don't work for Black people as a whole. But for the little bit few "sellouts."
And the main thing is before long you take on the thinking of the people who raise you, the "Bourgeois" that's how you get the Dog eat Dog mindset, you become a capitalist without you knowing, so you try to get over on many people as you can cause that how you was raise living in the GETO or Hood. So getting Money and Survivor is all a Black male cares about. And the Sad thing is it's all a darn "TRAP" in the first place, to get you to rob or sell drugs and many do this to feed their family and help out but in the end of things you are being put back in Slavery or you die by the Hands of another Brother who mindset is I don't give a Fuck, get Money attitude. One of the main problems facing my people is some of their mindset of thinking like a capitalist in which also they can't see the "Bigger picture" cause they are to busy trying to get into the picture frame. They can't see the traps or lies and some just don't care at all or they act like they don't care. They feel hopeless cause they have seen thru out the years ever leader we had has been "killed"...
This party is very important to the people like myself who really want to change the way things are with this system. I have much respect for Bob Avakian what a leader he is, i like the way he thinks and how he breaks down shit so people like me can read it an understand what he's talking about. We have alot work to do to get my people to have a open mind and start to think for themselves but alot of them are to close minded and the Bible has them in chains. I have learned religions is a way the powers-that-be controls the mass to do the shit they want them to do. And my very hard headed people just so in Love with Jesus that if it ain't the Bible they will not read not another Book point blank, they are to damn spooked out of their mind. It's like they must believe in something Bigger then themselves or a power who make everything. And it's SAD cause at first if you caught reading a Bible your ass got lynched! That what i could never understand how can you Love a religious that justify putting your ass into slavery in the first place for over 400 some yrs and then after that put you thru more Hell to try to fix in this so called a America Dream Bullshit, a whole list of shit my people been thru but still they still in Love with Jesus and that I'm a America too Bullshit! All around us the truth is seen an heard but for some fucked up reason my Black people are still asleep and won't wake up. I feel shit is already Bad but it needs to get worser so that they will wake up and see the Real Bigger picture here and start Fighting Back like the Brothers did in the 60s, 70s and come together and do what must be done in the first place.
That's when the R.C.P. comes in with the already programs and plans on what to do now. So i feel all the hard work you'll are doing will pay off sooner or later but it's coming to a Head cause this system is at War with itself and it keep on Fucking the masses of people not just Black people all people and people are getting tired of this Bullshit. So again it's coming so lets get ready cause it's on its way. One more thing that why BAsics is so important cause really and truly It's a Handbook for the revolutionary people of today!
Well in closing thank you'll for all the hard work and love, support, understanding to see this thing thru!
Thank You'll 4 everthing You'll Do!
Attica Means Fight Back!! I will be in touch!
Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution!!!
Revolution #271 June 10, 2012
From A World to Win News Service
May 29, 2012. A World to Win News Service. The photos of dozens of dead little children—their bodies lying side by side in a row, each upturned face tearing at the heart of anyone who has ever loved a child and bringing to mind other children all over the world—convey only a part of the horrifying situation that the Syrian people face.
It may be that the Bashar al-Assad regime and/or its allies carried out the massacre in Houla, not as an act of madness or simple revenge but a calculated attempt to divert the anti-regime revolt into an inter-religious civil war. At the same time, the UN Security Council resolution condemning this crime is an obscene act of hypocrisy and worse. The U.S. and Russia are trying to use this tragedy as an occasion to step up their contention and negotiations over who will dominate Syria. The interests of the Syrian people and the just demands of the movement against the regime, and the lives of the people, including children, count as nothing in this reactionary maneuvering.
The Security Council resolution reflected not a concern with human life but the contest between the U.S. and its allies on one hand and Russia on the other as to how foreign domination of Syria is to be divided up in the near future. Bizarrely, the resolution mentions Syrian government tank and artillery fire, and not the apparent close-quarter executions of many of the victims. This has allowed the Syrian government room to claim that the killings were carried out by "terrorists," presumably meaning Islamic fundamentalists, an explanation for which no evidence has been presented. Western diplomats assert that the resolution's wording was designed to gain Russian acceptance for what turned out to be a unanimous Security Council vote. But this unanimity had criminal purposes on both sides.
The UN pretends to be working for a peaceful solution to the crisis through a ceasefire, a kind of freeze-in-place. This is the least likely alternative, one that none of the imperialist powers involved really believe possible, and one that the U.S. and its allies are working to make impossible. The U.S. is determined that Syria, often described as a Russian "client regime," will become an American client regime at any cost.
The U.S. and Russia seem to be in agreement in seeking to preserve the essential structure of the Assad regime, especially the military and security forces, without Assad. How this could happen is currently being negotiated between the U.S. and Russia. The U.S. has a powerful argument: either Russia can accept some continuing influence in an American-dominated Syria, or it risks having no influence at all.
This situation was laid bare in an article in the New York Times (May 26, 2012) that was in its own way as shocking and cynical as the Houla massacre, in terms of the future of the Syrian people. At the recent G-8 summit in Camp David, Maryland, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev told U.S. President Barack Obama that Russia was not willing to see the UN Security Council authorize a regime change in Syria on the Libya model, where an American-led military intervention under the guise of protecting civilians allowed the U.S. to topple a regime it deemed problematic. Russia apparently has come to consider Assad a "liability," meaning that it no longer believes he can remain in power, but Moscow is not willing to be entirely forced out of a country where its interests predominate militarily (Russia has a small naval station, its only outpost in the Mediterranean), economically (Russia has extensive investments in Syrian gas and oil, and Syria is a leading buyer of Russian arms) and politically, although the U.S. has also had relations and influence.
According to the article, Obama countered by proposing the "Yemen model": Assad would step down but the regime would be basically unchanged, except that it would become dependent on Washington. The Times went so far as to say that American diplomats prefer to refer to this plan as the "Yemenskii Variant," as if it were the end move in a chess game, keeping the Russian name so as to minimize the fact that this would amount to a strategic advance for the U.S.
The facts alone of what happened in Yemen show how reactionary this "solution" would be. In the face of a popular movement against the Ali Abdullah Saleh regime, the U.S., working with and through Saudi Arabia, negotiated a deal in which Saleh was bundled off for medical treatment and replaced by his vice president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Subsequently an election was held. Mansour, the only candidate, was magically transformed into a "democratically elected" president whom the U.S. could embrace in a more public way than previously possible with Saleh. American military involvement in Yemen was stepped up.
That demonstrated the imperialists' complete contempt for the will and interests of the Yemeni people, and something similar would be no better in Syria.
One scenario would be a military coup against Assad and his inner circle whose goal would be to keep the Syrian power structure as unchanged as possible. According to Hassan Khaled Chatila, a Syrian revolutionary living in Europe, a conceivable replacement might be one of Syria's two vice presidents, Farouk Al-Sharaa, a Baathist strongman who has the advantages of being a Sunni, a civilian and a former Foreign Minister who has worked with Western diplomats. Further, he is not known to have played a direct role in the regime's repression since the popular revolt began in March 2011. Recent rumors of the death by poisoning of four top regime figures at a dinner in a building owned by the Defense Ministry, which Assad's representatives have been unable to dispel, could, Chatila said, represent a power struggle within the regime in this context.
But the U.S. is not leaving the situation to Syrians to decide. Force is being displayed and readied for use. Since mid-May Syria's neighbor, Jordan, has been the theatre of the biggest set of military exercises the Middle East has seen in a decade. Operation Eager Eagle 2012 involves more than 12,000 foreign troops from 18 countries under the command of a U.S. Special Forces general. (U.S. Defense News, May 15) The U.S.'s close relationship with the Hashemite monarchy, which won American support when it tried to wipe out the Palestinian movement then headquartered in Jordan , is another indication of how Washington decides which regimes it considers "democratic" on the basis of imperialist interests.
While these war "games" went largely unnoticed in the Western media, the U.S. made sure its military threats were understood. Just after the Houla massacre, the head of the U.S. armed forces, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, said on American television, "You'll always find military leaders to be somewhat cautious about the use of force, because we're never entirely sure what comes out the other side. But that said, it may come to a point with Syria, because of the atrocities." (Guardian, May 28) He added that the U.S. was prepared to launch a military intervention if it were "asked to do so."
It does seem that under the current circumstances, the U.S. would prefer not to become directly involved in another war, especially since the Syrian regime has more firepower than anyone else that the U.S. has tangled with lately. To some extent the threat of military intervention is meant to pursue political goals: to encourage a Syrian army coup that would dump Assad (and if needed back one faction against another), and make it clear to Russia that accepting the American offer of reduced influence in Syria is its best available option. But the threat is not a bluff.
Such intervention might very well be welcomed by the two main Syrian opposition groups playing a role on the international level, especially the Syrian National Council whose head, Burhan Ghalioun, chose Istanbul as the venue to once again call for foreign military intervention to "protect civilians" in Syria. (New York Times, May 29) France (which formerly ran Syria and Lebanon and cultivated ethnic/religious antagonism) and the UK have been particularly vociferous in backing these groups. The Council and the Coordination Committee of Democratic Forces, another exponent of imperialist intervention, have sought a negotiated settlement with the Assad regime. Neither seems to have much organized presence within Syria, where the declared goal of the movement in the streets is to bring down the regime.
To return to the subject of the UN Security Council resolution, those who do not see it in light of the imperialist interests at stake will not be able to understand that rather than an attempt to bring about peace, it represents an attempt to resolve both the conflicts between rival imperialist powers and between the people and the regime by force and the threat of war. Anyone who doubts that should ask themselves why the UN Security Council and especially the U.S. have suddenly become interested in Syrian lives, after often ignoring the Assad regime's crimes for decades. Why is the Security Council worrying about civilian lives now, after declaring the cost in Arab lives irrelevant when Israel invaded Lebanon and Gaza, and when Israel and its Falangist allies carried out an even bigger massacre in the Sabra and Chatila Palestinian refugee camps  in Lebanon?
The imperialist powers—all of them—are especially determined to see their competing interests prevail at any price because Syria, as important as it is, is only part of the picture. For the U.S., the time has come to seek regime change in Syria, preferably one under its control, in the context of a broader campaign to reconfigure the entire region, transforming or eliminating all obstacles to its unchallenged hegemony, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose main allies are the Assad regime and the Assad-dependent Hezbollah in Lebanon. For the U.S., this is not the immediate life-or-death situation that it is for the Syrian and Iranian regimes, but success or failure in this potential theater of war is crucial to whether or not the U.S. will consolidate its dominance or suffer greater losses—which, ultimately, is an existential question for the American empire and U.S. imperialism.
In the last several weeks the spontaneous movement of millions of Syrians against the regime has shown signs of the possibility of reaching a new level. While for a long time it was mainly confined to villages and provincial towns and cities, a May 17 student demonstration calling for the downfall of the regime in Aleppo, Syria's biggest city, won significant support beyond the university. After the Houla massacre, shops and stands in Damascus, especially the bazaar, closed down in protest.
But the situation for the Syrian people's movement is dire. They face extremely powerful enemies on all sides. They also may be vulnerable to manipulation.
In addition to the killing of Sunni civilians in Houla, reportedly by pro-regime Alawite militiamen (Shabihah) from nearby villages, there has been the mysterious kidnapping of Shia pilgrims and a wave of apparent suicide bombings attributed to Sunni fundamentalists that kill mostly civilians and leave government targets largely untouched. Some or all of these incidents may have been organized by the regime to solidify its support among Alawites and other minorities by stirring their fears of the Sunni majority in a communitarian civil war. But it is not impossible that other forces are also seeking to foment that kind of reactionary conflict.
When the Syrian representative to the UN Security Council compared the Houla killings to the 1990s massacres of civilians in Algeria (Al Jazeera broadcast, May 26), he was not necessarily off the mark, except that the example, a civil war where the military government and its Islamic opponents competed in killing intellectuals and wiping out communities, condemns rather than justifies the Assad regime. In fact, his attempted defense of his government with this example could also be seen as a threat: support the regime or face even worse.
Despite the popular will to keep this movement focused on opposing the regime and avoid sectarian splits among the people, when shooting starts it is very hard to keep the people united without a clear sense of exactly what the problem is beyond the immediate question of Assad and his predominantly Alawite inner circle, and what could be a solution in the interests of the vast majority of the people.
The spontaneous revolt of millions of people in Syria, despite the absence of a vision of fundamental social change and all the political and organizational weaknesses that flow from that, is incontestably what has brought the regime to the brink. It is this movement that the imperialists and their friends are seeking to betray and perhaps crush by force. The problem of leadership—who will lead the people, for what interests and goals and therefore to struggle by what means—is starkly posed.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.