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Revolution #272 June 17, 2012
Over the next several weeks, be one of hundreds taking part in the fundraising for the BAsics Bus Tour and distribution of many, many, many tens of thousands of copies of this quote 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.”—Bob Avakian, BAsics 1:13
There is a great power in this quote... a deep truth-speaking from Avakian on the brutal history and present-day reality that has been faced, and is being faced, by generations of our youth, as he says, here and around the world. It lays the blame for this where it belongs—not because of human nature, and not because of “personal choices” but because of a system of capitalism-imperialism that plunders the globe for profit above all else, exploits and oppresses whole peoples all around the world and casts them off when it finds other sections of people to more profitably exploit. This quote 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 youth do have a future, where they can lift their heads and straighten their backs. It connects up a life experience people know—in this country, the particular oppression of Black and Latino people—with their common oppression with generations around the world... whether it be young girls from Moldova or China sold into sex slavery; children working in sweatshops in Bangladesh or Vietnam; or youth in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan facing U.S. bombs raining from the skies.
|What happens when you are part of raising funds for and distributing BAsics 1:13:
Most powerfully of all, this quote is spoken by Bob Avakian, the leader whose work and leadership over decades—digging deeply into the revolutions of the past, both their tremendous accomplishments and their shortcomings, as well as broader experience to forge a new synthesis of revolution and communism—means that it is actually possible to bring into being a world where all this really is “no more.”
The mass distribution of this quote—whether through posters or palm cards, through the Revolution newspaper centerfolds or the various YouTube clips (available at youtube.com/knowthebasics1)—is part of a major campaign to project BA’s voice into every corner of society and to raise big funds to do so: BA Everywhere... Imagine the Difference It Could Make! Stay tuned for an announcement this week at revcom.us and basicsbustour.tumblr.com for plans for the next leg of the BAsics Bus Tour to kick off in mid-July. We can tell you now that $30,000 to $50,000 will be needed for the next leg of the tour, so along with raising funds to distribute and print this quote, be part of contributing and raising the funds to get the BAsics Bus Tour back on the road.
At the heart of these efforts, we need to work to bring together cores of people to spread BA Everywhere. Get together and discuss BAsics 1:13, how this message can touch thousands, especially thousands of youth, where to go and all the different ways that can be found to put it in people’s hands.
Raising funds will not only enable the mass distribution of this quote and exciting efforts with the next leg of the BAsics Bus Tour, but is a way to bring people together to engage BA and what he represents much more deeply.
As we are raising these funds and getting ready for the bus tour kickoff... think about what we can impact in June as we forge a national movement... all kinds of people coming together and many getting organized in different ways. Think about what you can be part of effecting—with many hundreds of others—as you join in distributing this quote all across the country.
Revolution #272 June 17, 2012
Enough With the (Poisonous) Bullshit
Why do we live in such a fucked-up world? Why are decisions so clearly out of the hands of the masses of people? And why do these decisions always run so sharply against the interests of these masses? Why do a few people control enormous amounts of wealth... while many more swim frantically to keep their heads above water... and the vast majority are ground down and chained to a life of misery, no matter what they do? And why are we lied to about all this?
People seek answers to these questions. Urgently. One of the biggest, most widespread answers out there pins all this on a shadowy group called the "Illuminati." This small but virtually all-powerful group, we are told, is bent on world domination. They have supposedly manipulated and rigged every war, every revolution, every economic or political crisis in accord with a master plan for world domination. There are 57 varieties of this explanation to be found on the Internet, differing in this or that detail and degree, but this is the basic framework you get from them all. (See sidebar for the actual history of the Illuminati.)
|A Few Basic Facts
The Illuminati was a secret society in Bavaria, Germany, that arose in late 1776. Bavaria at that time was ruled by a monarch and Roman Catholicism was the official state religion. The Illuminati, by contrast, promoted values associated with the bourgeoisie during this period. The bourgeoisie was rising up against the feudal order—advocating republicanism rather than monarchy; rational thought and secularism rather than religion and a state church; and the beginnings, at least, of gender equality. The Illuminati were suppressed by the Bavarian government in 1785, and despite some efforts to re-form, never regained their footing.
This was happening toward the peak of a period of transition and upheaval in Western Europe. The old order of feudalism—a social order in which the accumulation of wealth and power was based on land ownership and the exploitation of peasants (who are usually bound to the land, unable to move away, either by law or custom)—was being challenged. The rulers of this order were typically kings and other nobles—people who inherited their position, as a landlord inherited his land and even "his peasants"— and who defended the interests of the landlords.
But for centuries, things had been changing underneath the surface. New ways of accumulating wealth, based on the further development of manufacture in the cities and on the exploitation of a new class (the proletariat) that had been driven off the land, had gained predominance. These new ways drew on international trade, and a world market came into being. All this, in turn, got a tremendous boost from the colonization of the Americas and the establishment of slavery within those colonies. Of course, this "boost" meant the genocide of the people living in North and South America and the kidnapping and enslavement of millions of people from Africa!
For a while, these new capitalist ways could gain ground within the old social order. But the needs of this rising capitalist class increasingly ran up against the interests of the feudal lords and the laws and institutions that enforced those interests. The old structure of kings, backed by a state-sponsored church, had become an obstacle to the full growth and consolidation of the power of this new capitalist class. This rising new class—with its new ways of exploiting people's labor and accumulating wealth—had new ideas on how things should be organized to foster this, and they came together in groups to discuss these and to plan how to get rid of the old feudal order. Revolutions were waged against the kings who defended feudal power—first in England in 1642 to 1651, and then over a century later in France.
The French Revolution spread its influence to many different countries in Europe, and the authorities in those countries began labeling those who were revolutionary-minded as Illuminati—trying to sow fear of revolution by implying that they were part of a secret, "foreign-inspired" group. Over time, this became increasingly bound up with anti-Jewish thinking. In 1918, at a time when the communist revolution had begun to win victories, a British woman named Nesta Webster wrapped together the nativism (prejudice against people not from one's country of birth), anti-Semitism, and anticommunism into one big, ugly package. Today, in some cases, some of the rougher edges of anti-Semitism have been sanded down, but the message is conveyed through code words.
These "Illuminati theorists" focus a great deal on manipulation of the banking system. They do not really talk about any problems with the capitalist system apart from that. Almost all of them are either openly or just-below-the-surface anti-Semitic—that is, they focus people's hatred against what they portray as a cabal of Jewish financial families. They do not talk about the capitalist class as a whole. They string together a lot of facts, pseudo-facts, and lies that they claim to be grounded in deep research—while in reality, these are marshaled to serve a thoroughly unscientific and, indeed, anti-scientific theory. Many connect this to the biblical Book of Revelation, with its lurid visions of apocalypse and mumbo-jumbo talk of Antichrists, to say that this is Satan's plan; and there are other equally mystical and anti-rational theories advanced in other variants of the theory.
There is only one word to describe these theories: wrong. Actually, there's another word, too: poisonous. Totally poisonous. These Illuminati theorists point to the wrong problem and the wrong solution. To them, the problem is not capitalism; it is a small group of people who are supposedly controlling and perverting capitalism. To them, the solution is not revolution; it is returning to the "purity" of capitalism (a "purity" which never existed and never can exist and wouldn't be any good even if it could!). In actual fact, these theories have served as the foundations for reactionary, fascist, and racist movements for over a century.
These theories are not "a little bit right." Yes, they take advantage of people's correct sense that the answers to the questions we started this article with are hidden. But that's just the point—they "take advantage." They exploit the sense that people have of being lied to and use that to train people in reactionary, backward thinking and mislead them into acting against their own interests. They are no more neutral or harmless than a quack doctor who gives you arsenic for a highly contagious, fatal disease.
Why Do Things Happen?
According to the Illuminati theorists, there is no real logic to history other than these quasi-Satanic forces trying to get domination. Everything you can name—the U.S. Civil War, the Russian Revolution—happened because the Illuminati manipulated it.
Do powerful forces attempt to control events? Yes, they do. But these forces, in this day and age, are political representatives of a class—the capitalist-imperialist class. And they do not have total control. First off, the power of these capitalist-imperialists does not come from Satan—who doesn't exist in the first place! Nor does it come from "secret knowledge," numerology, aliens, etc. No, these capitalist-imperialists derive their power from something much more everyday. They own the vast material forces that create wealth in this society—the factories and mines, the agriculture, the means of transportation and communication, the banks and other instruments of finance, and so on. This ownership enables the capitalists to amass wealth through exploiting the labor of those who possess no means of creating wealth—the proletariat—which today numbers billions of people around the world. Exploitation means that the capitalists take what these billions create each day through their labor and pay them in return enough to survive (and sometimes barely that). This exploitation is where they get their profit.
And this capitalist class is the embodiment of the capitalist SYSTEM. As Bob Avakian breaks down in the Revolution Talk,1 a system is like a game with certain rules. So think of capitalism as a game with three rules:
On the basis of the wealth that they have amassed from exploitation, the capitalist class shapes and controls the official use of force in society (armies, police, prisons, courts) and decision-making (mainly through the executive branch of government, like the presidency). They wield this machinery—the state—to defend and enforce their interests. But because different capitalists have conflicting interests (see rule 2, above), they fight each other for control and advantage—even as they collaborate to keep down the masses.
In today's world, where capitalism has developed into a global system of imperialism, this takes place on an international scale. They are like gangsters in a turf war, though the scale of their viciousness and destruction far exceeds what any gangster even dreams of. All this—this system—leads to horrific, widespread, and totally unnecessary suffering for billions of people. But all this is driven forward by the rules at the heart of the system that demand that the capitalists, in order to survive, exploit the vast majority of people ever more extremely as part of their cutthroat competition with other capitalists.
So what is the root of the problem? Not a tiny band of superhumanly evil beings. Not a small group of Jewish financiers. But a system in which a class of capitalists 1) controls the means of production and exploits the labor of many, 2) on that basis wields tremendous military force to dominate people, and 3) also uses that power to control and shape the media, education systems, etc. to influence and dominate the ways that people think. So long as this is the system, we will face the problems—exploitation of the billions, plunder of the environment, oppressive institutions, and ways that keep that exploitation going—that we face today.
In the Illuminati version of the world, you have masterminds in near-total control of events. In the real world, the one in which we actually live, no one group of capitalists has total control; they fight with each other, and they also fight with the masses, trying to keep them suppressed and, when those masses rebel, trying to put them back into chains. Horrific, destructive wars go on as the concentration of all this. And sometimes, against tremendous odds, the masses break through the madness and make revolution.
No single capitalist or group of capitalists can predict the course of events; they cannot even predict whether this or that business will succeed. They try to, but they face a world of antagonistic forces and unintended consequences. The capitalist-imperialists fight for one reason: to defend, extend and expand their ability to accumulate capital in a world full of uncertainty and chaos. And they MUST fight—they are driven to do so by the "rules of the game."
This gives rise to huge crises in society, where things seem to unravel. These crises can mean great and even deeper horrors... but they can also contain the openings, if there is leadership and a revolutionary people, to make huge, positive changes—to make revolution.
Do these powerful forces—these capitalists—try to hide their real motives and their real interests? Yes... because their interests are against those of the masses of people. Let's take war. The imperialists will never say that their wars are in the interests of defending and extending an empire which they control. Remember the U.S. war against Iraq? Hundreds of thousands died as a result of that war, and millions of people were violently uprooted. That war was labeled "Operation Iraqi Freedom," not "Operation Extend and Deepen U.S. Imperial Domination of the Middle East in Order to Edge Out Rivals and Keep the Masses Suppressed." The capitalist-imperialists will always invent pretexts or excuses for going to war, sometimes with absolutely no basis in reality—and this is true of Iraq, Vietnam, and almost every war you can name—because if they came out with the real reasons, it would incur much more opposition from the masses of people.
|The Ugly Tradition of Anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism has a long and ugly history, one very well-documented in the article "Revolution Responds to Question on the Nature of the Holocaust."
In brief, Jews were very oppressed within Europe for centuries. Laws barred them from owning land and from living in certain countries, they were subjected to torture, imprisonment and death in cruel "Inquisitions," and they were generally made one of the main scapegoats for society's ills by the ruling Catholic Church. As "Revolution Responds" explains, this began to come into question during the conflict between the established feudal order (dominated by landlords and kings) and the rising class of capitalists. The rise of capitalism was accompanied by the Enlightenment—an intellectual and social movement that used reason and science to examine and challenge many of the traditions and prejudices of the feudal society that stood in the way of the rising capitalist class. The rise of capitalism also meant that in some cases professions and occupations to which Jews had been confined in the old order now came into more prominence and importance, and this opened up room for some Jewish people to advance their situation.
The article points out:
The earth-shaking changes ushered in by the emergence of capitalism in Europe loosened and challenged, but did not come close to uprooting traditional theocratic-based fear and hatred of Jews. And even as great changes took place in the political and social landscape of Europe in the 1800s, and early 1900s, powerful forces in European society—including elements of the Christian establishment, along with feudal and other reactionary forces—lashed back at these changes, and, as part of that, targeted the Jews.This was also true in the U.S.—where Henry Ford published the phony "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a forgery that claimed to report on a meeting of Jewish rabbis to plot world domination. While spasms of anti-Semitic violence would occur in Europe, and while there was pervasive discrimination against Jews in all capitalist societies (including the U.S.), all this went to another level with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, which eventually led to the genocidal extermination of six million Jews.
At the same time, there was and is a Zionist movement that arose among some Jewish people in reaction to this oppression. This movement attached itself to the interests of imperialism and, at the end of World War 2, different imperialist powers saw it in their interests to create the state of Israel in the Arab country of Palestine. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were violently driven from their land, and the Zionist state of Israel became an instrument of imperialism—especially U.S. imperialism—in the Middle East. While Israel pursues what is sees as its interests in the larger imperialist framework, to claim that Israel controls imperialism is to say that the tail wags the dog.
The state of Israel should be opposed by anyone with a sense of justice—both for what it does to the Palestinians and more broadly in the Middle East and for its overall role in the imperialist system.9 But for oppressed people today to fall into the trap of anti-Semitism—of hating Jews or in any way going along with or giving ground to "Jews are the problem" instead of focusing on the real problem—is not just foolish, but profoundly poisonous to the cause of human emancipation, and immoral.
People sense this—but here come the Illuminati theorists and their ilk to say that the real motives of these wars were to further enrich "Jewish financial interests," or to cement control of the so-called "Bilderberg group," or to bring in one-world government under the United Nations.2 No! The real reasons for the wars mentioned above were 1) to impose U.S. domination over rival imperialists (or to risk being edged out or even subordinated by those imperialists)... or 2) to crush liberation struggles of the people in the nations which they have been oppressing, as was the case in Vietnam, or 3) some combination of the first two. But if the imperialists just came out and said that, people would be far less likely to go along with these wars. And if the Illuminati theorists just said that, it would imply that there is something wrong with the system of capitalism and not just the behavior of this or that capitalist or group of capitalists. So think about it—why do the Illuminati theorists invent all kinds of explanations which lead you away from looking at the forces within the system's functioning? And remember—the "normal" functioning of the capitalist system must mean the untold suffering of billions, and this has been true since its earliest days.
Are we taught the real motive forces of history? No, we are not. We are taught in school that "Abraham Lincoln fought the U.S. Civil War to free the slaves and to realize the true promise of America." We sense there is more to it than that. So here come the Illuminati theorists once more to say that the Civil War happened as a result of the Rothschilds—again, a family of Jewish bankers in Europe—egging both sides on against each other so that they could take over the U.S. financial system. Oooh, sounds heavy... sounds deep.
Just one problem: this is totally wrong... and dangerously misleading. The Civil War, in fact, arose out of deep contradictions at the very heart and foundation of the capitalist system as it developed in the U.S., namely the enslavement of millions of Africans. The northern capitalists and southern slaveholders waged an extremely bitter and bloody struggle. Why? Because as the northern capitalists grew in strength over the first decades of this country, they increasingly ran up against constraints imposed on their expansion by the southern slave system. They needed to control the whole economy and nation in order to fully consolidate capitalism. The southern slaveholders needed to dig in and not just consolidate slavery but expand its reach and power. All this is shown in some depth in our current series on the U.S. Constitution,3 as well as in Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy4 by Bob Avakian and "The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need."5 Those two antagonistic claims could finally only be settled by war.
Now, did a lot of capitalists—including banker-capitalists—make huge fortunes, and extend their individual power and influence off the Civil War? Of course! But to claim that was the cause of the Civil War is like saying that umbrella salesmen are the cause of the rain because they make extra money during downpours.
But there's actually more that this Illuminati theory hides. The northern capitalists, who eventually triumphed, quickly decided NOT to grant the newly free slaves the rights that they had fought for. Instead, they decided that it was more in their class interests to bring back the former slaveholders as "junior partners" and to put the African-American people into a new set of chains as sharecroppers tied to plantations (and convict-laborers—slavery in a new name—to build roads and industry in the South). This fit in with their interests—to politically "stabilize the home base" and extract super-profits from sharecropping agriculture, while they conquered the remaining Native American peoples in the West and prepared to contend as a world power.
This oppression of African-Americans, though going through many changes, has been the red thread running through the whole history of the U.S. and the colonies before it. It continues to be at the heart of U.S. society today. And the further development of this contradiction at the heart of America could still lead to, or certainly be a big part of, a major crisis in U.S. society, on the order of the Civil War, or the 1960s... or even beyond those earth-shaking days of change.
That fact has tremendous implications. It shows the depth of the oppression of the African-American people in this society. It shows the critical importance of the struggle against this oppression in a revolution to actually get free of this capitalist-imperialist madness. It shows how the capitalist-imperialist class in the U.S. has continually been driven to restore and rebuild institutions of white supremacy, even as these institutions go through changes. Understanding the true causes of the Civil War lets people see how there are times when these contradictions can come to a head in such a way so as to plunge all of society into crisis... and open up opportunities for huge and even truly revolutionary change.
But Illuminati theory covers up that understanding. It opposes that understanding. It leads people away from that understanding. According to it, the problem is not the deep-seated white supremacy built into the very heart of this system, which periodically leads to crisis and conflict and, yes, opportunity for radical and even revolutionary change; it is some comic book demon who "just happens" to have a Jewish name. Why do you suppose the Illuminati theorists want people to believe that the whole thing could have been settled were it not for the Jews (or in more "polite versions" some nameless financial capitalists)—instead of showing people the real reasons that go to the roots of the matter, with all the implications for the present and future that we just laid out?
Some people get taken in because these theorists talk about "big financial groups" and "hidden agendas." But where do those big financial groups come from and what drives their agendas? Their agendas are nothing but the expansion and extension of their particular bloc of capital or, on the international plane, their home nation. And why did these blocs of finance capital arise? This was actually explained by Lenin, in his analysis of imperialism.
Now this leads to another question: who is Lenin? V.I. Lenin was the person who carried on and carried further Marx's great insights into the workings of capitalism and the need for revolution. On the basis of these further advances in theory, Lenin led the first great revolution against capitalism in 1917. Lenin led this revolution against tremendous opposition and tremendous odds.
You wanna talk about conspiracies? Okay, how about this one: 14 capitalist powers all banded together to send their armies to crush this revolution. But the masses of people, in a terrible war that cost millions of lives, defeated this counter-revolution and went on to build socialism for four decades. This was a tremendous victory, unparalleled in human history up to that point. There was nothing pre-determined or neat about it.
But not if you listen to the Illuminati-types. According to them, Lenin—who led this incredible and heroic achievement of the masses—was nothing but a tool of... you guessed it... the Jewish financiers, once again... who were supposedly using him to implant total domination by the Illuminati.
Sorry, Illuminati theorists, you're wrong again—Lenin was a great revolutionary, a great champion for humanity, someone who gave us insight into how the modern world works and what it takes to fundamentally change it, for real. Lenin should be cherished and learned from by everyone who really wants to understand the world and change the world for the better. (And to those of you taken in by this other, lying shit, including those of you in the world of hip-hop who don't want to go along with the system: maybe you should ask yourselves what class interests are served by getting people who are searching for change to hate or at least have a totally false understanding of Lenin... and wake up to the fact that you are being played for something really vile and that your influence is being used to mislead others.6 )
To return to the point we started with—what is imperialism—before Lenin led the revolution, he developed a theory that explained several big changes in how capitalism functioned. First, the small, individual capitalists of prior times, through the process of relentless competition that is built into capitalism and "makes it run," so to speak, had been mainly wiped out. Big monopolies—one or a few capitalists, or blocs of capital, controlling huge industries—arose in their place. Second, banking and industrial capital had merged into "finance capital." The capitals of what had been different and smaller capitalists were now pooled into huge blocs which shifted capital in and out of different industries, different regions, etc. Third, capital itself began to be exported to the oppressed regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The capitalist states of Europe, North America and Japan began to militarily occupy these countries and fight with each other over "spheres of influence," to defend the interests of the capitalist-imperialists of their respective countries. This in turn led to wars on a scale never before seen: wars between the imperialists as well as wars of liberation and revolution waged by the oppressed masses. All this meant that capitalism had emerged into a new stage: imperialism.
In addition to the effects briefly outlined above, imperialism also means that the huge blocs of finance capital exert power over the smaller capitalists. Imperialist capital controls credit, they make large decisions about economic priorities and practices that affect these smaller capitalists, etc. These smaller capitalists feed off the imperialist system for their very existence but are also extremely vulnerable to getting wiped out, and resent all this. At the same time, their class interests and position can set them in opposition to the people on the bottom of society—the proletariat, who in many cases they exploit. They can feel "caught in the middle."7
Illuminati theory reflects the position of this class of small capitalists. And this theory can also take root among others "in the middle"—including small business people who employ a few people, professionals and managers, self-employed, etc. This is NOT to say that every person in this class position thinks this way—many do not and many can be and have been won to be allies and partisans of the revolution. But this theory crystallizes and represents the fantasies and aspirations that spontaneously arise out of the social conditions of this class. As a class it can not envision and lead the way to a world without exploitation; it can only dream of a "more level playing field" in which to carry out that exploitation.
The Illuminati theorists want to bring back the "good old days" of early capitalism. Now, you remember the "good old days," don't you? The days of slavery... the days of the extermination of the Indians...the days when women had no rights whatsoever... the days of... well, you get the picture. The "good old days of America" were no fucking good in the first place! Yet these are what these people want to bring back! This is why so many of these theoreticians are fixated on the founding of the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913, which was put into place in order to facilitate the abilities of finance capital. These Illuminati theorists are not against capitalism. They're against the ways that other capitalists—in this case, certain financial interests—hamper them and hold them back, or at least seem to hamper them.
But even if these theories ultimately reflect the position and aspirations of the petty-capitalist class, their influence goes broader into society. And in recent years these kinds of explanations have gained a hearing among the oppressed. Why is this so? For a long time now, a lot of people have been discouraged about the prospects of revolution in the U.S. The defeat of the first socialist revolutions—with counter-revolutions taking place in the Soviet Union in the mid-'50s, and then in China in 1976—has enabled the ruling class to wildly distort and suppress history, to slander revolution, and to proclaim themselves to be all-powerful. The defeat of the heroic struggles of the 1960s within the U.S. has also had a huge effect. In particular, there is the fact that African-Americans were lied to, and lied about. They, along with Latinos, have been targeted by a "war on drugs" that has served as a pretext to institute a new form of Jim Crow, mass incarceration—while all around the official line was that "racism is over, if you can't make it now it's because of your own bad choices." People often feel hopeless—and helpless—in the face of all this.
Two people go to a casino, play blackjack, and lose all their money.
One spends all his time trying to figure out if the dealer was cheating; he then decides to see if there is a way that he can become so good at the game that maybe he can win. He may get real lucky... he may come out a little bit ahead, in the short run... or (most likely scenario) he may, if he keeps playing, lose everything. It doesn't matter. The casino continues.
The other notices that no matter how people play the game, many people lose everything... a few people win a little... and the house takes the lion's share. She studies the rules of blackjack and understands that this result is built into the very rules themselves. It doesn't matter whether the casino cheats and the house always wins so long as the game is blackjack. She decides we need a different game altogether, and a world without casinos.
Which one are you?
Illuminati theory reflects part of this reality—the part about people being lied to, about hidden forces with hidden agendas determining the real shape of people's lives. At the same time, Illuminati theory also represents going along with and reinforcing this ideological offensive against the people. It is NOT in any way, shape or form a way out of it. It slanders and lies about revolution. It spreads contempt for the masses and their ability to change history, especially through revolution. It directs people's anger against other ethnic groups that have supposedly "made it," while at the same time accepting that "making it" under capitalism should be people's highest goal. It spreads lies about and antagonism against communism and science, while it promotes mysticism and religion. How is ANY of that any good? It is NOT—it is poison.
Illuminati theory can seem to reflect a part of reality, but it does so like the fun-house mirrors in a carnival, giving you a distorted view. It does so in the service of a very unreal, very false and extremely reactionary explanation. The ruling class is powerful, but it is not all-powerful; as Bob Avakian (BA) recently has pointed out, "they are powerful, but their system is riddled with contradictions."8 History is not the plaything of a handful of men with secret knowledge; most of all, it is the struggle between contending classes, representing different ways to organize the production of what humans need to live, and different social and political and cultural lives that correspond to those different ways. There never was a golden age to go back to. Humanity will either remain locked in the endless horrors of capitalism-imperialism or go forward to something far better... communism, a society in which people carry out their lives without exploitation or oppression or antagonistic social conflict, a society in which people can rise to their full heights.
So how about instead of trying to go back to "good old days" that never existed and that we should certainly never go back to... how about we go forward? How about we quit getting taken in, or letting others get taken in, by people who worship capitalism and whose ultimate agenda is fascist and white supremacist? How about we call out the bullshit fantasy theories and worse that get people to focus on something other than the REAL source of the problem: capitalism? How about we eliminate the REAL source of the problem, capitalism, and bring in the REAL solution: socialism, as a transition to communism? And how about we promote and build a movement for revolution to bring in that new society, whenever the conditions emerge?
And how about, as a big step toward doing all that, we get with and deeply check out someone who actually has gone deeply into the problem, with REAL science... someone who has put forward a visionary and viable solution... who's developed a strategy to get there... and who leads a party that is bound and determined to lead millions on that road?
How about we get with BA?
1. Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, a film of a talk by Bob Avakian, revolutiontalk.net. [back]
2. Many also say that the war was waged at the behest of Israel. While Israel certainly supported the war and in some ways benefited from it, they were not the motive force in it. For more on the relation between Israel and the world imperialist system, see the box on anti-Semitism. [back]
3. "The U.S. Constitution and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal): Two Constitutions, Two Different Systems, Two Different Futures for African-American People." "Part 1: A Slaveholders' Union," Revolution #270, May 27, 2012; Part 2: "Reconstruction, and the First Great Betrayal, 1867-1896," Revolution #271, June 10, 2012; and Part 3: "Battleground Over Segregated Education in the 1950s and 1960s," Revolution #272, June 17, 2012. [back]
5. The Oppression of Black People, the Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need," Revolution #144, October 5, 2008. [back]
7. This used to get expressed when such theorists would say that "there is an international conspiracy of finance capital and communists working together to rule the world." Despite the fact that imperialism and the communist movement are actually deadly antagonists, from the narrow view of the representative of the small capitalist (who has contradictions with both of these classes, but for diametrically opposed reasons) they seem to be in alliance—against him. [back]
8. "What Humanity Needs: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism," an interview with Bob Avakian, revcom.us. [back]
9. Special Issue on Israel: "Bastion of Enlightenment... or Enforcer for Imperialism: The Case of ISRAEL," Revolution #213, October 10, 2010. [back]
Revolution #272 June 17, 2012
"I Couldn't Put It Down"
In late May I joined the BAsics Bus Tour as it rolled into Sanford, Florida, the town where Trayvon Martin was killed. The tour brought the work and vision of Bob Avakian and his book BAsics into Sanford and I spent my time in the Black neighborhood of Goldsboro talking with the people about their lives and digging into the deep questions of how to change things. This series is dedicated to the people of Sanford and to the crew of volunteers on the tour, whose enthusiasm for spreading the work and leadership of Bob Avakian and for fighting to build the movement for revolution inspired everyone they encountered.
For more on the BAsics Bus Tour, go to basicsbustour.tumblr.com.
* * * * *
Let's start where life ended for Trayvon Martin, the spot where he was murdered by a self-appointed "neighborhood watch" vigilante. It's a relaxed 15-minute stroll—max—from the 7-Eleven, where Trayvon loaded up on Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea, to The Retreat at Twin Lakes, the gated community where his life was stolen. It sits in what's called the suburban core of Sanford, Florida. Behind walls and a black iron fence it's a community of mixed nationalities and classes. Outside one of the gates to the complex people have built a memorial to Trayvon around a School Zone sign. All kinds of teddy bears, footballs, packs of Skittles and cans of Arizona Iced Tea are bunched up with personal messages, cards, religious texts and photos. We stopped for a moment to take it in and left behind a photo collage of all the banners of the No More Generations quote from Bob Avakian signed by hundreds of people around the country in solidarity with the people of Sanford.
One of the walk-through gates was missing a lock so we decided to explore. Streets lined with identical cookie-cutter houses wrap around each other. And it's quiet—a deadly, stifling quiet—everything muffled like a thick wet blanket had been dropped down over the complex. It was early afternoon on a Saturday and there were no kids' voices and only a few spotted for a second, standing outside their house. Nothing else—sterile and empty. Walking those streets I could almost feel the terror that Trayvon must have felt being tailed and hunted like human prey by George Zimmerman. We turned off the street onto a narrow sidewalk that ran between two rows of houses; the sidewalk was separated from the back doors of the houses by small grass yards. It was on this sidewalk—only 70 feet from where he was staying—that Trayvon was cut down, his child-morphing-into-adult face, a combination of beauty, hope and innocence meshing with newly gained scars of experience growing up Black in the USA, drew in its last breath face down on this grass. Those last minutes of Trayvon's life played out not 15 feet from houses filled with people.
I called out to a Black man watching over his barbecue grill from inside his house. Trayvon had been killed within earshot of his place and yet the man didn't even know about the killing until the following night. He explained that everybody pretty much sticks to themselves in this neighborhood, they don't mingle and rarely talk to their neighbors. A Black woman, who I stopped as she drove through another gate into the complex, told a similar story. She had gone to the community meeting held at the complex a couple of days after the murder and said that people were upset at what happened. But she said that people were upset and afraid that there was an armed man roaming the complex with the freedom to shoot their children. She said it seemed like no one in that meeting had any idea where Zimmerman came from and who gave him the authority to patrol the complex. She didn't know what happened later because she doesn't know too many people in the complex.
But there's no mystery here—what happened that horrible night comes up out of the soil of slavery and the continuing inhuman oppression of Black people under this system. Six public housing projects in Sanford have been closed down over the last couple of years. Some of the people pushed out of these projects used Section 8 federal housing vouchers to rent homes in gated communities—housing that became available to them because of the tanking economy and the housing market crash. According to local news stories, the people who moved into these complexes with Section 8 vouchers, including the one where Trayvon Martin was killed, were clearly less than welcome. At The Retreat at Twin Lakes a rash of home break-ins occurred in September and George Zimmerman was unleashed to form his neighborhood patrol and hunt down "suspicious" people. Six months later, Trayvon Martin lay dead in the grass.
I met Virginia at the speak-out the BAsics Bus Tour held outside the Sanford Police Department. I spotted her driving past the rally a few times before she finally pulled over and parked. A few minutes later she got out of her car and began filming the speak-out with her phone. The afternoon was unbelievably hot and humid, but Virginia kept filming until it ended. She told me later that it was anger, hope, and inspiration that kept her there. "When I seen you all marching, I was like, there should be more people here, you know, I was like, wow. And then I seen other people stopping and I had stopped and that's why I came over because of the fact that I knew you all were doing something very good. It makes us feel good to know that people are standing together and they really care about what is going on here, and that you're on our side. So that means a lot for me."
I arranged to interview Virginia in a local barber shop the following day. When I arrived at the shop, Virginia had a whole a crew of people there—her pastor and mentor, her friends, a young woman she brought along to sing a song "that fits what we're gonna talk about," the barbers and their customers. The bulletin board next to the front door featured a card with the "No More Generations" quote from Bob Avakian along with info about the BAsics Bus Tour and the poster collage of the banners signed by people all over the country standing with the people of Sanford who stood up against the murder of Trayvon Martin.
"When I heard about it, at first it just hit me, like a rock. It hit me like someone had just threw a rock at me, because of the fact that this is a young man and I know that a lot of times people look at the young people and the way they dress and they feel like they're suspicious or they feel like they're up to no good. And at the time, this young man, he was just minding his own business. He was just going to the store.
"And I know how it is to be provoked. I know how it is, and it's like his story against George Zimmerman's story, and nobody was there but those two. But I could just imagine what has taken place, or what he had to deal with, you know, being alone and not having nobody there to witness the fact or be able to speak up for him. And right now he don't have nobody but us to be able to speak up for him."
Virginia explained that she was born in Sanford but then moved up north and didn't return to Sanford until she was a teenager. She says she was stunned about what she found in her hometown. "I'd never dealt with prejudice with such an intensified effect, to where people look at you wrong. I had people where they grab their purse when you walking by them. Or they'll look at you like, 'Oh, my god, she's gonna hurt me, she's gonna hurt me.'"
Virginia spoke in a way that made it clear she was serious and you better listen. She's proud that she never liked prejudice but worried that all her experience in Sanford was taking her to a place where she felt she couldn't trust white people, that they were going to do her wrong, like they had done to so many others before her. Virginia struggles to make sense of the world and figure out how to change it. She's reached for what she had available and her religion became a big part of the way she dealt with the screwed-up world she lives in. Still, she's firm that Black people are being treated badly and it needs to stop and people need to stop making excuses for it. "You gotta look at our side. For years we have been treated one way. And now that we finally opened up and try to give our heart to love people in another way, then all of a sudden, we always get slapped in the face. And they say, give the other cheek, give the other cheek and that be slapped, too. But that's what I meant by provoking."
I told Virginia that I wanted to read her a quote from Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party and the author of the book BAsics. She immediately cut me off and said, "I started reading his book and it's awesome. I started reading his book and I just could not put his book down because he was explaining a whole lot about what is going on in America that a lot of us don't even know and everything that's in his book makes sense. And I can't wait to finish reading it."
I read Virginia quote 1:13. "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."
As soon as I got out the last word, Virginia started talking again. "Yes, I agree with that as well, because even when I was reading that book, I seen that and I was like, my god, just to think that our destiny was already designed for us, before we were even born, that someone else was making the decision how we are supposed to turn out. That is really scary. So how can we come out of that if this is what you want to put us in, and you're not really giving us a chance or a way out. Because you already planned from the time we were even born that you're gonna put your foot on our neck. That's a powerful statement, very powerful. And that's why I was like, I need to know who this man is. That's why I was curious and I bought the book in the first place. But then when I got into it last night, it was like I could not put it down because I was like, wow. I never even thought that it could be this way.
"And it's funny, because even the way that was in my heart that I was feeling, some of those same quotes, some of those same things were coming out because I was like, how is it that we have a chance when it's almost like everything was designed for us to fail. And this is what I was thinking for the past two months. And I was like, well maybe it's just me feeling this way, but I just kept feeling like when we came here, it was designed for failure. Can you imagine the babies that were born into slavery, and then so much that's gone on. Even in the book it mentioned about the sex trade, about how the girls are forced to make the choice to sell their bodies to businessmen that comes through—it's sad because even in doing that you get labeled. And can you come out of that? No. A lot of times you feel like you can't come out of it and that becomes a way of a lifestyle for you, but just guess what? Your country caused you to be that way. You know what I'm saying?
"So it makes you think like, wow, so everything that I was thinking within myself, through this book I'm finding it to be true. And it's awesome because I was like, I need to know more about this gentleman because how we gonna know if we don't study a person? How we gonna know if you don't come forth? But at first when you see it's a small group, you're like, what they're doing? But then as you start realizing a lot of things that you were doing in the book made me curious. And then as I got into the book, I started loving everything that was in it, and if I had a chance to tell the one who wrote the book, I want to say thank you, 'cause I'm getting emotional now and trying not to."
Virginia's eyes were wet and a few tears rolled down her cheek. The whole shop was quiet as she continued. "He's opening our understanding to the way it is, where other people are afraid to speak because it'll put their life on the line, and this man put his life on the line for everybody to know the truth. And he just told it just how it is. How can we make that change if we don't know the basics? How can we make that change if we really don't know what's going on?"
Virginia and I talked some more about the work of BA, how important it is in terms of the possibility of making a revolution and building a whole new world free of all the oppression that's been weighing down so heavily on the world. We talked about the problem that there's a huge difference between the importance of Avakian's work and the number of people who have studied it or even know it exists and that this is what the bus tour is all about—bringing this out to thousands of people who don't have access to it and bringing them into a movement for revolution. I asked her what she thought about this.
"Oh yeah. And especially that, when you were talking about Trayvon Martin, you was basically letting everybody know that's a part of what was going on. That's a part of what he was trying to get out from the beginning, what really was going on. Because there's a lot of Trayvon Martins out there, you know what I'm saying? And that's why we consider ourselves as Trayvon Martin. Just reading this book, it opens up your understanding to realize hey, look, this is a man that's speaking out and he wants justice to prevail, and he's trying to get us to open up our eyes to see what is really going on behind the scenes."
Virginia continued on to talk again about how important it is that people from all over the country were showing their support for the people in Sanford.
"And that's why I was thanking God for that and just to know that you all and others coming into the city to stand up for us and for our rights, it caused a lot of us to come out and speak, to be able to speak out. And some things that I spoke out on, I felt like it could hurt me. Then I knew that it wasn't about me. It's about my people. It's about our community and all the things that we went through, that some don't know how to speak out of fear, or in fear of retaliation to be able to speak out. But to know that others, that we finally have people that could understand what we're going through, we were able—a lot of us came forward and was able to talk out in spite of what people would have thought or what people would have said. They didn't live in Sanford. They don't know what we went through. They don't know how, when we tried to find out information, what was this happening, how we were just pushed aside, how we were kicked to the curb and 'oh, we're working on it.' And they're never working on it. Or 'we're going to do something about it,' and it never been done about it. And then just to see how the Sanford Police Department handled it. Well, now they know, it didn't just happen now. This has been going on for years. I want to say thank you for standing with the city of Sanford, and we need all your prayers, and we need your support."
And to the BAsics Bus Tour Virginia had these words. "I just want everybody that was there to be encouraged and to continue to do what you're doing because it is a message that he has that is really opening up our eyes. Some may not want their eyes to be open and want things to be as it always has been, but this is something that need to be told. This story need to be told. It need to open up the eyes of what is really going on in America."
When Virginia was done talking, a young girl stepped up. She was 13, tall and reed thin. She had a quiet and very polite voice. Virginia explained that she had been working on a song from the film The Help with this young woman and she wanted to sing a verse from it for us after the interview because Virginia thought it was appropriate for what the bus tour is doing. Her name was Charity and she was extremely shy and nervous. But she pulled herself together and sang out in a voice that was stunningly deep and powerful. The entire barber shop was dead quiet, not even breathing for fear of marring the beauty of the song.
It's gonna be a long, long journey
It's gonna be an uphill climb
It's gonna be a tough fight
There's gonna be some lonely nights
But I'm ready to carry on
I'm so glad the worst is over
Cause it almost took me down
I can start living now
I feel like I can do anything
And finally I'm not afraid to breathe
Anything you say to me
And everything you do
You can't deny the truth
Cause I'm the living proof
So many don't survive cause
They just don't make it through
But, look at me
I'm the living proof.
Revolution #272 June 17, 2012
U.S.-Israeli threats against Iran—including threats of war—commanded front-page headlines earlier this year. In recent weeks the specter of war has receded, replaced by news of negotiations, on May 24-25 in Baghdad, Iraq, between Iran and the U.S. and its allies.
Before the Baghdad talks, government officials and the media fanned speculation that a breakthrough was at hand and the clash between the U.S. and its allies and Iran could be resolved through diplomacy, without a military clash. “Experts Believe Iran Conflict Is Less Likely,” an April 30 headline in the New York Times read, followed on May 19 by “U.S. Officials See Promising Signs for Iran Meeting.” Many who have been concerned about the war danger were relieved and saw this as a sign that the Obama administration didn’t want war and was restraining Israel, that both countries’ rulers had “come to their senses” and realized that war would be too costly and unpredictable to wage, and/or that the earlier threats weren’t serious but designed to pressure Iran to negotiate.
The hype has so far proved illusory, and analyses downplaying the extremity of the tensions miss the underlying, driving dynamics. The May 24-25 negotiations didn’t lead to a breakthrough—or even progress toward a negotiated settlement. Quite the opposite. It revealed and sharpened the clash between the U.S. and its allies and Iran. “The setback risks future deadlock that could trigger another Mideast war,” the Christian Science Monitor reported. “‘I think it was a complete failure, in terms of content,’ says an Iranian diplomat. ‘The more they talk, the worse it gets.’” (“Iran nuclear talks a ‘complete failure,’ says Iranian diplomat,” May 25)
The threats by the U.S., its imperialist allies and Israel and their refusal, for decades, to cut a deal with Iran is driven by the U.S. necessity to defend and deepen its Middle East dominance. For these imperialists, Iran is an obstacle. The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) is a reactionary theocracy with its own needs and ambitions, and has significant economic, political, geographic, and ideological strength and influence—in particular as a pole of Islamist or Islamic fundamentalist influence. Iran’s nuclear program is one key part of these broader issues. Its agenda—indeed its very existence—clashes with and is eroding U.S.-Israeli interests and hegemony across the region and beyond. So for the U.S. and Israel, it’s an impediment that must be removed.
The negotiations, which are ongoing, are between Iran and the “P5+1” (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council—the U.S., Britain, China, Russia and France—plus Germany). They are supposedly aimed at resolving the dispute over Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Iran claims it is enriching uranium to produce nuclear power and medical isotopes—not to make weapons. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran and the U.S. have signed, upholds “the inalienable right of all of the parties to the treaty to develop research, production, and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.” (http://www.un.org/en/conf/npt/2005/npttreaty.html)
The U.S. and its allies—Israel in particular—charge that Iran has worked on nuclear weapons in the past and may still be trying to position itself to build nuclear weapons should it decide to do so.
The outlines for a deal were clear. Iran was willing to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent purity for medical isotopes used to treat cancer patients and give up its existing supply. In return, Iran demanded guarantees that other countries would supply these needs. Iran would also agree to further, more stringent inspections of its nuclear facilities to ensure that no uranium was being diverted to make weapons. In return, Iran expected the step-by-step easing of sanctions as it demonstrated that its nuclear program did not have a military dimension, and that the P5+1 would recognize its right to enrich uranium to 3 percent purity for use in nuclear power (uranium must be enriched to over 90 percent purity to be used for nuclear weapons).
However, the negotiations broke down because the U.S.-led group refused to ease sanctions or acknowledge Iran’s right to enrich uranium at all. One U.S. official said bluntly that recognizing that right is “obviously not something we are prepared to do”—a continuation of U.S. policy for decades.
Sanctions are adding to the suffering and deprivation faced by ordinary Iranians. In moments of candor, U.S. officials admit this is one of their goals: to “create hate and discontent at the street level,” as one official put it, in order to weaken the IRI. (“Public ire one goal of Iran sanctions, U.S. official says,” Washington Post, January 10)
The U.S. negotiating stance demonstrates that its concern has never simply been preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, much less ridding the world of nuclear weapons. For them, Iran’s nuclear program is a concentration of a larger problem: the ways the IRI is challenging U.S.-Israeli dominance. Iran’s technical ability to build a bomb—whether it made one or not—could change the regional political and military balance of power—in particular the freedom of the U.S. regional attack dog, Israel, to attack anyone, anytime. This may be one of the IRI’s objectives, as part of a broader effort to strengthen its economic-technical capabilities and its political standing, while demanding that these interests—and the regime’s permanence—be recognized by the big powers. In the eyes of the imperialists, anything that strengthens the IRI and makes it more difficult to overthrow is, to this point, a non-starter.
Former Bush officials Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett write that the U.S. negotiating position is driven by “the Obama team’s ongoing commitment to American hegemony in the Middle East.... [I]t treats nuclear negotiations with Tehran as a venue for making the Islamic Republic surrender to American demands, not as an important element in realigning the U.S.-Iranian relationship.” (“Nuclear Talks with Iran Highlight the Downsides of America’s Ongoing Quest for Middle East Hegemony,” May 28, http://www.raceforiran.com/)
The U.S. has never recognized the permanence or legitimacy of the IRI; instead its strategy over many years has been to isolate, weaken and ultimately overthrow it. This remains the case under Obama. At a recent conference on Iran, State Department officials argued openly to Iranian activists that “the US priority in Iran is not human rights violations and not public opinion in Iran. Rather, the diplomat insisted that Washington’s main concern was Iran’s nuclear program, its impact on the security of Israel, and avenues for regime-change. He mentioned Pakistan as an example where regime-change is no longer possible because of its nuclear capabilities.” (John Glaser, “US Iran Policy Intended to Leave Open ‘Avenues for Regime Change,’” May 28, Antiwar.com, citing Prof. Joshua Landis)
The Obama administration has used negotiations and diplomacy as a means of advancing those objectives—not peacefully resolving differences with other countries. A former Iranian official and member of Iran’s nuclear negotiation team sums up:
“Obama has been more confrontational with Iran than any previous American president.... [T]he Obama administration has been even more hostile toward Iran than the US under George W. Bush.... While the Obama administration claimed to be seeking conciliation in 2009, they were advising allies that their outreach was designed to demonstrate that engagement with Iran would fail.... Obama’s engagement policy has actually been the instrument through which the United States has adopted the harshest and most coercive measures against Iran and rallied the international community around a strategy of isolating Iran.... Taking this into account, the Obama administration is viewed by the Iranian government as having escalated the bilateral crisis between the two countries.” (Asli Bali, “Iran Will Require Assurances - An Interview with Hossein Mousavian,” MERIP, May 16)
“The nuclear summit that concluded last week between Iran and six world powers was a ridiculous charade,” Gary Kamiya of Salon.com concluded. “The Obama administration never intended it to succeed. At bottom, it is an approach predicated not on achieving real progress in dealing with the Tehran regime but on overthrowing it.” (“Obama’s Iran Charade,” May 30)
In today’s world, negotiations between rival powers are not driven by some universal desire for peace and understanding, to “understand the other’s viewpoint,” or to “see reason and avoid war.” They aren’t a venue for “bringing out the best” in this horrible world. Such hopes are impossible and illusory in a world dominated by capitalism-imperialism and marked by oppressive relations—in particular the strangulation and domination of oppressed countries (like Iran) by a handful of imperialist powers represented by the P5+1. In today’s world, these imperial powers pursue their interests according to the compulsions of the economic-political system they represent—not the personalities of their leaders (no matter who is in office!), much less “universal principles of human rights,” peace, reason, and ending suffering.
What compulsions drive the U.S. empire? The global exploitation of labor, control and access to key resources and markets, and the military-political control of vast swaths of the globe. Why the Middle East? Because together with Central Asia it contains roughly 80 percent of the world’s proven energy reserves. Whoever controls this energy spigot controls a key lever on the entire global economy—and on all powers that depend on oil and natural gas—from allies in Europe and Japan to rivals Russia and China. And this region is a crossroads for global trade and a critical military-strategic pivot.
So negotiations and diplomacy are not “substitutes” for war—they’re simply other means of advancing imperialist interests and objectives. They can—and often have been—an essential part of preparing for war by weakening, isolating and attempting to demonize an opponent—while portraying the U.S. imperialists as the reasonable party, walking “the last mile” for peace.
While mouthing hopes for a negotiated resolution of tensions, the U.S. and its allies are continuing their all-around, unrelenting assault on Iran. On April 24, the White House announced new sanctions on Iran and Syria. On the eve of the May 24-25 negotiations, both the U.S. House and Senate passed new packages of sanctions. And in Baghdad, the U.S. refused any delay in the July 1 imposition of extremely harsh sanctions on Iran’s oil exports and financial dealings, including an embargo on all sales of its oil to Europe—a major Iranian market.
The week after the Baghdad talks, it was revealed that the U.S. had been waging an unprecedented secret cyberwar against Iran. “From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities,” the New York Times reported, “significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons.” One Obama adviser said the U.S. and Iran were in a “state of low-grade, daily conflict.” (David Sanger, “Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran,” June 1; Thomas Ricks, “Covert Wars, Waged Virally,” June 5)
U.S. officials—including Defense Secretary Panetta—repeated their warnings that the U.S. was fully prepared to attack Iran if need be.
Meanwhile, the regional confrontation between the U.S. and Iran and their various allies is escalating. This is particularly sharp—and very dire for the people—in Syria, where the reactionary, Iranian-backed regime of President Bashar al-Assad has murdered over 13,000 people in an effort to crush an uprising. Syria has been Iran’s chief regional ally, a conduit for Iranian influence in Lebanon and Palestine, and an important line of defense for Iran against the U.S. and Israel.
The uprising in Syria is complex and involves a wide range of political forces, including both the Syrian masses as well as reactionary Islamists, pro-U.S. exiles, and former members of the regime. The U.S. is maneuvering in the situation to advance its own interests: bringing down the Assad regime and weakening Iran by depriving it of its only state ally in the region, while preventing the destabilization of the entire area. After a particularly bloody massacre in Houla, the Pentagon targeted Iran for propping up Assad and attempting to “expand its nefarious influence in the region.” (“Iranian support for Assad regime ‘needs to stop,’ Pentagon says,” The Hill, May 31, http://thehill.com/blogs/defcon-hill/policy-and-strategy/230311-iranian-support-to-assad-qneeds-to-stopq-pentagon-says)
Syria may be sliding into all-out civil war and the talk of U.S.-led military intervention is growing louder and louder. Leading Iranian officials counter that any Western attack on Syria would lead to an attack on Israel. (“Will Foreign Interests Drag Lebanon into a Military Conflict?” Institute for National Security Studies (Israel), June 5)
All this is the stage upon which the next round of negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran, scheduled for June 18-19 in Moscow, will take place. Officials from the imperialist-led International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) continue to cast aspersions on Iran and demand access to its military sites before agreeing to Iran’s demands. Iran, meanwhile, is warning it may delay or cancel the talks due to Western maneuvering and IAEA espionage.
So the trajectory toward confrontation and possible war is continuing, and sharpening. This doesn’t mean war is the only possible outcome or that no agreements between the U.S.-led bloc and Iran are possible. The point is that the U.S. is proceeding from the necessities and compulsions of dealing with the challenge posed by Iran, and the vexing, multiple, colliding problems it faces in maintaining its empire of modern-day enslavement globally. These contradictions include ongoing tensions and debates between the U.S. and Israel and within the U.S. ruling class itself over how to manage all this and how to best weaken and contain Iran.
The imperialists may well hope their growing pressure will force Iran to capitulate on the nuclear issue, and that will further strengthen their other efforts to weaken and bring down the regime. Yet they also realize such efforts may fail, that it may come to war, and that if it does they need to be in the strongest possible position—militarily, politically, diplomatically and economically. Negotiations are one part of paving the way for either eventuality. After the Baghdad talks one U.S. official reportedly commented, “We are doubtful it is possible to reach an agreement with Iran, but we must exhaust the diplomatic path because the alternative, whether a nuclear Iran or a regional war, is very serious.” (“Iran to face harsher sanctions despite talks,” Jerusalem Post, May 26)
The bottom line is that should the U.S. rulers determine that their fundamental interests dictate war on Iran, then they are quite ready, willing and able to plunge the world into another savage, unjust war for domination—no matter the horrors in store for the people and the planet.
The voice of resistance and opposition to all that’s represented by the imperialism of the U.S., Europe and Israel on one side and the reactionary religious fundamentalism of Iran’s Islamic Republic on the other must grow louder. The only political forces on the world stage cannot continue to be these clashing reactionary and outmoded forces. Most especially, the reckless lying predators who rule this country must be resisted—and stopped.
Revolution #272 June 17, 2012
Stop-and-frisk has been much in the news in New York City. A federal judge ruled a civil suit against it could go forward as a class action suit, saying the city’s arguments “do not withstand the overwhelming evidence that there, in fact, exists a centralized stop-and-frisk program that has led to thousands of unlawful stops.” The New York Times wrote an editorial titled “Reform Stop & Frisk,” which concluded, “the city should be trying to settle this case and working immediately to reform a policy that violates rights and undermines trust in the police.” NYPD chief Ray Kelly announced new measures that center on greater supervision of street cops.
On June 5, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed legislation to reduce the penalty for possessing a small amount of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a violation. Right now people who display 25 grams or less of marijuana in public are charged with a misdemeanor, which means they get arrested and could be sent to prison. When a cop stops-and-frisks someone, if the person has a little marijuana on him and the cop tells him to empty his pockets, or the cop empties them himself, the person is considered to be displaying marijuana in public and then gets arrested. Since stop-and-frisk overwhelmingly targets Blacks and Latinos, that’s who mainly ends up in prison for having a little bit of pot. (Nearly 90 percent of the 50,000 people arrested annually for marijuana possession in NYC are Black or Latino.) Cuomo’s proposal would mean people would no longer be arrested if a cop who stops and frisks them finds marijuana. Instead they’d get a ticket and a fine.
Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Stop-and-frisk is racist and illegitimate. It concentrates the racial profiling cops employ all across the country. This racial profiling serves as a pipeline to mass incarceration. This system has brutally and bitterly exploited African-American people since Day One. Now it offers no future for many millions of young Black and Latino people except for getting caught up in crime and going in and out of prison or joining the military and becoming a killing machine for this system. Mass incarceration is the system’s response to this situation. This alone is reason enough to sweep this system off the face of the earth thru revolution. There is an analysis, a vision and a strategy for such a revolution, concentrated in the works and leadership of Bob Avakian.
What’s needed right now is determined massive resistance to mass incarceration and all its consequences. A lot is at stake here. 2.4 million people, more than 60 percent of them Black or Latino, are warehoused in prisons across the country. People in prison are subjected to conditions that are like torture. Then when people get out of prison after serving their sentences, they are discriminated against. Five million former prisoners can’t find work, can’t get a government loan, and can’t live in public housing or even vote. Add to all this the families of all those who face this racial profiling, mass incarceration and discrimination after they’ve served their sentences. Literally, tens of millions of people live lives that are enmeshed in the web of the criminal “injustice” system. This amounts to a slow genocide that could easily become a fast one.
If we respond to all this with silence, things will continue on this genocidal track. On the other hand, if we meet mass incarceration and all its consequences with determined mass resistance we can beat back the shit they’re doing to us and take things in a different direction.
This needed resistance has begun to develop. Books exposing the injustice of mass incarceration have been published. People who have suffered abuse at the hands of the police have spoken out. Mass resistance has begun to be initiated, like the campaign of civil disobedience targeting stop-and-frisk that Cornel West and I initiated last fall as part of building stronger resistance to mass incarceration. Protests were held at police stations in Harlem, Brooklyn, and Queens. The trials of those arrested at these protests began in May, focusing more attention on opposition to stop-and-frisk. People who didn’t know about it now know and have felt forced to take a stand on it. People who had suffered under it and felt there was nothing they could do have felt emboldened to begin to speak out about the injustice it inflicts on them.
All this is what’s driving the motion and commotion around stop-and-frisk. Why is Cuomo proposing legislation now? And why did Ray Kelly and NYC Mayor Bloomberg, who have previously warned that any weakening of stop-and-frisk would unleash criminal hordes on the city, immediately announce their support for Cuomo’s proposal? Because in the face of the resistance and exposure, they have had to back up and offer surface changes to stop-and-frisk in order to cool the protests out, with the aim of maintaining the essence of stop-and-frisk—treating whole generations of youth as criminals.
The injustice of stop-and-frisk can’t be smoothed over by a reform here or a tweak there. Last year the NYPD stopped and frisked 684,000 people! More than 85 percent of them were Black or Latino, and more than 90 percent of them were doing nothing wrong when the cops stepped to them. This year they’re on a pace to stop more than 800,000 people! Some Black youth report having been stopped and frisked 15 times in the last year alone.
This isn’t low-level cops taking things too far. All this has been championed from the top. Kelly and Bloomberg call stop-and-frisk the key to reducing crime rates in NYC. Cops have reported being pressured at their precincts to make more stops and arrests. So how the hell can closer supervision of cops on the beat do anything about the way stop-and-frisk enmeshes Blacks and Latinos in the criminal justice system?
Cuomo’s proposed legislation won’t do a damned thing about the bias at the heart of stop-and-frisk. It may mean fewer minority youth are arrested for marijuana possession when the cops stop them. (I say “may mean that” because in the fall of 2011, Kelly claimed that NYPD policy was to write people tickets, not arrest them, for marijuana found during a stop-and-frisk. But the arrests of Black and Latino youth found with marijuana in stops-and-frisks continued without let-up.) But it does nothing to address cops disproportionately stopping and frisking Blacks and Latinos. So maybe people will end up with violations, not misdemeanors, and will get tickets and fines instead of arrests. But they will continue to be put into the NYPD database that will be used against them if they get stopped again or if they get arrested and convicted because of stop-and-frisk. And if they fail to pay those fines, they could still end up with jail sentences.
This injustice can’t be reformed away. Stop-and-frisk must be ended. When slaves on the plantations rose in rebellion or escaped, they weren’t trying to get a half day off on Saturday. They wanted an end to slavery. When the Freedom Riders put their lives on the line in the 1960s, they weren’t trying to get more seats on the back of the bus. They were fighting to end Jim Crow segregation.
Today we need a massive and mass movement of resistance. Now is the time to step up the resistance. The authorities are in turmoil. We need to seize the initiative, take advantage of their turmoil and wage the kind of resistance that can STOP “Stop & Frisk” as part of fighting to end mass incarceration.
Revolution #272 June 17, 2012
Around the Country:
June 5 marked 100 days since the vigilante murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. A call had gone out to make June 5 a day to demand justice for Trayvon—a day to wear hoodies and defiantly declare “We Are All Trayvon.” These actions were important, in the face of the mouthpieces of the system telling people that with Trayvon’s killer having been indicted, it’s time to get out of the streets and rely on the courts. 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.
On June 5, there were speak-outs, marches, and other actions around the country. The following are snapshots from several cities.
At one high school, many scores of students wore hoodies to demand justice. Many said they wore hoodies because Trayvon Martin was just like them, and they too feel racially profiled all the time. Students said that by wearing a hoodie on June 5 and passing out stickers saying “We Are All Trayvon Martin—The Whole Damn System Is Guilty,” they were showing respect to Trayvon and his family. When asked how they found out about the day, students pointed to the slogans chalked on the ground, leaflets, and stickers, and said “everybody knows about this in school” and that students were texting each other about it during the days leading up to June 5.
In the afternoon, at Leimert Park in the Crenshaw District, a historically Black cultural hub in the city, the Stop Mass Incarceration Network organized a speak-out. The Cuauhtemoc Dancers opened the event with a ceremony calling for “equality and justice for everybody,” and then danced, drummed, and chanted all afternoon.
Numerous speakers condemned how this system in the U.S. treats youth, especially youth of color, as criminals. They voiced great concern for the future of these youth, and spoke to how Trayvon’s murder concentrates this criminalization...and that the stakes are high and people need to stay mobilized. Street poets, musicians, teachers, and everyday people took the bullhorn to pour out their hearts. One teacher urgently explained how Trayvon’s murder and “the school-to-prison pipeline” are intimately connected.
Speakers included: Caree Harper, attorney for the family of Kendrec McDade, a 19-year-old Black youth killed by Pasadena police in March; the Rev. Dr. Lewis Logan, co-founder of Ruach Christian Community Fellowship; and Clyde Young, revolutionary communist and former prisoner. Young called Trayvon’s murder a “modern-day American lynching” in the context of the historical and present-day oppression of Black people in the U.S. He read the BAsics 1:13 quote, which was distributed to the crowd.
The LA Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion ran an article on the Day of Justice for Trayvon with a picture featuring two youth, one with a T-shirt with a big picture of Trayvon and the words “Justice for Trayvon Martin” and the other holding a poster featuring the BAsics 1:13 quote.
Excerpts from a longer snapshot posted at basicsbustour.tumblr.com on June 6:
Yesterday’s march “100 Days—100 Hoodies” was greeted with great enthusiasm by people in Harlem. People expressed over and over that the system is once again making the victim out as the criminal. And they want this to stop! We carried a life-sized wooden cut-out of Trayvon and a 40 x 60 inch display of the BAsics 1:13 quote, and passed out 100s of the quote palm cards.
All along the route of the march groups of people came out to support. When we read them the quote and told them that we’re getting out 1000s of these to make “no more of that” real, to make that THE topic of conversation and asked them to donate to make that happen, people pulled out their wallets. One guy in front of a barbershop gave $10 and then the others standing with him pulled out $10s and $5s. A nearby café owner donated another $5 and took a stack of palm cards to give out to customers. An African woman opened her purse and pulled out $30. “I have SEVEN sons,” she said, “and some of them are in jail.” She said this as she raised her arms in an expression of fury and heartbreak—conveying that she had come to this country expecting a better life for her children and had found instead another form of oppression and brutality. By the time the day was over we had raised almost $100.
At a high school in the ’hood many students were wearing stickers for the June 5 Day of Justice: Some young women students walked up to the banner and began leading chants on the bullhorn. Three young women read the quote 1:13 from BAsics on the bullhorn. Two others posted it up in the street in front of the school, thrusting a flier with a picture of Trayvon and a BAsics 1:13 quote card into the window of every passing car. Soon there was a small protest of a couple dozen students and some revolutionaries.
A spirited rally came together at the Oscar Grant Plaza in downtown Oakland at 5 pm. It included a mix of different people, including families of those gunned down by the police. Students from a couple of high schools sported stickers they had gotten earlier in the day at school. One of the young women who knew Alan Blueford, a high school senior recently killed by the Oakland police, said, “They took his life for nothing just because he was standing on the corner. Now I can never see him again. They took his life for no reason—because he was young and Black. NO MORE KILLING OF YOUNG AND BLACK!”
Ron Ahnen, President of California Prison Focus, sent a statement of support. Among those speaking were Joey Johnson, recently returned from the BAsics Bus Tour through the South; Cephus Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant; and the family of Kenneth Harding, killed by the San Francisco police last year. Three members of a Berkeley Unitarian church brought a banner signed by many of their congregation.
In the early afternoon we went out to a nearby high school where the Day of Justice had been built for several days. We joined with some students out in the street, stopping traffic, handing out posters that have the photo of Trayvon with the day’s slogan, and then marched through the ’hood.
A team from Revolution Books went out to a high school where a lively scene developed as students streamed out of school. Several groupings, mainly Black women, expressed in various ways their support for the struggle to get justice for Trayvon. Some stepped up to a bullhorn and spoke out. One began a chant, “the whole damn system is guilty as hell!” which was joined in by others. Some pulled their hoodies up to be part of the day. Others stopped to look at a poster about the BAsics Bus Tour. Leading up to June 5, students from four other high schools and middle schools visited Revolution Books and took stacks of Trayvon fliers and BAsics 1:13 pluggers, which they planned to get out in their schools.
During the noon hour there was an action downtown in front of the King County Jail, a major center of mass incarceration connected to the racial profiling, killing, and imprisonment of oppressed nationalities. A banner of the BAsics 1:13 quote, with larger words saying “WE SAY NO MORE!”, poster boards of the “An American Lynching” Revolution newspaper cover, and a large “Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide” sign were set up. People of various nationalities stopped to talk, read the poster boards, sign the banner, and at times participate.
Revolution #272 June 17, 2012
New Issue Appearing
Since the inaugural issue of Demarcations, the world has witnessed renewed upsurge, with mass social movements in Egypt and elsewhere capturing the imagination of and stirring defiance among broad sections of people who find the present order intolerable. This fresh wind of resistance and revolt has also been felt in the rebellions in London, in the Occupy and other youth and protest movements, while revolutionary struggles and resistance continue in various parts of the Third World.
Puncturing people’s belief in the permanent necessity of existing conditions, this renewal of upsurge has also brought fundamental questions to the fore: Of revolution—what is it? Of leadership—is it needed, and of what type? Of the state (and its armies and police)—should it be confronted, and can it be confronted? And what it means for the masses to make history. Most of all, the decisive question getting posed is what social change and what future are desirable and possible—and what constitutes freedom and emancipation.
Some of these crucial questions, posed by the Egypt upsurge and the Occupy movements, are actually addressed in the polemic against the political philosophy of Alain Badiou that appeared in the first issue of Demarcations: “Alain Badiou’s ‘Politics of Emancipation’: A Communism Locked Within the Confines of the Bourgeois World.” That polemic takes on new relevance in light of recent developments in the world, and we encourage readers to (re)engage with and respond to it. We also call readers’ attention to Bob Avakian’s statements on the Egypt uprising (“Egypt 2011: Millions Have Heroically Stood Up... The Future Remains to Be Written,” Revolution #224 online, February 11, 2011) and the Occupy movements (“A Reflection on the ‘Occupy’ Movement: An Inspiring Beginning... and the Need to Go Further,” Revolution #250, November 15, 2011).
What is achingly missing in these new crucibles of struggle is a vision of a radically different society, and how to get there—which focuses up the question of communist leadership. The fact is, a viable and liberatory alternative to this world of horrors—and the kind of leadership needed to bring a new world into being—is concentrated in Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism. This new synthesis needs to be much more widely known, engaged, and taken up.
Table of Contents
Introducing Issue No. 2
KJA: “Scientifically Comprehending, Firmly Upholding And Going Beyond Maoism for a New Stage of Communism—Polemical Reflections on ‘What Is Maoism?’ An Essay by Bernard D’Mello”
Bob Avakian: “The Cultural Revolution in China...Art and Culture...Dissent and Ferment...and Carrying Forward the Revolution Toward Communism”
Raymond Lotta: “Vilifying Communism and Accommodating Imperialism, The Sham and Shame of Slavoj Žižek’s ‘Honest Pessimism’”
“The Current Debate on the Socialist State System”—A Reply by the RCP, USA
Revolution #272 June 17, 2012
The political battle over the legitimacy of the New York Police Department’s policy of stop-and-frisk is intensifying. In May, a federal judge ruled that a suit against Police Commissioner Kelly, Mayor Bloomberg, and the NYPD had the legal basis to go forward as a class action suit. Unions and civil liberties groups will march on Father’s Day, silently, against racial profiling and to end stop-and-frisk. The New York Civil Liberties Union released a phone app that assists people in filming police during a stop-and-frisk, and alerts others in the area. While Bloomberg and Kelly are making surface changes to stop-and-frisk, they continue to strongly defend the essence of the policy: the illegitimate criminalization of the youth.
An important part of this battle will be over the court cases of 30 people arrested last fall for protesting stop-and-frisk—where people stepped up mass resistance to stop-and-frisk to demand that this policy be brought to a STOP. They plan to expose the egregious policy of stop-and-frisk and the NYPD in the courtroom. A campaign of mass non-violent civil disobedience to STOP “Stop & Frisk” was initiated by Carl Dix and Cornel West. It began on October 21 in Harlem, one of the three NYPD precincts where police stop and frisk at the highest rates. (“From Up Against the Wall to Up in Their Faces... A Movement Has Begun to STOP ‘Stop and Frisk,’” Revolution #249, November 5, 2011). The other protests took place in Brownsville, Brooklyn, on November 1 (“New Freedom Fighters in Brooklyn: 28 Arrested in STOP ‘Stop and Frisk’ Civil Disobedience,” Revolution #249) and Jamaica, Queens, on November 19 (“STOP ‘Stop and Frisk’ Hits Queens, NY,” Revolution #251, November 27, 2011). These protesters included people with direct experience with stop-and-frisk, ministers, professors, community activists, students, and Occupy Wall Street supporters. In the three protests, a total of 83 people were arrested. This made national news and served to sharply focus attention on stop-and-frisk.
It is an outrage that people are even being prosecuted for protesting a policy that itself should be on trial. The Stop Mass Incarceration Network is calling for a mass defense to demand the charges be dropped. If the system persists in taking these cases to trial, the defendants intend to use this as an important front in the battle to expose stop-and-frisk and the whole system of mass incarceration that has 2.4 million people imprisoned and has condemned whole generations and people to a life of criminalization and oppression—to change the political situation from one where this is tolerated to one where the whole society not only condemns this but acts en masse to abolish it.
One of the defendants, “Noche” Diaz, a young revolutionary, has been arrested five times since October and has had 11 charges piled on him in four boroughs. Two of the arrests were part of the civil disobedience, but in the other three arrests, police targeted him, including when he witnessed police attacking a motorist in the Bronx. Noche is a member of the People’s Neighborhood Patrol of Harlem whose purpose is to prevent law enforcement from violating the people’s rights and brutalizing them under the color of authority. He is well known to the people... and to the police. Prosecutors are attempting to combine charges against him from arrests in October 2011 and March 2012 into one trial, likely prejudicing the outcome of these two and his other trials, putting him in danger of a jail sentence.
During the October 21 arrest, as a dramatic march ended at the 28th Precinct in Harlem with 35 people in front of the doors speaking and protesting stop-and-frisk, Noche was observing the protest with the People’s Neighborhood Patrol outside the police barricade, away from the action. Yet he was suddenly grabbed by police and thrown to the ground. He was held into the next day and charged with resisting arrest.
Noche was arrested again on March 27 in Harlem in the midst of a spontaneous protest by high school students during the height of the outrage over the Trayvon Martin murder, as they were pushed off the streets by NYPD. Revolution reported that Noche “had been talking to people about the Trayvon Martin statement from the RCP and their plans for a hoodie day. When Noche spoke up for the students when the police attacked them, he was thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and held for more than 24 hours. (“In the Face of Police Attack, High School Youth Demand Justice for Trayvon Martin,” Revolution #265, April 8, 2012) The District Attorney is trying to combine these completely unrelated cases for trial, making clear this is a political prosecution where the state is showing prejudice.
The NYPD is attempting to target Noche and threaten him with imprisonment to make him an example to others that you should be afraid to stand up. But the people need to defend the courageous revolutionary communists and members of the People's Neighborhood Patrols who are leading the struggle to fight the power as part of transforming the people for revolution. This is an important part of a battle to change the situation where people feel hopeless about the possibility of changing all this and this misery continues, to one where people are standing up and lifting their heads—including the real possibility of a whole different world.
A defense committee is being formed to support all the STOP “Stop & Frisk” protesters, and to put special effort into keeping the state from locking Noche and other protesters away. You can get involved this summer, working on the defense committee by contacting the Stop Mass Incarceration Network.
Trial dates will be set soon in these cases. Prosecutors are seeking to add another charge against the Queens defendants, which the legal team will oppose. The state is taking these cases very seriously, with extra security for procedural hearings.
Stop Mass Incarceration Network
c/o P.O. Box 941, Knickerbocker Station
New York, NY 10002-0900
Revolution #272 June 17, 2012
Week of June 10
“Scenes from BA Everywhere” is a regular feature that gives our readers an ongoing picture of this multifaceted campaign, and the variety of ways that funds are being raised and the whole BA vision and framework is being brought into all corners of society. Revolution newspaper is at the hub of the BA Everywhere effort—publishing reports from those taking up the campaign. Revolution plays a pivotal role in building an organized network of people across the country coming together to make BA a household word. We urge our readers to send in timely correspondence on what you are doing as part of this campaign—send your reports and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From a reader:
A fundraising picnic to support the BAsics Bus Tour was held in a park in East Oakland on Memorial Day. It was a successful event, with over 60 people participating, 40 of whom were from the two ’hoods nearby. This event was publicized by a crew of revolutionaries that went out with fliers, Revolution newspaper, and the palm cards of BA’s quote (BAsics 1:13). A banner about supporting the tour, with BA’s quote on it, was also taken out broadly, inviting people to sign or write statements in response. In the course of doing this, many took up tasks or responsibilities for various aspects of this picnic.
The picnic site had been selected by people from the area a week before. Kids at the park were immediately attracted by the banner, and upon learning about the bus tour and that it just finished a trip to Sanford, Florida, these kids (grade school and junior high) were very inspired and started telling us what they knew about the killing. They all learned to read out loud the BAsics 1:13 quote, and were given the task of decorating the picnic site. A young Black woman, a high school student who we met a few days ago, was key in organizing the kids. She was very outraged after hearing from a middle-aged Black woman who talked about the killing of Trayvon and how in the old days Black men were often lynched and hung on the trees. She and a junior high kid climbed up a tree behind the picnic site and put up two big displays (of BAsics and BA’s Three Strikes quote). A huge “Enough Is Enough” banner was also posted by them right in front of the park entrance. Before the picnic began, seven or eight kids, together with a young woman and a revolutionary, marched around the park to invite others.
A Black man in his early 40s took charge of BBQing. He brought a friend to the picnic as the second cook. Together with a couple women, they also took care of serving the food. The wife of this man played a key role in the program. After welcoming people and introducing people to what this historic bus tour was all about, the program started by several people from the ’hood reading some of the statements written on the banner described earlier. Other statements made by people around the country were also read.
Then the report-back from the tour was shown and broadcast. We raised about $95 at the picnic for the bus tour. Another highlight was reading out loud BA’s quote by several people from the ’hood. A young man, who is a member of the People’s Neighborhood Patrol, then did a “call and response” with the quote in Spanish. He also spoke about the People’s Neighborhood Patrol, and pointed out that traveling with the patrol when they go out is one of the “12 Ways That YOU Can Be Part of Building the Movement for Revolution—Right Now.”
A call was made encouraging everyone to take up the BAsics 1:13 palm cards and other material to post up and get out. These bundles and packets were prepared during the picnic with several people participating, along with two of us. By the time most of the people left the picnic, most of the material on our organizing table was gone. (The next day, we ran into a woman and a guy who told us that in the evening of the picnic they went out together and got out all of their cards and fliers. They asked for more.)
This picnic was a good beginning. You can get a glimpse of the tremendous potential among the basic people that can be unleashed by the bus tour and BA’s quote. And building on what we’ve done so far, we will step up our efforts in June (and beyond).
We received this correspondence:
A couple of us took out batches of glossy postcards with BAsics 1:13 at the Open Studios in our city. (Readers: you can download your own PDFs of the cards from revcom.us, and print them at any drugstore.) Open Studios is where artists open their studios, share their work, and try to earn some money selling their arts and crafts.
Themes of environmental devastation, human alienation, and—not so often but part of the mix—oppression of women and Black people were a significant element in the mix, sometimes expressed explicitly, more often subliminally, through color, texture, sound and street art. Someone set up a bunch of abandoned refrigerators with graphics documenting their carbon footprint—the impact on global climate change. One group of young people was passing out handwritten Love Letters, and making a statement about the impersonalization of this society. The letter they gave us began “I understand how easy it is to get caught up in the day to day grind of life...” One of the letter writers is reading Capital by Marx.
A photographer who documents Black youth and their lives with powerful, humanizing posters allowed us to read BAsics 1:13 out loud—reaching visitors and buyers in his studio. He broke the silence afterwards by saying “that’s true.” Another artist spent 15 minutes looking through our materials carefully, and then asked, “So, are you saying these socialist societies became what they became, in part, because of a lack of free speech?” That started what should be a long-term conversation on BA’s new synthesis with him. What was interesting, to me, was how willing many of these artists were to take up some specific tasks of making revolution in the realm of art and design, which we were asking them to take up. We challenged people to do that even as we encouraged them to learn more and engage with this in their own ways.
Revolution #272 June 17, 2012
In the category of Current Events I
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Revolution #272 June 17, 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.
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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.”
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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.
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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 #272 June 17, 2012
The dialogue between Cornel West and Carl Dix, "In the Age of Obama... Police Terror, Incarceration, No Jobs, Mis-education: What Future For Our Youth?" has had a profound impact wherever it has gone. Over the last year, very large crowds have attended at UCLA, UC Berkeley, and now the University of Chicago (U.C.), an elite private institution located in the midst of Chicago's Southside—the largest concentration of Black people in the U.S. U.C. is where president Obama taught constitutional law, and it is in Hyde Park, where Obama maintains his residence. (See "1300 Attend Chicago Dialogue between Cornel West and Carl Dix," Revolution #269, May 20, 2012, about the U.C. dialogue.)
Planning for this event had gone on for many months. But this spring, with the national outrage around the modern day lynching of Trayvon Martin, the felt need of students for the dialogue became greater. At U.C. there were no demonstrations protesting the Martin murder, but there were students, primarily African-American, who had tried to put on a program, only to have it stifled by administrators who objected that the room being requested was "too large." So they, along with other students who were already active in bringing the dialogue to U.C., intensified their efforts to make this dialogue happen.
But as all of the elements for the event came together three weeks before the scheduled date, the University administration suddenly cancelled it, citing "logistical problems." What they didn't anticipate was the determination of a few students to overcome the obstacles thrown up by the University, and the outpouring of support from the students, faculty and some prominent community members. A petition campaign was quickly mounted and student organizers, who were already 24/7 on this project, rallied more support and bent every effort to ensure the program would go on. The struggle to not cancel the event became the main form of publicity since no publicity could be printed or released online until the University gave the green light. Within a few days the Provost and Dean of Students had to write a letter to the faculty about how they were helping the students finalize the preparations for the dialogue (!), and lo and behold they found a larger venue and additional overflow room! One of the organizers said afterwards that his advice to students trying to bring the dialogue to their school is that "you need to look at this as not just booking an event, but taking a bold political stance, and anticipate a reaction from the administration and be prepared to deal with it."
All this tremendous effort was worth it. What transpired was a beautiful event, with a very diverse audience of more than 1,300—very likely the most diverse of any big event in U.C. history. Those who work with ideas on the highest level in this society combined with others who have been mainly locked out of that sphere. Students whose tuition and expenses are $60,000 per year mixed it up with those who society has denied all kinds of opportunities. Predominantly white U.C. was host to a crowd that was about 40 percent African-American—students, youth from the community as well as a number of high school teachers, community activists, ministers and Occupy people. Among the people who lined up to get in, there was such a thirst and hunger for answers to the question posed in the title of the dialogue—"What Future for Our Youth?"—and more fundamentally, why the situation today is the way it is, and how it could be changed. Smiles, eyes filled with wonder and hope, serious determination and questioning, anticipation—except for the unprecedented force of 15 police that the University insisted on having there, and even made the students pay for! No smiles there. But their somber expressions were lost in the sea of excitement, and whatever "crowd control" that was actually necessary was fulfilled quite nicely by about 30 UC students, in hoodies, who served as ushers.
Carl Dix opened with "revolutionary greetings Chicago!" and then spoke to the students in particular: "In this time of heightened attacks on the people but also heightened resistance, it is important that especially the young intellectuals, which comprise a sizeable part of the audience, get to hear from different perspectives about what is the situation in the world, how did it get that way, and what can we do to transform it. It's important that we have this engagement because it's your responsibility to envision a world different than today's world and all its horrors, and then to join the fight to bring that different world into being."
He told about his and Dr. West's fight to stop the massive racial profiling operation of the NYPD, stop-and-frisk, and their trial the previous week for opposing it. He listed some of the more outrageous recent police murders in Chicago and around the country. After each point he'd say "This has got to stop!" and the audience responded with applause. This became a major theme of both his and Cornel West's talks.
Put this in an international context, Dix said: "Spin the globe. Wherever your finger lands we find unspeakable horrors... These horrors happen for one reason: this capitalist-imperialist system... The way it operates and what it is based on—a chase after profits, which condemns countless people worldwide to lives of poverty and squalor, to endure torture and rape. It unleashes wars for empire...This chase after profits ravages the environment of the very planet we live on... Now, I'm going to zero in on the criminal injustice system in this country, in particular the way it heaps abuse on Black and Latino people. That is a key pillar, a foundation of this American Empire...it is something that there needs to be determined mass resistance to..."
Dix talked about the terrible devastation the policy of mass incarceration has wrought on millions of people: "When you pull all this together—the people who get caught up in the criminal injustice system through racial profiling, the 2.4 million people being warehoused in prison, the five million people who have served their sentences but still are forced to wear badges of shame and dishonor. Then add to that their families and loved ones. What you have is tens of millions of people living their lives enmeshed in the criminal justice system. This is an emergency situation, a dire crisis, one we have to do something about. I call this a slow genocide..."
Then he went to the underlying reasons for how this situation came to be: "Two things came together. One was the operation of this capitalist system and the other is the conscious policies adopted by the ruling class. Starting back in the 1970s, capitalism, in its chase after profits, began to relocate factories from this country to the Third World, where they could pay the workers less and force them to work in more dangerous conditions. That process has gotten to the point that for young people growing up in the inner cities of this country it has become extremely hard to find a legitimate way to survive and raise a family. Another thing that has been going on for decades is that they have cut the safety net that is supposed to shelter poor people. They cut it to the bone, then they cut it again, and now they have it lined up to be cut even more. Then you have the education system that has been under funded, de-funded and geared to failing many of our youth. What that means is that you have youth growing up in the inner cities who face futures of no hope. Capitalism could exploit their ancestors as slaves on the plantation. It could exploit their great-grandparents as sharecroppers—many of them on the same plantations. It could exploit their grandparents as laborers in the factories. But they have no way to profitably exploit this generation of Black youth."
"Then we come to the conscious policies... They got these youth who they got nothing for and they remember the role that Black youth played in the 1960s, standing up against what was coming down on Black people. The youth sparked uprisings and helped to bring forth a revolutionary movement that rocked this system back on its heels. Richard Nixon, old Tricky Dick, who was the president back in the late '60s and early '70s—at a cabinet meeting said this: 'The problem is the Blacks and we have to devise a solution that does not acknowledge that is what we are dealing with.' His solution was to launch wars on drugs and wars on crime, which were really wars on Black people... And [thru the decades] this has led to this mass incarceration situation."
Dix then drew on a book by Richard Lawrence Miller, Drug Warriors and Their Prey: From Police Power to Police State, to underline that he is not exaggerating to say that this is a form of slow genocide that could become fast genocide. Using the analogy of how the Germans carried out their genocide of the Jews, Miller outlines how things moved through five stages: Identification, Ostracism, Confiscation, Concentration, and then Annihilation.
But then Dix argued that the final stages are not inevitable: "What happens is up to us, it depends on how we respond. If we respond with determined resistance we have every chance of beating back and stopping this slow genocide. If we respond with silence? Mass incarceration + silence = genocide."
And, Dix argued, there is another alternative to the world we live in now: "All of these horrors come down on people because of this capitalist-imperialist system and its chase after profit. Things do not have to be this way. We could end all these horrors and get rid of them once and for all through making revolution. And I am talking about communist revolution. That's right. That's what I am talking about—communist revolution. You did not mishear that. (Laughter and applause) I know what you all have heard about revolution and especially communist revolution. That it was a failure. That is was a disaster. Well, you have been lied to. The capitalists and their mouthpieces have spared no effort in heaping slander on revolution and communism because they don't want people to think that there is any way to live that could be better than this. But revolutions have been made. And when power was in the hands of the people in those revolutions in the Soviet Union, and later in China, many great things were accomplished. Both of these revolutions have since been overturned and power is now back in the hands of capitalist exploiters in those countries. But that doesn't wipe away the many things that they accomplished. ... If you are somebody who is disturbed by the way that people are forced to live in this country and around the world, you owe it to yourself and to humanity to check out the truth about the experience of revolutions in these countries. The way you can do this is to go to the website thisiscommunism.org."
Dix spoke to what a revolutionary society would look like: "There would be no more Trayvon Martins, no more Rekia Boyds [murdered by the police in Chicago], no more Oscar Grants [murdered by the police in Oakland] (applause). There would be no more police patrolling our communities like occupying armies. No more of women being subjected to degradation and enslavement. No more people living on the edge of starvation here and around the world. No more wars for empire. What there would be is a society where power to change things is in the hands of the people led by their revolutionary communist vanguard. People who wanted to act to eradicate the oppression and inequality left over from the old society would have a governmental authority that would back them up in doing that as opposed to one that would arrest them and put them on trial for trying to meet the needs of the people. We would have an education system where youth were prepared to think critically so that they could understand the world in order to be able to act to change it. (applause) We'd have a justice system that would be aimed at getting at the truth of things as opposed to this justice system we have that uses lies, deceit, torture and anything it can come up with to convict people and warehouse them in prison. People need to check out what this revolutionary society would mean. There isn't a socialist republic in North America now, but we in the RCP are working on bringing one into being and this book—Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)—tells you what it would look like..."
Carl ended his presentation by talking about what people can do right now: "First, to the people who are coming to see the need for revolution, what do you need to be doing right now? The RCP has a strategy statement that says we need to be fighting the power and transforming the people for revolution...We saw a taste of what resistance can do with the response around the murder of Trayvon. They tell us 'OK, the case is in the court, it's time for you to get out of the streets and let the system work.' Bullshit! The system had already worked in Trayvon's case when they ushered his killer out the police door and let him go free. It took mass resistance for them to even put charges on the guy. It's gonna take continued mass resistance to get justice in that case... Trayvon was not an isolated incident, it was just the latest in an endless chain of abuse that this criminal justice system has brought down on the people and it's rooted in that same capitalist/imperialist system. So we have to build resistance that brings out what's behind this, what's the source of the murder of Trayvon and the murder and brutality that comes down on all the other Trayvons in this society. This is what Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution comes down to."
"Then there's another level. I've said a lot here and there are people here who have to think about and digest what I've said. Even as you do that you can get with this movement for revolution and do things that are important and would really matter. I said that the work that Bob Avakian has been doing and the leadership he's providing is something a lot more people need to know about. The movement for revolution has launched a campaign we call BA Everywhere. We're getting his voice and his works much more widely known. We need a lot of involvement. Here's one way: You can check out BA, and read his book of quotations and short essays, BAsics, read Revolution newspaper, watch the DVD of a talk he gave, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, and What It's All About. You can contribute money, we're raising big money to get BA's voice everywhere. Think of what difference it would make as people are coming into political life, if they were beginning to learn about a leader who has been figuring out how to make revolution, how to bring a whole different world into being... imagine the impact that would have on what people are thinking about and talking about, what they are getting organized to fight for. We have a BAsics Bus Tour, telling people about revolution and communism, what's going down in society. You can help make this happen.
"Here's another layer of what people can do. For those who say, 'You've got some good things to say Carl, but I can't get with that revolution stuff, that's too much for me.' (laughter) OK, keep thinking about it. But whether or not you agree with me about the need for revolution, there is something you and me need to do together, we need to stand up together and say 'no more to mass incarceration.' (prolonged applause) We really are on an arc to slow genocide. We have to mobilize this mass resistance, there is a Stop Mass Incarceration Network, Cornel and I were part of putting this together."
Cornel West started with "I'm blessed to be in Chi-town." Then he talked about his relationship with Carl: "People say, Brother West, you are a revolutionary Christian, what are you doing hanging out with a revolutionary communist? In all seriousness, given the depth of the suffering we are in and the decline of the American empire and the internal decay of our fragile experiment in democracy that we are losing every day. The most important thing right now is to get back to the raw stuff. We need fellow citizens who have the courage to think and act and who are not for sale. So it is not even a question of whether you have full ideological agreement. Of course I have disagreements with my brother. He is wrong on the God question but we won't get into that now. But I love my brother and I respect my brother and the reason is because he decided like me a long time ago that he was going to be a long distance runner for freedom which means that he is going to live and die for something bigger than himself. And there will never be a highest bidder. He is going to go down swinging. And that is what we need in these days and these times..." He later commented, "Any time you have a profound love of poor people, you are a threat to the powers that be. That is a fundamental fact."
West elaborated on why a different society is needed: "What connects a revolutionary Christian and a revolutionary communist is that we have a fundamental commitment to non-market values like—love, commitment, trust, sacrifice, compassion. A refusal to be well adjusted to injustice... and indifference... where your heart is so hardened and conscience is so coarsened, that the soul becomes so chilled that it is all about you and your narcissistic predicament, your own ego-centric condition, the obsession with stimulation and titillation, but very little preoccupation with deep care and nurture. That is how far things have gone in 2012 in our hyper-marketized, hyper-capitalist society here and abroad. And that is why it is difficult for some folks to even take seriously talk about a different society. 'Oh God that is just so far down the road.' But, you know what? If we don't do something, the right wing, the reactionary crypto-fascists are ready to move in because they understand the depths of the decay too. And they have xenophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, homophobic, deeply anti-Black, anti-brown and oligarchic support. That is where we are now. That is the state of emergency that our dear brother was talking about."
He then developed his central philosophical and ideological theme: "I want to start with the Socratic method... The unexamined life is not worth living. You have to decide what kind of human being you want to be, what does it mean to be human. ... We are here precisely because the love is central. And it is a love of truth. That's what makes it Socratic... At his trial, Socrates says: What is the cause of my unpopularity? What is fearless speech, plain speech, frank speech, unintimidated speech. We don't hear enough of that kind of speech when it comes to dealing with the plight of poor and working people. And it is precisely because we don't love them enough to tell society the truth and to tell them the truth. So obsessed with our professions that we lose any sense of our vocations. So obsessed with our careers that we lose any sense of our callings. So obsessed with our jobs that we lose any sense of our life tasks. What do you think the next generation and the generation after that will look like if you are so obsessed with your profession and your career that you don't tell the truth about the situation and the suffering in which we find ourselves? You can't re-generate democracy without that kind of deep truth telling."
West emphasized: "I come here tonight to try to do something that unsettles you. Even my progressive comrades. I don't believe in unanimity. I believe in critical engagement. I believe in unity, but that is not the same thing as unanimity." He said that U.C. was supposed to be all about "the self-examination of prejudice and presuppositions, pre-judgments." But he said, "here we are at a university committed to Socratic Inquiry, and yet it's still so difficult." He challenged the students—"don't be discouraged to be radically critical," and "history is actually quite open ended. It depends on the courage and the willingness of others to fight, sacrifice, think and so on."
Dr. West then went into his view of the problem: "There is a connection between the so-called 'free market' with its oligarchic tilt, the 1% that own 42% of the wealth, the top 400 individuals that have wealth equal to the bottom 150 million in America today, and that 22% of our precious children of all colors live in poverty in the richest nation in the world. 40% of red, brown, and black children live in poverty in the richest democratic experiment and imperial power in the history of the world and we say, 'Where is the moral outrage? Where is the righteous indignation?' Well, you look at the leaders; too many of them—bought. Caved in. Given in. Sold out. 'Brother West, that's very harsh language.' Yes it is, we live in harsh times. Ubiquitous commodification, ubiquitous commercialism, including your education.
"Today the fundamental challenge is oligarchy and in the end you do have to decide which side you're on. That's where the Occupy movement gets it right...It's oligarchy. The financialization of financial capitalism where Wall Street is in the driver's seat...generating billions of profit, with very little productive value...when workers wages were declining, schools were becoming more decrepit, housing more dilapidated, health care more unavailable...and the wealth inequality exponentially expanding...Greed is running amok... Then again the political system is broken down...Congress a site of legalized bribery and normalized corruption. Who even talks about the dignity of poor people these days, especially among elected officials? How long can our fragile experiment in democracy survive with oligarchic powers in the economy dominating the political system?"
And West explained his view of what to do about it: "How do we become more awakened and draw the connections between the prison-industrial complex, the military-industrial complex, the Wall Street oligarchic complex and then the corporate media multiplex that keeps so many of us stimulated, titillated, pacified, distracted—weapons of mass distraction—that is what the media is. Very little talk about context. Very little talk about common good that bring us together. So you get highly polarized, highly balkanized discourse with no public dialogue.
"Think about the whole system. It is not just a matter of one politician. I do believe that there are progressive politicians. I support various progressive politicians.... Inside they are trying to create some space, but they have to have a social movement outside putting that pressure on, letting folk know that there is accountability there—foreign policy and domestic policy."
After West and Dix gave their presentations they sat down together on stage and "dialogued." They debated the role of Martin Luther King, Jr., the role of electoral politics, as well as socialism in the USSR during the Stalin years. One exchange which a number of audience members commented on afterwards was over "secular optimism or Christian hope?"
West characterized their differences this way: "Brother Carl represents a secular optimism in thinking that there would ever be a time that will be free of oppression. But I am a prisoner of Christian hope, and Christian hope is different than secular optimism. That means that I can't conceive of we human creatures, with all the fears, anxieties and uncertainties in the face of the extinction of our bodies very soon, the culinary delight of the terrestrial worms waiting for us...I can't conceive of us reaching a level of spiritual, moral maturity that will ever do away with all the forms of oppression—homophobia, anti-Semitic, anti-Arab, and so forth. And then the question becomes how do we love enough, sacrifice enough, to make things much, much better? Because the system is so messed up. But whatever we produce, it will need another social movement. Because the cycle of history is shot through with domination, oppression, envy, jealousy, greed. And we need democratic accountability to minimize it as much as possibly can. So I have a darker view. It is closer to Chekhov than it is to you (Carl)."
Dix: "I'm not saying that we are getting to a perfect society."
West: "You say 'free of oppression.'"
Dix: "Yeah. That is what we are working on. We want to end exploitation and oppression once and for all. There are always going to be contradictions. There are always going to be problems. And we need to struggle over those."
West: "Then you are closer to me..."
Dix: "One of the things Bob Avakian has said is that in a revolutionary society we would have to combine seizing power, unleashing people to run the society and to hang onto the power to keep the exploiters from coming back or new-born exploiters. But a part of how you do that and continue the motion to the end of oppression is that you create an atmosphere where you are encouraging diversity, inquiry, interrogation and dissent—including from people who don't agree with the direction of the revolutionary society because you need to hear what everybody thinks, including people who don't like what you are doing because they may be able to tell you some truth that people who like what you are doing might not tell you. You need to hear all that to know how to go forward."
Many people were excited about the way the two speakers deeply engaged each other, going into their differences as well as their unity and so clearly showing their respect and love for each other.
A young Black woman active in Occupy said: "I liked that they were coming from two different sides. Dr. West, he is coming from a Christian background and Dix is coming from a non-religious background so they have different ideas. What did West say, something about a 'secular optimism'? I can't remember the words but it was interesting to see the perspectives coming from a religious and non-religious background around the two different ways to achieve revolution."
A U.C. grad student, a white woman, said: "What this did for me is to re-energize me to do my work and my excitement about the work that is being done. To see everyone come together was a great experience for me. And the two views—I find myself moving toward the more militant, by-any-means-necessary kind of action, the revolution of it all. So it was interesting to me to get both perspectives and to see how both men could communicate with each other so brilliantly. That is something I need to learn how to do better. So it's a learning experience because I tend to have trouble discussing. And to see it is possible, that is a huge learn for me."
Afterward interviewers for Revolution asked people what they thought about the program. Again and again, people said "amazing," "inspiring," "moving," "it opened my eyes," "my hope is we can move forward from here." People wanted to go on at length pouring their hearts out. Below are some more of the responses.
A young Black man: "The passion and sincerity that Mr. Carl Dix had about his revolutionary communism. He was not sorry about anything he said. And I thought that was really strong. His passion forced that onto the listeners. It forced us to take him seriously. If you see a marquee poster that says 'revolutionary communism' in this country, p-sssh, you dismiss it. But his passion really gave us some seriousness about the subject."
A young white man, recent U.C. grad: "They touch on mass incarceration and how deep it really goes, and where that is headed and how important it is to look to where we are going, and the trends we are seeing. Because I think that once you look at the root and see how far this rabbit hole really goes, then you get to see the corporations and the people that are actually behind this and their motivations and that's what you need to understand."
A young Palestinian woman: "Personally, I had never seen either of them speak before. I think they made a good team. I understand where both of them are coming from. And I was right there with them, nodding at what first one would say, and then the other one would have some really good counter-points. It was still leading to the same thing. We all want a better society and we all want to take this to a different world. We need to revolutionize the society we live in but they want to take different ways with that. So, the other one would speak in rebuttal and I'd find myself nodding at what that one said. What an interesting dynamic to see each one critique the issues we face today. They are both really smart men, with different backgrounds and different theories that they have studied in their very prominent careers. It was a good combination. Very powerful to be able to be in that room, to see them and hear them and be right in the middle of it."
A young Black man from the Southside of Chicago: "Both of those guys, they spoke phenomenally...It was something I would like to bring to a lot of people who are my generation so they can be aware of these things so they don't have to fall victim to this system or fall victim to the way this society is brainwashing and bringing people into capitalism and a lot of things that deteriorate the community or just the whole way society is as a whole or society is everywhere, abroad."
And a friend of his added: "It was so much being said and there was so much I got from this. A lot of stuff that I feel and that I talk to people about, but they think I'm crazy for feeling this way because it's not put out there on the table. And people really like to ignore it, they act like it's not really happening but it's going on right before our very eyes. It's time for a wake up call. It's time for us to wake up and stand up and fight."
A young Black skateboarder active in Occupy: "What impressed me the most was the honesty and sincerity of Carl Dix and Cornel West. In that I felt like it's exactly what we needed to hear, you know. I believe that knowledge passed on from our elders to the youth is something that we need now more than ever because we're kind of looked at with a distant eye like we're kind of dangerous, or at least, that's how I feel we're perceived these days. So just seeing our elders come back and actually care about us, and you know, put forth an effort to inform us. I feel like that's more important than anything. Like Dr. Cornel West said, 'We care.' And literally, those two words, 'we care'—that had me. I'm like, I've been waiting to hear that for like five years, you know, to hear that someone actually cares. So that, it's more than words, it's a positive energy within myself and within others."
The last question from the Q&A is a fitting way to end this article:
Q: "Dr. West, I want to get your vision of the future. Not just for the Occupy Movement, but for everybody."
West: "The future of the world?"
Q: "However you choose to analyze it—inclusively how not just Occupy, but everybody can be included in that world?"
Moderator: "I think that would be a great way to end this with some closing statements on your visions for the future."
West: "I really believe the future is open-ended. It is unpredictable. I don't think any of us would have thought that the Occupy Movement would have emerged when it did. Who would have thought we would be talking about corporate greed and wealth inequality given the right wing neoliberal predominance in our public discourse. Austerity, austerity—always from the viewpoint of the lenders—instead of massive investment in jobs, massive investment in housing, massive investment in healthcare from the view of working and poor people. Who would have thought that we could engage in that kind of shift. It so much depends on what kind of choices we make. There might be a massive democratic awakening that historians have no analytical tools for in the next year. Or there could be sleepwalking and we could go under. It is hard to say. I really don't know. All I know is as for me, I know what I'm going to do. I know what my calling is. So if we (point to CD) end up crushed, going to jail, murdered, whatever—like BB King, I had a smile on my face singing the blues. I hope it will be with a whole lot of other people, or it might be with a small group, but I have already made my choice. I made my choice 50 years ago and I am going to be faithful unto death."
Dix: "I was torn between Woman on the Edge of Time [a 1976 novel by Marge Piercy] and a quote from Lenin about dreaming. I will do the quote from Lenin about dreaming because it is shorter. These two revolutionaries were talking and one guy sneers at the idea of dreaming. And Lenin says, no, the other guy had the correct approach to dreaming. You have to dream. You have to dream big dreams. Dream a vision of a new way for the world to be. But then compare your dreams to reality and constantly work to narrow the gap between your dreams and reality. If there is no gap between your dreams and the reality you live in, you ain't really dreaming. So you have to dream some big dreams. So that is how we got to go at it. And drawing on Woman on the Edge of Time—the future is not written. We are struggling for it now. If we respond to today with silence, we will get one future. If we respond to today with determined mass resistance, we can write another future. My suggestion is—write that other future sisters and brothers. Respond with mass resistance."
Revolution #272 June 17, 2012
From a reader:
Imagine being a surgeon, going to work every day, having to focus on real life-and-death concerns of your patients, yet constantly having to look over your shoulder for insults and humiliations, big and small, because of being a Black man in America? Welcome to the prestigious UCLA Medical Center.
A YouTube video titled “African American Doctor Depicted as Gorilla at UCLA Event” went up online on May 10, 2012 and has gone viral. It documents the incident that is the racial discrimination basis of a lawsuit filed by Dr. Christian Head against the UCLA Board of Regents. And as of today (June 7), it has received over 208,000 views—or over 52,000 views per week so far.
A petition on the website change.org in support of Dr. Head, has been signed by well over 100,000 people from all over the U.S. (and some internationally) in less than a month.
And a rally was held at UCLA on May 30 called by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the UCLA Afrikan Student Union, and the UCLA Black Alumni Association. Dr. Head spoke about how he had faced discrimination, harassment, retaliation, as well as intentional emotional stress at work.
In the YouTube video, Dr. Head painfully recounts a slideshow presented at an event sponsored by the UCLA Medical Center in 2006. He stated “The final slide was a photo...of a gorilla on all fours, with my head Photoshopped onto the gorilla, with a smile on my face, and a Caucasian man, completely naked, sodomizing me from behind, and my boss’s head Photoshopped on the person, smiling.”
Dr. Head said he had confronted his boss after the incident, who brushed it off, and according to Dr. Head, the harassment and insults continued, with one of his bosses referring to him as “an affirmative action hire.” After six years, he felt he had no recourse except to file his lawsuit in April 2012, rather than stay within the university redress process, which he calls “untrustworthy.”
Dr. Head is the only African-American surgeon at the UCLA Neck and Head Department, and only one of two tenured African-American teaching surgeons at the UCLA Medical School out of over 200 there.
Deeming someone “an affirmative action hire” is meant to denigrate him/her as inferior. But in the 1960s, there was a fierce battle on U.S. college campuses for affirmative action in order for non-white students to get into universities, to offset the whole legacy and reality of white supremacy in education. Affirmative action has been viciously and continuously attacked since, leading to it being overall dismantled today.
Doesn’t this help to show how this capitalist-imperialist system won’t and can’t grant even the minimal kind of equality, such as affirmative action, to Black people? And how many more generations have to go through these kinds of battles over and over again?
Anyone who thinks Dr. Head’s case is an isolated incident should recall the racist frat boys “Compton Cookout” at UC San Diego a couple of years ago, and the appearances of nooses on campus—also all passed off as a joke. One Black UCLA student commented that he has never been called a nigger more times than since he began attending UCLA.
This incident against Dr. Head is not unlike having a noose appear at such elite institutions of “higher learning.” It is not unlike what happened to Dr. Henry Louis Gates at Harvard some years ago—of being arrested at his own home—then further insulted by Obama’s “beer summit” with the white cop who arrested him, as if it’s just a misunderstanding among “the boys.” It is against the backdrop of a larger society atmosphere where Black people in general are being demonized and criminalized.
The atmosphere for all this has been whipped up for some years by the attacks on affirmative action where today there are miniscule numbers of Black students enrolled at campuses like UCLA, other than in the athletic department. And then there is the larger societal atmosphere of pervasive and intensified white supremacy throughout American society—in the age of Obama and supposed post-racial colorblindness.
Some UCLA staff and administrators have indicated privately that their attempts to come to the support of Dr. Head have been suppressed, that their emails were being monitored, with them getting phone calls from the campus legal department. The administration is clearly worried about being exposed as a deeply white supremacist institution—just like the rest of America—even if you have “made it” as a surgeon.
This should serve as yet another wake-up call (as if one is needed) that protest and resistance is needed on the college campuses and throughout society against such outrages—connecting the dots as to why in reality “the whole damn system is guilty,” not just a few racist doctors or even the university administration/administrators as a whole. It should be another reminder (as if yet another one is needed) that we need to “fight the power, and transform the people, FOR REVOLUTION.”
The story of the humiliation and insult of Dr. Christian Head should be yet another testimony to the need for everyone to confront the urgency of projecting and promoting BA Everywhere all over the country this month—as part of realizing BAsics 1:13.
Revolution #272 June 17, 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 #272 June 17, 2012
The BAsics Bus Tour... fresh off its second leg in May, will be heading out in mid-July from New York City. Right now, $50,000 and hundreds of volunteers are needed to make this next leg happen—contributing funds, volunteering for the tour itself, and throwing in, in whatever ways they can, to get this tour on the road.
This leg will be building on—and taking further—the most recent experience with the bus tour which began in Atlanta, Georgia, and made its way to Sanford, Florida. Sanford is the site of the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a vigilante, and it is the place where tens of thousands came to protest this modern American legal lynching. (For more on the second leg of the tour, check out basicsbustour.tumblr.com.)
This tour has reached out to, and captured the imagination of, thousands—connecting people with the voice and work of Bob Avakian, the revolutionary leader who has developed a new synthesis of communism. And all throughout the tour, the volunteers have worked to involve people in the campaign to spread BA's voice and work even further as part of building the movement for revolution. Hundreds of people all across the country came together to make this tour happen—contributing and raising funds, sending support statements, following and spreading the blog posts from the tour, helping to house and feed the volunteers in the places where the tour went. Hundreds were part of sending a message to the people of Sanford through signed banners with quote 1:13 from Avakian's BAsics featured in the centerspread of this issue.
|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.|
This quote is also the centerpiece of efforts throughout the month of June—distributing it in the many tens of thousands, especially to youth, breaking open discussion and debate around the layers of meaning concentrated in this quote and the ways in which Avakian's work and ongoing leadership provides the means to make good on the pledge of "no more," and through these efforts bringing together cores of people to engage and spread it further.
All these efforts have begun to cohere a national movement around the mass campaign to raise big money to project Avakian's vision and works into every corner of society: BA Everywhere... Imagine the Difference It Could Make. And right now, with this next leg of the tour, there is a big need and a big opportunity to take the campaign even higher, tapping into people's outrage at the horrors of what is, and their hopes and aspirations about what is possible for humanity... creating a situation where the whole social and political culture will "breathe" more freely, with people wrangling passionately over "big questions" concerning the direction of society with the times resonating with big dreams for fundamental change and the emancipation of humanity.
New York is the global financial center of imperialism, a place of great wealth and opulence. But right within the city's borders, and in smaller towns and cities just a short drive away, there are neighborhoods and cities that have been left to rot—abandoned and downpressed. Post-industrial hellholes populated with people who have been cast off, people for whom this system truly has no future. The tour will be reaching into places with some of the greatest wealth disparities in the country, places where the high school dropout rate is close to 50 percent for some oppressed nationalities, places that are centers of housing foreclosures and staggering unemployment.
Let's step back: The situation in the whole world is a horror... this is because of the system of capitalism-imperialism, not because of human nature. It doesn't have to be this way... a radically different world is possible—where people can come together in common cause, lifting their heads fully and straightening their backs... out from under this system of degradation, exploitation and misery. But bringing that world into being requires a revolution. Such a revolution is possible—and in particular because of Bob Avakian and the work he has done over several decades, summing up the positive and negative experiences of the communist revolution so far, and drawing from a broad range of human experience—there really is a viable vision and strategy for a radically new, and much better, society and world, and there is the crucial leadership that is needed to carry forward the struggle toward that goal. And not only is such a revolution possible, but we ARE BUILDING a movement for this revolution which provides a way to begin working on that now.
But way too few people have even heard about this! This BAsics Bus Tour is one key part of changing this on a grand scale, and it can make a very big impact now—bringing it directly to people in all the ways described here, and pulling together a national movement to do so.
These are centers of the New Jim Crow—with police brutality and murder felt painfully and routinely. These are centers of the apartheid-like policy of stop-and-frisk, with astronomical numbers of Black and Latino youth harassed, stigmatized, and put on a pipeline to prison. The slow genocide of Black people taking place in this country is palpable.
The area this leg of the tour will travel through is also a region that people from every corner of the globe have fled to—forced out of their homelands because of the workings of capitalism-imperialism, and in particular, to paraphrase Avakian, forced out of their homelands because the U.S. imperialists have fucked up the rest of the world even worse than what they have done in this country. As part of gaining their riches and power, they have made it impossible for many people to live in their own countries. Immigrants from Palestine, Lebanon, Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, Syria, Bangladesh... and many other parts of the globe have gathered in this region, hoping to find work and to make enough money to send to their families back home. Once thrust into the American nightmare, these different sections of people are set against each other, not knowing their common oppression in the system of capitalism-imperialism nor realizing their common hope in being part of a movement for real revolution, aimed at bringing into being a radically different, and far better, world.
The BAsics Bus Tour will go right into this mix, to reach out especially to the youth in this region. Youth this system has no future for... Black and Latino youth who are tracked into the prison pipeline from an early age... immigrant youth who have nowhere to fit into in this society, who were brought here at an early age by parents whose old ways and old social norms don't fit into this hyper-paced imperialist country and whose children are often still forced to live in the shadows... young women who are pimped by boyfriends trained to view them as property to be owned and sold... youth who have never been told that all this is the product of a system, not of human nature... and that it doesn't have to be this way.
Volunteers of different ages, nationalities and life experiences will come together on this two-week leg of the tour to bring word of Bob Avakian and the new synthesis of communism he's brought forward, the strategy for revolution he's developed, the leadership that he's providing to the movement for revolution. The focal point of the tour is BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian—a book of quotations and short essays that concentrates over 30 years of BA's work on everything that stands between humanity and its emancipation. This work can introduce people to "the basics" of understanding and changing the world and give them the foundation from which to act on the world and learn more.
The tour will be getting out copies of BAsics itself, and thousands of palm cards and posters drawing from this work, and getting into all kinds of discussions. The tour will also show Avakian's DVD talk, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About.
The volunteers aim to create a big scene, stirring up debate and controversy about something people have never been allowed to consider, and, as they do, they aim to draw people forward and link them to a national movement. Volunteers will be working to leave behind organization in the areas they go to. And all this—which will be reported on in near real-time—will be part of affecting the political terrain across the country and around the world, reacting back on and changing what people think is possible.
Everywhere across this country, as people first fundraise and build for, and then follow and find the ways to spread the word of this tour, we should find the ways to bring people together, knowing that we are all part of the campaign to get BA Everywhere that is growing in its organized strength and impact. Utilize this newspaper—and the blog (basicsbustour.tumblr.com)—to let people know what is happening in all regions of this country. Send statements of support—and write about what you are doing so that everyone, everywhere will know about this.
All of this will only be made possible through the collective effort of people nationally riding the bus in spirit—with statements of support, contributions, following and spreading word of the tour through the blog (basicsbustour.tumblr.com), via Twitter (twitter.com/baeverywhere) and taking this out onto the street and through word of mouth... all as part of spreading BA's work and building a movement for revolution wherever you are.
Be Part of Taking the BAsics Bus Tour Higher
People have begun to volunteer and teams are beginning to be assembled to build for this leg of the tour. But in order to make this tour happen, and for it to reverberate across the country—many hundreds need to be involved nationally and in NY itself. $50,000 is needed to have a real impact—in this region... and across the country. The situation in the world is demanding that people know about Avakian's work, and have a chance to be part of the movement to bring a radically different world into being. This is a crying need—and if we are able to reach out far and wide, tap into the inspiration and excitement (see the statements of support at basicsbustour.tumblr.com) that the boldness of this bus tour has garnered, and organize cores of people to come together and raise the funds in broad and creative ways—this can be made possible.
All throughout the next two weeks, while reaching out with the BAsics 1:13 quote, talk with everyone you can about contributing to this tour... pull together cores of people who want to develop immediate plans to raise funds with bake sales, yard sales and more. Reach out to professors and professionals who are able to contribute larger amounts and who would be interested in matching funds that are raised in a housing project or neighborhood. Ask lots of people to contribute on the spot and schedule phone banking nights to reach out to everyone you've been meeting, letting them know how they can be involved including through contributing funds—every contribution makes a difference and will get us closer to reaching this essential financial goal.
A significant amount of these funds should be raised for this leg of the BAsics Bus Tour as part of the big weekend coming up around BAsics 1:13 on June 22-24. This will be a time when all across the country, people are coming together to have a big impact with this quote... and to raise big funds... all contributing to an effort larger than themselves but within which their contributions are an essential part.
Start making plans now for major fundraising efforts to take place the week of July 4. Talk with people about the best form for this, what they want to do to be part of it, and start letting people in your area know about these plans on the June 22-24 weekend as well as writing to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org so these plans can be announced on the BAsics Bus Tour blog and in Revolution newspaper.
If you want to volunteer to be on the tour, contact your local Revolution Books or write to email@example.com. Also, volunteers are needed for film editing, graphic design, online research, transcribing, and much more.
To contribute online or by check/money order to the BAsics Bus Tour:
The Bob Avakian Institute is a nonprofit institute organized for educational purposes. Its mission is to preserve, project, and promote the works and vision of Bob Avakian with the aim of reaching the broadest possible audience. In furtherance of its mission, The Bob Avakian Institute financially supports projects aimed at Spreading BA Everywhere.
At this time, donations can only be solicited and accepted from residents of the following states: California, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Vermont, Washington, Wyoming. All donations from these states are greatly appreciated. Residents of these same states can donate online at thebobavakianinstitute.org.
Checks or money orders may be made out and mailed to:
Please be aware that The Bob Avakian Institute is not tax exempt and donations made to it are not tax deductible.
Disclosure statements can be found at The Bob Avakian Institute website at thebobavakianinstitute.org.
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If you would like to make a check or donate online to the BA Everywhere campaign but live in a state other than California, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Vermont, Washington, Wyoming, contributions can be made payable to RCP Publications online at revcom.us/BAfundcampaign or sent to RCP Publications, PO Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654 (indicate "BA Everywhere"). Contributions or gifts to RCP Publications are not deductible as charitable contributions for federal income tax purposes.