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Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
December 16, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The impact of Cornel West's interview with Bob Avakian, a concentrated 30-minute introduction to BA, needs to be multiplied thousands of times. As part of the holiday plans already in process, and at the center of those: now is the time to get this interview out all over the place—and raise money to project BA Everywhere throughout society at every turn! Here are some ideas to take up:
Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
Letter from a Reader:
December 16, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The following letter is from a Unitarian Universalist minister, ecofeminist and animal rights activist.
I have been learning about the RCP and Bob Avakian—feeling my way into what I might find here that can inform and inspire my own justice work as an ecofeminist.
Cornel West’s rich and exciting interview with Bob Avakian offers such inspiration.
Avakian inspires me with the breadth of his knowledge and analysis and the depth of his commitment. As one might expect, I find deep resonance with his clarity and understanding of the issues facing us: interlocking systems of domination and oppression—racism, sexism, classism, and environmental degradation, all a result of the capitalist-imperialist system.
Avakian calls us to “look at the world the way it is.” He calls us to look at the horror this world is for so many. But Avakian doesn’t simply name the horror. Avakian offers a vision of a world that he believes is possible. A world of abundance, Avakian reminds us, that offers “a rich life... in a spiritual sense,” a life in which the material, intellectual, and cultural needs of all people could be met. Imagine that. And you must be able to imagine it.
West celebrates Avakian’s life-long commitment to bringing about a different, better, more beautiful world: “He never sold out. Never caved in. Never gave up.” Both West and Avakian express “a willingness to live and die” to bring about that world. But working for this world is not for the faint-hearted or half-hearted. The kind of dedication Avakian and West are talking about is born of love—a deep love for the poor, the oppressed, (and for this ecofeminist, for the earth and all beings). It is a revolutionary love. It is a love that will not let us go, and will not let us off.
Avakian’s deep commitment moves me, articulated so powerfully with these words: “If you don’t burn with a desire to put an end [to the horrors of the world] and bring something much better into being, especially when you see that it’s possible, then you have absolutely no right to call yourself a revolutionary.”
It’s exciting to hear a Revolutionary Christian and Revolutionary Communist express common ground in their love for the oppressed as well as the imperative they both feel to live that love—“to persist and prevail.”
The disparity between the haves and have-nots, the degradation of earth, the oppression and exploitation of the poor, people of color, women, and all beings is thoroughly unacceptable. The capitalist-imperialist system that has created and perpetuates this disparity and oppression and the horrors of it must be dismantled. Those of us who are called to name and change this situation will need to participate in appreciative engagement with all who share our cause. Bob Avakian models for us how we can weave multiple perspectives to this struggle and invites us to live bravely and boldly to bring about the world we know can be.
Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
December 16, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The following is taken from a talk by Bob Avakian:
Let’s just look very quickly at how people are kept deliberately uninformed or systematically misinformed and miseducated under this system. Let’s take the crude propaganda organs of the ruling class posing as news media. These are not just, as it is sometimes said, corporate or corporate-controlled media. They are propaganda instruments of the ruling class of this system—capitalist-controlled, imperialist-controlled media. Now we could take all day and all night—and I’ve already taken a long time, I know—going into all this so I won’t try to do that. But let’s just take a few examples, sharp examples of how people are, in fact, deliberately kept uninformed or systematically misinformed and miseducated under this system.
Let’s talk about the New York Central Park jogger case back in the 1990s. Some of you may remember this, but very few people do, in fact. This was a case where a young woman was out jogging at night in Central Park in New York. She was viciously attacked, raped, beaten, and more or less left for dead. She did survive, and after a long period, a difficult period of rehabilitation, she regained a good deal of her former self, although not quite all it seems. But immediately a group of youth... how many don’t know what kind of youth I’m going to say?... Black and Latino youth were immediately seized upon by the police, rounded up—kids 13, 14, 15, the oldest, I believe, 17 at the time—rounded up, taken down to the police station, not allowed to talk to their family, not having any legal advice, subjected to hours of pressure to confess to this crime because they’d been hanging out in the park. And eventually they broke them down and got them to confess. They told them—you’re probably familiar if you watch TV with this—“Well, your friends said you did the whole thing, so you better come and tell us what really happened or everything’s going to come down on you.” And they ran this game on all of them. And you’re talking about 13, 14-year-old kids. They were actually told by the police: “If you just confess to this you can go home.” Instead, of course, once they confessed, they were railroaded through the system. There was absolutely no physical evidence that corroborated their confession. In fact, the physical evidence, if anything, pointed in another direction—it certainly didn’t point to them. All there was was these confessions that had been pressured out of them. Never mind—they went to court, the jury convicted them, they all spent long years in prison. And only many years later did it come out that all of them were innocent, that someone else entirely had committed the crime who finally confessed to it, and then the physical, including DNA, evidence backed up the confession.
Now how many people even know about this? I will say that Ken Burns is apparently making a movie about this along with his daughter, it seems, and it seems as if this is going to be a good movie.* So that’s a good thing, but this is more than 15 years later, I believe. How many people know about this? Well, one person that knew about it was Donald ... his name is supposed to be Trump, but I call him Donald Chump...who took out ads in all the major newspapers, particularly in the New York area, denouncing these youth in hysterical terms, whipping up hatred against them and demanding the return of the application of the death penalty. Think about this. Here we have to say that for any system to hold up a racist bloodthirsty parasite like Donald Chump as a role model and icon—right there is a condemnation of that system and a declaration of its utter bankruptcy.
Contrast how the media dealt with the Central Park jogger case, piling on from the very beginning, creating the hysteria, calling for blood in effect, on the one hand, with how they treated and portrayed the story when it came out that these youth were wrongfully prosecuted and convicted for this crime, and how many years they spent in prison with their lives largely destroyed from a very early age as a result of this.
Look at the role of the U.S. in relation to the uprisings in the Middle East. For 30 years the U.S. backed Mubarak in Egypt for example, supporting all of his vicious repression against the people, declaring him a valuable ally of the U.S. and of Israel, pumping billions and billions of dollars to back up his regime—and then all of a sudden when there’s an uprising and they decide Mubarak has to go it’s like Alice in Wonderland: “clean cups, move down.” “Mubarak’s a tyrant! Mubarak’s a brutal dictator! The people are fighting for democracy against the ruthless Mubarak. Never mind that we supported him for 30 years.” How much do you hear from the media, going into all the exposure of what the U.S. did all those 30 years supporting Mubarak.
Is it any wonder that there’s gross ignorance and the promotion of gross ignore-ance within this society among the people? How many people in this country, even among those who have access to lots of information and perhaps consider themselves informed, would know the real story of the Central Park jogger case? Or about the following, to cite just a few examples: Sean Bell, the Ramparts scandal in LA, the murder of Dr. Tiller, Matthew Shepard, Abner Louima, the lies George Bush told—not just the lies of George W. Bush about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but the lies of his father speaking while he was vice president at the UN in the late 1980s trying to cover up the outrageous act by the U.S. of shooting down an Iranian civilian airliner and killing hundreds of people in the process. These are not minor or trivial things but just some examples of people and events that concentrate so much about the whole nature of this system and the way it treats people here and throughout the world. And the question has to be asked: why would so few know about all this? The answer is that people’s lives and ways of thinking, what they feel is important to know about and how they see what they do know about, are conditioned and shaped, not only by the way the whole system works in general, and not only by the putrid culture in this country in general, but also specifically by the dominant media, the propaganda organs, which spew forth their lies and misinformation in the interests of the people who own them and the class which rules in the country, the capitalist-imperialist ruling class.
* This movie, The Central Park Five, directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon has now been released and is playing in theaters around the country. [back]
Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
December 16, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The following article was submitted by one of the Freedom Fighters in the battle to STOP “Stop & Frisk”:
On December 6, the Stop Mass Incarceration Network hosted a benefit to “Raise the Roof on the Legal Defense Fund” for the STOP “Stop & Frisk” protesters.
Last October many Freedom Fighters from a broad cross section of society answered the call put out by Carl Dix and Cornel West to take a stand against the racist and illegitimate NYPD policy of stop-and-frisk. The campaign organized non-violent civil disobedience in front of NYPD precincts notorious for their high volume of 250-U forms, which are issued during a stop-and-frisk. Beginning in Harlem’s 28th precinct the campaign then targeted the 73rd in Brooklyn, and later the 103rd precinct, whose jurisdiction included the police murder of Sean Bell in 2006.
Members of St. Augustine’s Church, who provided space for the event, filled two tables and for many of them it was their first Stop Mass Incarceration Network event. There were also more seasoned veterans of the cause, including many defendants and their friends and family. Speakers included Carl Dix, Jamel Mims, Nathanael Saint-Pierre (the minister of St. Augustine’s Church), Father Luis Barrios, and Debra Sweet. Nicole Paultre Bell, the fiancée of Sean Bell who was killed by the NYPD in 2006, and Constance Malcolm, the mother of Ramarley Graham who was killed by the NYPD in February 2012, gave impassioned, inspiring speeches after they were presented with awards as Freedom Fighters in the people’s struggle against police brutality.
About 100 people of all ages, ethnicities, and cultures joined together for a truly diverse gathering of Freedom Fighters. The atmosphere was jubilant as party-goers flowed in to DJ Magnificent’s well-developed turntable sequence. Randy Crédico, STOP “Stop & Frisk” defendant and comedian, executed a standup routine. Later in the evening was the Big Apple Playback Theater performance consisting of prepared music and a series of short improvised skits inspired by participants in the audience.
Supporters, protesters, attorneys, organizers, and newcomers all mingled over delicious food, a large portion of which was donated by an enthusiastic branch of Occupy activists. Seating arrangements consisted of almost a dozen round tables, which consequently fostered many inclusive discussions. Though the context of what brought us together is certainly a very serious one, the mood was predominantly one of spirited energy. People exchanged stories, spoke about current events, and after the series of speakers ended, danced with joy. A good time was had by all and $1,600 was raised for the legal defense of the Freedom Fighters!
There were those who had such a good time they simply couldn’t leave, staying well past the hour of closing, clinging on to friends, old and new alike.
I support this movement because “Stop and Frisk” [and] racial profiling is part of why my son is dead. They did a racial profile of my son, saying that they saw a gun, which he never had. And you know, they claim that they chased my son when they didn’t. So I am here because of it’s a lot of injustice being done to people, black and brown and latino people, and we really have to put a stop to it. Because if we don’t it’s going to continue. As you see the cops [are] escalating and it’s because of this “stop and frisk” profile that they’re doing, and it’s out of control. Innocent people [are] getting killed because of “stop and frisk,” because [the police] say they saw “this” and they saw “that” and at the end of the day, they don’t have anything. And then they always shoot first and ask questions later. That’s not how it’s supposed to be, and I have a real problem with that, and that’s why I’m here.
Constance Malcolm, speaking to Revolution
It’s so important to support this movement because my family is the living proof of “stop-and-frisk” gone wrong. The night Sean was killed, he was actually stopped twice. Before he got to the party, as he was parking, he was approached by a marked car. A uniformed officer asked him for his license and I.D. He was given it back and he went on, everyone went on their merry way. But then, at the end of the night, he got approached by another police officer, and he was killed. So, we are here today to support the “stop & frisk,” the end “stop & frisk” movement, because we can save so many lives. So many lives and so many families we can prevent from having to mourn and go through the holiday season and go through the rest of their lives without [seeing] their loved ones again. You know we thank everyone who put this organization [Stop Mass Incarceration Network] together.
Nicole Paultre Bell, speaking to Revolution
Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
Revised and updated December 16, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Publication of the book Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves, by Henry Wiencek, has sparked a heated controversy among scholars, journalists, and others. Wiencek’s book is an account of Jefferson’s lifelong defense and promotion of slavery, and his deep personal involvement in enslaving people of African descent. Wiencek shatters the myth that Jefferson was a reluctant slave owner who abhorred the institution and never abandoned the anti-slavery ideas he had supposedly held in his youth. In a December 1 New York Times article, Paul Finkelman, a professor of history at Duke University, wrote that, for the 50 years of his life after he wrote the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Jefferson “remained ... a buyer and seller of human beings.”
Almost immediately upon publication of this book, harsh criticism was leveled at Wiencek, his methods, and his book. Annette Gordon-Reed, herself a prominent historian of Jefferson, wrote for Slate, “suffice it to say that the problems with Master of the Mountain are too numerous to allow it to be taken seriously as a book that tells us anything new about Thomas Jefferson and slavery, and what it does say is too often wrong.”
Lucia Stanton, the recently retired official historian of Monticello, Jefferson’s former slave plantation, wrote that after reading Wiencek’s book she was “shocked by what I saw: a breathtaking disrespect for the historical record and for the historians who preceded him. With the fervor of a prosecutor, he has played fast and loose with the historical evidence, using truncated quotations, twisting chronology, misinterpreting documents, and misrepresenting events.”
Over the past several decades, histories of the early U.S. and biographies of Jefferson have focused more on the lives and conditions of slaves, women, and Native Americans, and have chipped away at the iconic, mythic figure of Jefferson, author of the U.S.’s Declaration of Independence, advocate of religious freedom, and champion of self-sufficient independence. But, Jefferson’s defenders argue, he and other slave owners and Indian killers from the U.S.’s early years remain, as Jill Abramson of the New York Times put it, “flawed giants.”
Yes, they say, Jefferson was shown to have owned over 600 human beings as slaves in the course of his lifetime. Yes, he protected the institution of slavery and worked to expand the territory open to slavery. Despite all that, Jefferson remains, in Abramson’s words, the man who “defined the fundamental liberties that are at the heart of democracy.”
This controversy and debate over Wiencek’s book has importance that extends far beyond the historians and authors involved. Far from being an insignificant dispute among a handful of scholars over details of history, the furor over this book opens up some important questions about what the history of this country actually is, about the legacy of the country’s “founders,” and about how that history and legacy are taught and understood.
What’s so controversial about Wiencek’s book? An article he wrote prior to publication of the book gives some indication. Wiencek wrote about the tension between a war fought under the banner of “all men are created equal” (words written by Jefferson) and the fact that when the former English colonies began their war of independence, about one-fifth of their population was of African descent, the vast majority of them slaves. “The very existence of slavery in the era of the American Revolution presents a paradox, and we have largely been content to leave it at that, since a paradox can offer a comforting state of moral suspended animation. Jefferson animates the paradox. And by looking closely at Monticello, we can see the process by which he rationalized an abomination to the point where an absolute moral reversal was reached and he made slavery fit into America’s national enterprise.”
Wiencek shatters the image of Jefferson as an aloof and “benevolent” slave master, more interested in his garden and his star gazing than in overseeing his slave plantation enterprise. In fact, he was a calculating, brutal owner of human beings who drove them relentlessly for his own profit, punished them without mercy, and saw the forced labor of black people as the surest path to his own enrichment.
Wiencek wrote in the Smithsonian that a “turning point” in Jefferson’s understanding of the profitability of slavery was expressed in a letter he wrote to George Washington. Wiencek wrote that in his letter “Jefferson set out clearly for the first time ... that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest.”
In another letter written around the same time, Jefferson told a friend who was losing his fortune that if his family had any left, “every farthing of it [should be] laid out in land and negroes, which besides a present support bring a silent profit of from 5 to 10 per cent in this country by the increase in their value.”
Jefferson placed particular emphasis on the importance of women “breeding” future slaves. He wrote, “A child raised every 2 years is of more profit then the crop of the best laboring man. In this, as in all other cases, providence has made our duties and our interests coincide perfectly.... [W]ith respect therefore to our women & their children I must pray you to inculcate upon the overseers that it is not their labor, but their increase which is the first consideration with us.”
Wiencek wrote that these and other calculations of Jefferson threaten “the comforting notion that he had no real awareness of what he was doing, that he was ‘stuck’ with or ’trapped’ in slavery, an obsolete, unprofitable, burdensome legacy.” Instead, he understood it to be the surest way to wealth and power.
Thomas Jefferson, mythologized as the great champion of individual rights and small property owners, began every day at his plantation by walking around his property looking out at “an industrious, well-organized enterprise of black coopers, smiths, nailmakers, a brewer, cooks professionally trained in French cuisine, a glazier, painters, millers and weavers. Black managers, slaves themselves, oversaw other slaves. A team of highly skilled artisans constructed Jefferson’s coach. The household staff ran what was essentially a midsize hotel, where some 16 slaves waited upon the needs of a daily horde of guests.”
The exploitation was endless, and it began shortly after birth of black babies. As Jefferson wrote in his “Farm Book,” an organizational plan for the plantation, “children till 10 years old to serve as nurses from 10 to 16 the boys make nails, the girls spin at 16 go into the ground or learn trades.”
And he was relentless in seeing that vicious punishment was meted out to any slaves deemed to be rebellious. Wiencek wrote in the Smithsonian that Jefferson’s plantation ran “on carefully calibrated brutality.” One example involves the young boys in Jefferson’s nailery. Wiencek tells of a friend of Jefferson who reported that the “enterprise ran well because ‘the small ones’ were being whipped. The youngsters did not take willingly to being forced to show up in the icy midwinter hour before dawn at the master’s nail forge. And so the overseer, Gabriel Lilly, was whipping them ‘for truancy.’”
When one “nail boy” infuriated Jefferson, he ordered that he be made an example of to terrorize the others. Jefferson wrote, “There are generally negro purchasers from Georgia passing about the state,” and ordered the youth to be sold “so distant as never more to be heard of among us.” After Lilly whipped a youth to the point where he was “really not able to raise his hand to his head,” a letter from Jefferson said Lilly “is as good a one [overseer] as can be.” In another letter the same year, Jefferson wrote, “certainly I can never get a man who fulfills my purposes better than he [Lilly] does.”
Jefferson is widely portrayed as hoping slavery would die out gradually. But, as historian David Brion Davis points out, at every key point in his political life, “when the chips were down ... he threw his weight behind slavery’s expansion.” One of his most important acts as president of the U.S. was the Louisiana Purchase, which opened up huge sections of what would become the American South to slavery’s westward expansion.
The vast expansion of slavery that accelerated during Jefferson’s presidency intensified the brutality and misery inflicted upon the human property of the slave owners. Much of the land that had been worked by slaves in eastern states like Virginia, where Jefferson lived, was rapidly wearing out for agriculture that could bring profits to the slave owners. Jefferson coldly calculated the profits that could be gained by urging his fellow slave owners to have enslaved black women breed slaves—young black children—for sale. He did this at a time when a huge internal slave market was developing within the U.S. The threat of being “sold down the river,” and sent to far away plantations, away from loved ones and everything people knew, was constant.
As Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became one of the foremost fighters in the struggle to end slavery wrote in his book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, if a slave was considered rebellious, or a possible “runaway,” or just stubborn in resisting the orders of unending backbreaking work, “the poor man was then informed by his overseer that, for having found fault with his master, he was now to be sold to a Georgia trader. He was immediately chained and handcuffed; and thus, without a moment’s warning, he was snatched away, and forever sundered, from his family and friends, by a hand more unrelenting than death.”
Hundreds of thousands of people suffered this fate. In each decade from 1810, shortly after Jefferson orchestrated the Louisiana Purchase, to 1860, just before the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War, at least 100,000 people—enslaved black people—were taken from their place of origin and forced to move into the new slave territories.
The cotton, rice, and sugar plantations in the territory newly opening up to the U.S. for slavery’s expansion were notorious for their brutality, disease, and misery. They were also far from the “free” (non-slave) states and territories of the U.S., which made it much more difficult for people to escape.
David Brion Davis points out how successful were Jefferson’s and others’ efforts to expand slavery. By the eve of the outbreak of the Civil War, Davis writes, “American slaves represented more capital than any other asset in the nation, with the exception of land. In 1860 the value of Southern slaves was about three times the amount invested in manufacturing and railroads nationwide.”
A telling example of Jefferson’s lifelong commitment to slavery came after the death of his old companion Tadeusz Kościuszko. Kościuszko was a Polish nobleman who had fought on the U.S. side in its war of independence, and later returned to Europe. In his will, he left his fortune to Jefferson, with the stipulation that Jefferson use it to free and educate his slaves on the Monticello plantation.
But Jefferson, at this point nearing the end of his life and facing financial difficulties, refused to carry out Kościuszko’s will. He dreaded the reaction of his fellow slave owners, and the implications that setting his own slaves free would have on the institution of slavery.
These are not the acts or life of a “flawed giant.” These are the acts of a man who embodied the savage essence of slavery in the United States, and who remained its champion until his dying day.
Another main criticism of Wiencek’s book is that he didn’t do original research. Lucia Stanton wrote that she is “angered by Wiencek’s distortion of history as well as disappointed that, with all his talents, he didn’t probe still-unexplored corners of the story of Jefferson and slavery. He has instead used a blunt instrument to reduce complex historical issues to unrecognizable simplicities.”
Wiencek agrees that much of his research was not original—but that isn’t the point at all. He told the New York Times, “Yes, I’m repeating some of the information that others have brought out. But others brought it out and buried it in footnotes. I brought it all together. I connected the dots.”
So what’s the problem here? Is the problem that a respected historian and author has pieced together the evidence that demonstrates how one of the most revered figures in U.S. history was a calculating, callous, and brutally vicious slave owner, not the man of dispassionate wisdom and reason, the philosopher of liberty and freedom and the rights of the individual he is always portrayed to be? Or is the problem that for 200 years this truth has been covered up, glossed over, footnoted, excused, and justified? Is the problem that generations of schoolchildren have been taught of the “greatness” of Jefferson and his fellow “founders,” but nothing of the bloody reality of the oppression and enslavement they feasted upon?
A common argument in Jefferson’s defense is that he had no real choices. He was trapped in a situation out of his control. In fact, Jefferson had choices, and he had people challenge his views. As Bob Avakian pointed out in a recent talk, “There were many people who knew better—not the least of which were the slaves themselves! [applause] And here’s a fact—I referred to Adam Goodheart who unfortunately just put this in a footnote in this book 1861, but he did have it in there. He recounts that this man named Edward Coles, who for a time was private secretary to James Madison and later became the governor of Illinois, freed his own slaves and then tried to convince Madison and Jefferson to do the same. But they refused.”
And what about the argument that Jefferson had to preserve and expand slavery in order to maintain the coherence and unity of the emerging United States? That argument is based on a damning premise: If maintaining and expanding slavery was essential to the formation of the United States, what does that say about the essence of what this country was founded on? Indeed, Jefferson not only continued to work his own slave property without mercy for his own profit and enrichment, he maneuvered and fought in the political arena to ensure the growth of slavery. As Wiencek points out, along with the great cruelty he was personally responsible for, Jefferson’s focus and contribution to the development of the United States was to ensure that “slavery fit into America’s national enterprise.”
The auction block. The whip and the chain. The packs of bloodhounds. The trip across the ocean that killed millions. The rape. Being “sold down the river.” Working from sunup to sundown. Endless misery, degradation, and brutality. Having “no rights that a white man is bound to recognize.” All this and more formed the foundation for Thomas Jefferson’s life of contemplation and his philosophy of “individual rights.” With Master of the Mountain and his Smithsonian article, Henry Wiencek has clearly struck a deep nerve in this system. These works have brought out some important truths about what has shaped this country from its origins down to today. And that is a very positive development.
Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
by Larry Everest | December 16, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Early in the morning on December 6, two missiles, fired without warning from an unmanned U.S. drone, struck a house in the small village of Mubarak Shahi in northwest Pakistan. A Pakistani security official told the press that three “militants” had been killed. Another official reported four dead. There was no independent verification of the victims’ identities. (“US drone kills at least 3 militants in Pakistan,” AFP, December 6, 2012)
This news generated only a faint ripple in the U.S. media. Such assassinations from above have become routine, normalized. Since taking office in 2008, the Obama administration has greatly stepped up the number of unmanned drone attacks, launching more than 300 against Pakistan alone—six times the number ordered by Bush—as well as dozens more against Yemen, Somalia, and perhaps other countries in the region. Drones have been used over Libya and are being used in spy operations against Iran. They’re being deployed from dozens of secret facilities in the Middle East, Africa, and Southwest Asia, directed from operational hubs in the U.S.—where the buttons are pushed and the missiles launched, thousands of miles away from the bloodshed.
More than 2,500 people have been murdered in these drone attacks over the past decade.
In 2008, Barack Obama, a constitutional lawyer, ran for president on a platform of upholding international law: “We are committed to the rule of law because that is who we are,” he said.
Yet as soon as he took office he continued—and expanded—the Bush regime’s wanton violation of the imperialists’ own international and domestic law by escalating drone strikes in which the U.S. acts as judge, jury, and executioner—killing anyone it deems an opponent, including U.S. citizens, anywhere in the world, without any due or lawful process. President Obama has personally gone over “kill lists” to decide who lives and who dies.
After steadfastly resisting any legal constraint against the right to kill anyone it wants, any time it wants, any place it wants—or even disclosing the scope and legal justification for its drone policy for four years—The New York Times reported that shortly before the November election, the Obama administration stepped up efforts to “develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones, so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures.” During the campaign Obama said, “One of the things we’ve got to do is put a legal architecture in place.” (“Election Spurred a Move to Codify U.S. Drone Policy,” November 24, 2012)
First, it’s far from clear—now that Obama has won re-election—whether his administration will even pursue its codification of drone policy. Second, the impetus to create such a policy is not the gross immorality and illegality of these drone attacks, but rather debates and struggles among the U.S. rulers over whether and how much to expand drone assaults. Third, even if the Obama administration did come up with some legal rationale, it would be nothing more than an effort to legalize, legitimize, and normalize what is truly criminal and immoral—including their attempts to undercut the small but important and growing opposition to drone strikes.
Under international law (Article 2(4) of the UN Charter), the use of military force—like drones—in or against another country is considered legitimate self-defense only in response to an imminent threat or an ongoing armed attack which is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation—in short it leaves the attacked party no other option.
Following the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, the U.S. launched what it claimed was a legitimate war of self-defense against the alleged perpetrators of those attacks—the so-called “war on terror.” Yet it quickly became clear that this war was not limited to or even mainly focused on going after those supposedly responsible for the September 11 attacks. Instead, this “war on terror” became the justification and catch-all for launching a global war to expand and strengthen the U.S. empire by going after all manner of forces the U.S. rulers considered obstacles or opponents—including those with no connection to the September 11 attacks, like the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.
As columnist Glenn Greenwald explains, the Obama administration has continued and expanded the Bush regime’s twisting of international law and “self-defense” to justify its expansion of drone assassinations:
“This was accomplished first by advocating the vague, sweeping Bush/Cheney interpretation of the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF)—whereby the President can target not only the groups which perpetrated the 9/11 attack (as the AUMF provides) but also those he claims are ‘associated’ [with] such groups, and can target not only members of such groups (as the AUMF states) but also individuals he claims provide ‘substantial support’ to those groups. Obama then entrenched these broad theories by signing into law the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which permanently codified those Bush/Cheney interpretation[s] of these war powers.” (“Obama: A GOP President Should Have Rules Limiting the Kill List,” Guardian UK, November 27, 2012)
Obama claims that strikes in Pakistan are “a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists.” (New York Times, November 24, 2012). Early this year, in responding to questions about drone attacks, he claimed they were carried out because of “active plots that are directed against the United States.” (USA Today, January 31, 2012) In reality, the drone strikes are attacking people with no connection to September 11 and with no plan for any kind of attack on U.S. territory but who have conflicts with reactionary U.S.-backed regimes in the region. The New York Times admits, “Most strikes have been directed at militants whose main battle is with the Pakistani authorities or who fight with the Taliban against American troops in Afghanistan. In Yemen, some strikes apparently launched by the United States killed militants who were preparing to attack Yemeni military forces.”
Further, many of the strikes carried out by the U.S.—their “signature strikes”—are not against particular “terrorists.” These are conducted against groups or individuals the U.S. doesn’t even know and can’t individually identify but suspects may be involved in activities the imperialists consider against their interests. People are being blown to bits while driving in their cars, while attending funerals—even while trying to rescue those who are victims of drone strikes! The U.S. military cynically calls this a “double tap”—not only killing the suspects, but also murdering their rescuers, loved ones, neighbors, and anyone associated as well. In the overwhelming number of cases, this carnage isn’t within hundreds of miles of any battlefield where U.S. forces are engaged in combat, much less do the victims have any connection to September 11.
As A World to Win News Service reported, “‘Living Under Drones’ (a report issued by two U.S. academic research groups in September 2012) describes a 2006 drone attack on a religious school in Bajaur that killed more than 80 people, 69 of them children.... Other incidents described involve drones firing at cars and taxis, killing people so often for reasons unknown to local people that any travel is considered dangerous.... People in North Waziristan, a tribal area where most people work in subsistence agriculture or trading, have come to avoid all public gatherings, such as mosques and even funerals, which seem to be a particular target. People are afraid to sit together outside; even children cannot play together and few people venture out at night. Many parents no longer let their children attend school for fear of drone strikes.” (“Murder by Drone: The U.S. Terror War in Pakistan,” Revolution #283, October 14, 2012)
So in the name of fighting “terror,” the U.S. is committing thousands of acts of aerial terrorism from Central Asia to North Africa.
Drone strikes can also be a means of bullying and pressuring U.S. clients like Pakistan. A World to Win News Service says that “Living Under Drones” contains a “timeline that correlates the intensity of U.S. drone activity with friction between the two governments, especially around Pakistan’s arrest of CIA contractor Raymond Davis for gunning down two men in the street. . . . Relying on the U.S. Congressional Research Service, the report cites this as one of three incidents in which ‘[m]essaging to Pakistan appears to continue to be part of the [drone] programme’s intent.’” In short, the U.S. is committing mass murder—of civilians in many cases—to pressure the government of Pakistan to release one of its own paramilitary operatives suspected of murdering two Pakistanis.
Obama claims his drone attacks are “precision strikes against al Qaeda and their affiliates” and that “drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties.”(USA Today, January 31, 2012) This is either an outright lie or a cold-blooded expression of utter disregard for human lives. According to a report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in England in February, “since Obama took office three years ago, between 282 and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed including more than 60 children. A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners.” (cited in “Drones, Deportations, Drugs—The ‘3 Ds’ of why Obama has been worse than Bush,” Revolution #270, May 27, 2012)
“[F]rom June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children... These strikes also injured an additional 1,228-1,362 individuals.”
American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People's Lives.
Chairman of the Revolutionary
Communist Party, USA
In Yemen, between 2002 and 2012, U.S. drone strikes have killed between 362 and 1,062 people including between 60 and 173 civilians. In Somalia from 2007 to 2012, between 58 and 170 people have been killed including between 11 and 57 civilians. (“Obama terror drones: CIA tactics in Pakistan include targeting rescuers and funerals,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism, February 4, 2012)
As Glenn Greenwald sums up, Obama is a “president who has wielded what is literally the most extreme and tyrannical power a government can claim—to execute anyone the leader wants, even his own citizens, in total secrecy and without a whiff of due process—and who has resisted all efforts to impose a framework of limits or even transparency.”
None of this has the effect of ending the scourge of violence—just the opposite. Nor is it about ending terror. It’s about perpetuating and expanding an empire of exploitation enforced by violence—whether that violence is used to assassinate genuine revolutionaries, suppress local opponents of the U.S., bully whole countries, take down troublesome governments, or secure whole swaths of the planet against other big-power competitors like China, Russia, or whomever. This “great game” is no game, but a deadly campaign to keep the world locked in misery and oppression.
It’s this illegitimate violence that Obama is seeking to legitimize, legalize, and normalize.
According to a June 13 New York Times op-ed column by Ibrahim Mothana, “The first known drone strike in Yemen to be authorized by Mr. Obama, in late 2009, left 14 women and 21 children dead in the southern town of al-Majala, according to a parliamentary report. Only one of the dozens killed was identified as having strong Qaeda connections.” Every such U.S. drone attack drives people in large parts of the world into the arms of reactionary Islamic jihadism. This reality has been recognized by ruling class critics of Obama’s drone policies. For example, Mothana’s column argues: “Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants... Robert Grenier, the former head of the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center, has warned that the American drone program in Yemen risks turning the country into a safe haven for Al Qaeda like the tribal areas of Pakistan—‘the Arabian equivalent of Waziristan.’”
There is a logic to U.S. drone attacks. Every action the U.S. imperialists have taken since September 11, 2001 has been part of the “real war on terror”—which (however it has been rebranded since the Bush regime) has always been an unjust war of imperialist aggression, in whatever form, utilizing whatever tactics the U.S. government deems will advance the system’s agenda. And the military tactics of U.S. imperialism reflect its nature.
Drone attacks utilize the advanced technology available to the U.S. empire in conflict with jihadist Islam and—from the point of view of the imperialists—are more cost-effective than invading with troops (including reducing the number of U.S. troops who might die in, or return embittered from such invasions). And drone attacks provide “deniability”: the U.S. can claim it hasn’t actually invaded a whole bunch of countries. This is part of what Obama means with duplicitous double-speak about how U.S. drone attacks “limit our incursions into somebody else’s territory,” (USA Today, January 31, 2012) The attacks continue and the clash of two reactionary forces continues and deepens.
There have been important protests against and exposures of the U.S. drone war. But for the most part, people in the U.S. have gone along with the slaughter... not just silently but voting for it because this death and suffering is happening somewhere else to someone else, out of sight, out of mind as children are blown to bits. But just because in the short-term, immediate sense Americans are not risking their lives to carry out these attacks doesn’t mean they aren’t happening or that these attacks aren’t illegal and immoral.
And these drone attacks can also be part of “full on” invasions and all-out wars if the U.S. rulers decide that’s a course they need to pursue. The building tension with Iran—where spy drones are being used to collect information that would be used in a U.S. or Israeli attack—is a case in point. And when the U.S. imperialists do wage all-out wars, people in the U.S. will already have been conditioned by daily drone strikes to accept and turn a blind eye to murder thousands of miles away and NOT TO CARE about people in whatever country the U.S. imperialists claim is giving them problems.
People—especially people in this country—must reject identifying with the interests of the U.S. imperialists. U.S. drones—whether they murder people or spy on them, whether they are “legitimized” by formal policies or not—are all part of enforcing a world of exploitation, environmental devastation, and brutal oppression. That is not in the interests of the great majority of humanity, and the interests of the U.S. imperialists are not our interests.
* “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” The New York Times, May 29, 2012 [back]
• • •
(See also “Obama Administration: Judge, Jury, and Executioner,” Revolution #263, March 25, 2012.)
Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
ANOTHER 17-Year-Old Black Youth Gunned Down
December 16, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
An unforgettable smile. That's what several family members reflected on at the funeral for Jordan Davis on Saturday, December 1. Hundreds of people came to the church in Powder Springs, just outside Atlanta, Georgia—Jordan's family and friends, including some high school classmates from Jacksonville, Florida—and many more people who didn't know Jordan but just came in support. One of the most moving parts of the service was when Jordan's uncle read a Father's Day note that Jordan had written to his dad. Fighting through tears, the uncle shared Jordan's words commanding his dad to make sure he lived many years so they could be together for a long time. Then Jordan's aunt, who lives in California, shared a wish Jordan had expressed to her last summer—that their large extended family, dispersed around the country, could come together sometime soon—maybe at his high school graduation. Instead, Jordan's father was burying his son, and the family came together not for his graduation, but for his funeral.
Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old Black youth, was murdered on November 23 in Jacksonville by Michael Dunn, a 45-year-old white man. According to news reports, Jordan and two friends were in an SUV parked at a convenience store while the driver was in the store getting some food after they had been shopping that Friday after Thanksgiving. Michael Dunn pulled into the lot with his girlfriend and, while she was in the store, he told Jordan and his friends to turn down their music. After a verbal exchange, Dunn pulled out a gun from his glove compartment and shot eight or nine times into the SUV. Two bullets hit and killed Jordan Davis. Dunn and his girlfriend drove away. Witnesses had reported Dunn's license plate and he was arrested at his house on Saturday, charged with murder and attempted murder. Dunn claimed he saw a shotgun in the SUV and was acting in self-defense. Jacksonville police reported that there were no weapons in the vehicle or at the scene.
Dunn's lawyer, Robin Lemonidis, told CNN that Dunn felt threatened because: "All he sees are heavily tinted windows, which are up and the back windows which are down, and the car has at least four Black men in it. And he doesn't know how old anybody is, he doesn't know anything, but he knows a shotgun when he sees one."
Lemonidis said the defense is considering citing Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. This is the same law that defenders of George Zimmerman cited after Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin last February in Sanford, Florida. Citing Kenneth Nunn, a professor of law and associate director of the Criminal Justice Center at the University of Florida, Florida Today said that Jordan Davis and his friends "didn't have to be armed for the law to apply." They quote Professor Nunn saying that " 'He [Dunn] doesn't have to prove that there was a gun, he only has to prove he believed there was a gun and that was a reasonable belief' and he felt threatened."
In the context of racially targeted mass incarceration in this country, and the criminalization and continual demonization of Black youth on TV and throughout the media, a law that says that killing someone can be justified if the killer "felt threatened"—that they simply believed there was a gun even if there wasn't one—amounts to nothing less than open season on killing Black youth. Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics show a tripling of justifiable homicides in Florida since Stand Your Ground became law, and a Wall Street Journal study showed a doubling across all states that have that law.
Trayvon Martin was supposedly a threat to George Zimmerman because he was a 17-year-old Black youth wearing a hoodie. Jordan Davis was supposedly a threat to Michael Dunn because he was a 17-year-old Black youth playing loud music. Just as the hoodie became a symbol and rallying cry in the outrage and resistance in the struggle for justice for Trayvon Martin, a call has been issued to "Turn Up the Music" in honor of Jordan Davis. One week after the murder, on Friday, November 30, radio station 93.3, The Beat Jamz in Jacksonville, announced that people should turn up their radios at 5 pm. Then the following Friday, this call was spread by radio stations in other cities including Atlanta, Memphis, New Orleans, New York, and Philadelphia. Outrage has been expressed in other ways too. In a dramatic salute, members of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department parked their water trucks along the runway where the plane carrying Jordan's body was taking off from Jacksonville to Atlanta for the funeral, and showered the plane, creating an arch of water for it to travel under.
"Stand Your Ground" laws have been passed in 24 states since Florida was the first to adopt it in 2005. In the wake of outrage around the murder of Trayvon Martin, Florida's Governor Rick Scott appointed a task force to evaluate the law, headed by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who co-sponsored the "Stand Your Ground" bill in 2005. The task force report came out two weeks before Jordan Davis was killed. Not surprisingly, the findings supported the law and only recommended some minor tweaks.
Ron Davis, Jordan's dad, has announced his plans to fight "Stand Your Ground" laws in Florida and around the country. In an interview on WTLV in Jacksonville, he said "I never dreamt being that, I'm 59 years old, that my son would go before me . . . It's so heartbreaking." And speaking about "Stand Your Ground," he said: "I want that taken out of the law books. I know that's an uphill battle. That's OK. I'm a fighter, so I'll fight to have that law taken out of the state of Florida and once it is taken out of the state of Florida, we will go to other states and get that out of other states also. . . I'm going to do something that brings my child the love and the respect that he deserves and that's the legacy he is going to leave is that he did something to unite and to bring about community activism. Everybody is going to be active in this, you know. Not just let this happen to our community."
Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
From a Reader
December 16, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
An anti-Thanksgiving fundraising dinner was held at Revolution Books, Los Angeles the last Sunday in November, under a banner supporters had made: "Revolt Against a Revolting Culture!" About 30 people came together to enjoy a delicious pot-luck dinner and a growing community taking up the "BA Everywhere—Imagine the Difference It Could Make" campaign. And we came with a sense of urgency as well. Just the week before, the murderous Israeli assault on the people of Gaza had been launched. People wanted an alternative to the Thanksgiving, or as one woman put it "the Thanks-taking." So this was a welcome opportunity to celebrate the movement for revolution, the significant beginning of the BA Everywhere campaign over the past year as part of that, and to raise big funds to reach millions more in 2013, and begin to change the atmosphere, culture and terms of debate throughout society.
A high school student read three poignant and defiant poems by the late, celebrated Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish ("I Come From There," "Passport," and "Psalm 9"). Michael Slate captured the rage in a powerful dramatic reading from Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," describing Moloch, the industrial, demonic god to which children must be sacrificed.
Importantly, the evening included an informal discussion of Israel's attack on Gaza, the role of the U.S., what needs to be done and bringing forward another way, using Alan Goodman's article in Revolution #285. People were united around opposing the outrageous assault, but had different views of the problem and the solution, the nature of Israel and the capitalist-imperialist system it serves. People from different backgrounds, countries and ages posed questions and contributed to getting at the truth. Comparisons to the settler state of South Africa's role in the imperialist empire were very helpful in cutting through complexities and relativism and getting clarity. The morality and urgency of even a small minority standing up to this gross injustice were brought out, with examples like people who took on Jim Crow attacks on Black people in the '50s and what difference it makes. People left with stacks of Revolution plugger cards ("Stand Up Against Israel's Murderous Assault on the People of Gaza") and BAsics 3:2 plugger cards ("There is nothing more unrealistic than the idea of reforming this system...") to take to protests and distribute everywhere.
A fundraising pitch to get BA Everywhere was given by a Revolution Club, L.A. member earlier in the evening. He ended by reading from the special Revolution pull-out section on BA Everywhere, "If we succeed with this—if we collectively raise enough money to make it concretely possible to project the whole BA vision and project into all corners of society and to introduce him and what he is bringing forward to millions who are not yet familiar with his works and vision; if the framework he is bringing forward and advocating for becomes increasingly debated and wrangled over by thousands and by millions of people from all walks of life; if, together, we mange to accomplish this, this will actually make a very big difference. The whole social and political culture will 'breathe' more freely, people will wrangle passionately over 'big questions' concerning the direction of society (like knowing that much of the future of humanity hangs in the balance) and the times will once again resonate with big dreams for fundamental change and the emancipation of humanity." Over $800 was raised for the campaign that evening.
Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
Prisoner Writes to Gregory Koger:
December 16, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The following is a letter from a prisoner addressed to Gregory Koger, an ex-prisoner and revolutionary who is facing a 300-day sentence for unjust convictions on misdemeanors for attempting to video a political statement at the "Ethical" Humanist Society in Chicago three years ago (see a statement from Gregory Koger that was published in Revolution #285 at revcom.us).
Sup, comrade? I just wanted to write you a few words before you go back to court for those non-violent misdemeanors they unjustly convicted you on. Hopefully, as the statement at dropthecharges.net says, you won't have to spend one more day in jail. If things don't turn out as we all hope though, I already know you're gonna keep your head up and your chest out the whole way through. That's the only way we know how. You feel me? - especially when we know we are on the right side of history and truth.
Well... just to fill you in on a small detail about myself, I'm [a] comrade who wrote several letters to the PRLF over the years about your situation and the potential that individuals like us bring to this movement and struggle. After reading the statement you wrote in the Revolution newspaper recently, I realized just how much we've undergone the same sort of process to get to where we are today. And bra... if I had to do this shit all over again just to get to where I am today, I would because I feel like this is the FIRST TIME IN MY WHOLE [LIFE] that I'm actually LIVING! Real talk! I've been down nearly 15 years now and have alil' over 3 more to go, but when I look back at what I was when I arrived here at the tender age of 20 to the type of MAN I am now at 33 (bout to be 34), I feel like I've accomplished the impossible some time. I'm sure sometimes when you contemplate your own path, you be feeling the same yourself. That in itself sometimes keep me going and ready to fight another day with renewed resolve and determination. I really feel like we're the lucky ones in alot of ways because a lot of brothas and sistas aren't even here anymore; they were taken out by drugs, violence, or the death penalty before they could get the chance to reassess themselves, society, and life in general. You know? Nevertheless, the struggle continues... until all of humanity is emancipated. Until that goal is reached, I won't be satisfied. I know that you feel the same way.
As of right now, like I said, I have [a few more years] before I'll be released back to the streets again. I'm pretty sure we'll get a chance to chop it up and bring others into this movement... I really want to hit the ground running...Besides, I want to give back as much as I can to the PRLF and the Party. I dig what yall have been doing over these past several years, especially since the launch of the BAsics Bus Tour and what Carl Dix has been up to when it comes to abolishing Stop and Frisk and The New Jim Crow of mass incarceration. It'll take individuals like me and you who's been in these prisons and on these supermax units and witnessed and experienced the omnipresent sense of hopelessness in these cages in order to show others another way. The fact that you've been in the mix for awhile now, since your release from prison, I'm sure there's a lot I can learn from you and vice versa. I definitely look forward to that next chapter in my life.
Well... I'm not gonna make this much longer, but just know that I really respect everything you represent and symbolize. A lot of people, I'm sure, gave up on the both of us, but as a true wretched of the earth you've emerged from what appeared to be a "wasted life" to becoming one that shows that every life counts and is worthwhile. Nothing but respect bra... comrade.
From wretched of the Earth to another,
"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."
Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
December 16, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
I have been receiving your Revolution Newspaper for little over four months now and I thank you very much indeed for them. Because they had help me find hopes and some answers that I have been looking for so many years that I have thought would never find. I also want to thank the special person like Bob Avakian, who is definitely willing and have to risk his life in helping black people and latino minority people in this so called democracy country to stand up for themselves and speak out for their real humanity freedom. I have been a communist supporter and fighter for almost 30 years... And have not find the true communist leader like Bob Avakian, the chairman of Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
Dear comrade Bob Avakian, you are my hero and inspiration leader in the Whole World, because your messages in the BAsics book and the Revolution newspapers I received every month as free has definitely touch my life and heart in a very special way. Reading your book and the newspapers has open my eyes and heart to discover and know how dirty is the united states of America government make its military and C.I.A. interventions in making their fake-phony dirty of democracy role around the World.
I thought the united states was a true land of opportunities and a true democracy nation. But now I know it is not a true democracy freedom country and I believe now while do united states government making the other nations people to come to the united states and leave their third World countries. Because the united states government is a liar and make it hard for others people to leave their countries and come to live in the country where slavery, racial discrimination and segregation still exist in practicing of killing innocence black minority people and torture the others in confinement prisons in the united states of America which so called the great land of equal opportunity and true democracy freedom country which it is not.
Dear comrade Bob Avakian, I am in Prison now for defending myself ...But the court have mess over me for the fact that I am foreign citizen...who do not know the law. But I am not really upset about it anymore because I have learned alot of things now since I have been in prison for seven years and I have also gain alot of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding... [for] when I go back to my country...
Once again, I want to thank you revolutionary newspaper and Bob Avakian, and pray for you and may God always bless you BA and your world to make this world as a better world. I am truly interesting in learning more about your Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, and would like some more books to read. I am sorry I have no money to be able to pay for the books fees.
Thank you dear comrade and may God bless your heart and give you peace and love.
Immigrant prisoner in Texas
Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
December 16, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
At this year's October 22nd National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation in Seattle, the speakers included family and friends of Jedidiah Waters and David Young, who were both murdered by the same Federal Way, Washington cop. They spoke with deep anguish and anger about the murder of their loved ones. A friend of Jedidiah shouted: "...I don't know how much more of this shit I can take...who the fuck are they protecting, and who the fuck are they serving? They don't protect or serve me. I don't call the police. They are the last people I call. They are a gang, they are the worst gang there is. They have the law on their side so if they do something wrong, they can cover it up and get away with it. It's bullshit." David's mother, Marie Young, said, "I want you to know, I miss my son so much. And this is getting ridiculous, all the hundreds and thousands across the United States," pointing at the Stolen Lives photos of people killed by police.
Matthew Leitgeb, the officer who carried out these murders, has never been charged with any crime, but instead was promoted to detective. Now it has come out that on top of this, this murderer has recently been assigned as the cop in charge of tracking down another victim of police brutality! He is going after a man who recently won a settlement for a notorious 2010 police brutality case caught on video in a Seattle convenience store. D'Vontaveous Hoston, 17 years old at the time, is shown passively standing with his hands up when viciously attacked. The few people successful in getting settlements for police brutality are often watched very closely by the police afterwards, and Hoston is now accused of discharging a firearm in a Federal Way apartment. A witness says the discharge was accidental. An October 31 Seattle Times article titled "Arrest warrant issued for man who earlier settled civil rights case with city of Seattle" has the words "Anyone with more information on his whereabouts can call Detective Matthew Leitgeb..." The article also says the amount of the arrest warrant is $50,000, which interestingly exceeds the $42,000 settlement awarded Hoston. And it includes the words "Federal Way police say Hoston should be considered armed and dangerous"—setting the stage to justify another street-level execution by killer cop Leitgeb or other Federal Way police.
The two slayings committed by Leitgeb were less than a year apart. Jedidiah Waters, 29, was gunned down in a Federal Way Walmart parking lot in July 2011. He was suspected of shoplifting, and was running away and thus not a threat. Leitgeb executed him with 11 shots. Incredibly, five of those were in the front, side, and back of the head. Police produced a gun said to belong to Jedidiah, but he had fired no shots. David Young, 23, was executed by Leitgeb in August 2010. David was suspected of driving a stolen truck, and Leitgeb shot him in the back of the head when the truck became stuck up on a fence. He then prevented medical care being applied to David for over 30 minutes. David, still alive, bled to death.
Friends and family of both David Young and Jedidiah Waters who courageously spoke out at the October 22nd National Day of Protest need the ongoing support of people nationwide. Marie Young, mother of David Young, has also filed a wrongful death suit. Inquests were held in both cases, but no charges were ever filed. In fact, no inquest in Washington State of a cop killing a person has ever resulted in criminal charges! All this is once more a demonstration of how there is indeed a conspiracy to get the cops off, and a need for increased political resistance to police brutality!
Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
December 16, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a Revolution paper seller:
In the night of November 29, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, a Black man and woman, were driving in downtown Cleveland when the police began chasing them, joined by the highway patrol, sheriffs and two other communities' cops. After a 25-minute chase, the two ended up trapped in a cul-de-sac in East Cleveland, a poor, mainly Black community. As the car was stopped, 13 Cleveland pigs shot 137 bullets into the car, 23 bullets hitting Russell and 24 bullets hitting Williams.
As the news broke, people were shocked, outraged and shaken. A Black woman told me, "I never saw so many police cars in my life, not even on TV. What happened is a modern-day lynching. Every time I think things like this has sort of simmered down, something worse happens and so we have to get out and protest some more." As we were talking, I read her BAsics 1:24: "The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness." She said, "Yes, what has happened here is madness."
The police claim they heard a gunshot coming from the car Timothy Russell was driving, but no gun or shells have been found in the car or along the route of the chase. His brother said the car had a bad muffler and frequently backfired. And why would the police force a 25-minute high speed chase? In fact, the chase was called off by a police supervisor, but the pigs continued and ended it with the execution.
Hardly a day after this lynching, the media came out with the "criminal" records of Russell and Williams—to send the message, from the point of view of those in power, that they are among society's "throwaways" and deserved what happened to them. The head of the police union said Russell and Williams were the "bad guys" for driving away from the cops, while defending the cops for doing a "good job" that night. Cleveland Mayor Jackson said that the city needed to wait for the investigation to be over to comment. But clearly, by any human standard, this was a wanton act of terror against two Black people. As one family member said, "We don't want to hear 'we are going to investigate'; we want the cops locked up now, not the way they are treated now, working at a desk job and working out in the gym to relieve stress. What about us and how heartbroken we are about our loved one who was murdered? In fact, lock them up or they might do it again."
A rally and march was held on Monday, December 3, near the murder site. A Revolution reader said, "Look at the list of people killed by police, from Ramarley Graham to Sean Bell to Oscar Grant, to Milton Hall and thousands of others. No, these are not isolated incidents or the police doing their job. We need to rely on ourselves, not on the system. We are in dire need of revolution, anything else would be falling into their [the system's] hands and SILENCE." Then over 60 people counted 1, 2, 3...135, 136, 137 as we marched up the hill to where the killing took place. As the counting went on and the numbers increased, our eyes got wet, as we felt some of the horror and pain that Malissa and Timothy must have felt as the bullets kept coming at them.
As we stood at the site of the lynching, several people spoke, including family members and people from a number of groups. I read out BAsics 2:16, where BA talks about Tyisha Miller, a 19-year-old Black woman who was killed in 1998 by Riverside, California police while passed out in a car, and ends by saying, "If you can't handle this situation differently than this, then get the fuck out of the way. Not only out of the way of this situation, but get off the earth. Get out of the way of the masses of people. Because, you know, we could have handled this situation any number of ways that would have resulted in a much better outcome. And frankly, if we had state power and we were faced with a similar situation, we would sooner have one of our own people's police killed than go wantonly murder one of the masses. That's what you're supposed to do if you're actually trying to be a servant of the people. You go there and you put your own life on the line, rather than just wantonly murder one of the people. Fuck all this 'serve and protect' bullshit! If they were there to serve and protect, they would have found any way but the way they did it to handle this scene. They could have and would have found a solution that was much better than this. This is the way the proletariat, when it's been in power has handled—and would again handle—this kind of thing, valuing the lives of the masses of people. As opposed to the bourgeoisie in power, where the role of their police is to terrorize the masses, including wantonly murdering them, murdering them without provocation, without necessity, because exactly the more arbitrary the terror is, the more broadly it affects the masses. And that's one of the reasons why they like to engage in, and have as one of their main functions to engage in, wanton and arbitrary terror against the masses of people."
As we left the site, we again counted the 137 shots. And as darkness fell, we held up our signs for passing cars to see, some with "137 shots is why we call them PIGS," and we continued to chant.
There was a meeting with the mayor and police chief where people disrupted the bullshit from the officials about how they are going to get to the bottom of this, with "Murder," "Murder," "Murder" and then counted 1 through 137. Many people are saying the 13 pigs should be convicted of murder and be held in jail NOW, just as the people who do a lot less than murder would be.
In a serious situation like this one, lots of questions and debate come up. People have asked about how with all the protest through the years, why do the cop killings keep coming? People have trouble making sense of this. Some say we have accomplished so much with a Black president, a Black mayor, reforms in the police department through a federal investigation (one reform being to call off high speed chases because of bystanders being killed in them)—but the killings go on. Another issue that has sharpened up is the role of religion and prayer. At the funeral of Timothy Russell the ministers never mentioned the police murder, only that he "is deceased," that he is "in the hands of God," and on and on. Afterwards a few people said how the ministers used religion to hold down people's anger at what happened. Another issue that has come up is the view that we need new policies and new officials, while at the same time there is a growing sense there is something deeply wrong with this society and its political structure that the police would do such a thing, a growing sense that the police are not there to serve and protect the people. There is a lot of pondering and discussion in this situation, a jolt that makes people look for bigger answers that get to more fundamental contradictions deep in the workings of this capitalist/imperialist system.
Malissa Williams's cousin told me, "We want to fight!!!" There is a determination to fight this through and not let up until these 13 pigs are locked up for murder. There is a growing feeling among people that Timothy and Malissa did nothing to deserve this lynching. What could they have done to deserve this? Just being Black in Amerikkka will "deserve" this, from Africans thrown overboard from the slave ships, to 400 years plus of enslavement, to the thousands of lynchings, to the mass incarceration today, to the pigs that kill thousands every year, and on and on. And our answer to that is: Stop the Pigs From Killing Black People! FIGHT THE POWER, AND TRANSFORM THE PEOPLE, FOR REVOLUTION!
Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
December 16, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
December 3-5. The new freedom fighters in the struggle against stop-and-frisk were in court this week in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Eighteen still await trial next year in Brooklyn and Queens on charges stemming from November 2011 protests against NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy. Noche Diaz has two trials still coming up from three situations, including one in which he was thrown to the ground and arrested just for observing police abuse of others. Carl Dix and three others were acquitted by a jury last month of Obstructing Government Administration and convicted of a lesser charge, "disorderly conduct." But city prosecutors are not backing down on seeking convictions for these same charges for Diaz in Manhattan and nine remaining protesters in Queens.
Noche Diaz was arrested last March as the NYPD beat Jeffeth James, a poet and singer, so badly that 40 percent of his dreadlocks were left lying in the street. A large crowd gathered to jeer the police and document their abuse. Noche was part of the crowd. He and three others were arrested for stating their right to observe the police rather than be bullied out of the way by the NYPD. Their trial was set to start Monday, December 3, but was moved to January 28 because the prosecution was not ready. A report at stopmassincarceration.org says the Bronx judge "started lecturing Noche that when a cop tells him something, he has to do it. She went on at length speculating that, whatever Noche had done, he didn't want to obey the cop, or tell the court what he was doing. [Noche's attorney Josh Norkin] took her on in a loud clear voice. 'We know exactly what was going on. The police were beating a man terribly in the street, and a crowd gathered. Noche was in the crowd, observing.' The judge said Noche had to follow the police order to move. Josh said, 'No, he didn't. It wasn't a lawful order.'
"The judge didn't like this at all. 'I suppose he wants to stand on his constitutional rights, but he doesn't have them here.'"
On Wednesday, a Brooklyn judge granted a motion to dismiss a charge of disorderly conduct against Greg Allen. Allen had defended himself in a trial separated out from 12 fellow protesters. The prosecution had been ready to try nine of the others, but because of this welcome and just decision, defense attorneys moved to delay the trials until the defendants could review the judge's decision. Carl Dix wrote at stopmassincarceration.org:
"We held a pretrial huddle before going into the court room. I reminded people of why we were there—that we hadn't committed any crimes, or even violations. That we were acting to stop the criminal actions of the NYPD, in particular its illegitimate, racist stop-and-frisk policy. And that this rested on a long tradition—the freedom riders and others who put their lives on the line to fight the old Jim Crow or the abolitionists of the 1850's who fought pitch battles with slave chasers trying to drag Black people in the North to the South to enslave them. This is the tradition we Stop & Frisk Freedom Fighters are standing on the shoulders of when we say, 'We Won't Stop Till We Stop 'Stop & Frisk!'
"On that basis, we plotted some legal strategy and went into the court room. Before either of the group trials went forward, the judge gave his verdict in Greg's case. He granted Greg's motion to dismiss the charges because the prosecution hadn't proven that he was guilty of disorderly conduct.
"The remaining defendants all made motions calling on the judge to dismiss their cases because the facts in the cases were all the same, and if the state couldn't prove that one of us was guilty of disorderly conduct, they shouldn't be allowed to continue persecuting the rest of us.
"The judge wouldn't dismiss the other cases because he 'expects that the prosecution will appeal' the dismissal in Greg's case. And he postponed our cases till February 7and 14. (They're keeping us split into 2 groups.) to give the prosecution time to make its appeal of his dismissal, and maybe to figure out how to retool their cases against the rest of us."
Carl Dix and three others will appear for sentencing January 7 in Queens. The prosecution is asking for fines and five days of community service for the disorderly conduct charge. Their nine fellow protesters will move for dismissal for the charges the jury acquitted the other four on November 15, 2012. Seven more trials are on the calendar at stopmassincarceration.org.
Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
One Month Anniversary of Police Murder of Dakota Bright
December 16, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
December 7, eve of the one-month anniversary of the police murder of 15-year-old Dakota Bright by the Chicago police. On the South Side, family, friends and supporters, marched and chanted in the streets—"Justice for Dakota," "No more cops killing our kids," "Indict, convict, send the killer cop to jail, the whole damn system is guilty as hell." Protesters occupied four corners of a major intersection for half an hour, calling out the truth about the murder of Dakota Bright, and holding signs with Dakota's picture for all to see. As one woman reminded people over the bullhorn, "This goes all the way back to slavery days."
Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
From a prisoner:
December 9, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Hey, what's Good? Right on for the 2nd chapter to Science of Revolution. It arrived in the mail this past Friday night. Good looking out! I've been receiving the "Revolution" Newspaper that the P.R.L.F. sends to me as well, and I am very grateful for it. I want to congratulate those brothers who are serving time on the SuperMax Unit out on the west coast for that Real Shit they are putting down out there. With all of the fake and unprincipled bullshit that goes down behind these walls, its very Important that we give honors to the Real Shit when it happens. What's sad is, most of us in here behind these walls wouldn't recognize Real Shit even if it were to smack us in our faces. I also want to thank the brother out on the Midwest who wrote in response to the heroic stance those brothers out west are taking, offering his revolutionary analytical insight in assistance to those brothers... I don't have those articles in the cage with me now because I've passed them on, but as the brother said, "A solid core with a lot of elasticity" must be developed A-Sap. Beware of the agent provocateurs and the "illegitimate" capitalist looking to make a profit and turn the movement into its opposite. We recognize that this movement is new and it bares the Birthmarks of the lumpen organizations that it was developed out of, so principled struggle must take place in order to beat back and restrict the actions of those deviationest whose aim is to disrupted the progress made within the movement. This reminds me of what chairman Mao said about the Communist Party during the historical period of Socialist Society in China:
"With the socialist revolution they themselves come under fire. At the time of the co-operative transformation of agriculture there were people in the Party who opposed it, and when it comes to criticizing bourgeois right, they resent it. You are making the socialist revolution, and yet don't know where the bourgeoisie is. It is right in the Communist Party—those in power taking the capitalist road. The capitalist-roaders are still on the capitalist road."
So as the brother in the Midwest said, we must use our unfortunate circumstances of being trapped in these cages, and further develop our understanding of Revolutionary Communism. We have the leadership of Bob Avakian with his books and teachings. This New Synthesis of Communism is really our only option if we're truly seeking Radical change. My point being, with the application of these lessons, we will be able to stand on the bullshit within the Solid Core, because we will recognize the bullshit when we see it.
Speaking of bullshit, I definitely enjoyed the "We Call Bullshit" article in the latest paper. When I got the 2nd Chapter to Science of Revolution in the mail the other day, I also received a small note saying that one wanted to know what I felt about the interview between Brooks/B.A. I Love It!! I've definitely made this interview a point for reference. And the "We Call Bullshit" article in the paper is an example of what B.A. was talking about when he spoke of the need for sharp, and principled, struggle. For me, the more I study, the more my confidence builds up about engaging in debates with others. Just recently I received a letter from a friend of mine who's doing time a different prison. We've been dialoguing through the mail for years now, so quite naturally Im going to introduce him to B.A. and the New Synthesis of Communism, and the movement we are building. Right now the idea of being an atheist is counter-intuitive to him right now, and his recent letter to me he wrote saying that he is a "spiritual being". (L.O.L.) He said he does'nt subscribe to any particular line, because he is "Universal". He said a whole bunch of bullshit in this letter, and I swear, about five new gray hairs popped out of my scalp after reading it. Dude he's both a metaphysics practitioner and a dialectical materialist. So I guess being a "universal" means to be inconsistent or should I say Consistently Inconsistent. And a "Spiritual Being" means he believe in superstitions and shit. I hit him up with BAsics 4:20 and some other quotes, and I called it a day. In the most recent paper I received I saw where a brother doing time (I believe in Texas) sent money to P.R.L.F. to order a book (BAsics) for one of his comrades. I would like to do the same thing for my partner whose doing time at a different location than I, is that possible? ...I would like P.R.L.F. to send him a copy of BAsics and a copy of the Brook/B.A. interview. We need to [get] B.A.'s image at that joint A-sap. So be on the look out for a check from my prison account with his info.
Well, until next time. Please continue to do the work that you do because it is greatly appreciated.
Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
Reflections on What Humanity Needs: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism:
by Lenny Wolff | November 4, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
I recently went back over the interview with BA (What Humanity Needs: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism). This interview is extraordinarily wide-ranging. It deeply explores questions involved in bringing forward new initiators of a new stage of communism; the new synthesis of communism; questions of strategy; culture; science and morality; the "head and the heart"; and other really critical questions. And it explores all these from many different angles, from the most world-historical to the personal.
I started this particular reading of the interview with an intention to deepen my grasp of its sweep and depth "in its own right." But as I read, I was struck by its direct relevance to some particular problems that the movement for revolution (and those working to lead it forward) confront right now. So I wanted to pull out and highlight, and comment on, a few things that struck me in that light. I'm not trying here to speak to the whole interview, and it would definitely be wrong to reduce the interview to these points—but, as I said, a few points did strike me with particular impact about some of the problems confronting the movement for revolution. The stakes right now are very high and, one way or another, what revolutionaries do in this period will be pivotal to whether we break through the "tough spot" we face—and not breaking through is not an option. So I'm raising all this in a spirit of a hard, scientific look at some trends and tendencies in our work that pull against our breaking through, and of drawing all that we can from what is a very rich piece by BA.
As I was reading through the interview, I thought of a question posed to me by another comrade: do we realize that in everything we do, we have to be leading people? Not just getting them to do this or that particular thing, or to have a conversation about this or that particular point or topic... but actually leading them to engage with, contribute to and be part of building the movement for revolution. Struggling with people, and learning from them as well...and doing all of it as part of something larger. As I went through the interview, not only was BA talking about leadership—in fact, this is a major explicit theme that weaves through the whole interview, and I want to get to that shortly—but he was also providing a model in this.
In talking about this with another comrade, she said well, leadership is line. That's true—but what is line?
Here I want to draw on something that has struck me every time I've read the interview. At one point, in a really rich answer to a question by Brooks on the importance of line, BA notes that, "Line is the application of a world outlook and method to reality. It's a probing of reality and the drawing together and synthesizing of the lessons that are learned from probing reality."
I want to focus on that phrase "probing reality." BA does this in the interview, throughout. Look, for example, at the question that Brooks raises, referring to what someone said on the contrast between the '60s and today, in the section "Resistance... and Revolution." What's BA's approach here? First off, he's doing deep listening—he's thinking about the reality behind Brooks' question, and then he's looking at that reality from different angles... he's using line to probe the reality beneath the question. It's not just "here's where you're right, here's where you're wrong"... or "here's where we agree and here's where we don't, so let's move on." It's not a canned answer taken off the shelf of a set of positions. It's a real exploration of, yes, objective reality—one which fleshes out the contradictory forces and directions of the two different periods under discussion, explores how these played out and still play out in a number of different dimensions, examines how other developments entered into the process, and really fleshes out the dynamics of how things have developed over time and why they did. From there—from that probing of reality—he goes to both the challenges we confront and what we actually have going for us in confronting those challenges. And because it's a fully present, in-the-moment consideration, and because the pulse of life that beats within the abstractions is kept in mind, there's a real freshness to it—new ways of looking at the question, new insights are unearthed. In other words, there's a deep probing and, on that basis, a real synthesis.
You can see this method throughout the interview1, and you can see it in other things too. It's in the questions and answers at the end of the Revolution Talk, for instance—listen again, for instance, to the answer on whether Black people should receive reparations for slavery and the oppression that has followed slavery. Or listen to the recent interview with BA done by Cornel West.
Over and over: probing reality, and synthesis. I'm stressing this because I think that all too often, in practice, a lot of us treat line as if it were a static set of ideas that we bring forward against other sets of ideas (or else, sometimes, as a set of ideas that we don't bring forward because they may "get in the way" of a particular objective!). There's no life to that. And there's no real leadership involved in that either.
This emphasis on probing reality relates to another major theme of the interview—being scientific in our approach, letting other people in on this scientific method, and struggling for that method. Popularizing the scientific method, demystifying it, and explicitly posing it against other methods. I wonder how often, when we're wrangling with someone and they're clearly basing themselves on another method—post-modernism, or religion, or pragmatism, or whatever—I wonder how often we say, "hey, that's not quite scientific" and explain why and then work things through with them with a scientific approach. This has always been a hallmark of BA, but it's extremely striking in the interview—and it's something that, again, I think we could all stand a little self-interrogation on.
(And I mean self-interrogation, and not self-cultivation or self-criticism—I mean going into shortcomings in how we too often come at things precisely in order to do better. I found this part of the interview very important in this regard:
Look, we're all gonna make errors, we're all gonna make mistakes. You can't do anything in the world of consequence, and you certainly can't engage in any major undertaking—and especially one which is trying to transform the whole of human society and the whole relations of people in the world, up against such powerful entrenched forces—there's absolutely no way in the world that you're gonna take very many steps, let alone carry out that whole process, and not make mistakes. The point is: do you learn from your mistakes, do you learn to learn more quickly and more thoroughly from your mistakes, do you honestly confront your mistakes, do you sum them up, and do you let other people know—do you popularize your understanding of the mistakes you made and why you made them, and enable other people to learn from your mistakes? That's the key thing. Because everybody's gonna make mistakes, okay?)
Again, this theme of leadership runs through the entire interview, right from the beginning with the doctor-patient analogy. But here I want to draw on one very pithy way that it's put toward the end of the interview, where BA is speaking to "the heart and essence of communist leadership." It's not, he says, "providing tactical advice in a particular circumstance or particular struggle, even though that may be something that people need to do, and it can be an important element of what they do." Then he goes on to say:
[T]he heart of it is actually implementing "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution"—is actually bringing forward all of the things we've talked about in terms of enabling people to get a real understanding, scientifically grounded, of the larger picture that any particular thing fits into. What is the overall foundation and framework in which all these things are occurring? What is, to put it simply again, the problem and solution: what do all these outrages stem from; what are they all rooted and grounded in; what do we need to do to uproot and eliminate all this, and how do we actually build the movement to do that? All that is the essence of communist leadership, whatever level of a party, or whatever part you play in the division of labor of a party, as part of a revolutionary communist vanguard.
Think about that for a minute. This is not to say that particular things don't need to be done. But are we putting them in the "overall foundation and framework in which all these things are occurring" and which in fact actually determines their significance? Sometimes people will hunger for this. And sometimes it will be quite contentious. All too often, it seems, we let others set the terms on what IS the overall foundation and framework, and then we try to come at things from within those terms. Now it is not about "our framework vs. their framework"—as if these are two different, equally subjective narratives. It is about what is objectively real, and which framework corresponds to that. To return to the quote: "What is, to put it simply again, the problem and solution: what do all these outrages stem from; what are they all rooted and grounded in; what do we need to do to uproot and eliminate all this, and how do we actually build the movement to do that?" We have an understanding of that, we have a method and approach to deepen that understanding, we have a way to listen and go back-and-forth with people without losing that grounding and, indeed, for that very grounding to enrich it—but we have to lead with that.
This is not just a question of whether we do this when we talk with others, important as that is. There is in fact a more fundamental question to pose to ourselves: are we going back to what is said about the "overall foundation and framework" in our own approach to everything we do, to every objective we undertake? And when we do lead others in (very important) objectives—do we understand all that as being part of, and on that basis something that has to be knit into, a larger process, or do we mentally separate these off from that larger context? And, as one comrade recently pointed out in a discussion we had of this, if we don't consciously synthesize these objectives and activities into a larger picture, including how all these relate to preparing people to wage the all-out struggle for revolution when the situation emerges in which that can be done as the next major leap in emancipating humanity... and if we don't weave these together as part of a movement which contains many diverging threads and strands but is all forming a tapestry leading to revolution... then all this work will spontaneously and inevitably be synthesized into "just another part of the current scene"—that is, just another part of the ongoing permanent necessity the masses face. Now I definitely don't want to reduce the whole discussion of leadership in the interview, and even in this section, to just this point: but... again... are we doing this? And if we're not doing this, to quote Joe Veale from a few months back, what ARE we doing?
This leads to yet another important point to compare and contrast on: winning. This comes in at a number of points—and it grounds the whole interview—but here I want to highlight a particular point where BA has just emphasized the fact that what we represent really DOES objectively represent what humanity needs, and that what we're fighting against really IS utterly reactionary, cruel, needless, and, yes, evil. This is an important point of principle to deeply get and to fight for. "But, then," he goes on to say, "the 'good guys' have to win."
We have to actually make this real. If we don't win, if we don't break through, first here and then there—and then, if we're set back, learn from that and go forward again with a new stage and a new wave of this revolution, and eventually get to the point where the imperialists are cornered and holed up in a few parts of the world, and then eventually they're swept away entirely—if we don't do that, then the suffering of the masses of people, the things we were just talking about that we should feel real outrage and passion about, are gonna continue; it may be in some new forms, but they're gonna continue. And the future of humanity is gonna be threatened in an even more acute way through what's happening—what this system is doing to the environment, for example, as well as through the wars that these ruling classes wage, directly or through proxies, or whatever—and they have these nuclear arsenals, and all the rest of it. If we don't sweep all that away and not allow them to destroy humanity in the process, then it ultimately doesn't matter that we're the "good guys." It matters, but in the final analysis it doesn't matter if we don't win.
Let's really sit with that for a minute. It's important to be right and it's important to actually BE "the good guys." But... it ultimately doesn't matter if we don't win. It's important to do the work ourselves to understand and ground ourselves in how everything we're doing is part of politically transforming the terrain and accumulating forces that could actually lead a revolution... that could actually win... and it's absolutely critical that we imbue others with this understanding. Otherwise, what's the point?
Now BA never loses sight—and he never lets others lose sight—of what it means NOT to win. The acute sense of what it means to let this system keep running—that's always there, in a living painful way, in the interview and in everything else. These are REAL PEOPLE being put on the rack every single day, by the billions. But he also never loses sight of the scientific basis for masses of people to defeat this. There IS a way out... and a way to win. Not a guarantee, not something that won't require a whole lot more work and struggle and mind-wrenching thinking... but a way. A possibility—a real possibility.
This is first of all a point of orientation for communists: is this what we are about? Is this what we are grappling with? Is this part of the "whole larger picture" that we ourselves are living in and thinking about—or is it off to the side? This is a "prove-it-all-night" question and, first of all, for us. But then there's the relationships we're building: are we not just telling people that this is important, but actually showing them how everything is fitting into that—into getting closer to the time when we can actually lead people to deal with all that? Not in a silly way or a way that could unwittingly open us up to distortion ... but are we making the effort to consciously situate everything, in our own thinking and the thinking of others, "from the revolution back." Another way to think about this: do we think about things from the standpoint of leaders of a future socialist state, and leaders of a revolution to get to that state? Do we exude that? It's not a gimmick; it's a question of basic approach. When people meet us, they should come away not only having heard a compelling case for why we need a revolution, but with a real sense that this party is taking responsibility to lead that and has a real grounded sense of how to go about it ... AND that there is a role for them in this revolution, a place for their thinking and suggestions, room for them to probe reality, and a need for them to get on into it, at whatever level of understanding and agreement they're at now.
If we DO understand and do this, then it should not be difficult to instill in the people we work with and lead the feeling that this work has real purpose and direction. I think the way in which the statement on strategy is paraphrased in the interview is important—it's a very basic and simple principle that everyone we're working with should understand, and see themselves in:
While we're reaching and influencing millions, thousands can be and need to be brought forward, oriented, trained, and organized in a revolutionary communist way and enabled to actively struggle for the objectives of this revolution. And, when the time comes that there is a much deeper and broader crisis in society that reaches objectively revolutionary proportions—when the ruling class really has much greater difficulty ruling in the way they've ruled, and masses of people in the millions and millions, and tens of millions, don't want to and, in an active sense, are increasingly refusing to, live in the old way—then that core of thousands can, in turn, influence, can bring into the revolutionary movement, on many different levels, and can lead the millions and tens of millions who are refusing to live in the old way, and are actively seeking radical change.
Yes, this involves struggle. People do not spontaneously see that larger picture, they do not spontaneously see where their activity fits into the whole movement for revolution and how it is transforming society and to what end, they don't spontaneously approach things scientifically (indeed, as BA points out early on, the whole question of whether society can even be approached scientifically is a hotly debated one). Even when they are drawn to revolution, they face all the resistance of society at large—the constant saturation of anticommunism, the constant attacks on the humanity of the masses, and the way in which all that has broad influence right now. And communists themselves, by the way, are subject to the same pulls on this as everyone else and also have to struggle against spontaneity.2
This struggle is a living process. It is itself scientific—or it must be scientifically approached and grounded—and not religious ("spontaneity, get thee behind me"). It is a question of a solid core, with a lot of elasticity, and those two aspects in constant dialectical interplay.
This kind of struggle actually deepens unity and should strengthen our relationships with people. Listen again to the interview of BA by Cornel West, where different outlooks and methods are clearly delineated, and this leads to the ground for unity being more clearly identified (and further strengthened and vitalized), while the areas for further grappling and wrangling are more clearly understood. It's not as if people have to be united with some checklist of points to be involved in this process—again, drawing from the interview:
Even people who may not agree with or may not know that much about the new synthesis of communism, for example—many, many people, thousands and thousands of people—can get actively involved in and be motivated to be part of helping to project this into all corners of society. They can find their own level, so to speak—as long as the way is provided for them to find their own level—to participate in that, with that kind of contradiction in their own understanding, and in their own approach.
That is one very important aspect of, at one and the same time, dealing with unity and contradiction, which is a lot of what you have to do in building the movement for revolution. There are different levels and different forms in which people can unite to fight oppression—to fight the power, to put it that way—even while they have disagreements about how to wage that fight, let alone about the bigger context and framework into which that fits.
- - -
I hope these points spark further grappling with the interview in its own right—which, as I said at the beginning, encompasses and speaks to quite a bit more than the themes I've chosen to focus on here... and further application of the interview to the pressing problems faced by the movement for revolution in both this and other very crucial spheres. In looking back through the interview as I'm wrapping this letter up, I see all kinds of points and passages that would be relevant to go back and put in, but this is the middle of a process, not the end, so I think I'll leave it here... for now.
1. To include just one, particularly striking instance of this approach to line, from a discussion toward the end of the interview on the new synthesis of communism:
I mean, what is represented by communism—and specifically the new synthesis of communism—is actually scientifically analogous to that [earlier an analogy had been made to a cure for "a massive epidemic which is causing horrific suffering"]. It is the way forward. It is not some magic solution. It's a scientific approach to forging the way forward. It has answered—or spoken in a significant way to—some real problems. At the same time, it has posed new questions, identified new contradictions that have to be confronted, which weren't seen as clearly before. And it's an ongoing process of discovering, confronting and transforming different aspects of reality that have to be transformed, in order to achieve the emancipation of humanity. That's what it is. That's why we put it forward. And that's why we struggle to let people know about it and to win them to engage it seriously—and, yes, to take it up—because that's exactly what it embodies and represents. It is analogous to a way to deal with a very serious epidemic. There is an epidemic in which the mass of humanity is suffering terribly, as constituted under this capitalist-imperialist system, and there is a way forward—not a magic wand to wave to solve all problems, but a means for forging a way forward on a higher level than before, as a result of this new synthesis that's been brought forward. [back]
2. In this regard, I want to particularly refer people to a passage in the very trenchant section "Particular Outrages, Particular Struggles, and the Overall Movement for Revolution":
And once you get that [communist] level of understanding—and, yes, it's a process and not a "once and for all" thing—but, once you make the leap to getting that basic understanding and grounding, then it's a question of continually struggling to remain grounded and to get continually more deeply grounded in that understanding, and to apply it in a living way to all the different particular aspects of building the movement for revolution—all the different spheres of struggle, be they cultural, ideological, or political, over major social questions or, as we were talking about earlier, over questions which, at first at least, don't seem to be major social questions but then, perhaps unexpectedly, become that. Now, for communists, like everyone else, there is the pull of what dominates in society. There is the pull of the putrid, revolting culture, ideology, and morals that you have to continually struggle against, not just individually but collectively, together with others. There is the political pull to seeing things in isolation from the overall and larger picture, and into simply being concerned with one particular form or manifestation of the oppressive nature of this system—losing sight of the larger picture into which this particular form fits. That is a constant pull on people. And there is a need—again, not just for individuals on their own, but together, collectively, with growing numbers of people—for struggle to continually loft all of our sights back up to the larger standpoint of seeing the whole picture and proceeding, with regard to any particular aspect of things, any particular part of the struggle, with this whole broad understanding in mind and as the constant guide in what we're doing. This all has to be built as part of preparing the ground for, and getting to the point where, when the objective conditions ripen, we can actually lead millions and millions of people to make this revolution we're talking about, to actually sweep away this system, to defeat and dismantle its repressive institutions, and bring into being new revolutionary institutions that really do serve the interests of the masses of people, and back them up in carrying forward the struggle to continue transforming society, to support others in the world waging the same struggle, and to help people see the need in other parts of the world to wage this struggle more and more consciously toward the common goal of a communist world. [back]
Revolution #288 December 16, 2012
by Li Onesto | December 9, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
November 4, 2012, six days after Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, we’re walking in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It’s early afternoon and the sun is out and bright, but the wind has a bitter edge and is definitely signaling winter. We’re headed to the Jacob Riis Houses and the dropping temperature reminds me that thousands of people in these government projects just got their power back on, but they still don’t have any heat.
The NYC Revolution Club has been organizing around seven demands, including that the government provide hard-hit areas with emergency housing, shelter, food, safe water, and medicine—all things which at Jacob Riis have been non-existent or totally inadequate. In Harlem, the Rev Club went door to door in the projects, talking to people about the movement for revolution, getting out the demands, exposing how the system is not meeting the needs of the people, and collecting food and water to take to Jacob Riis. People signed a banner that said: “From the people of Harlem to the people of Jacob Riis Projects—We are human beings. We Demand to Be Treated With Respect and Compassion. We Got Your Back!”
The Jacob Riis Houses, built in 1949, were named after a photographer who exposed the squalid living conditions of people on the Lower East Side in the 1880s. Riis’ famous book, How the Other Half Lives, depicted horrendous living conditions and enormous inequalities—which, over 130 years later, still exist in these projects that bear his name. And in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy this situation stands out all the more starkly.
Some 400,000 people live in 334 New York City Housing Authority developments. And many of the brick buildings situated near the waterfront are old and not well maintained. Living conditions here are bad to begin with. So it’s not surprising that those in public housing were affected a lot worse when Sandy hit. And then the second punch came when people were by and large abandoned by the government for days—even as other areas in the city were getting up and running.
Jacob Riis consists of nineteen buildings, between six and 14 stories each, with 1,191 apartment units. About 4,000 people live here. This is the Lower East Side of Manhattan; the buildings are close to the water and when Sandy hit, the tidal surge for a time ringed the buildings like moats, flooding some of the first floors.
Some people, like the elderly, those with diabetes, or others with serious illnesses, were literally trapped when the power went off and the elevators stopped working. For days, there were those who ended up just sitting in their apartments in the dark, some with little food or water. Others had to walk up and down, up to 14 flights of dark stairways hauling water to flush toilets and to try and stay clean. People lined up at open fire hydrants to fill pails and jugs with water.
For several hours, as the sun gets low in the horizon and the temperature drops even further, I talk to people in Jacob Riis about what they experienced in the first week after Hurricane Sandy.
A Black woman named “Gloria” is walking back and forth in front of the building where she lives. A quick strut and the look in her eyes suggest she’s on a mission. But I think she’s also trying to keep warm. She lives in Jacob Riis and describes her struggle in the last several days, just to get water and basic necessities.
“I’m living in this house with my six kids and my two grandkids, the lights came back on but we have no hot water, the water that is coming out of the faucet is brown. We’re basically walking around the Lower East Side trying to find water. I went to one of the park sites where they was giving out water but they didn’t have any more, so they gave me one bottle. They had wipes as well. But they said we had to bring the kids out so that they could see that we have kids, ’cause people are saying they have kids but they don’t really have kids. So they want us to bring babies out in the cold. They gave me two Pampers. They said I have to bring the kids back out. So now I’m just walking around trying to find more water. It’s crazy. We have no power, no nothing. We have been standing on line to get water, canned food. We have to go to the fire hydrants to get water. We have to walk up the stairs, sometimes 14, 15 flights of stairs with buckets of water to wash, to wash dishes. It’s crazy. And you have to bring your kids out in the cold to prove that you have kids to get diapers and wipes.”
Gloria had to wait three hours to get two diapers and a bottle of water.
“And then they were telling me to bring my child here in the cold, so I was like, are you crazy. My baby is like eight months. I’m not going to bring him out here to stand in the cold in a carriage. I need the food but I can’t do that.”
I ask her what the conditions were like in these projects before the storm and she says:
“They do have people that work the grounds but it needs to be better. It’s crazy down here. And right now, you come down here, it’s like you in a different world from being uptown where everything is on, everything is running after the storm. It’s even worse now. We don’t have anything. Like right now I have never experienced this where I have to actually stand before the store with the gate halfway down and they let people in one person at a time to get soda or juice. I mean some places is way worse than this, Staten Island, other places is worse, but this is like a Third World country to me, because I never experienced this. The basic essentials, water, soap. And then if you have a debit card you can’t even use it because there’s nothing working. So you have to have cash, but who has cash like that down here? So it’s crazy. It hurts. It makes me wanna... I get very emotional. I believe they can do better. This is crazy. We have no heat. Why haven’t we gotten any heat or hot water? This is ridiculous. And how long is this gonna be? It’s getting colder, with our babies. And then they talking about us going to shelters. Not everybody can just leave and go to a shelter.”
When I mention that “this is an area where stop-and-frisk is really out of control...” Gloria immediately cuts in, interrupts me and starts talking really fast: “Oh, yeah, stop-and-frisk. My son has been stopped and frisked a thousand times. In our own building. My son coming home and they say do you live here. Yeah, I live here. He said I don’t have ID but I can show you the key to the building and I can take you to my house. They wouldn’t do it. My son is 21. And they stopped him and he’s like I live here. My mother is upstairs, I can call her right now to come downstairs. Another example, one time he was standing in front of the building waiting for us to bring back groceries. They tell him to move. They search him, say you can’t stay. He says, I’m waiting for my mother to come back with the key, she has groceries. They took him to the precinct; they check and say he has warrants. When I get home I went to the precinct, find out he has no warrants. Then they try to say he was disorderly conduct, that’s why they took him.”
I ask her how many times, in one year of high school, her son has been stopped by the police. She pauses for just a couple of seconds, then says, “He has been stopped over 20 times, it had to be,” and goes on to give another example:
“They stopped him one time in front of the building. He was coming home from a party. He was feeling nice, he was going home. He didn’t have the key to the door upstairs. His cell phone went dead so what he did was he put something in the downstairs door to hold it open so he could run across the street to the phone to call us. The police ask him why he holding the door open and he said my parents, we live upstairs but I can’t get in my house, so I’m holding the door so I can at least get in the building. But I’m trying to get ahold of my family. He was telling them all this but then took him in again... This is all so crazy... and now I’m just walking around trying to get water and go back home.”
The Revolution article “On Hurricane Sandy—What Is the Problem? What Is the Solution? And What We Need to Do Now!” poses the question, “Did those with real power in this society—the capitalist-imperialists—make sure that everybody would be adequately provided with necessities in the face of this disaster?” And then answers, NO:
“They left whole areas where the basic people at the bottom of society live without water, heat, electricity or food—and then they clamped curfews on them. And they also meted out outrageous, uncaring and downright dangerous treatment to people in more middle-class areas that were hit as well.
“Did they even make sure that people—including the desperately poor in this society whose food typically runs out by the end of the month—would be able to eat when Sandy hit?” (Revolution #284, November 4, 2012)
The fact that the system DID NOT do this is stark here at Jacob Riis—and underscores how profoundly different a revolutionary, socialist society would handle such a situation. Raymond Lotta points out, “In a crisis like Hurricane Sandy, the socialist state would allocate needed resources, like food, temporary shelter, building materials, equipment, to where they would be needed most. This will not have to go through the patchwork and competing channels of private ownership and control that exist in capitalist society.... emergency priorities would be established—for instance in identifying the most vulnerable sectors of the population, helping the most devastated communities or areas of historic oppression...” (“Why a Natural Disaster Became a Social Disaster, and Why It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way,” Revolution #284, November 4, 2012)
One resident from Jacob Riis pointed out that because Sandy hit at the end of the month, many people hadn’t gotten or been able to cash their disability, social security, or other end-of-the-month checks they depend on and so didn’t have much food, making a bad situation even worse. Another person said things were bad enough before the storm, that there’s always been big inequalities between here and “uptown,” but now all this stands out even more.
“Trina,” a 28-year-old Black attorney who lives in Harlem, just met the Revolution Club and joined them in collecting food, water, and clothing to bring to people in Jacob Riis. She says, “It’s not surprising, the idea that the resources were gotten out to the affluent areas first. The media told us that the power was turned on down here but there are buildings here without basic necessities.... The fact is that it is still necessary a week later for community members to be donating to each other as opposed to what the government should be doing.”
I tell Trina about a letter posted at revcom.us that describes how a shelter treated poor people who were evacuated, not with compassion, but like they were criminals, and she says:
“The thing that’s interesting is it’s not just the storm victims that are being treated that way. That’s the way people are treated in shelters generally. I have some experience with this just working with some of my clients. Many of them are residents of these shelters and I have had cases that involve shelters. I had a case where a client felt he was being targeted by shelter security and the NYPD. Many people in shelters are treated like criminals. He preferred to be on the streets than in the shelters because to him it’s the same as being in jail and it’s unfair because he’s only there because he can’t afford to be anywhere else. People know that the shelters are not comfortable places to be. And not just uncomfortable but you’re treated poorly. They know what it’s like and they would rather chance being re-incarcerated than having to live at a shelter. That happens all the time. . . . So it’s not surprising that storm victims are treated poorly in the shelter system. People that are typically in the shelter system are treated poorly. And I even hate that term, ‘treat them like criminals’ because we criminalize normal people. We criminalize everyday people. ‘Treat them like criminals.’ What the hell does that really mean? It’s terrible.”
Soon after this conversation, someone tells me that “Jackie” up on the 10th floor wants to tell Revolution about her experience in a shelter after Hurricane Sandy. The elevators still aren’t working and as we start the long walk up, I imagine what it was like to haul water up all these stairs, with no lights, for days. Jackie, a Black woman in her late 40s, is waiting in the hallway, eager to talk and she’s already way into her story before I even get my recorder on. When I get her to back up and start again she says, “It was the worst... I should have stayed home... and I’m going to chat about it!”
She lives in Jacob Riis with her 13-year-old, 9-year-old and grandson, who is three. She says living here has been “hell... even before the storm,” with leaking ceilings when it rains and other problems. She recently found out she has diabetes and her children suffer from asthma. Jackie says that at first she didn’t think the storm was going to be that bad so she didn’t evacuate. Later, when she got scared for her kids, she decided to go to one of the shelters. But soon after they got settled, Jackie says, “something wasn’t quite right.” They were given meals but hardly any water—so the only water she had for a while was what she had managed to bring from home. Increasingly, she felt the whole situation wasn’t safe for herself and her kids.
“I met some ladies from my building there. We were taking turns watching out, because men would come up to the floors and walk through. And we wasn’t safe, we had our kids. So we would take turns with the flashlight and we would stay up. I had fell asleep the night before and I was up that night and like I said, we was taking turns.
“We started complaining, why we not getting any help, why we not getting any water. In a few hours they came up and gave us water, but it was like—one water for you, one water for you. One water for me and all my kids.”
Given her diabetic condition and not having any water, Jackie started feeling really bad with a terrible headache and went down to the medical station. Her blood sugar tested really high and when she asked the doctor what she should do he told her to “drink a lot of water”—which, as Jackie pointed out, “Was really crazy—because they weren’t giving anybody any water!”
Finally, Jackie decided to go back home. “Even though it was dark here, even though we didn’t have no hot water, no heat, no nothing, just a stove to light with matches to try and get some heat. We still came home, even there was no elevator. With asthmatic kids, we climbed those stairs, with the shopping cart.”
Jackie has already been talking for a good 30 minutes, but she wants me to know how bad it was, not just for her and her kids, but for others who were also at the shelter. So all of a sudden, she grabs my hand and leads me to the stairwell. She takes me down two flights and introduces me to her friend Jeena. “Talk to her,” Jackie says, “She’ll really tell you how bad it was.”
To be continued