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Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
Celebrate May Day 2013
May 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
May Day is the revolutionary internationalist holiday of the exploited and oppressed and all those who hate the world as it is and who are fighting for a different future. Today, imperialism has spread its tentacles across the planet. We live in a horrific world where the imperialist drive for profit forces people into poverty and squalor... where children in the thousands are kidnapped and enslaved... where wars have killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of people... where the lives of women from one end of the planet to the other are lives of brutality, domination, and degradation... where whole nationalities suffer from brutal oppression... where the destruction of the environment threatens the very existence of life on the planet.
In real ways, human beings in every corner of the earth are connected with and dependent on each other, and this emphasizes all the more that our revolution must be a worldwide revolution. We must advance beyond the dog-eat-dog system and morality that is dictated the world over by imperialism and its lackeys and the world outlook it promotes. On revolutionary May Day, we declare our determination to fight to bring a new world into being and emancipate all of humanity.
From Mexico and Latin America to Spain and Greece to the Middle East and North Africa—and yes, in the U.S. as well—people are rising up in struggle and straining against the whole setup they are locked into. The world cries out for revolution and for a new world to be brought into being. A world is possible where one part of humanity does not degrade and oppress the rest. It is possible to put an end to this seemingly endless nightmare and bring into being a society where everyone contributes to the advancing of society and where everyone flourishes culturally, intellectually, and in their relations with others. But to bring this into being is going to take revolution—nothing less!
People rise up—but they need total revolution. A revolution that does not put new forms of the old power in place, or which is not about some people improving their lot and position in the old society, or even having a chance to rule over others. These are "solutions" that only mean the horror will go on and on and on. We need a revolution that dismantles the old power and builds a new state power that can move to eliminate all the oppression and exploitation, and move to a communist world. This is possible. People all over the world are fighting oppression, but the fundamental goal should be to get beyond oppression to a different world. Humanity will suffer terribly and needlessly until we find the ways to break through. Breakthroughs on the revolutionary path are possible today.
Because of BA and the work he has done over several decades, summing up the positive and negative experience of the communist revolution so far, and drawing from a broad range of human experience, there is a new synthesis of communism that has been brought forward—there really is a viable vision and strategy for a radically new, and much better, society and world, and there is the crucial leadership that is needed to carry forward the struggle toward that goal. What humanity needs is revolution and the new synthesis of communism. This must be made known to people the world over who in fact are searching for a way out of this madness. We see a glimpse of what it can mean to people in the report from the communists and revolutionaries who took Bob Avakian's new synthesis of communism to the World Social Forum in Tunisia. People eagerly crowded around their literature table to get their hands on and talk about works by Bob Avakian. (See "Taking the New Synthesis of Communism to the World Social Forum in Tunisia" at revcom.us.)
Those of us in the U.S. have a crucial role to play in bringing this new world into being. The Chairman of our Party, Bob Avakian, has recently written:
THIS MOVEMENT FOR REVOLUTION MUST NOW BECOME A REAL FORCE, POWERFULLY IMPACTING AND INFLUENCING ALL OF SOCIETY... bringing forward growing numbers of those this system has cast out and cast down, who must be and can be the driving force of the fight to put an end not only to their own oppression, but all oppression, all over the world... drawing in many others, from all walks of life, who are inspired to join this same cause... preparing minds and organizing forces, Fighting the Power, and Transforming the People, for REVOUTION—NOTHING LESS.
May Day in the U.S. should be a day of bold revolutionary internationalist celebrations in cities across this country. The weekend following May 1st should be a full weekend of taking revolutionary May Day all over, distributing and popularizing the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! Bob Avakian Live, this May Day issue of the paper, and news of the website, revcom.us, among people on the bottom of society, youth, and many others. In some cities, people will march and rally. In others there will be celebration dinners, picnics, and BBQs following forays by the revolutionaries and others going out into the world and broadly among the people. On May 1st itself, where there are demonstrations and protests, let's join in and take BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! Bob Avakian Live and Revolution newspaper into the mix and stir up the controversy.
As we build for May Day celebrations, the next two weeks should kick off concerted efforts to get "A Question Sharply Posed: Nat Turner or Thomas Jefferson?" by Bob Avakian out everywhere, including among the intellectuals, and especially on the campuses before school ends. Spread this work out widely via email, blogs, and social media. "Nat Turner or Thomas Jefferson?" draws a sharp dividing line and poses a basic challenge to thousands of people about whether they are going to stand with the oppressed people of the world shaking off their oppression and aiming to make revolution and build new societies, or whether they are going to stand with the oppressor. The spirit and content of the piece itself must call forth bold and creative ways to put this before and challenge people. ("A Question Sharply Posed: Nat Turner or Thomas Jefferson?" is available at revcom.us.)
And on May Day, let's bust out in a new way with a six-week concentrated effort to raise big money to Get BA Everywhere. Advances have been made since this campaign was begun, but now we need to make these next six weeks a launching to get this campaign to a whole other level. Succeeding in this campaign, collectively raising the massive funds needed to project the whole BA vision and his works into all corners of society, "making this person a point of reference for all of society will make a HUGE difference." As we wrote at the beginning of this campaign, "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." ("BA EVERYWHERE... IMAGINE THE DIFFERENCE IT COULD MAKE! Announcing: A Mass Campaign to Raise Big Money to Get BA's Vision and Works Into Every Corner of Society," Revolution, November 6, 2011) From the efforts of people on the bottom to organize yard and bake sales, penny collections and fundraising film showings, to fundraising parties among people with more financial resources, to winning others to make large donations—all this is crucial and a critical way that people can join and contribute to the movement for revolution. Through these efforts, the movement for revolution accumulates forces.
The mass campaign to raise big money to get BA Everywhere is the leading edge right now of the movement for revolution. At the same time, the growing mass movements fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution are extremely important. People need to fight against the ways in which they are oppressed, degraded, and brutalized; and as they do, they can come to understand what the source of their oppression is, and join the movement to end this whole system of oppression and degradation.
Now is the time for the struggles to Stop Mass Incarceration and to End Pornography and Patriarchy to become truly mass movements involving thousands and tens of thousands of people and impacting millions.
The movement to Stop Mass Incarceration is actively working to grow from the hundreds who are part of this movement now to thousands and tens of thousands who are fighting with all their might to put an end to mass incarceration and the new Jim Crow—and as they do so, impacting all of society. In the last week, Carl Dix has called for this movement to START NOW to build support for the nationwide hunger strike next July called for by California prisoners in solitary confinement (some of them have been locked down in these torturous conditions for decades) and to demand an end to the torture the state perpetrates on prisoners across the country. "People who have been locked down in the dungeons of this country and have been condemned as the worst of the worst have stood up and said NO MORE! ... If at all possible, we must through this protest force the state of California to meet these demands and make it unnecessary for these prisoners to take such a desperate action." ("A Proposal for Action to the Stop Mass Incarceration Network and All Others Who Want to Fight the New Jim Crow".)
The movement to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women has big plans as well. Over the last few months, reactionary right-wing forces have enacted a series of laws making abortion effectively unattainable for millions of women in this country. (See "APRIL 25, 2013—ABORTION ON DEMAND AND WITHOUT APOLOGY, NATIONAL CAMPUS DAY OF ACTION".) An offensive to stand up for the right to abortion is being launched on April 25 with a nationwide day of action on campuses. All those who have been horrified as the attacks on abortion escalate need to rise up for abortion rights. A major summer of struggle to Defend Abortion Rights and Defeat the War on Women is being planned now.
Revolutionary May Day 2013 is the time to join with people in countries around the world in declaring our internationalist determination to make revolution and emancipate all of humanity. To take great steps in making the movement for revolution in this country a force powerfully impacting and influencing all of society.
All Out for Revolutionary May Day 2013!
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
May 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
For thousands of years human society has been dominated by oppressive ruling classes. Forms of exploitation have changed, but the rulers and their ideologues have always preached that such a division between slavemasters—in one form or another—and slaves was the natural order of things.
In 1848, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels exposed the real workings of society—that class society is not eternal—that the class of oppressed workers, the proletariat, has as its historic mission to overthrow all exploitation and oppression in every form. The communist movement, built on a scientific understanding, was born.
It was from the struggle of that class—in particular the battle for an eight-hour day instead of the “sunrise to sunset” workday—that May 1st emerged as a holiday of revolutionary struggle in 1886. Ever since, May 1st has been marked by revolutionary struggle.
With the revolutionary seizure of power by the proletariat in the Soviet Union in 1917, and later in the People’s Republic of China, the first stage of the world communist revolution posed a powerful and inspiring alternative to capitalism. And on May 1st, millions in those socialist societies, and workers and oppressed people in every country, raised the red flag of revolution and took to the streets.
On the basis of the remaining strength of capitalism in the new socialist societies, and the strength of capitalism-imperialism worldwide, capitalists within the leading party in the Soviet Union in the mid-’50s and in China after the death of Mao in 1976 seized power and the first stage of communist revolution ended.
Today, a new stage of communist revolution, based on the new synthesis of communism brought forward by Bob Avakian, is fighting to be born. The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA re-established revolutionary May 1st in the U.S. in 1980, with marches and rallies around the country. In building for these marches, comrade Damián García raised the red flag over the Alamo in Texas—a symbol of U.S. domination of Mexico and the theft of much of that country. Shortly after, Damián was assassinated by police agents in Los Angeles while building for May Day. Revolutionary May 1st 1980 and the campaign to build it around the country made communist revolution a mass question broadly in society—in a way that had not happened in the U.S. in decades, if ever.
Internationalism has been a hallmark of the communist revolution, and a stronger understanding of this, and emphasis on this, is an important part of the new synthesis of communism: The Whole World Comes First!
The achievement of [the necessary conditions for communism] must take place on a world scale, through a long and tortuous process of revolutionary transformation in which there will be uneven development, the seizure of power in different countries at different times, and a complex dialectical interplay between the revolutionary struggles and the revolutionization of society in these different countries...[a dialectical relation] in which the world arena is fundamentally and ultimately decisive while the mutually interacting and mutually supporting struggles of the proletarians in different countries constitute the key link in fundamentally changing the world as a whole.
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
Proposed New Immigration Law:
May 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
“I’m 24 years old. In two months it will be two decades of living in this country illegally. I’m the youngest of five and came to the U.S. with my mother in 1993. We had nothing in Mexico and the only way we were getting through was by my father who was already in the U.S. to send us money. When we arrived two years later my father got deported. My mother worked in the fields picking tomatoes, green peppers, and strawberries so we could eat. It was still not enough. My older brother and sister, who were only 12 and 13 years old when we came to the U.S., had to give up their education and help my mother work. I can’t thank them enough for their sacrifice that led to the three youngest in the family to proudly graduate with a high school diploma. I have never felt like an ‘American.’ To me being an American means having freedom. Free to be whatever you work hard for and always having a fair shot and not being held back by your race, gender or sexuality. In my case it’s my illegal status that keeps me down and unable to better my life. To ICE I’m a criminal for being brought to this country when I was five years old.”—Rene, Tampa, Florida
“An operation by federal immigration agents in Detroit set off protests from Latino and church groups on Wednesday after the officers stopped two illegal immigrants as they were dropping off their children at school. Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement followed both immigrants, who are from Mexico, as they left their homes in southwest Detroit on Tuesday morning, officials from the agency said. Both men had children in their vehicles.
“One man, Jorge Hernandez, said he was pulled over by agents in unmarked cars across the street from his 4-year-old daughter’s school, the Manuel Reyes Vistas Nuevas Head Start center in southwest Detroit. Mr. Hernandez was questioned but eventually released. The other man, Hector Orozco Villa, told immigrant advocates that he had been detained by agents near the elementary school of two of his children, Cesar Chavez Academy, a few blocks from the Head Start center. Mr. Orozco remains in the custody of the agency, which is known as ICE.” —New York Times, October 17, 2012
There are 11 million stories like these—infants carried across deserts and mountains by their mothers; bold young people, full of hope, trying to start their own lives and families by working hard on back-breaking jobs at minimum wage or less in the kitchens, sweatshops, and farms of this country—until they are caught up in an immigration raid and deported; seeing their relatives, friends, and neighbors locked up for months in a detention center before they are sent to a country many of them barely know; families torn apart in the dead of night or while dropping the kids off at school; people dying horrible deaths when the water runs out as they try to cross the vast deserts of Arizona and California or while packed into the suffocation of trucks hurtling across the steaming Texas prairie.
In recent years millions of people this system calls “illegals” have rallied to a movement demanding an end to deportations, and demanding reforms in immigration laws so that a path to citizenship is opened up for them. From coast to coast, in large cities and small towns, people have rallied, marched, held sit-ins, faced arrest, bravely “come out” as “illegals” in public. And in the past few years especially, hopes of countless people have risen that with Obama in the White House something will finally be done to change their status and society will recognize their humanity.
But the “bipartisan” proposal for a new immigration law presented on Wednesday, April 17, by a group of prominent senators, four Republicans and four Democrats who call themselves the “Gang of Eight”—and which immediately received Obama’s blessing—has nothing at all to do with reforming an oppressive situation to benefit the people. It has everything to do with even further ramping up the brutal militarization of the U.S./Mexico border and instituting highly repressive attacks on and registration of millions of immigrants in this country, in order to better control and exploit a segment of the population that the ruling class of this capitalist-imperialist system both needs and fears—all under the guise of extending a “path to citizenship.”
The starting point for this “bipartisan” plan reveals a lot about its cold-blooded, highly repressive essence. Both Obama and Florida Senator Mark Rubio (one of the “Gang of Eight”) have stated that it is just not practical to deport 11 million immigrants living within U.S. borders. And indeed the proposed law contains significant provisions from both the “Gang of Eight’s” plan and from Obama’s proposals from earlier in the year.
So, after submitting themselves to government registration, then living in limbo for another 13 years, somehow not running afoul of the police while living in urban and rural communities plagued by police terror of Latino people—and dependent upon the southern border having been militarily “secured”—an immigrant would be eligible to apply for citizenship.
Think of the thousands of youth and others routinely swept up by police using the pretext of “anti-gang injunctions,” the Latino youth constantly harassed and brutalized by police and often thrown into jail on little or fabricated pretexts, the youth who plead “guilty” to minor offenses because they are spending months waiting for trial in packed city and county jails—what will happen to them under these proposed changes?
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants who entered the U.S. on January 1, 2012, or later, or who do not go along with this program and turn themselves in to the government, or who cannot afford to pay the fines and back taxes and meet the standards of a clean criminal record, will be subjected to the constant terror of being arrested and deported if they are found to be unregistered.
The “bipartisan” plan is a product of a vitriolic debate that has been going on for years, driven by the most right-wing fascist elements in the country. After his reelection Obama put forward his own plan, many of the features of which are now enshrined in this repressive piece of legislation, which is the bipartisan deal—and the terms of this debate from the beginning have been set by who can take the toughest stand, casting as criminals millions of immigrants who have been forced to come here just to find a way to survive and eke out a living for themselves and their families. (See box, "Who Are the Real Criminals?")
When the outline of Obama’s plan was first released in February, Rubio, a right-wing Tea Party senator from Florida, said Obama’s plan was “dead on arrival.” This was because, according to Rubio, Obama’s plan “fails to follow through on previously broken promises to secure our borders.”
In the world of reality, as Rubio well knows, Obama has presided over an intensification and extension of military and police repression along the U.S./Mexico border that dwarfs even the massive militarization put in place by Bush, Clinton, and his other predecessors. The National Immigration Law Center, a liberal group focused on immigration issues, reported in February 2013 that increased “law enforcement” along the U.S.’s southern border means that “net migration from Mexico is now zero.”
More people have been deported in the Obama years than under any other president, by far—1.5 million people were deported, most of them to Mexico, in the first term of Obama’s presidency. National Public Radio reported that an “unprecedented 409,849 people were deported for the fiscal year that ended September 30 .” These figures are essentially double the number of people deported during the presidency of George W. Bush.
For decades now, the U.S. government has been deploying massive police and military force, high-tech spying and monitoring equipment, and multiple barricades of all sorts to wage a very one-sided “war” against the impoverished immigrants desperately trying to get into the U.S. to work. Obama has intensified that, and has instituted pervasive repression on the border and in the U.S. interior.
In October 2010, Obama signed a bill—passed with almost unanimous “bipartisan support” in Congress—pouring $600 million into increased militarization of the border. This included purchasing and deploying drones to monitor the border from just east of San Diego to the Gulf of Mexico. As Obama boasted in a speech in El Paso, Texas, in 2011, “We now have more boots on the ground on the southwest border than at any time in our history. The Border Patrol has 20,000 agents—more than twice as many as there were in 2004, a buildup that began under President Bush and that we have continued.”
Under Obama, immigrant detention centers have been built throughout the country, especially along the southwest border. A report from the American Civil Liberties Union points out that “in 2011, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) held a record-breaking 429,000 immigrants in over 250 facilities across the country, and currently maintains a daily capacity of 33,400 beds...” The number of immigrants held in these centers has increased by 85 percent since 2005. As Revolution indicated in a previous article, “Hundreds of immigrants are being tortured through the use of prolonged solitary confinement in these detention facilities.”
But these measures, which have terrorized the border, destroyed centuries-old border communities, and driven hundreds of immigrants to their deaths by forcing them to cross in the harsh desert regions of the border, are not enough, according to the “bipartisan” senators. The bottom line of this bill is creating close to an impenetrable border.
The bill also contains changes to the visa system, including setting up guest worker programs for agricultural and other “lower-skilled” workers, which are intended to sustain the profitability of key U.S. industries, especially agribusiness and housing construction, on a foundation of low-wage, super-exploited, tightly controlled immigrant labor. The U.S. ruling class is also concerned about strengthening its position relative to other capitalist powers in a highly competitive global environment, especially in high-tech industries, including as they apply to areas such as weapons development and the security of its computer networks.
But the heart of whatever final law emerges is an interlocking web of repression: enforced registration with the government, mandatory electronic identification, and heightened militarization and control of the U.S./Mexico border. This would represent an ominous, fascistic leap in repression of immigrants in this country, and would lay the foundation for truly monstrous crimes on a large scale in times of severe crisis and shock to the system.
The last major change in U.S. immigration law, the “Immigration Reform and Control Act,” was signed into law by then president Ronald Reagan in 1986. Over the past several decades, two major trends concerning immigrants in the U.S. have developed: the population of immigrants has grown enormously, and the repression of immigrants—including a vicious anti-immigrant atmosphere encouraged and promoted by powerful figures in the ruling class—has become ever more venomous.
A report from the Center for Immigrantion Studies indicated that “the number of immigrants (legal and illegal) in the country hit a new record of 40 million in 2010, a 28 percent increase over the total in 2000.” Immigration from countries throughout the world, but particularly from Mexico and Central America, has dramatically changed cities across the country. Latino people are the largest proportion of the population in all the cities of the Southwest, from Houston to Los Angeles. In cities like Brownsville and Laredo, Texas, well over 90 percent of the population is of Mexican descent; in the California cities of Oxnard, Pomona, and Santa Ana, over 70 percent.
But the population of immigrants from Mexico and Central America is not just growing in the Southwest and along the border. The fastest growing populations of Mexican and other Latino immigrants are in South Carolina, Alabama, and Iowa. Entire industries throughout the country, such as construction, agriculture, and much of the low-wage service sector, depend on heavily exploited—and, from the perspective of the capitalists who profit from them, “disposable”—labor of immigrants. Millions of immigrants slaving at low-wage jobs are essential to the functioning of this capitalist-imperialist system.
Vicious repression of immigrants has escalated during this entire period, and become an ever-present feature of life in the U.S.—millions deported; hundreds dying horrible deaths at the border; factory and neighborhood raids that tear apart families; detention centers, including for children; attacks and beatings by reactionary racists; degradation of the language and culture people bring with them.
Hateful anti-immigrant laws passed in states such as Arizona, Utah, and Alabama—laws that criminalize people without official papers—have foreshadowed much of what is now being developed on a national scale. Mother Jones magazine last year reported that 164 anti-immigrant laws were passed by state legislatures in 2010 and 2011. “English Only” is the law in over 30 states, and all but one of those states enacted this law in the past 20 years.
The sudden ruling class urgency to revamp laws almost three decades old is not because the Republicans lost the last election, and because they think very few Latino people outside of Miami’s communities of right-wing Cubans will ever vote Republican. It is also not because the powerful ruling class forces backing vicious anti-immigrant measures in Arizona, Alabama, and other states have suddenly come around to Obama’s way of thinking. It is because the U.S. system of capitalism-imperialism is facing great turbulence, challenges, and deep conflicts within this country and internationally.
Within the U.S., the coherence of U.S. society around long-standing pillars of white supremacy, male supremacy, and “English Only” has been undermined significantly by social and economic developments of the past several decades. The existence in this country of 11 million undocumented immigrants whose main language is not English, a potentially rebellious and destabilizing component of society that is outside the framework of government control—all this is unacceptable to the people who rule this country. Particularly in a time of great potential for global and regional destabilization of the capitalist-imperialist system, establishing domestic “security” on the basis of great repression is something all sections of the ruling class agree upon.
The contradictions that are driving both political parties of the U.S. ruling class to make certain changes in the legal status of immigrants are not going to be lessened or resolved by any law. These contradictions are thoroughly embedded in the system of capitalism-imperialism. The rulers of this country require a large pool of deeply exploited immigrants for the functioning and profitability of their overall system. But they fear the dissolution of a social cohesion grounded in white supremacy, male supremacy, and “English Only,” and the law under development is being molded to address both these tensions.
What is needed for immigrants is not a path to greater repression and control disguised as a “path to citizenship” but fierce defiance and resistance to renewed assaults upon immigrants, from all sections of the people who oppose oppression and injustice. What is needed from communists is resistance to these attacks built as part of the entire movement for revolution, with the orientation of “Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution."
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
April 14, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Slave rebellion or slave master? Do you support the oppressed rising up against the oppressive system and seeking a radically different way, even with certain errors and excesses—or do you support the oppressors, and the leaders and guardians of an outmoded oppressive order, who may talk about "inalienable rights" but bring down wanton brutality and very real terror, on masses of people, to enforce and perpetuate their system of oppression?
This speaks to a basic question of stand and orientation, and represents a fundamental dividing line. And, along with "setting the record straight" on the actual experience and role of communist revolution, and refuting the factual and methodological distortions involved in the attacks on communism, this basic question—as represented by Nat Turner1 or Thomas Jefferson?2—also needs to be sharply posed in relation to the history of communism3 and the present-day struggle for communist revolution, in opposition to the capitalist-imperialist system which still dominates the world, with such terrible consequences for humanity and for the environment. Do you stand with this oppressive system, or with the struggle to overthrow and uproot it, and bring into being a radically different, emancipating system and way of life?
Do we need to learn from not only the overwhelmingly positive experience of the communist movement so far, but also its shortcomings, including sometimes serious errors and even excesses? Yes, this is an important part of the new synthesis of communism, and it is crucial in order to be able to do even better in the new stage of communist revolution. But this can only be done, in the fullest way, by taking up and applying the scientific communist method and approach that leads, first of all, to standing firmly and consistently on the right side of this fundamental dividing line, between oppressors and oppressed—and, beyond that, makes it possible to correctly assess and learn from the rich experience of the struggle against oppression, throughout history and in all parts of the world, including the shortcomings involved in this experience, in order to carry forward the fight to the final goal of communism and the emancipation of the oppressed, and ultimately humanity as a whole, from all forms and relations of oppression and exploitation, domination and degradation, everywhere in the world.
Nat Turner led an uprising that deeply shook the slave system, and there was a huge, brutal response from those in power.
Nat Turner was the leader of a slave rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia, one of at least 250 slave revolts that took place in the U.S. before the Civil War. After careful preparation, Turner began the rebellion on August 21, 1831 with a trusted group of six other slaves. They were armed with just a few knives, hatchets, and axes at the start. Their plan was to strike hard and quickly against the slave owners and march toward the county seat, rallying other slaves to their cause along the way. At one point, Turner's forces grew to as many as 80. The uprising deeply shook the slave system, and there was a huge, brutal response from those in power. The rebellion was defeated after 48 hours—Turner himself went into hiding for two months before surrendering. Turner and 55 others were executed by the state. As many as 200 other slaves were killed by the slave owners' militias and vigilantes, and many were tortured. During the rebellion, Turner's forces killed all the slave owners they encountered—not only the adults but also their children. But the Nat Turner Rebellion—and other slave rebellions—must be firmly upheld because, in its principal character and in essence, it was a just struggle of the oppressed rising up against their oppression. [back]
Depiction of plantation life, with overseer beating slaves and taking a child to be sold.
2. Thomas Jefferson is promoted as the man who defined the "fundamental liberties" that are at the heart of U.S. democracy. Along with genocide and theft of the land of Native Americans, one of those "fundamental liberties" was the right to enslave people. Jefferson himself owned more than 600 slaves over his lifetime. He profited greatly from the labor of his slaves, who were whipped when they didn't work hard enough (including children), and hunted down like animals when they escaped. But beyond this, Jefferson actively used his presidency and his influence to fight for the expansion of the slave system. He oversaw the 1803 Louisiana Purchase—the buying from France of a huge territory that now comprises all or parts of 15 states, primarily in the interests of the slave owners and with the aim of spreading the U.S. system of slavery into new areas. As opposed to the uprisings of slaves, like the rebellion led by Nat Turner, the violence Jefferson used, as U.S. President as well as in suppressing his own slaves, was in the service of maintaining, enforcing, and expanding oppression.
For more on Jefferson and his role:
"Big character poster" walls, debating big questions in society, went up all over during China's Cultural Revolution, 1966-1976. Photo: AP
3. People are constantly bombarded with the message that communism has been a "failure" and that socialist societies have been a "nightmare." The Set the Record Straight project aims to bring out the truth about the first attempts in human history to build societies free from all exploitation and oppression—the socialist states in Russia from 1917 until the defeat of that revolution in 1956, and in China from 1949 until its defeat in 1976. "The mission of Set the Record Straight is to factually refute the lies spread in the media, mass-market books, and mainstream scholarship about the Soviet and Chinese revolutions, and to bring to light the overwhelming achievements of these revolutions as well as their real problems and shortcomings. Our mission is to reveal the actual history and experience of these revolutions, to open up a two-sided debate about socialism and communism, and to promote a conversation about why a radically different and liberating world is possible." The Set the Record Straight project can be found online at thisiscommunism.org. It can also be accessed from the "Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution" section of revcom.us. [back]
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
From Carl Dix:
April 14, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
We face an emergency situation.
All this amounts to a slow genocide that is breaking the bodies and crushing the spirits of countless millions of oppressed people. A slow genocide which could easily become a fast one. This is unacceptable and must be stopped! And it is up to our grassroots efforts to stop it.
Nearly two years ago, some of us met to pull together a movement not just to protest this but to END IT. Some things have been done—we have supported the 2011 prisoners' hunger strikes in California; participated in actions across the country in protest of the murder of Trayvon Martin; and participated in many protests in communities across the country against police murder. And, in particular, we launched a major campaign of mass nonviolent direct action against the notorious stop-and-frisk policies in New York City.
This has been important. But it is not nearly enough.
Our movement of resistance to mass incarceration must make a big leap ahead in the coming months, becoming a major force in U.S. society capable of beating back this slow genocide and building up the strength and organization needed to actually STOP IT. I want to suggest a combination of initiatives for this summer that I think could, together, amount to a major step in this direction and, right now, make a huge leap in putting this in the forefront of people's minds.
THIS HAS TO START NOW! We need to spread the word on the planned hunger strike and the call for unity inside and outside the prisons. We need to gather statements of support for the actions of the prisoners. We need to plan tribunals and other forms to involve broad sections of people in standing with the hunger strikers. If at all possible, we must through this protest force the state of California to meet these demands and make it unnecessary for these prisoners to take such a desperate action; but we must also be prepared to support them through what might indeed be a necessary and very difficult struggle.
Even as we focus on this, we need to continue working to build a powerful movement of resistance to mass incarceration overall. This means:
As part of doing this, we need to get further organized. This means encouraging the formation of chapters of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network all over the country.
These are my ideas on what we need to take up in the months ahead. There is an urgent need to map out an approach to the continuing slow genocide of mass incarceration that grinds away, engulfing the lives of tens of millions of oppressed people. In doing this, we need to base ourselves on what we have accomplished so far while facing squarely the need to go much further.
Get back to me with your thoughts on this proposal. Write me via the Stop Mass Incarceration Network by calling 347-979-SMIN (7646) or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carl Dix, Revolutionary Communist Party, co-founder of Stop Mass Incarceration Network
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
May 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
In 2011, prisoners in the Special Housing Units (SHUs) of the California prisons went on a hunger strike demanding an end to the torturous conditions. (See "12,000 Prisoners Resume Hunger Strike in California".) They have announced plans to initiate another hunger strike on July 8, 2013, if their demands for change are not met, and they have called on prisoners across the country to join them. During the negotiations that ended the hunger strike in 2011, California officials had agreed to make steps toward meeting the prisoners' demands for an end to inhumane conditions and practices. But the prisoners say that the state has failed to meet any of their core demands. (See their statement "Peaceful Protest To Resume July 8, 2013, If Demands Are Not Met" at prisons.org/documents/PB-Reps-letter-to-Brown-and-Beard.pdf.)
Last year, prisoners at California's Pelican Bay SHU also put out an inspiring call for unity (see "Agreement to End Hostilities" below) between people of different races and nationalities inside and outside the prisons. The statement, which was sent to prison advocacy organizations, is posted at the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity website (prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com), and we are reproducing it here for our readers.
These prisoners have taken a courageous and inspiring stand, and it's on all people of conscience to stand with the prisoners in their just struggle to win their demands. We need to start NOW to spread the word on the planned hunger strike and the statement of unity, gather statements of support, and take other political action to build support.
Keep up with the latest developments in this struggle at revcom.us and in the pages of Revolution.
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
By Name | April 14, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
We received this from StopPatriarchy.org:
DID YOU KNOW...
...2011 and 2012 saw a RECORD number of restrictions on abortion across the country, and already this year there are 278 bills introduced to further restrict abortion?
...97% of rural counties have no abortion provider?
...several states have only ONE abortion clinic, and starting August 1 in North Dakota (to give just one example), abortion will be illegal at around 6 weeks? That's before most women know they are pregnant!
...over 80% of clinics that provide abortions have experienced violence, threats, harassment? And that 8 abortion providers and staff have been KILLED by anti-abortion violence?
Let us know what you'll
be doing on April 25
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
From the NY Revolution Club:
May 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
FLASH UPDATE! April 23 6 pm,
See Manhattan D. A. Drops All Criminal Charges on Noche Diaz
On Tuesday, April 23, the trial of Noche Diaz, a young revolutionary and member of the Revolution Club in New York City, is getting underway in a Manhattan courtroom. Noche has been at the front lines of the struggle to bring the NY Police Department's blatantly racist and illegal practice of stop-and-frisk to an end, and to safeguard people's rights. He is being targeted for political and legal persecution by the powers-that-be, and faces more than four years in prison.
The Stop Mass Incarceration Network is calling on people to pack the courtroom on April 23 and sign a statement initiated by Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party and two professors at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Reverend Luis Barrios, and James Vrettos. Thousands of signatures on this statement/petition is an important part of making clear that people are not going to allow those in power to come down on revolutionaries like Noche who are standing up for the people.
The initiators of the statement in support of Noche were themselves among those arrested in a mass campaign of civil disobedience that began in the fall of 2011, with professors, ministers, revolutionaries, community activists, Occupy activists, and others protesting in front of NYC police precincts that carry out the highest number of stop-and-frisks. On the first day of this campaign, in October 2011, when people marched to the 28th precinct in Harlem and 35 people carried out nonviolent civil disobedience, Noche was in the crowd outside the police barricades, observing the police as part of the People's Neighborhood Patrol. The police targeted Noche, grabbing him out of the crowd and arresting him.
In the trial starting on April 23, this case from October 2011 has been combined with charges stemming from March 2012, when a spontaneous protest by high school students in Harlem broke out in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin by a racist vigilante in Sanford, Florida. Students had gathered at a park for a speak-out, wearing hoodies and holding packages of Skittles. When the NYPD forced them out of the park, they took off on a march chanting "We are all Trayvon Martin." The cops moved to disperse the march and at one point threw a teenager into a plate glass window of a bank. Noche was with others to witness and denounce this brutality, and he was arrested and held for 24 hours before even being charged.
The Manhattan DA has combined these two unrelated cases, from October 2011 and March 2012, for the trial starting on April 23. This is clear evidence of political persecution, since the only thing connecting these two arrests of Noche is that they were politically motivated.
These two combined cases are among 11 charges that Noche faces, stemming from five arrests since October 2011, in four NYC boroughs, all for observing and protesting the illegitimate actions of the NYPD. Last March, for example, Noche was returning from a family gathering in the Bronx when he saw Jeffeth James being pulled from his car by five cops, after being stopped for an alleged faulty light on his license plate, during daylight. James, terrified for his life and holding on to the steering wheel, was pulled out of his car by his dreadlocks and then beaten on the ground. James had 40 percent of his hair pulled from his head and suffered broken ribs, but says his life may well have been saved by Noche and others who had gathered on the corner to observe what was happening. The cops who carried out the brutality have not been charged or even disciplined. But people who stood within legal distance to observe, record, and report on this abuse, including Noche, were arrested and have been charged with "obstructing" government authority.
The NYPD has made more than 5 million stop-and-frisks in nine years. In 88 percent of these encounters, the person stopped by the police was doing nothing wrong. Nearly 90 percent of those stopped were Black and Latino. NY Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly defends the stop-and-frisk policy because, he says, it's "keeping innocent New Yorkers safe"—which points to how those at the top consider Blacks and Latinos "guilty" or "suspicious" just based on the color of their skin.
For those who are not mainly directly affected by stop-and-frisk, the situation poses a real moral responsibility. Do nothing because this outrage is not happening to you? No! Instead, act to be part of putting an end to this. Stand with Noche as he is put on trial.
As Noche said last September, "I'm on trial in Manhattan, facing up to four years in prison, precisely because when these kinds of things go down I don't walk by and I don't let it happen in silence, I don't let people get violated without someone speaking up for them. I've been standing up for these youth for years. And I've been targeted for my role in doing that. But what's important for you to know is that you can actually be a part of beating back these attacks on people who stand up for the people and for the youth. And so I invite you to join us..." (See "'Noche' Diaz: Facing Prison for Standing Up for the Youth," September 16, 2012.)
Noche Diaz is a revolutionary communist because he has come to understand the U.S. empire would not be what it is today without the whole history of slavery and genocide, and that oppression is embedded in the continuing functioning of this system and cannot and will not be reformed away. He's come to see that the way things are today is totally unnecessary, because a whole different way for people to live and to flourish is possible, and that there is a vision and a plan for a radically new society, as concretized in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)—but that this will take revolution, nothing less. Revolutionaries like Noche, who live to serve the people and emancipate all of humanity, must be supported and defended from attack.
The NY DA and Ray Kellys of the world may want to make an example of Noche, to send a message to youth everywhere to not stand up and fight back, to not become a revolutionary like Noche. But the reality is there are many thousands of people who would jump to have Noche's back if they were aware of what's going on and given the ways to act. That means YOU, who now know about this and have to be part of making Noche's case known all over so that this becomes one important step in the fight to bring stop-and-frisk to an end.
Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution!
Photo: Special to Revolution
What the system is doing to Noche is fucked up. He's just trying to defend people in the neighborhood being brutalized by the police. It's bullshit he's getting charged for this. To bring masses of people into knowing about this and having Noche's back, we took some butcher paper and markers and went to a park in an oppressed neighborhood where the revolution is starting to be known. We went to the basketball courts and spread the paper out and started working on the banner, writing, "Free Noche/Drop all the Charges." Some young youth playing basketball had talked to one of us before about how the cops stop them when they're walking down the street with their backpacks on, even though they are only 12- to 14-years-old, and one of them has a cousin who was killed by the police not long ago. We told them about Noche and they came over to work on the banner—coloring in the letters and being the first to put their names on it.
We took the banner to the nearby high school as school was letting out. For some students, hearing about this right away tapped into their seething anger about what the police do to them. A couple students walked away from their friends who weren't interested, coming over to write, "Fuck the pigs" and "Fuck the feds" on the banner and tried to convince their friends to do it too. Some other students were pissed off that the police are doing what they always do when they go after the regular people to target someone who was standing up against that. Some just said, "It's fucked up." One wrote, "never turn a blind eye to injustice." And a couple other students thought for a little while about whether they were going to sign the banner, deciding to do it because they became convinced that when someone like Noche steps out to stand up for other people, they should do something to support him.
We found many of the same sentiments when we went into the neighborhood next, where people walk by coming home from school and other places. A lot of people signed the banner here, with a lot of feeling of appreciation for what Noche is doing. We read people a quote from Noche that was in Revolution, "I'm on trial in Manhattan, facing up to four years in prison, precisely because when these kinds of things go down I don't walk by and I don't let it happen in silence, I don't let people get violated without someone speaking up for them. I've been standing up for these youth for years. And I've been targeted for my role in doing that. But what's important for you to know is that you can actually be a part of beating back these attacks on people who stand up for the people and for the youth. And so I invite everybody to join us...." People wrote comments on the banner, "Thank you Noche keep yo head up," "Let him free," "Your doing great luv you!" and "keep it up bro." One woman wrote, "I wish that you were my son. I get the animals that hurt you."
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
April 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
A team of ardent advocates of Bob Avakian's new synthesis of communism and promoters of the document Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage—A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA attended the World Social Forum [WSF] held in Tunis from March 23 to 28. The plan was to connect with many revolutionary-minded people, especially from Tunisia but also North Africa and other countries. We wanted to bring them the key theoretical contributions to making all-the-way revolution in today's world—Bob Avakian's new synthesis. In stepping onto this politically charged terrain, our anticipation ran high and our discussions and engagements throughout the week did not betray our expectations. In fact it was exhilarating.
The World Social Forum gathers an international mix of many different forces under the slogan "Another World is Possible!" Often referred to as an alternative globalization or global justice movement, the forum seeks to alleviate some of the most flagrant injustices without seeking to overthrow the system of imperialism. Financial backing for many participant NGOs in WSF stems from government institutions and multinational corporations who, for their own manipulative purposes, remain discreetly in the background. Nonetheless, it attracts many progressive people who genuinely hate the lopsidedness of the world today—the oppression and exploitation inflicted by the world imperialist system.
This year, under the theme of "Dignity," and inspired by the Arab rebellions of two years ago, there were over a thousand workshops drawing together thousands of activists from 127 countries, and a broad range of social movements involved in many important global issues. Topics included climate change and its effects on indigenous peoples, farming, land and water issues, opposition to today's wars and the U.S.'s use of drones, immigrant rights, the struggle against patriarchy and for gender justice, and human and constitutional rights, especially pertaining to women, to name just a few topics. The forum focus is against the neoliberal (free market, IMF-imposed) agenda and in favor of building a "global civil society." Along with this international mix of the usual WSF crowd, the overwhelming majority of participants were Tunisians awakened to political life by their own participation in the struggle to topple the Ben Ali regime in 2011, many still in a mood for revolution. Estimates put the total attendance at 30,000.
Embodying a kind of festival of the oppressed, many other issues were raised through lively debate, street theater and artistic performances and demonstrations. Hundreds of Palestinians held a march through the WSF site. Another lightning demonstration wound its way through the forum protesting the blockage by the Algerian government of a bus coming from Algeria to the WSF. A solemn, sometimes silent, demonstration by supporters of black African immigrants being held in Shousha Camp in southern Tunisia, many of whom were on a hunger strike, was very moving.
Some people were taken in by a big photo display put up by supporters of the Iranian government showing the death and destruction caused by Israel's bombing of Palestinians and claiming this as the "real" holocaust, as though one crime against humanity cancels out another—the same narrow logic used by Zionism but turned on its head, a viewpoint that obscures the role of imperialism in both cases. Some sharp differences emerged, especially with supporters of Islamic rule. There was a political clash between the pro-Assad and anti-Assad Syrians.
The situation in Tunisia is still full of sharp contradictions and revolutionary potential. The Islamist Ennahda party now in government is opposed by a coalition of liberal and leftist parties that are moving more and more to the center. A leader of this coalition, Chokri Belaid, was recently assassinated, creating an angry outpouring of Tunisians into the streets. There is confusion and a wide range of opinions among the people on what needs to happen to fundamentally change things. Many are clear about not wanting a religious government. Many feel their rebellion was hijacked by all the political parties, and that the capitalist system that was behind Ben Ali is still at work. Many feel there never was a real revolution in Tunisia or Egypt, not to mention Yemen, Libya, or the turmoil and slaughter now going on in Syria. People are not clear on what a revolution would mean or whether it is really possible to break out of the web of the economic and political relations of the capitalist-imperialist world system.
The crowd was mainly Arabic- and/or French-speaking. We prepared French translations of leaflets on the emancipation of women, the recent imperialist invasion of Mali, a short excerpt from Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the RCP,USA, and Bob Avakian's still very relevant statement in French and Arabic: ''Egypt 2011: Millions Have Heroically Stood Up... The Future Remains to be Written.''
Our main leaflet was a one-page condensed version of a pamphlet we also sold in English and French, ''Arab Spring at an Impasse—Is There a Way Out?'' It sought to apply the understanding and method of the new synthesis of communism to the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Arab world. Looking at the obstacles and dangers that people's aspirations are running up against, and drawing on lessons of past revolutions, it argued that neither pro-Western liberalism nor Islamism, but only a revolution whose aim is socialism and ultimately world communism, can offer an alternative to imperialist oppression and end the suffering of the masses of people. It called on "the revolutionary leadership of the people" to "engage with the most advanced ideas on the world level and use that as a kind of platform and accelerating force to reach higher."
We wanted to help the process as described by Avakian in his statement on Egypt, of building a "core of leadership, communist leadership, that had a clear, scientifically grounded, understanding of the nature of not just this or that ruthless despot but of the whole oppressive system—and of the need to continue the revolutionary struggle not just to force a particular ruler from office but to abolish that whole system and replace it with one that would really embody and give life to the freedom and the most fundamental interests of the people, in striving to abolish all oppression and exploitation.
"...That is a crucial time for communist organization to further develop its ties with those masses, strengthening its ranks and its ability to lead. Or, if such communist organization does not yet exist, or exists only in isolated fragments, this is a crucial time for communist organization to be forged and developed, to take up the challenge of studying and applying communist theory, in a living way, in the midst of this tumultuous situation, and to strive to continually develop ties with, to influence and to ultimately lead growing numbers of the masses in the direction of the revolution that represents their fundamental and highest interests, the communist revolution."
Our two banners, "Humanité a besoin de révolution! Vive la nouvelle vision du communisme de Bob Avakian!" (Humanity needs revolution! Viva Bob Avakian's re-envisioning of communism!) "Que l'humanité se embarrasse de ce cauchemar capitaliste—Révolution jusqu'au bout! Engager avec la nouvelle vision de communisme de Bob Avakian!" (For humanity to get rid of the nightmare of capitalism requires all the way revolution! Engage with Bob Avakian's re-envisioning of communism!) were greeted very warmly and with genuine curiosity. This was true at the first march of tens of thousands of Tunisians combined with visiting WSFers, and throughout the forum at the literature table. People excitedly gathered around us, getting their pictures taken with the banner and asking who is Bob Avakian and what is the new synthesis. This enthusiastic response to our presence continued throughout the duration of the forum and took on different forms, from endless discussion around the literature table, to supporting our intervention in WSF sessions, and to coming to the special night sessions held on the new synthesis.
Our literature stand became the site of tremendous interest and the focus of almost non-stop political and ideological discussions. Sometimes as many as 40 people would cluster in small groups around each person at the table. We were so busy we hardly noticed that most of us had not eaten during the day. At one point, while every one else at the table was deeply involved in discussion, one of us who had succeeded in getting a sandwich, and sitting a bit away from the table, was approached by a young woman who apologized profusely about interrupting lunch but said she just had to know who Bob Avakian was and what we were about.
Many of Avakian's works were colorfully stacked up (especially BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian). Many curiously checked out the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) to understand what BA's re-envisioning of a future socialist society would look like. We sold hundreds of pamphlets, articles, and Manifestos in English and Arabic. Fifty copies were sold of a pamphlet in French ''May First 2011—From Iran to Our Revolutionary Comrades in the Middle East and North Africa'' written by the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) (www.sarbedaran.org) in several languages, a cautionary analysis of how Islamic fundamentalism ruthlessly suppressed the people's revolution. The pamphlet discusses how this negatively impacted the trend of revolution in the Middle East as well as the world and draws important lessons for how to advance the revolutionary struggle against both imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism.
Passersby attracted by the first part of the slogan on the banners, asked who Avakian is. Our response was that he is the communist leader of the RCP in the U.S. who has used the science of revolution to sum up the experience of the first wave of the world revolution, particularly in the Soviet Union and Mao Tsetung's China; BA addresses the mainly positive and unprecedented historical contributions in uprooting social inequalities including between men and women and different nationalities. BA also speaks to the secondary weaknesses, so that we can overthrow imperialism and in the process transform ourselves and the social conditions and set up socialist societies that can do even better, and take humanity all the way to communism, a society without classes or exploitation or social inequalities—and that this understanding is indispensable for revolution.
Most of the people who spoke to us (mainly students but also people from all walks of life) were angry, determined, and anxious about the direction political events would take in Tunisia and the rest of the Arab world. There was a lot of positive reaction to the leaflet, "The Arab spring at an impasse." Many Tunisians and others from the Maghreb [Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya] argued that there had been no revolution in any of the Arab rebellions. Those who thought there was a revolution often said they needed a second revolution. Perhaps most of the hundreds of Tunisian youth we spoke with thought they needed a second revolution that went deeper and didn't just change the faces of those at the top, although this was contradictory, as some felt this because the Islamist Ennahda was in government instead of the secular left. People angrily related how Ennahda played no part in the uprising that ousted Ben Ali but instead sat on the sidelines. When elections took place, they were able to use religion to mobilize their social base and get elected to positions of power in the government and were unleashing all kinds of backward elements against women and others who spoke out, hence the murder of Belaid, some people claimed. With Ennahda coming to power physical attacks on artists, intellectuals and women had become commonplace. Some told of threats against them for speaking out.
Among those who participated vigorously in discussion were many articulate and lively women, both veiled and unveiled, who did not want religious rule or subordination to men but an overall more just society. They argued with us and amongst themselves over whether there had been a revolution in Tunisia and what should be done to protect women's rights. A child molestation case was then unfolding in the Tunisian press, which added to their visceral sense of outrage over the rising number of rape cases, which quite a few people linked to the wave of rapes taking place in Egypt. Most understood this as a counter-revolutionary response to the upsurge of women, and as an attempt to drive women off the streets and back into the home. Some did not accept the position of the political parties who want to put the issue of women's emancipation as something for later because it might risk an unfavorable polarization around Islam. They wanted to beat back patriarchy and the subordination of women to men that the Islamists are seeking to intensify and codify into law. One popular slogan at the first march came from young women and men around the NGO Oxfam, "Don't tell us what to wear, Teach your sons not to rape!" Our slogan and the title of one of our leaflets, ''Break the Chains, Unleash the Fury of Women as a Mighty Force for Revolution!,'' seemed to many women and men an essential part of what any real revolution needed to include.
People who read our leaflets often returned with friends to discuss further, opening the door to getting more deeply into the new synthesis. There was a constant back and forth between some of the basic points about what the new synthesis of communism represented in its own right: Was the first wave of socialism really overwhelmingly positive? What were its real problems? Did it give leaders too much power? The youth were also eager to figure out what all this would mean for Tunisian society.
Many other questions emerged in the course of discussions. People felt trapped in a polarization between the varieties of Islamic fundamentalists, whom they often describe as fascists, on the one hand, and the secular and left forces who offer no alternative to imperialist domination. The Islamic fundamentalists are skillful in portraying the conflict as one between the downtrodden and the Westernized privileged elite. At the same time the existing parties, whatever their political hues, tend to conciliate with the Islamic fundamentalists and are backing away from positions that once sounded more revolutionary. Many youth were skeptical of the elections, and tended to think that they didn't change anything and were perhaps useless and ended up putting the Ennahda in power.
We attended the workshops likely to focus on vital questions relating to how to understand the emergence of the Arab Spring and the opportunities and dangers that form the current situation, especially where our interventions from the floor could help people discern the way forward that can lead to genuine revolution, serving their strategic interests. In one case, revolutionary-minded youth specifically invited our people to participate in what turned out to be a major political rally of the opposition united front coalition against the Ennahda government. The speakers limited the discussion to rejecting the Turkish AKP-Erdogan model of an Islamic government for Tunisia and listing grievances about the Ennahda party entrenching itself in power and acting undemocratically. With the request and rather open assistance of the revolutionary-minded youth at this open air rally, our intervention argued that the existing state and political apparatus cannot be nudged gradually to the left or reformed in the interest of the people and for revolution. We argued that this was a deadly illusion, as proven tragically by the murder of Chokri Belaid, that now was the time to ardently work towards a political movement to build for the revolutionary seizure of state power and to use that new revolutionary power to enable the masses to carry out the necessary transformations in order to get out of the world imperialist framework of economic and political dependencies and sweep away internal local reactionaries. Such a road is possible and can be charted, if people take up today's most advanced revolutionary theory, BA's new re-envisioned synthesis of revolution and communism.
A similar intervention also livened up the discussion in a session on the Islamization of Egypt. Here again we exposed capitulationist, dead end illusions of gradually expanding the "democratic space" to be used against the existing state power. The speakers at the podium were called on to admit that Egyptian President Morsi and the Islamic fundamentalists are conscious about the value of state power whereas they themselves were never really willing to advocate for the revolutionary seizure of power. Again, revolutionary-minded women and men from Tunisia stepped forward to support this criticism and inquired about Avakian's vision of how to emancipate humanity.
Another intervention took place in a session led by European Trotskyists. Again gradual development was put forward as a way to change society, with no mention of communism or the need for revolutionary leadership. Our intervention was followed by a young Tunisian woman who denounced a panel speaker's Trotskyist reformism as no better than what they constantly hear from their own official left leaders. After the session we talked to the young woman. She and her friend had been grappling with the relationship between the less-impoverished working class in the cities and the large numbers of very poor peasants and others in southern Tunisia. These women were very eager to know more about Avakian's criticism of the "reification of the proletariat," which goes very much against the Trotskyist conception of the "working class," and how this relates to the experience of Mao in leading the Chinese revolution.
These youth were unclear on what is needed, and did not advocate but were open to the idea of the need for a genuinely revolutionary communist party to lead a real revolution. For many this still meant achieving an undefined sense of "real democracy." A few were clearer on the function of democracy in bourgeois society. One young French woman was critical of the French philosopher and political thinker Alain Badiou. When asked what she thought of democracy, she argued it is only a means of getting to communism, and that communism is a much higher step than the notion of bourgeois equality or democracy.
We set up evening discussions to get more deeply into some of the theoretical/ideological issues raised by mostly young people with different levels of political experiences. They strained against the limits of their own understanding. They had done a lot of thinking already and wrangled with us enthusiastically to come to grips with how they could hew a liberating path out of this current crisis. The discussion focused to a large extent around the arguments of a few more knowledgeable revolutionaries, included dealing with what is real internationalism and why in this era nationalism will not solve the problems of revolution. There were also some arguments upholding Badiou's position in opposition to the revolutionary seizure of state power. Alongside these more knowledgeable people were some who were just enthusiastic about revolution but very unfamiliar with Marxism. We tried to talk to both, but privileged the more advanced, and hoped the others would get something out of it, with mixed success (for these others). They want an explanation of what has happened to all these so-called revolutionary forces of the past that are no longer revolutionary.
Among these youth the idea that the communist experience was mainly a disaster is much less strongly held than in Europe generally. A few of them had some familiarity with Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and a few knew of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement and the developments in Nepal. They questioned whether a revolutionary seizure of power in a small country like Tunisia could hold out without an immediate advance in another country—the links between the advance in Tunisia and the advance in Egypt were important lessons. Many were also clear that revolution would not happen simultaneously worldwide, so it was important to seize on the moment now, there and in the region more generally. But how much depended on a party with a revolutionary communist scientific understanding of the problems was unclear to them.
One thing we could see in living color over and over again in Tunisia is that when people have rebelled they search for answers on where things went wrong, where they should go and how to achieve a real revolutionary transformation of society. Avakian's theoretical breakthroughs highlighted in the Manifesto—involving internationalism, philosophy, a re-envisaged socialism and revolutionary strategy—were all key points that the most advanced youth were interested in, and addressed some of the obstacles that they themselves were running up against spontaneously.
Our experience in Tunisia was a vindication of the need and possibility of putting real revolution front and center in the work. By bringing the new synthesis of communism to Tunisia we hope to contribute to this revolutionary process. The uprisings in Tunisia and the rest of the Arab world, which were brought about with so much suffering, cannot be squandered.
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
From A World to Win News Service
April 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
15 April 2013. A World to Win News Service. After weeks of minimizing the extent and seriousness of a hunger strike at the U.S.'s Guantánamo prison camp, the authorities have moved to stop it by force. Shortly after 5 am on April 13, guards moved in to the communal living area with the intention of forcing the men into individual cells. Prisoners "resisted with improvised weapons" and the guards fired "four less-than-lethal rounds," causing injuries, none of them serious, according to a statement from the U.S. military's Southern Command, which refused to provide further details. The weapons were said to be broom and mop handles.
The reasons given for this assault are mutually contradictory on the face of it. The statement says that the action was in response to the covering up of surveillance cameras, windows and glass partitions by the prisoners, and at the same time, it claims that the "ongoing hunger strike necessitated" that the prisoners be moved into individual cells for "medical assessments." The media was also informed that prisoners had to be isolated from one another to prevent "coercion" by their fellow detainees to join the hunger strike.
But the transfers from Camp 6 to single cells in Camp 5, considered a punitive unit, were already under way when the raid took place. The covering of cameras and windows had begun several months ago, according to a military official quoted by The New York Times (April 13, 2013). The raid took place within hours after the completion of a three-week-long International Red Cross inspection of the prison.
Attorneys for the prisoners, including from the Reprieve legal charity in London and the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, report that most of the 130 men in Camp 6 have joined the hunger strike that began February 6. A spokeswoman for the CCR said, "Rather than deal with the reasons for the hunger strike—the immediate trigger of the searching of the Korans and the long-term desperation caused by more than 11 years of indefinite detention without charge or trial—the government responded over the weekend by escalating violence and retaliation. Rounding the men up in pre-dawn raids and forcing them into single cells is consistent with other tactics the government is using to pressure men to break the strike as well as to stem the flow of information out of the prison. If the men are kept from one another, they cannot report on the situation as a whole to their attorneys and the only means available to tell their side of the story is cut off."
The CCR spokeswoman also called the searching of the Korans a "provocation." The prisoners have asked the military to confiscate their Korans instead of periodically inspecting them in a way the prisoners consider offensive, but camp officials have refused to do so. At the same time, the U.S. military has accused the men of "manufacturing claims of Koran abuse" and labelled the hunger strike a "weapon," implying that their bid for world attention is not a legitimate protest but part of a a wider war and proof that these men are too dangerous to be released.
Many sources indicate that the government of U.S. President Barack Obama has decided to treat these prisoners more harshly than before.
The isolation of the prisoners from one another is being matched by moves to further isolate them from the outside world. Civilian flights to the American naval base at Guantánamo are being halted. The only way to reach it is by a U.S. military flight, which requires attorneys and journalists to apply long in advance. A planned visit by a New York Times reporter was cancelled at the last minute, and other journalists have been told they cannot hope for access for many weeks. Further, media visits to the prison itself are no longer permitted. Reporters are prohibited from taking pictures of messages prisoners hang over fences or on cell windows.
There are now a total of 166 men being held at Guantánamo. Only three of these prisoners have been tried and convicted, after more than 11 years, and only 30 face trial. In fact, more than half have been "cleared for release" by the Obama government, but it refuses to let them go. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recently reiterated that "the continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees amounts to arbitrary detention and is in clear breach of international law." But as Obama has indicated in the case of Israel as well, international law only applies where and when the U.S. wants it to.
Obama promised to close Guantánamo by January 2010 but there are no plans to ever do so. Instead, a new building is being built, reportedly including facilities for "aging prisoners," even though most of the prisoners were captured when they were young, a few as children. At least seven prisoners are known to have committed suicide.
Prisoners are subjected to extremes of heat and cold. A U.S. court recently ruled that they must be supplied with safe drinking water, which hunger strikers say they are denied. They also report being injured by "forcible cell extractions," sometimes several times a day.
Some of the hunger strikers could face death in the near future, both Reprieve and the CCR say. Rather than medical treatment, they are being subjected to forced feeding in a manner that can only be considered deliberate torture, a continuation of the waterboarding, beatings and other forms of torture to which they were previously subjected at Guantánamo and elsewhere. The facts about this earlier treatment have been confirmed by a U.S. Navy captain who ran a hospital for Guantánamo detainees according to a review by the Constitution Project, led by two former prominent members of the U.S. Congress.
Speaking to his attorneys at Reprieve by telephone, Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel gave the following account:
"I've been on a hunger strike since February 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds (13.6 kilos). I will not eat until they restore my dignity.
"I've been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crimes. I have never received a trial...
"Last month, on March 15, I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the ERF (Extreme Extraction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.
"I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can't describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit but I couldn't. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I have never experienced such pain before...
"There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren't enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up...
"When they come to force me into the chair, if I refuse to be tied up, they call the ERF team. So I have a choice. Either I can exercise my right to protest my detention, and be beaten up, or I can submit to painful force-feeding...
"The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply. At least 40 people here are on hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood.
"And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.
"I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo, before it is too late." (New York Times, April 15, 2013)
The hunger striker Fayiz al-Kandari told his lawyer, "I scare myself when I look in the mirror. Let them kill us, as we have nothing to lose. We died when Obama indefinitely detained us. Respect us or kill us, it's your choice. The United States must take off its mask and kill us." (Russian Times, March 27, 2013)
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
May 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Margaret “Maggie” Thatcher was Prime Minister of Britain during the 1980s. When she died on April 8, there was an outpouring of celebration among the people—in the UK and elsewhere—for the demise of this deeply hated reactionary.
A fitting epitaph.
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
April 14, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
As people take up responsibility for this movement for revolution, they increasingly want and need to know the real story of communist revolution. What is it? What did it accomplish? What happened to the first socialist societies? And they will confront a deluge of lies and distortions about that experience pumped into the culture by the powers-that-be -- for whom a real alternative to capitalism is their worst nightmare. To address this need, and for everyone who wants to know the true story of communist revolution, we are presenting slightly edited excerpts of a speech by Raymond Lotta—"Everything You've Been Told About Communism Is Wrong: Capitalism Is a Failure, Revolution Is the Solution." In the coming weeks and months, we'll be running more articles on the experience of socialist revolution.
Humanity needs "total revolution": in economy, politics, culture, and morality. And the fact is: we can create a world without exploitation, in which humanity can flourish. But, and this is a cruel irony, exactly at a time when capitalism is in crisis, when all its irrationality and the suffering it inflicts are escalating exponentially—at this very moment, we're told "you can't go beyond capitalism; the best you can do is to tinker around its edges."
It is as though a warning label were affixed to the discourse on human possibility. Danger: anything that fundamentally challenges capitalism is at best a pipe dream and at worst an unworkable utopia imposed from above that will result in nightmare. Caution: the project of making revolution and building an economy and society that promote and serve the common good violates human nature, economic logic, and the very flow of history. Reminder: we have reached the end of history: Western society represents the high point and end point of human development...
This is shameful. Because in the 20th century, something world-historic happened and people don't know the first thing about it. The first socialist societies were forged out of monumental revolutions, the rising up of the wretched of the Earth: in the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1956, and in China from 1949 to 1976. These were the first attempts in modern history to create societies free from exploitation and oppression—socialism. And the experience of these revolutions...it changes everything. The world does not have to be this way, and we can go further and do better in a new wave of revolution.
So what is socialism? Let's clear away some confusion. Socialism is not just government ownership of some enterprises or some government regulation—all capitalist governments do that. And socialism is not something that Obama is doing—Obama is no socialist.
In fact, socialism is three things:
First, socialism is a new form of political power in which the formerly oppressed and exploited, in alliance with the middle classes and professionals and the great majority of society, rule over society with the leadership of a visionary, vanguard party. This new form of state power keeps old and new exploiters in check. It makes possible a democracy that a) unleashes the creativity and initiative of people in all kinds of directions and b) gives the masses of people the right and ability to change the world and to engage in meaningful decision-making, that promotes the most far-reaching debate, and that protects the rights of the individual. This new socialist state that I am talking about is a launching pad for revolution elsewhere in the world.
Second, socialism is a new economic system where the resources and productive capacities of society are socially owned through the coordination of the socialist state, where production is consciously organized and planned to meet social need and to overcome the inequalities of capitalist class society—like the oppression of minority nationalities and the subordination of women. This is an economy that is organized to promote revolution in the world and protect the planet. No longer does exploitation and profit rule over society and people's lives. No longer are Big Pharma and financial-insurance conglomerates setting the terms for health care provision and research. They won't exist anymore. No longer is there a General Motors or Boeing—they too won't exist anymore, either—skewing transport development and energy production to the needs of profit.
Third, socialism is a historical period of transition, between capitalism and communism, a period of revolutionary struggle and experimentation to transform all the economic structures, all the social institutions and arrangements, and all the ideas and values that perpetuate the division of society into classes.
And what is communism? Here I want to read from a statement, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," from the Revolutionary Communist Party:
Communism [is] a world where people work and struggle for the common good.... Where everyone contributes whatever they can to society and gets back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings... Where there are no more divisions among people in which some rule over and oppress others, robbing them not only of the means to a decent life but also of knowledge and a means for really understanding, and acting to change, the world.1
Now the Russian and Chinese revolutions, in what amounted to a "nanosecond" of human history, accomplished amazing things in the direction I am describing. Not without problems and serious shortcomings...but these revolutions accomplished great things against great odds during their existence.
Why were the odds so great? For one thing, the imperialists worked overtime to crush these revolutions. The socialist revolutions of the 20th century posed a mortal (and, yes, a moral) threat to the established global order of exploitation, privilege, and inequality. They opened new possibilities for humanity and new roads for realizing these possibilities.
But the imperialists didn't say to Lenin or Mao: "Oh, you want to try to create a new society based on cooperation, you want to create a planned economy based on putting human needs first, you want to solve your health and education problems, and you are going to attempt to enable those on the bottom of society to increasingly administer it? Okay, why don't you try that for twenty years? Then come back and we'll compare notes. We'll see whose system does better."
No! The capitalist-imperialist powers encircled, pressured, and sought to strangle these revolutions. Within months of the victory of the Bolshevik revolution in October 1917, France, England, Japan, the U.S., and thirteen other powers sent money, weapons, and troops to aid counterrevolutionary forces in Russia who were trying to restore the old order of exploitation, religious obscurantism.
How many of you know that the world's first oil embargo was applied against the Soviet revolution? How many of you know that during the entire time between 1917 and 1950, the new socialist society of the Soviet Union was either preparing for war, or having to fight war, or dressing the wounds of war?
Or consider the circumstances facing the Chinese revolution after it came to power in 1949. Within a year, U.S. troops were moving up the Korean peninsula and threatening to invade China itself. How many of you know that in the early 1950s, the U.S. imperialists issued veiled nuclear threats, and developed military plans for launching nuclear strikes, against the new People's Republic of China?2 This is real history.
It was in these historical circumstances that millions in the Soviet Union and China made revolution and brought about profound changes in their conditions and in their thinking. And another reason they faced great odds was the fact that these revolutions did not unfold in vacuums. They took place, as will future revolutions, in societies that still contained the scars and influences of the old social order, including class divisions along with the ideas and traditions of the past. This too is part of the reality and challenge of making revolution.
Is that what you have been learning about 20th-century history? Did you learn that in the 1920s, when Black people were being lynched in the U.S., when the racist film extolling the KKK, Birth of a Nation, was one of the biggest things in American culture—did you learn that in the Soviet Union something utterly different was happening? At this very time in the Soviet Union, incredible efforts were being made to overcome inequality among nationalities.
The new socialist society was waging struggle against the historical chauvinism of the dominant Russian nationality. Economic and technical resources were being channeled to regions where minority nationalities were concentrated. The new Soviet state established autonomous forms of government in these regions, enabling people in these areas to take responsibility for administration. It promoted the equality of languages and even developed written scripts for languages that previously had none.3
This was an amazing sea change. You see, before the Bolshevik revolution Russia had been known as the "prison-house of nations," with infamous pogroms against Jews, and the domination of whole nations. It was a society where, before the revolution, people of certain minority nationalities were forbidden from using their native languages in schools.
The Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 was the high point of socialist revolution in the 20th century and the whole first stage of communist revolution, beginning with the Paris Commune. The Cultural Revolution was the most radical and far-reaching struggle in human history to uproot exploitation and oppression and to change society and bring about new values and new ways of thinking.4
But the bourgeois "master narrative" is that the Cultural Revolution was Mao's power-mad and vindictive purge of opponents: an orgy of senseless violence and mass persecution that plunged China into a decade of chaos. There is not a scintilla of truth to this narrative. But before I take it on directly, I want to set the stage for the Cultural Revolution by talking a bit about Chinese society before the revolution of 1949.
The vast majority of China's people were peasants who worked the land, but who had little or no land to call their own. They lived under the dominance of landlords who ruled the local economy and people's lives. Peasants desperately scratched out survival. In bad years, many had to eat leaves and bark, and it was not uncommon for peasant households to sell children to meet debt obligations. Agriculture was plagued by endless cycles of floods and droughts and famine. For women, life was a living hell: beatings by husbands, the painful binding of feet, arranged marriages, and young women forced into becoming concubines to landlords and warlords.
In China's largest city, Shanghai, an estimated 25,000 dead bodies were collected from the streets each year by municipal sanitation teams. Meanwhile, foreign-controlled districts of the city glittered. In a country of 500 million, there were only 12,000 doctors trained in modern medicine, and 4 million people died each year of epidemic and infectious diseases.5
This is why people make revolution. This is why millions in China consciously took part in the struggle led by Mao to seize state power and to create a new society.
The bourgeois narrative of the Cultural Revolution talks about Mao's "disastrous enactment of utopian fantasies."
The truth is that Mao and the revolutionaries who led the Cultural Revolution had coherent and visionary aims. What were these aims?
*To mobilize people in society to overthrow these new capitalist forces and to revolutionize the Communist Party itself.
*To reinvigorate the revolution by subjecting every level of authority and governance to mass criticism and questioning.
*To promote socialist values of "serve the people" and putting the interests of world humanity first and challenging the capitalist morality of maximizing self-gain and self-enrichment as well as the Confucian mind-set of bowing down to authority and convention.
*To reshape and revolutionize the institutions and fabric of society: a) to create an educational system that, instead of producing a privileged elite, was actually contributing to raising the knowledge and skills of society and overcoming the great divisions of society; b) to forge a new revolutionary culture, like the model revolutionary works in opera and ballet that put new emphasis on workers and peasants and their resistance to oppression (in place of the old imperial court dramas) and that conveyed powerful images of strong and independent revolutionary women; c) to create new base-level institutions within factories, schools, and hospitals that truly empowered people.
These were crucial goals of the Cultural Revolution; this was not "crazed utopianism."
Let's be clear, the Cultural Revolution was a real revolution. It was disruptive of the routine of normal life; it was full of invention and innovation; inspiring tens of millions but also shocking and disturbing tens of millions at its outset. The schools shut down; youth went to the countryside to link up with peasants, students from Beijing went to Shanghai to stir up protest in the factories, workers were encouraged to raise their heads and ask: "who's really in charge here?" This became very wild. There was massive political and intellectual debate: street rallies, protests, strikes, demonstrations, what were called "big character posters," which contained comments and critiques on policies and leaders. Paper and ink were provided free of charge, public facilities were made available for meetings and debates.6
This was about changing society and changing the world in an ever more conscious way. There has never, never in world history, been a revolutionary movement of this scale and consciousness. Mao looked to the youth as a catalytic force to awaken and arouse society. In Beijing, over 900 newspapers were circulating in 1966-67.
In Shanghai in the autumn of 1966, there were some 700 organizations in the factories. Eventually, the revolutionary workers, with Maoist leadership, were able to unite broad sections of the city's population to overthrow the capitalist-roaders who had been running the city. And what followed was extraordinary: people began to experiment with new institutions of citywide political governance; and the Maoist leadership was able to learn from and sum up this experience and these debates.7 In the countryside, peasants were debating how Confucian values and patriarchy still influenced people's lives.
The Cultural Revolution accomplished amazing and unprecedented things.
*We're told that Mao was anti-education and anti-intellectual. It's a lie.
How many of you know that during the Cultural Revolution middle-school enrollment in the countryside rose from 14 to 58 million?8 Or that worker and peasant enrollment in the universities soared? The reason Mao is branded "anti-education" is that the Cultural Revolution challenged the bourgeois-elitist idea that education is a ladder for individuals to "get ahead," or a way to use skills and knowledge to gain advantageous position over others.
This was not anti-intellectualism, but rather a question of putting knowledge in the service of a society that was breaking down social inequalities. The old curriculum was overhauled in the universities. Study was combined with productive labor. The old teaching methods of viewing students as passive receptacles of knowledge and teachers and instructors as absolute authorities were criticized.
*We're told Mao did not care about human life. It's a lie.
China, a relatively backward country, achieved something that the richest country in the world, the U.S., has not been able to do: provide universal health care. As a result of the Cultural Revolution, a health system was established that reached and addressed the needs of China's peasants in the countryside who made up 80 percent of China's population.
In a little more than a decade after the seizure of power in 1949, the revolution was able to overcome epidemic diseases like smallpox and cholera. Mass campaigns were launched to tackle opium addiction.9 And along with mass mobilization, there was mass education. This was a very important and defining feature of health care in socialist China: to maximize community participation and grass roots awareness and responsibility over health issues and concerns. There was both centralized allocation of needed health resources and a tremendous amount of decentralization.10
One of the most exciting developments of the Cultural Revolution was what was called the "barefoot doctor" movement. These were young peasants and urban youth sent to the countryside who were quickly trained in basic health care and medicine geared to meet local needs and who were capable of treating the most common illnesses. In 1975, there were 1.3 million of these "barefoot doctors."11
The results were astounding. Life expectancy under Mao doubled from 32 years in 1949 to 65 years in 1976.12 Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, made a calculation: if India had the same heath care system as China did under Mao, then 4 million fewer people would have died in India in a given sample year. That works out to a total of some 100 million needless deaths in India from the time of independence in 1947 to 1979.13
Tell me about which economic-social system values human life...and which doesn't.
People say that communism can't work because it goes against human nature...that people are selfish and will only look out for themselves...that people won't have any incentive to work if they're not allowed to compete to get ahead of others. These are not scientific statements about an unchanging human nature. They are statements about human nature under capitalism, about how people are conditioned to think and act in THIS society.
Capitalism produces and requires a certain mind-set: me-first, winner-take-all, greed is good. And this outlook and these values stamp everything, every institution and every relation in society. People have to compete for jobs, for housing, for places in the educational system. They even have to compete and perfect themselves in the "marketplace" of human relationships. Is it any surprise, then, that people are indifferent, callous, and even cruel to each other in such a society?
This is what socialism, what socialist revolution, changes. It opens up a whole new realm of freedom for people to change their circumstances and their thinking. This is what happened during the Cultural Revolution.
In China during the Cultural Revolution, there was an economic system based on using resources for the benefit of society and the world revolution. There were new social relations and institutions that enabled people to cooperate with each other and to maximize the contributions that people can make towards a liberating society and the emancipation of humanity. The educational system promoted values of serving the people, using knowledge not for individual self-aggrandizement but for the betterment of society and humanity. During the Cultural Revolution, people were measuring their lives and the actions of others through the moral lens of "serve the people."
You can read interviews and books by scholars like Dongping Han, Bai Di, and Mobo Gao. These authors grew up during the Cultural Revolution and took part in it—and they write about what it was like coming of age in the social environment of the Cultural Revolution, what it meant for there to be a social framework that valued cooperation and solidarity. They talk about how this affected their attitudes towards other people, their sense of social responsibility, and how the Cultural Revolution influenced what they felt was important and meaningful in life.14
Again, I am not talking about some kind of utopia, and I am not saying everything was done right in Maoist China. But people did change—because socialist society creates this new framework that makes it possible for people to consciously change themselves.
And when capitalism was restored in China in 1976, and the old dog-eat-dog economic relations brought back, people changed again: back towards the old "me against you," "everyone for him- or herself" outlook. People changed not because a primordial human nature had somehow reasserted itself, but because society had changed back to capitalism.
The Cultural Revolution Mao initiated in 1966 was defeated in 1976. Following Mao's death, a core of capitalist-roaders launched a military coup. They arrested Mao's closest comrades and killed thousands. These counter-revolutionary forces instituted capitalism, while maintaining a certain socialist camouflage.
How could this happen? For one thing, the Cultural Revolution was bitterly opposed by powerful neo-capitalist forces who occupied leading positions in Chinese society: in the Communist Party, in the government, and in the military. These forces, Mao had pointed out, were part of a social-historical phenomenon of the Chinese revolution: they were "bourgeois democrats" who had evolved into "capitalist roaders." Let me explain.
China had been a nation subjugated by imperialism. It was a society kept backward and poor by feudalism. For many who had joined the Communist Party before the seizure of power in 1949, the Chinese revolution was in essence about breaking the grip of imperialism and turning China into a modern, industrialized society. And once the revolution succeeded in driving out imperialism, these forces, many now in leading positions, saw the task before the revolution as building up China's economic power—by whatever methods promised the most efficient results. These "bourgeois democrats" turned "capitalist roaders" were powerful and had a great deal of influence.
But that was not all. Revolutionary China faced enormous international pressures. The Soviet Union, which was no longer a socialist country in the 1960s and '70s, was threatening war, even nuclear strikes, against socialist China. This strengthened the conservative forces within the party. They claimed that the ferment and innovation of the Cultural Revolution were too risky, that it was time to put a stop to the Cultural Revolution—and that all must be focused on defense, stability, and rapid modernization. And they organized and mobilized social forces around this agenda.
Beyond these more immediate concrete factors—at a deeper level, there is the fact that socialist revolution is going up against thousands of years of master-slave relations, tradition, and the ideological force of habit, like people deferring to authority and convention.
It is these objective factors—the strength of counter-revolution and the monumental challenges of transforming class-divided society—that mainly account for the defeat of socialism in China in 1976. But the defeat was also conditioned, though secondarily, by some mistakes in orientation and conception on the part of Mao and the revolutionaries.
To get into this, we need to understand that an event of these world-historic proportions—the defeat of a truly transformative revolution that spanned 27 years in a country of almost a billion people—required a serious analysis. And the only person on this planet who analyzed what had happened in China from the standpoint of: why the revolution had been defeated, its implications, and how we have to not only build on the unprecedented, liberating experience of the Cultural Revolution but also learn from its problems and go beyond it in initiating a new stage of communist revolution... this was Bob Avakian.
The experience of communist revolution and the new synthesis of Bob Avakian are things you need to know about. These are not just interesting historical or philosophical questions. We are not talking about a "more balanced" discussion in the academy. What we are talking about is the fate of the planet and the future of humanity. What we are talking about is historical truth and human possibility.
You have been blocked from knowing about the vital history of communism, the real concepts and real development of communism. You have been prevented from debating these questions in any meaningful way. Everything you've been told about communism is wrong. The verdicts and "conventional wisdom" about communism are a profound obstacle to what is most needed: an emancipatory politics and an emancipatory discourse. But we're changing all of that.
2. On nuclear threats and nuclear war planning against Maoist China in the early 1950s, see John Wilson Lewis and Xue Lita, China Builds the Bomb (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), chapters one and two; Rosemary J. Foot, "Nuclear Coercion and the Ending of the Korean Conflict," International Security, Winter 1988/89 (Vol. 13, No. 3); Matthew Jones, "Targeting China: U.S. Nuclear Planning and `Massive Retaliation' in East Asia, 1953-1955," Journal of Cold War Studies, Fall 2008 (Vol. 10, No. 4); and "For Eisenhower, 2 Goals if Bomb Was to Be Used," New York Times (June 8, 1984), and Bernard Gwertzman, "U.S. Papers Tell of '53 Policy to Use A-Bomb in Korea," New York Times (June 8, 1984). [back]
3. On the Bolshevik revolution's approach to and achievements in expanding education to minority nationalities, ensuring equality of languages, and promoting instruction in native languages, see, for example, Jeremy Smith, "The Education of National Minorities: The Early Soviet Experience," Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 75, No. 2 (April 1997). [back]
4. For a historical-theoretical overview of the Cultural Revolution, see Bob Avakian, Mao Tsetung's Immortal Contributions (Chicago: RCP Publications, 1979), chapters 5-6; and Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, op. cit., II. [back]
5. Jonathan D. Spence and Annping Chin, The Chinese Century (New York: Random House, 1996), p. 84; Fredric M. Kaplan, Julian M. Sobin, Stephen Andors, Encyclopedia of China Today (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), p. 233. [back]
6. On the early phases of the Cultural Revolution, see Jean Daubier, A History of the Cultural Revolution (New York: Vintage, 1974) and Han Suyin, Wind in the Tower (Boston: Little, Brown, 1976), chapters 3-5. [back]
7. On the mass struggles in Shanghai, see Daubier and also Elizabeth J. Perry and Li Xun, Proletarian Power: Shanghai in the Cultural Revolution (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997). For how Mao was summing up mass experiences and giving leadership in the struggle to forge new institutions of power, see Raymond Lotta, Nayi Duniya, and K.J.A., "Alain Badiou's 'Politics of Emancipation': A Communism Locked Within the Confines of the Bourgeois World," Demarcations, Summer-Fall 2009, chapter 6, II. [back]
8. Suzanne Pepper, "Chinese Education after Mao," China Quarterly, March 1980 (No. 81), pp. 6-7. For useful studies on the expansion of schooling in the countryside and educational transformation during the Cultural Revolution, see Dongping Han, The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Educational Reforms and Their Impact on China's Rural Development (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000); and Ruth Gamberg, Red and Expert: Education in the People's Republic of China (New York: Schocken, 1977). [back]
9. See Kaplan, et. al., op. cit., p. 233, 242; and C. Clark Kissinger, "How Maoist Revolution Wiped Out Drug Addiction in China," Revolutionary Worker #734, December 5. 1993. [back]
10. Victor W. Sidel and Ruth Sidel, Serve the People: Observations on Medicine in the People's Republic of China (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973), pp. 22-24. [back]
11. Teh-wei Hu, "Health Care Services in China's Economic Development," in Robert F. Dernberger, ed., China's Development Experience in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), pp. 234-238. [back]
12. Penny Kane, The Second Billion (Hammondsworth: Penguin, 1987), p. 172. [back]
13. See Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, Hunger and Public Action (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), pp. 205, 214. Noam Chomsky uses Dreze and Sen's comparative mortality rates to reach this estimate of 100 million needless deaths in India (see "Millennial Visions and Selective Vision, Part One," Z Magazine, January 10, 2000). [back]
14. See, Bai Di, "Growing Up in Revolutionary China," Interview, Revolution, April 12, 2009, revcom.us/a/161/Bai_Di_interview-en.html; Dongping Han, "The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village," Interview, Revolution, September 6, 2009, revcom.us/a/175/dongping_han_full_QA-en.html; Mobo Gao, Gao Village (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1999). [back]
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
April 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Mainstream media sources have poured praise on the new Pope, Francis I, for being a humble man of the people. Yet he upholds the most anti-people positions. He is adamantly opposed to the right of abortion, access to birth control, women’s equality inside the Church, gay marriage (which he called the work of the devil), and the rights of gay people to adopt children.
But to truly understand this man, we should look at his role in Argentina during the Dirty War of 1976-1983 (see sidebar).
During the worldwide revolutionary storm of the 1960s, there was sharp polarization in the Catholic Church.
In Latin America, a large number of priests and nuns, many of them associated with the liberation theology movement and the Movement of Priests for the Third World, sympathized with the oppressed and in various ways defended them and/or joined in their struggles against their oppressors, including against U.S. imperialism. In Argentina, many priests went to live in the “villas miseria” (impoverished slums), some actively participating in the people’s struggles, others helping the poor survive.
Other Catholic clergy took the side of the ruling class oppressors and exploiters. In Argentina’s Dirty War, some participated in torture, assuring the torturers that their work was morally correct and trying to convince the victims to talk, including taking confession and passing the information to the torturers. And the two highest Argentine archbishops openly embraced the fascist generals.
What about Father Bergoglio during the Dirty War? On one point there is no debate: Bergoglio did not stand up and denounce the fascist rulers. He did not unite with those who were resisting the repression. He appeared in public with the fascist generals. He celebrated the Catholic Mass with them.
Even had he done nothing else, for someone in Bergoglio's position to accommodate to the fascist rulers, going along with each new repressive move, is itself enough to reveal him as a totally immoral monster—or rather a man with monstrous morals.
But the facts show a man who did much more than that. A skilled politician, he defended the status quo and stabbed in the back those who resisted, while providing empty gestures in defense of the downtrodden.
In the 1960s, Bergoglio was a member of the Guardia de Hierro (Iron Guard), a right-wing youth group active especially in Catholic universities. He opposed the radicalized students and the “leftist contamination” of the Jesuit order.
In 1969, he became the most powerful Jesuit leader in Argentina. In 1976, when a military coup was imminent, Bergoglio ordered his priests to stop supporting the anti-fascist resistance movements and even to stop working in the villas miseria because the rulers considered it seditious.
But many priests and nuns refused to sell out the people they worked and lived among. The military savagely attacked them. The Ecumenical Movement for Human Rights estimates that 100 priests, nuns, and other clergy were killed. The government even killed a bishop, Enrique Angelelli, who was about to expose the murder of two priests.
In May 1976, soldiers entered the home of Emilio Mignone to arrest his 24-year-old daughter, Monica. Mignone was a devout Catholic with faith in the government and the Church. Monica was active in a Catholic youth group working in the villa miseria Bajo Flores. Mignone told his daughter to go with the men. He never saw her again. She was tortured and “disappeared.” He and his wife, who became a founder of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, sought help from the Church, but were turned away. He became a human rights activist and investigated the role of the Catholic Church.
In 1986, Mignone's book The Church and the Dictatorship: The Role of the Church in Light of its Relationship to the Military Regime described Bergoglio as an example of “the sinister complicity” of the Church with the military that “took charge of the filthy task of wiping clean the inner halls of the Church, with the acquiescence of the prelates.” Mignone also related Bergoglio’s complicity in the kidnapping and torture of two young Jesuit priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics.
The Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky also investigated the Church and the Dirty War. In his 2005 book, The Silence: From Paul VI to Bergoglio: The Secret Relations Between the Church and the ESMA, as well as in more recent work, Verbitsky backed Mignone’s account.
Yorio and Jalics had been living and working among the poor. In 1976, the military put out a call to arrest them, claiming they were part of the armed resistance. It appears that this was untrue, though they opposed the fascist regime. They went to the leader of their order, Cardinal Bergoglio, asking him to protect them. Bergoglio told them he would protect them, but also ordered them to stop their work in defense of the oppressed—which they found unacceptable. In reality, however, Bergoglio did not protect them and had in fact been spreading word in Church circles that the two priests were subversives. Verbitsky interviewed a number of people who worked with Yorio and Jalics who are convinced that Bergoglio actually told the military to grab them. The two young priests were arrested, tortured, and held for five months in the infamous torture and detention center ESMA (Navy Mechanics School), after which they were dumped in a field.
Both priests fled Argentina. Yorio, who has since died, stated many times that Father Bergoglio had handed him and Jalics over to the military. Jalics was more diplomatic, saying that a certain “person” betrayed them, but it was clear from his description (in his 1994 book Meditation Exercises) that he meant Bergoglio. When Bergoglio became Pope Francis, Jalics said he wanted to put the history behind him. (“I am reconciled to the events and view them from my side as concluded.”) A few days later, he stated that he and Yorio “were not denounced by Father Bergoglio” and it is “wrong to assert that our capture took place at the initiative of Father Bergoglio.” On the one hand, it is revealing that he comes to this conclusion now, after 37 years and after Bergoglio becomes Pope; and on the other hand, the statement is carefully worded and does not say that Bergoglio was innocent of driving them out of the Jesuit order and creating an atmosphere which was a green light for the military to go after them.
Verbitsky also uncovered a revealing incident involving Bergoglio and Jalics in 1979. Living in Germany, Jalics wanted to renew his Argentine passport without having to return to Argentina. Verbitsky found documents in the archive of Foreign Ministry of Argentina that expose Bergoglio’s role and methods. First, Bergoglio made an official request that Jalics be allowed to renew his passport without returning to Argentina. Then came two internal notes from a ministry officer to the Foreign Minister saying that Bergoglio told him to ignore his official request and deny the passport application because Jalics had links with subversion and had been arrested and held in ESMA. Verbitsky wrote: “The procedure described in those documents coincides with the duplicitous style which Yorio and Jalics attribute to Bergoglio.” Verbitsky titled one chapter of his book, “Las dos mejillas del cardenal”—the two sides of Bergoglio’s face.
One of the horrific elements of the rule of the fascists in Argentina was their campaign to steal the babies from mothers that they murdered (including waiting for pregnant detainees to give birth before killing them), and give those babies to military officers and others in the regime. In 1985, a powerful film depicting this was produced in Argentina, La historia oficial [The Official Story]. An estimated 500 children were stolen, given new parents and new names, and never heard from again by their blood relatives. This has given rise to the movement Madres de Plaza de Mayo, an organization and movement of mothers seeking their lost children and grandchildren and demanding justice for those murdered.
Alicia de la Cuadra, a co-founder of Madres de Plaza de Mayo, whose daughter and newborn grandchild “disappeared,” asked Bergoglio for help. He appointed a priest to look into it. That priest, appointed by Bergoglio, informed her that her grandchild was adopted by a family “too important” to oppose.
Another co-founder of Madres, Estela Carlotto, said he "has never spoken of the problem of people who had disappeared under dictatorial rule."
Rocked by scandal after scandal, the Catholic Church has taken the unprecedented (in 600 years) step of replacing a live pope. An analysis of the crisis in the Catholic Church, its overall historic and present day role as a pillar of oppression, and why the Church hierarchy turned to Bergoglio is beyond the scope of this article.
Yet our look at Bergoglio’s role during the Dirty War reveals the truth about his attitude toward the oppressed. As long as they are docile slaves who don’t resist oppression and exploitation, he will be their “humble servant.” But once they rise up in resistance and, even worse, when Catholic priests and nuns support that resistance, then Bergoglio’s true colors come to light.
It is not clear whether Bergoglio was himself a fascist during the Dirty War, or one of those who would have preferred a more “democratic” form of rule but accommodated to the fascists more and more, preferring them over chaos or revolution. Either stand, however, is absolutely indefensible.
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
April 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On April 14, around 40 to 50 people gathered in LA for a dinner to celebrate the release of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! and raise funds for BA Everywhere. Many had been to the film premiere; others to the film showings and discussions at Revolution Books, some had just recently met revolutionaries on the street. There was a lively, revolutionary atmosphere from beginning to end. People of all ages, nationalities, walks of life, and from several countries greeted old friends and met new ones as the event began. Beautiful new BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! T-shirts were snapped up and put on, making a visible presence in the room. In the spirit of the celebration, one woman paid for her ticket and bought two T-shirts to donate to the Revolution Club.
Michael Slate, a revolutionary communist who writes for Revolution newspaper and hosts a radio show on KPFK, welcomed everyone to the dinner. A buzz of conversation and laughter rose from the tables as people sat down to eat. The diversity of the movement for revolution was expressed in the really delicious international food that everyone enjoyed—Persian lentil soup, vegan chili, rotisserie chicken donated by a vendor from the a farmer’s market, enchiladas, tamales, homemade pies prepared for the celebration, and much more, including a Persian potato-chicken salad with ‘revolution’ spelled out in pickles on top. Almost all the food was donated by people who are part of the movement for revolution, vendors and restaurants.
Members of the LA Revolution Club came forward as a group and stood together in front of the room. They were warmly applauded with real appreciation for the significance of young people stepping forward as emancipators of humanity. They read some of the statements people had made about their experience of the film. One of the Revolution Club members read a passage from BA’s memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey From Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, entitled "Mario Savio," where BA describes how he was troubled by the assumption that being part of the Free Speech Movement included opposition to the war in Vietnam, which he was still studying at the time. She said she wanted to read this passage to make the point that people who unite in the movement for revolution will be debating, studying, and wrangling with and thinking about many topics as they go and that they should be willing to step outside of their comfort zone, becoming a part of this movement for revolution as they learn more about it.
The remarks of the main speaker took off from the comments that were printed from Andy Zee in NY. She also drew from the recent piece from BA, “A Fundamental Point of Orientation, Approach and Objective.” And emphasized the role for everyone there in being a part of getting out this new film as they are getting more into it themselves—people might not agree with everything, but if they see the importance of getting it out, they should run with the Revolution Club and the BA Everywhere network to take the DVD out to thousands of people at the LA Festival of Books, May Day, Cinco de Mayo and the Fiesta Broadway—major opportunities in the next few weeks to introduce people to BA, this new film, and Revolution newspaper, and raise funds for BA Everywhere. Along with talking about the importance of fighting the power overall, she emphasized the importance of working now to build powerful support for the hunger strike called by prisoners in the California SHU for July 8, 2013.
The evening was filled with lively discussion and engagement with BA, with the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! and with the movement for revolution, on many levels. Some young people who had met revolutionaries on a street corner weeks before the dinner told their experiences of being brutalized and jailed by police. Hearing about the planned hunger strike and the prisoners' call for peace between different nationalities in the prisons and jails, one of them, a Latino brother, told the story of when he was in jail, handcuffed to a chair, the police tried to get him to fight a Black guy handcuffed to the chair next to him—the winner could go free. They refused. He and his friends left the dinner with a much clearer picture of what the movement for revolution is about, excited about going to the Festival of Books.
Someone from the middle strata, who has been getting into the DVD himself, said he was moved when he overheard one of these youth talk about wanting to get one of the new T-shirts, but not having the money to afford it. This person from the middle strata said he wants to start a fund for the youth to get revolutionary T-shirts, and wants to take this idea out to others as part of BA Everywhere.
A student who had heard a presentation from an RCP supporter in his college class last year met revolutionaries again just before the dinner and came to the celebration. He said that the excerpt from the DVD on human nature answered a question he had raised in the class, and he left with a copy of BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian. A woman who was active in the '60s told a diverse group how BA had been talking to her when he challenged '60s people to remember that they were right back then, and to act on that understanding.
One group held a lively, wide-ranging discussion in Spanish, struggling over religion and wrangling with how to find the ways to get out the DVD and raise funds for BA Everywhere even with the limitations of working and family responsibilities. They came up with a plan for a fundraising DVD showing.
After the dinner and program, people didn’t want to leave; they sat talking, or table-hopping, for another hour. The room was electric—deep engagement and discussion punctuated with jokes and laughter. Finally everyone helped clean up and went home with left-over delicious food and plans to spread BA Everywhere in the coming weeks. "This was amazing," one person commented as he left. "It was like a new cultural revolution."
More than $900 was raised for BA Everywhere.
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
May 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On Saturday, April 13, a potluck dinner and celebration in Chicago brought together over 40 people to enjoy great food, great company. It was one of the national dinners held in a number of cities focusing on raising big money and spreading the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! to tens of thousands of people and throughout society.
Since many who came had attended the recent Chicago premiere of the film, the dinner was a welcome opportunity to come together with others to continue that extraordinary journey and also to welcome the 20 percent who came to the dinner who had not been at the premiere. The crowd was diverse, people of different ages and walks of life; Black, white, and Latino. They brought a diversity of dishes, creating a cornucopia of food and drink to share in a hall decorated with centerfolds of Revolution newspaper.
Many noted that the dinner was marked by people newly volunteering in different ways to plan, carry out, and, of course, to themselves enjoy the evening's activities by mixing with others they may not have known before. Some people took charge of cooking and organizing the food and drinks, and visiting the tables, greeting people and plunking down desserts and drinks before all. Others had gone out to restaurant owners, family, and friends to get silent auction prizes, and some helped auction off the prizes.
After watching the chapter from the film "Emancipating Humanity ... Transforming Conditions & Transforming Human Nature" and hearing a speech drawn from the one given by Andy Zee in New York that appeared at revcom.us, a highlight of the night came when members of Chicago Revolution Club appeared as a group, and lined up together, to read some of the testimonials about the film that have appeared on revcom.us.
The Revolution Club stayed on stage as an older white man strode to the mic to read a testimonial from an anonymous "small business owner and peace activist." He started reading the statement: "You have got to watch this incredibly credible movie. It is an absolute 'Tour de force' by Bob Avakian that can and will move you right up to the front with thousands and then millions of others in the drive for revolution." He paused, smiled broadly at the crowd, and announced, "Okay, it's me. I wrote it."
This warm and fun vibe was at play the whole evening, where people felt excited about being part of building a community around this film and this movement for revolution. There were intense conversations throughout the entire evening as people poured out their thoughts, their questions, doubts, and hopes. Although it needs to go much, much further and to a whole societal level and very soon, many at the dinner did have important ideas about how to get this film out to their own circles and break out this film to exert real influence in the larger society and to raise big bucks to accomplish this.
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
By C. Clark Kissinger | May 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
At this writing, many thousands have signed an online petition to the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons demanding a compassionate release for imprisoned people's lawyer Lynne Stewart. Stewart was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2009 for allegedly aiding a terrorist—this "aid" consisting of releasing a public statement by her client!
Stewart, now 73, was battling breast cancer at the time of her imprisonment. Her sentencing prevented surgery that she already had scheduled. Her federal imprisonment in Texas delayed the needed surgery for 18 months and her cancer has now reached Stage Four.
The arrest, trial, and imprisonment of Lynne Stewart was, and is, an outrage. She has devoted her life to defending oppressed people, people who resisted injustice, and people whose criminal defense other lawyers wouldn't touch. It is essentially because she refused to stop doing that, that she is in jail today.
The specific charges for which Lynne Stewart was convicted were essentially that she did her best to defend a controversial defendant—something any principled attorney should do for their client. In the 1990s, Lynne Stewart worked as a defense attorney for fundamentalist Islamic cleric Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted and sentenced to life in 1996 for seditious conspiracy related to alleged plots to attack New York landmarks, including the World Trade Center. The government's allegation against Stewart is that she and two co-defendants, a translator and a paralegal, helped to communicate a message from Rahman to his organization in Egypt, by passing on a press release to a Reuters reporter indicating Rahman's opposition to a ceasefire with the Egyptian regime. (This is the same Egyptian regime that the U.S. suddenly "discovered" to be an intolerable tyranny two years ago.)
The government claimed that this public communication violated the "Special Administrative Measures" (SAMs) that had been placed on Rahman. SAMs began during the Clinton era and permit the government to isolate and silence any prisoner considered a threat to the security of the empire. Stewart's alleged offense occurred in 2000, yet the government did not take action against her until 2002, after the 9/11 attacks when prosecuting her suddenly became useful to publicizing "the war on terror."
The government's quest for revenge against Stewart knows no bounds. Stewart, who is hardly a flight risk, must wear 10 pounds of shackles on her wrists and ankles with connecting chains whenever she makes the trip to the prison physician. And in the prison hospital she is shackled wrist and ankle to the bed.
Responding to her many well-wishers, Stewart wrote on March 20: "The acknowledgement of the life-political, and solutions brought about by group unity and support, is important to all of us. Equally, so is the courage to sign on to a demand for a person whom the Government has branded with the "T" word—Terrorist. Understanding that the attack on me is a subterfuge for an attack on all lawyers who advocate without fear of Government displeasure, with intellectual honesty guided by their knowledge and their client's desire for his or her case, I hope our effort can be a crack in the American bastion."
Lynne Stewart must be freed, right now!
Sign the petition in support of a compassionate release at www.lynnestewart.org.
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
From A World to Win News Service
April 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
April 8, 2013. A World to Win News Service. Millions of people have read the story of the violent conquest of American Indian lands in historian Dee Brown's 1971 classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. But now the Oglala Lakota Sioux are being asked to buy what was stolen from them.
Today a parcel in Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge reservation is owned by a non-Indian man who lives far away and wants to sell it. This part of the historic battleground is adjacent to the mass grave referred to in the book's title.
Wounded Knee, a village in South Dakota, is famous as the site where Native Americans inflicted a crushing defeat on a U.S. Army regiment in 1876, and where in 1890 the same Seventh Calvary regiment mowed down as many as 300 Indian men, women and children. It is also well-known because of the 1973 occupation of the village led by members of the American Indian Movement seeking justice.
This is a place whose value lies in its embodiment of Native American history. If the tribe wants to buy it, they will have to pay the owner almost four million dollars for 17 hectares [42 acres]. Otherwise, the owner says, he will auction it off to the highest bidder, hoping for commercial development. This situation is grotesque and criminal—more like demanding ransom money for ancestral bones than an ordinary commercial transaction—but is a perfectly legal consequence of a century and a half of legalized theft, murder and punishment of the survivors.
The U.S. government promised the Sioux an enormous extent of land in the north-central U.S. in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. The government broke that treaty, and signed a new one for a much smaller amount of land in 1868. But three years later it passed the Indian Appropriation Act, which effectively turned reservations into prisoner of war camps whose inhabitants had no rights and could not leave. When gold and other valuable resources were discovered in the Black Hills, the government divided up the land, among Native Americans who hated the concept of private ownership of land and white settlers to whom private property was everything. Native Americans were left with land nobody else wanted—and then expelled from it when someone did.
In 1980 the Sioux were offered money from the federal government following a court decision that declared that their land had been taken from them illegally, in violation of the second Fort Laramie treaty. But accepting that settlement would mean giving up their claim to the Black Hills and they rejected it. Now the Oglala tribe of the Sioux is supposed to receive about 20 million dollars in compensation for government theft of money from land sales, but with the tribal government 60 million dollars in debt, this will not mark a turn for the better.
Much of the Pine Ridge Reservation is in Shannon County, the poorest county in the U.S. The land suitable for agriculture has been leased off to big producers. The tribal government is almost the only source of employment. About half the people live way below the official poverty line. The weather is harsh, the houses are in very bad condition, often unheated, and 40 percent have no electricity. Disease is rampant. Life expectancy is 47 years old for men and 52 for women, with drugs, alcohol, suicide and other forms of violence taking their toll. Rape is common, often carried out with impunity. Tribal governments have no authority over non-Indians who commit crimes on the reservation, and are most interested in enforcing their own rule. In reality they are local stooges of a federal government that is, at best, indifferent towards Native American lives.
Along with the kidnapping of Africans into slavery, the foundation of the wealth of the class that rules the U.S. today began with the seizure of Native American land and killing off the original inhabitants. Of the eight million Native Americans who once lived in what is now the U.S., according to an estimate, only a few hundred thousand were left by the beginning of the twentieth century, and they number only about half a million now. About half live in the country's 300 reservations.
The mark of a successful genocide is being able to say the victims themselves are responsible for killing themselves and each other on the reservations long after the cavalry imprisoned them there. Pine Ridge is a ghetto on the prairie, and when tribal members leave, it is usually for urban ghettos, the Army—or prison.
In 1890 the Native Americans from several tribes who were killed at Wounded Knee had been faced with a government order to sell their land. A chief named Sitting Bull and his followers refused. They were involved in the Ghost Dance movement, a religious revival that predicted the coming of a messiah and the end of white domination. The federal government considered it a sign of rebellion and moved to wipe it out by force. Sitting Bull was arrested and killed. The government ordered the arrest of the Sioux leader Big Foot and the tribe was declared "hostile," which amounted to a declaration of war.
The cavalry pursuing Big Foot's band was equipped with Hotchkiss guns, a new kind of rapid-firing weapon that shot explosive shells. It was a rotating cannon, lighter than standard artillery, designed to be pulled by horses through rough terrain. It was used in this last major battle between the U.S. Army and Native Americans, and then a short time later in the American conquest of Cuba and the Philippines.
Troops approached the group led by Big Foot and told him they were going to take the 120 men and 230 women and children to an army camp. Night was falling and the head army officer announced that their captives would be disarmed after daybreak. Teepees were set up. In the morning, not satisfied with the arms that had been turned over to them, soldiers began tearing apart the tents and belongings. A shot rang out as the troops scuffled with a warrior for his gun. The soldiers began firing indiscriminately.
"In the first few seconds of violence, the firing of carbines was deafening, filling the air with powder smoke. Among the dying who lay sprawled on the frozen ground was Big Foot. Then there was a brief lull in the rattle of arms, with small groups of Indians and soldiers grappling at close range, using knives, clubs and pistols. As few of the Indians had arms, they soon had to flee, and then the big Hotchkiss guns on the hill opened up on them, firing almost a shell a second, shredding the teepees with flying shrapnel, killing men, women and children.
"'We tried to run,' Louise Wise Bear said, 'but they shot at us like we were a buffalo. I know there are some good white people, but the soldiers must be mean to shoot children and women. Indian soldiers would not do that to white children...'
"The soldiers lost 25 dead and 39 wounded, most of them struck by their own bullets or shrapnel... A detail of soldiers went over the Wounded Knee battlefield, gathering up Indians still alive and loading them in wagons. As it was apparent by the end of the day that a blizzard was approaching, the dead Indians were left where they had fallen." (Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee)
Twenty soldiers were awarded medals of honour, the U.S.'s highest military distinction, for their work that day in 1890, the most ever awarded for a single battle in American history before or since. Those medals have not been rescinded, despite demands. In 1973 the government displayed the same attitude in its merciless persecution of people in Wounded Knee who rose up against a corrupt, puppet tribal government.
This time it was the FBI, not the cavalry, that was sent in, and in the context of those days—including support for the occupation from all over the U.S. and the world—they could not just use their big guns. But after the end of the 71-day armed stand-off they started a reign of terror on the reservation. About 1,200 people were arrested. At least two AIM members were killed and another activist disappeared.
Leonard Peltier was arrested for allegedly shooting two FBI agents during this warlike period. He always denied it, and the informant whose testimony helped lead to his conviction later said the FBI coerced her into lying. Other evidence has also been thrown into doubt by legal officials. He has had much support among ordinary people and prominent public figures. Nevertheless, Peltier has been in prison for the last 37 years, beaten badly on at least one recent occasion, with no prospect of release. Clearly this is about more than him; it is meant to send a message.
The cavalry has moved on to invade other countries, but the prison camps they constructed for Native Americans remain standing and under guard.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
April 11, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Listen to audio of interview
This is the transcript of an interview that ran on The Michael Slate Show with James Cavallaro of Stanford University, who co-authored a study titled "Living Under Drones." The interview was part of the show that aired on Pacifica radio station KPFK, Los Angeles, on January 25, 2013.
Michael Slate: The idea of this drone warfare, we hear it constantly, continuously, and some people are outraged, but really, generally there's not enough outrage and part of that I think comes from people looking at this as sort of a very clean, very surgical, sort of, "this is sort of just the way that war is conducted today and actually, it's a nicer war. There's not as many American boys being killed in a war like this." Your study kind of slams that all to hell and says that the entire narrative around drone warfare is false. Tell our listeners what you're talking about there.
James Cavallaro: Well, to start, it's worth spending a bit of time on what the narrative has been. And I think you summarize it well. What I would add is, the idea that has been dominant in mainstream media in the United States—and this is largely fostered by the official discourse—the main idea has been that drones and drone strikes are surgically precise, that the only casualties caused by drone strikes are terrorists. And since that has been the main narrative, naturally it has served, among other things, to mute opposition to drones. We were very concerned by this narrative because information that we had and also others—and organizations had approached us to see if we would be interested in investigating independently what the consequences of drones and drone strikes actually has been in Pakistan. And we took up that challenge and spent pretty much the year 2012 to date investigating intensely what have been the consequences of drones and drone strikes in Pakistan.
And the result of our work is the report that you cited, "Living Under Drones." But in a sense, of course I'm happy to get into much more detail on this, is the dominant narrative of surgically precise strikes that hit only terrorists, is simply false. That, in fact, drones hit civilians. Drones hit all sort of buildings and that drones have a significant impact on entire communities who are, on a daily basis, terrorized by these unmanned vehicles flying overhead that at any moment can fire down a Hellfire missile that can kill anyone who happens to be within the blast radius.
Slate: Let's jump into this one at a time here. Because one of the things that you just said about it is supposedly the narrative being it doesn't hit civilians. You're arguing that in fact it does. Civilians are deeply impacted, in fact killed by this drone warfare. And this is something that really, you know, well look, frankly, we're living in a situation where the U.S. government basically says—what did Brennan say? It was in the single digits, or there's virtually none, no civilians have been killed. Nobody in the U.S. regime actually admits to significant civilian murder as a result of this drone warfare. How do you speak to that?
Cavallaro: Well, first what's important, and there was an important piece written by Jo Becker and Scott Shane in late May in the New York Times. And that piece investigated the process by which drones are authorized, or at least some drone strikes, and I can get into the details of what the focus of that piece was and what could and should still be considered in more depth. But one of the very important revelations in that piece was that the administration counts those who are killed in a strike, if they are males of combatant age, which is quite a broad range—if a male in the relevant age range is killed in a drone strike, the administration considers that person to be a combatant, unless there is posthumous evidence demonstrating that person's innocence.
So think about that. Take a second. Wrap your head around that. What it means is, if the United States fires a Hellfire missile from a drone and it kills some group of men, the United States considers that they're all militants.
Well, of course, if that's your calculation method for establishing who is a militant or combatant, of course your figures for non-militant or noncombatant deaths will be low. In fact the presumption should be of innocence of those who are killed and there should be some examination, a thorough examination into who the victims are. That's one of the major concerns that we had in this report and one of the issues which we think needs significant response and attention as soon as possible from the administration.
But even without that mischaracterization of those who have been targeted, there is plenty of information. And we went through all the information in media sources and in what are called data aggregators, and there are three major data aggregators. And even the most conservative data aggregators, with whom we have significant issues because of their undercounting, even they are talking about scores and scores, if not hundreds and hundreds of civilians. And the most reliable data aggregator has calculated up to as many as 800, nearly 900 civilians killed.
So the single digits narrative is fantasy. And it's highly problematic because what it does, is it allows most people in the United States to accept the false narrative of surgically precise, terrorist-only weapons, almost as though these weapons were able to go down to a house level, knock on the door, establish that the person is a terrorist by overwhelming evidence, establish that the person is imminently plotting and about to strike and kill Americans, and then and only then killing the person.
That's what it allows people to believe when that's not the case.
Slate: Jim, one of the things when you're talking about this, the idea that—It struck me, especially when I saw this thing, and I'm familiar with the New York Times article you were referring to. And when I saw this thing about they clear up any mistakes posthumously. I mean, one, I think you're right. You would think that they would make that clarification, make that decision before they killed somebody, but even there, there's a certain cynicism and a real, deep, disgusting unreal thing in there, because posthumously after being hit by a drone is a pretty gruesome affair from what I understand in your report. It seems like that's actually almost a given, that that's not going to happen.
Cavallaro: Well, let me put it this way, because we can't know everything, and there's so much secrecy surrounding the U.S. drone practices. Virtually everything is shrouded unfortunately in an inappropriate secrecy, and evidently there's some margin that we understand, for national security that might be legitimately invoked, but it's been used to cover everything related to the drone program, including its very existence.
But again, what we know from the way drones work is those who are very close to the blast radius are incinerated, so it would be highly difficult at a minimum to establish information about those victims. But what I can say is, we are unaware of any serious, comprehensive effort by the United States to find out almost anything about those who are struck by drones. And we also are aware of the fact that in many instances, authorities have been unable even to identify those who've been killed, much less to establish who the person was, what the person was doing, if the person was a combatant, etc.
So, yes, you're right, there's very little to suggest that there is any significant attempt posthumously to exonerate those who've been killed. Which leaves you with: If you were killed, you were a combatant. And then if you roll that backwards, what does that do, that knowledge that drone operators and administrators and administration authorities have, that if they make a mistake, or if they target the wrong people, there's unlikely to be any consequence. What does that do to their targeting decision and their willingness to fire drones? I don't know. But it's a question that concerns me.
Slate: Exactly. And one other thing you guys raise in the report that really, really sort of just smacked me in the head is the point that they often describe, and you see this in the press all the time, they describe the victims of, or the targets, because they don't really ever talk about "victims of," they talk about the targets of the drone attacks are all "militants," which is a phrase you actually call for at the end of your report, you guys call for actually, stop using the term "militant" so easily, and start trying to define people as what they are. Because militants does seem to be a word that's been thrown around to obfuscate everything that's really going on there. What's the story with that?
Cavallaro: Yeah, it is. And I don't want to head too far into the realm of legalese, but militant is a term that sounds as though it legitimates or justifies the killing of the person. So that if a person is a militant, then that person could be killed by a drone. And that's not the case under international law.
In order for a target to be legitimate under international humanitarian law, the laws of war, the person would not only have to be a combatant, but the person would have to be engaged in an activity that imminently threatens interests that the United States could protect, like, say, U.S. lives or interests in Afghanistan, across the border, and there would have to be no means of capturing that person.
So a person could be a militant or a combatant, not be posing a threat to U.S. interests, and/or be subject to capture. And if any of those are the case, in other words, if a person is not presenting a threat to the United States, or if the person could be captured, then that person should not be killed by a drone strike, or could not or should not legally.
So that's one issue, which is very important, is who can the United States kill, or might be able to kill legally, and who can it not kill? But secondarily, and this is in many ways the bigger issue, what we've seen in the mainstream media is that the reporting on drone strikes in an area known as FATA, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, of Pakistan, which is an area of extremely difficult access because of the terrain, but also because it's cordoned off by the Pakistani military. It's an area in which, you simply can't enter. And what media sources have done, is report in effect verbatim, information from anonymous security officials about who was killed. So anonymous security officials who evidently have an interest in saying that those who they killed were combatants, as opposed to, "Hey, we killed a bunch of civilians today!"—they tell the media, anonymously, what they want the media to print. And the media then, obediently, unfortunately, in many, many instances, has simply printed what they are asked to print by anonymous sources.
We don't think that's an appropriate role for an aggressive, democratic media. And one of the things that we call on is for journalists to speak more critically about who are their sources, and also to interrogate what they're saying. So that if the only source for the assertion that all those who are killed are militants is an anonymous security official, maybe if you're a journalist, you say, "We don't know who they are. They're people. They're men. Some people, or some anonymous sources said they were militants," as opposed to "militant, militant, militant, militant," throughout the article.
So there is some responsibility here on the part of the media.
Slate: Tell me this, Jim. How does this add up when you throw in something that was, again, as you read the report, you keep getting more and more outraged—the idea of "double-tapping." Can you explain to my listeners what double-tapping is, and what that says about the civilian targeting?
Cavallaro: So, double-tapping refers to a practice where a drone will fire a Hellfire missile, a first strike, and then shortly afterwards, fire a second strike. And there have been a significant number of cases where this has been documented to have occurred in Pakistan. What that means in practice is, there's a missile strike. It hits a target. It has a blast radius. There may be a number of people who are killed, or maimed or injured in the blast radius. And now what's happened is, when others, first responders, have gone in to assist those who are injured and may still be alive, a second strike kills them. And because that has happened so frequently, unfortunately, in an area known as North Waziristan, which is the epicenter of these strikes, the people with whom we spoke, and we spoke with seventy people from that area who had been directly affected by drone strikes—they told us that they won't go into an area where a drone has struck, because they're afraid that they'll be the victim of a second strike.
And we had some really gruesome testimony of people who were near enough to strikes to see victims, and the victims are screaming and people won't go in to help them because they're afraid they'll be hit by another strike. But there's an important point here, Michael, if I could elaborate here, is, the nature of the drone strikes, double-tapping, as it's called, is one phenomenon, is such that because people don't know when drones are going to strike, all sorts of ordinary activities have been affected in these areas. And people are suffering from significant psychological trauma according to the symptoms that they describe to us, and also according to the interviews that we did with mental health professionals who have treated people from that area.
Slate: Now, Jim, you started to talk about that, the living under drones. What's the impact of this? As I understand it, one of the things that blew my mind was when, and I think there was somebody who was part of your team. I can't remember whether it was with Stanford or NYU, Jennifer Gibson I think her name was.
Cavallaro: Jennifer Gibson was part of our research team at Stanford and then graduated and is now working with an organization based in London.
Slate: Well, she wrote an op-ed piece for the LA Times where she talked about how so many of us think that a drone strike is sort of, the drone comes in, one or two of them come in, just appear out of nowhere and that they fire a single missile or two missiles or whatever into a crowd of people and then they disappear. She said, actually, you're talking about a situation where 24/7, people are living under the threat of drones, literally. Is that the case?
Cavallaro: So here's what we were able to document. I went to Pakistan twice for a couple of weeks and spent time speaking with, again, this group of 70 people who, in several shifts, came and met with us, who live in areas where drones fly overhead, and who are directly affected because some of them, themselves, had been injured or maimed by drone strikes, or they lost a relative or many relatives, or because they'd had drones hovering over and had fired Hellfire missiles in their communities.
So these are people who are living constantly under drones. And what they told us—and this is really part of what really had the greatest impact on us, as much as the death and destruction and maiming evidently has an impact on anyone. What they told us is, the drones in their communities hover overhead at times 24 hours a day for several days on end. They emit a buzzing sound. And we spoke with many, many people and they would imitate the sound, a bzzz-zzzz-zz, like a bee. It's something that even when they're sleeping, it's there, and it's in the back of their heads. And they have no idea when one of these drones will fire a Hellfire missile down on their communities. They also don't know where it will hit or who it will hit.
So imagine what this does to them on a daily basis. They're walking in the bazaar: they don't want to get too close to someone if they don't know who that person is, because maybe that person is suspected of being a combatant by the drone operator and maybe a drone will hit that person. And if it does and I'm within 15 or 20 yards, I will be killed by the shrapnel.
So that's the logic, and what it's done is it's cast a pall on all sorts of activities. People told us for instance they don't go out of their houses unless they have to. They don't congregate with three or four men any more. They don't go to religious services. They don't go to funerals. And here's maybe the worst, is many people told us they don't send their children to school anymore. Because they don't know where they are. They don't know where they're going to be. They don't know if they're going to wander into an area where there's a group of men that might look to someone in, say, Nevada, who's watching a video image, like a group of militants or combatants.
So the entire community has been profoundly affected. And the other major effect, evidently related to the first, are the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, the symptoms of other psychological maladies, of stress-related disorders that many people with whom we spoke told us about. They're suffering themselves and have many others in their community suffering. I would say in a sentence, in a short sentence: The United States has not declared war on Pakistan and is not officially engaged in a war in North Waziristan, but the narratives of people in that area were narratives that sounded like people living in a war zone.
That's the way people living under drones experience drones and drone strikes.
Slate: I know you were careful not to get into all the legalese and legalisms, in terms of language before, but a significant part of your study actually does raise the question of the legality or illegality of all this. And that really strikes me because I'm looking at it and I'm thinking, OK, how many crimes are going to be allowed to be committed, and to me, from my own viewpoint after reading the study and my own thinking about it beforehand, these kinds of things, at the very least must violate half a dozen international laws. It just seems to me, humanitarian law has to be violated time and time again in the process of this whole drone warfare system. What did you guys find about that?
Cavallaro: So, I'll try and be succinct, but let me start by saying there is significant evidence, and we pull it together in this report. And there are other sources as well that demonstrate that there's every likelihood that many, many drone strikes have occurred in violation of international law. But here's what makes it a tricky—and this is part of, I would say, the strategy, although I can't speak to, knowingly, what the strategy of the administration is, but it seems as though this may be what they've been thinking. You can imagine a hypothetical scenario—one can imagine—where there's a person in North Waziristan, a combatant, and the combatant is about to fire a missile, and the missile will strike and kill I don't know how many Americans in Afghanistan, hypothetically, OK? And there's no way to arrest this person. And the person has the missile and is about to fire it.
And in that circumstance one can imagine, well, it might be legal under those circumstances as described for the U.S. or someone to use some sort of lethal military strike, such as a drone, to attack that person before the person, who is about to imminently attack and kill many Americans, can fire the missile he's about to fire, right?
So you can imagine, you can work into the intellectual possibility of that occurring. Here's what happens. Because that intellectual possibility occurs, and because the United States has taken measures to close off investigations to shroud drone strikes in secrecy, unfortunately to make sure that media do not know what's happening, the administration is able to say, "Our strikes are legal. We won't provide any basis for why that's true. We won't let you know what the legal memoranda say. We won't let you know the specifics of what happened in any of these cases. But because there's some theoretical, hypothetical possibility that maybe there could be a legally valid drone strike, we're just going to tell you they're legal. Now go away, stop investigating and report what I tell you."
That's what we've gotten. And that simply is not good enough in a democracy. It's not good enough with the media, that should be concerned about human life, and it's not good enough with a society of citizens who should be concerned about human life. Anywhere. Not just in the United States, but human life in Pakistan. And it should also concern us when we know that 176 children, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, have been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, and as many as 880 civilians.
So there are very, very serious legal questions that need to be answered. And I don't think they're going to be answered until people get outraged and demand those answers from authorities.
Slate: You know it's interesting, Jim, to think about people doing that, and to me it's really important. Because here you look at it, and you guys make a point in your study that, since Obama came into office, the number of drone strikes and the devastation caused by drones, has just increased immensely in three years. It's...
Cavallaro: Five- or six-fold.
Cavallaro: By five or six times.
Slate: Yeah, and people keep turning away and turning away and turning a blind eye to this. And I was thinking even these things, like you were talking about the things to be talked about in terms of a "personality strike," in a certain sense if you're going after one person and you think you got this. And while that's bad enough, he also has instituted these things called "signature strikes," which to me, just by the very description of them, the character of them—Jesus! What are we thinking, that we can sit and say, "OK, this makes sense to me"?
Tell people what a signature strike is and what do you think about that?
James Cavallaro: You're absolutely right. What's most worrisome about the drone practices of the United States are the signature strikes. So let's just go through what the difference is. A personality strike is one where an individual has been identified. The United States military or CIA authorities know who the person is. They have reason to know that the person is involved in al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and is plotting an incident imminently, represents a threat, can't be arrested, all of that criteria that would have to be filled, and they decide to target that person.
Let's put that to the side. And we should put that to the side because all evidence suggests that that kind of strike, a personality strike, is a small percentage of the strikes that have taken place, particularly in recent years. Where most strikes occur is in what's called the signature strike context. And what does that mean? It means that people who are watching the videos, the images taken by drones—they're watching those images, god knows where, possibly at some CIA location, undisclosed location in the United States, in Nevada, elsewhere—they're watching those images and they assess from those images, based on the pattern of activity, that the people that they're looking at are combatants, that those people are plotting or engaged imminently in an attack on U.S. interests and that they can't be captured. At least that's what they're telling us.
And when they establish all that, from the video screen, then they fire one Hellfire missile, and maybe a second when first responders come, to kill those people. That's almost certainly where most of the deaths have occurred. And that is far beyond where a lot of the focus of the media has been in recent months, particularly since the New York Times article that we referred to earlier by Jo Becker and Scott Shane which talked about Obama's role in making decisions about the first kind of strike, the personality strikes, where the individual who is targeted is known. The focus has been on personality strikes, even though most of the deaths almost certainly have occurred in signature strikes where someone is looking at a video image and deciding, "Oh, these people, they're probably up to no good. They're probably doing something that will have lethal consequences for the United States. We don't think we'll arrest them, so we'll kill them. That is a context which, again, I think raises—should raise—all sorts of red flags.
Slate: Absolutely. And Jim, one last thing, just so people can have this on their minds as they go about their business after hearing this interview, the numbers. What are the numbers involved?
Cavallaro: The numbers of people killed?
Cavallaro: We're looking at unfortunately several thousand now in Pakistan, and again there are others in Yemen, but that wasn't the focus of our report. But the numbers—the best source, which is the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, had the numbers through early September at between 2,562 and 3,325 people, of whom, they were able to classify with all of the ambiguity in the information, between 474 and 881 as civilians, and 176 as children. And again, many more of those could be civilians, but there's not enough information to know that. So significant numbers. If you look at the numbers of people killed, it's on the order of people killed on 9/11.
Slate: Where can people find the study?
Cavallaro: The site is livingunderdrones.org. There they can find the study. There's a video, all sorts of resources relevant to this issue. And hopefully—one thing I'll say is, this is an issue where again, to the extent people are involved and outraged and let people in Congress and the administration and others know, that might start some sort of—some process of accountability within the United States.
Slate: Thank you very much for joining us.
Cavallaro: Thank you very much, Michael. I appreciate it.
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
Center for Constitutional Rights Class Action Lawsuit
by Li Onesto | May 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
In 2008, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a federal class action lawsuit, Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al, which argues that the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program violates the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that supposedly prohibits unreasonable searches, the 14th Amendment that supposedly granted equality to Black people, and the Civil Rights Act. Floyd argues that the NYPD unlawfully stopped the four named plaintiffs, overwhelmingly because they are men of color. This important lawsuit is now being heard in Federal Court in Manhattan.
CCR attorneys argue that the plaintiffs in this case represent the many thousands of others who have been stopped without any cause—on their way to work, in front of their house, or just walking down the street. Darius Charney, CCR's lead attorney in the case, said in his opening statement when the trial started on March 18: "So really this trial is 14 years in the making, your Honor, as plaintiffs seek, at long last, to hold the city accountable for years of widespread racially discriminatory and unconstitutional stops and frisks."
This high-profile case is an important part of the overall struggle against stop-and-frisk—putting a glaring spotlight on what this horrendous violation of civil rights actually does to millions of people. The trial is being widely covered in the media—nationally and internationally. People around the country who face similar draconian police repression have their eyes on this case. The dramatic testimony coming out is prompting new rounds of discussion and debate among lots of different people. And the trial itself has become a gathering place for different groups and individuals who want to express their anger around stop-and-frisk and join the fight against it.
Each day, hundreds have packed the courtroom and the overflow room as well. Various community organizations, religious groups, students, political activists and others have mobilized to attend the trial. There have been lunchtime press conferences, rallies, speak-outs. Members of the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition have come out—as Muslims have been targeted by stop-and-frisk and also subjected to illegal surveillance by the NYPD. One day LGBT groups attended to raise awareness about how LGBT people are targets of stop-and-frisk, particularly young LGBT people of color. Another day, students and faculty from the City University of New York (CUNY), where lots of Black and Latino students are victims of stop-and-frisk, held a press conference to speak out about their experiences of being stopped.
Since 2004, it has happened 5 million times. Cops subject someone to the NYPD policy of stop-and-frisk. Blacks and Latinos make up nearly 90 percent of those stopped in stop-and-frisk encounters, even though these two groups make up only 54 percent of the city's population. Almost 85 percent of the time the person is not doing anything illegal at all. But they get jacked up, interrogated and searched. Some are ordered to "assume the position," or lie face down on the ground. It can get even uglier. It's always humiliating.
For years, among the victims of stop-and-frisk, there has been tremendous resentment and anger. More recently, a growing struggle against stop-and-frisk has made many others in society aware of how this widespread practice systematically violates people's rights. And now this NYPD policy is actually being put on trial in New York City.
This case is being heard in court in the context of growing opposition and struggle against stop-and-frisk. There have been marches and protests. There has been civil disobedience at police precincts, leading to arrests and trials. Victims of stop-and-frisk have told their stories in the media. Prominent figures have come out against stop-and-frisk.
All this has created a very charged situation where the powers-that-be cannot ignore the fact that increasingly, in the eyes of many people, what the NYPD is doing is illegitimate. There have been two other legal cases that in some way questioned the NYPD policy, and the battle around stop-and-frisk in the legal arena has been very contentious—with the City of New York staunchly standing by its stop-and-frisk policy.
The City's lawyers have fought against these court cases, trying to prevent them from even going to trial. Mayor Bloomberg has continued to get out loudly and frequently in the media, aggressively defending stop-and-frisk. New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has continued to belligerently defend stop-and-frisk. The City claims stop-and-frisk is necessary to fight crime, even though only 6 percent of stops result in any arrests. It claims that stop-and-frisk gets guns off the streets, even though the rate of seizure of guns during stops is miniscule: 0.15 percent. And the City has argued that a court-ordered injunction banning stop-and-frisk would represent "judicial intrusion" and that they could not "guarantee that suspicionless stops would never occur or would only occur in a certain percentage of encounters." In other words, they are saying they cannot guarantee the police will not violate people's Constitutional rights.
In order to certify as a class, the plaintiffs in Floyd had to show that their circumstances are typical of an entire group of people—which in this case, is everyone stopped since January 2005 without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. And this includes those stopped just because they are Black or Latino. When this case was granted status as a class action lawsuit, it meant that if the plaintiffs win their case, whatever remedy is imposed by the court will be imposed citywide. So in this way, what is being put on trial is not just what happened to four victims of stop-and-frisk but the NYPD's entire stop-and-frisk program. The CCR explains, "The lawsuit does not seek money for the class of individuals who have been unlawfully stopped and/or frisked by the NYPD. Instead, it seeks to obtain a ruling from a federal court that aspects of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policies and practices are unconstitutional and should be fundamentally changed."
The lead plaintiff, David Floyd, a Black medical student, testified how he was stopped twice—once as he was just walking down the sidewalk and a second time when he was helping a neighbor who had been locked out of their apartment. When asked how he felt after the first time he was stopped, Floyd said, "Definitely frustrated, humiliated, because it was—it was on my block. It's where I live. And I wasn't doing anything except for headed home. So, I—at that point I just—I really remember just wanting to get home, just wanting to kind of be in my own space." Then after the second time he said, "I think that it was, again, the humiliation. I think it was a little bit more though than the first time because it was the second time, because it wasn't—it wasn't down the block. It wasn't another neighborhood. It was actually on the property that I lived on and paid rent on every month. And, you know, I felt like—I felt like I was being told that I should not leave my home. Whether—and it didn't matter whether I was going to school. It didn't matter whether I was going to work or, you know, whatever it was that I need to stay in my place, and my place is in my home." (All testimony quotes are from court transcripts.)
At the end of his testimony, Floyd explained why he decided to serve as a plaintiff in this case, saying, "Well for me, first and foremost, you know, I didn't do anything. And, you know, I feel like I want to make that clear. I am not a criminal. I didn't commit any criminal acts. I am not guilty of anything and therefore I should not have been detained at any point in time. I think that for me personally, my personal character, you know, I'm big on justice and I'm big on responsibility. And if, you know, if there is no responsibility, if—in these instances police officers, you know, who are individuals carrying weapons. They are carrying guns. And if they're not being responsible, then, you know, to me it's—it just makes for a dangerous situation. It makes for a dangerous situation. And, you know, whatever it looks like, an irresponsible person with a gun is dangerous. And so with those two things in mind, to me is, you know, it was important to become a part of this."
Sixteen-year-old Devin Almonor took the stand to tell the story of how he was stopped when he was only 13 years old. He was walking home when he was stopped and questioned. He said that then "they began to grope me, they began to pat me down for any weapons." Then, he said, "They pushed me up against the car of the passenger side and they began—then they began to handcuff me."
When asked what his reaction to be handcuffed was at that point, he said, "fear." The lawyer asked, "Anything else? Did you do anything at that point?" And Almonor said, "I was crying."
The cops put him in the back seat of the police car and on the way to the precinct, Devin said one of the officers said, "Why are you crying like a little girl?"
Almonor was also asked why he decided to become a plaintiff in this case, to which he answered, "Because I believe that—I don't want anyone else to go through this incident because it's very frightful, and I am willing to fight against injustices."
Since his mother died of cancer, 24-year-old Nicholas Peart has been the legal guardian of three younger siblings—his two brothers, 12 and 13 years old; and a 20-year-old sister who is disabled. As another plaintiff in the case, Peart testified about being the victim of stop-and-frisk four times.
The first incident was in Harlem in April of 2011. He described his clothes: "I was wearing sneakers. I had on jeans. And a hoodie." He described what he was doing at the time: "I had been going to the corner store, the corner bodega to pick up some milk for my siblings for them to have the next morning."
He said he was texting when he was stopped by two cops who took his cellphone and then told him to put his hands up against the wall of a church. Then, he said, "I was patted down over my upper body, my arms, both my arms, my lower body as well, both my legs"—then handcuffed. It was the first time in his life, Peart said, he had ever been handcuffed. He talked about how the police took his keys and went into his building, how he was afraid for his younger brothers and sister.
What did he feel at that point? "I felt criminalized," Peart said, "For me to be stopped on my way to the corner store that's up the block, and to be treated like that by someone who works for New York City, I felt degraded and hopeless."
He was put in the back of the police car and the cops then took off his sneakers. They asked him if he had any weed on him and then patted over his socks.
In the second incident, in August 2006, Peart was with his cousin and some friends. Three cars came up to them and at least five cops came out with their guns pointed at them and told them to "get down on the ground." As they lay face down, the cops patted them down. Peart told the court, "They patted over my basketball shorts and I was touched." The judge asked him, "You could feel them touching you in the groin area?" and he answered, "Yes."
When a lawyer for the plaintiffs asked him what he was thinking as he laid there on the ground getting patted down, Peart said, "I was thinking—I was embarrassed because—I felt I didn't belong on 96th Street and Amsterdam, you know, me turning 18 and being in that area, I felt that I didn't belong there. I felt embarrassed because the people that were out there at that point seeing what happened, I felt criminalized. My cousins, they had been visiting me from the suburbs in the Poconos, and they had never been through anything like that, and their parents let them celebrate their birthday with me and something like that happens... I was embarrassed, and I felt like I didn't belong on 96th Street and Broadway... I felt criminalized for being in that neighborhood."
Peart then went on to describe two more times where he was violated by stop-and-frisk. In the spring of 2008, in Brooklyn, in East Flatbush as he was coming from his grandmother's house he was stopped by two cops who made him put his hands up against a garage door and then patted him down. Then in September 2010, as he was coming home from the gym, listening to his iPod, two officers walked up, told him to put his hands up against the wall, unzipped his jacket, then took his wallet went through it.
These testimonies paint a vivid and ugly picture of how stop-and-frisk creates a whole repressive situation where for millions of people there is always the threat that you could be stopped for no reason at all—put up against the wall, disrespected, humiliated, maybe unjustly arrested, beat up, or worse. If you're Black or brown—it doesn't matter who you are. You could be a doctor or have a PhD and still be "suspicious." If you're a teenager wearing the "wrong clothes" and looking back "the wrong way," then for sure you're going to get jacked up. Many young Black men tell you they've been stopped at least 20 times, the first time perhaps when they were 11 or 12.
This form of social control by the powers-that-be criminalizes a whole section of people and is part of what many call the "new Jim Crow." Here, just like in the South when all Black people faced the real fear they could be lynched by the KKK, we've got a situation where anyone, just by the fact that they are Black or Latino—and especially if they are young—can never walk anywhere without the constant fear that they will be stopped and frisked and have their rights violated by the NYPD.
WHY does this system—with its armed enforcers—have conscious policies like stop-and-frisk not just in New York City, but in cities all around the country?
In this country nearly 2.4 million people are behind bars, the majority Black and Latino men, and stop-and-frisk serves as a pipeline for this mass incarceration. Millions of people, especially Black and Latino youth, stopped: One thing can lead to something else. You get stopped, for nothing. You're now in the database, labeled a "gang member." Maybe you get charged for something small. It all adds up. Pretty soon you find yourself facing time and you're one of the millions who end up in prison. If you ever get out, you're marked for life, denied a job, housing, benefits, the right to vote and more.
As Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party says, "Let's pull back the lens and look at the larger picture. The skyrocketing incarceration rates in the U.S. began in the 1970s, in the aftermath of the urban rebellions of the 1960s which spearheaded the development of a revolutionary movement that rocked the U.S. government back on its heels, and as the process of searching for greater profit margins was driving the shift of manufacturing out of the U.S. to countries around the world. From one end, the U.S. rulers felt a need to exert greater control over Black youth to ensure they would not be in position to spark another round of uprisings and all that could mean. At the same time, the shift of manufacturing was leaving growing numbers of young Black people without legitimate means to survive and raise families." (See "Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide" at blackagendareport.com.)
The CCR also put on the stand NYPD officers testifying for the plaintiffs. Officer Adhyl Polanco talked about how there are basically mandated quotas for stop-and-frisk stops. He said he was told by one supervisor that if he didn't make a certain amount of stops, "you'll become a pizza delivery man" and that there were significant consequences if he didn't fulfill the expected numbers of UF-250 forms (filled out for each stop-and-frisk stop). These, he said, ranged from being denied overtime, having one's tour (shift) changed, or being subjected to performance monitoring.
Another NYPD cop, Pedro Serrano, testified that he was afraid he would be disciplined for not meeting the "performance goals," so he began recording his performance reviews with supervisors. He said he did these recordings because "I needed proof... They are asking me to do something illegal, stopping people illegally."
Polanco said that basically, what the cops were told was that if they saw a group of Black or Latino kids on a corner they were to stop them and even if there were doing nothing wrong, "handcuff the kids anyway." On one tape, played in court, Polanco's supervisor tells him, "The problem was what? Male blacks. And I told you that at roll call, and I have no problem telling you this: male blacks 14 to 20."
Polanco said, "We are illegally stopping and illegally frisking young Black and Hispanic people." He also got very emotional when he told the court why he had decided to be part of the lawsuit, saying, "As a Hispanic, walking in the Bronx, I have been stopped many times. It's not a good feeling. I promised as an officer I would respect everyone to my abilities. I just want to do the right thing. That's all."
State Senator Eric Adams, a 22-year veteran of the NYPD, testified about a conversation he had with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in July 2010. Adams said when he raised concerns about stop-and-frisk unfairly targetting Blacks and Latinos, Kelly said "that he targeted or focused on that group because he wanted to instill fear in them, every time they leave their home, they could be stopped by the police."
In addition to vivid testimony from victims of stop-and-frisk, the CCR lawsuit also includes an impressive amount of documentation showing how the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy carries out racial profiling and therefore violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Expert witness Professor Jeffrey Fagan testified, explaining his analysis of a decade's worth of stop-and-frisk data—two reports that analyze information recorded by police officers in their stop-and-frisk reports (UF-250 forms) between 2004 and June 2012. As the CCR said in their daily summary, "Fagan's research shows what millions of New Yorkers already know from personal experience—that people get stopped for no other reason than being black- or brown-skinned."
This is just some of what Fagan's reports reveal:
The growing struggle to STOP stop-and-frisk, including this trial, is putting a damning spotlight on stop-and-frisk. This is a big problem for the powers-that-be, which has given rise to differences among various ruling class figures over how to respond.
While Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Kelly continue to unequivocally defend-stop-and frisk, other politicians and figures within the NYPD are calling for the policy to be "reformed." But to be clear, the concern on the part of all these ruling class forces is NOT for the victims of stop-and-frisk who are having their rights violated every day. The concern is for the legitimacy and stability of the system and its ability to control and rule over people—including getting people to accept and cooperate with this whole repressive set-up.
John A. Eterno, a retired New York City police captain, voiced this concern: "Interactions like stop-and-frisk bring serious problems, weakening trust and cooperation with the police... This approach alienates minority communities and youth who could be helping to fight crime. If they see something, they will not say something to officers abusing their authority and not working with communities. This is a key principle of community policing."
As Bob Avakian has pointed out: "The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness." (BAsics 1:24)
The CCR points out that this class action suit against stop-and-frisk "is the culmination of more than 15 years of work by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the solid determination of a citywide movement that has made stop and frisk a central issue in New York City politics." Now this trial, in turn, is contributing to the growing awareness and movement against stop-and-frisk. The eyes of people around the country and the world are on this trial, and the damning testimony and evidence is bringing them the truth that, as one of the chants at STOP stop-and-frisk protests says: "Stop-and-frisk don't stop the crime—stop-and-frisk IS the crime!"
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
April 26, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Monday, May 20 7:30 PM
The Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew, 263 W. 86th Street
(between Broadway and West End Ave.)
This joint fundraising event for the Stop Mass Incarceration Network and Revolution Books, NYC promises to be a dynamic and substantive conversation between two people on the cutting edge of calling out all the horrors this system inflicts on people all over the world and actively involved in calling on people to stand up and build resistance to them.
If you want to get more information on this dialogue and get involved in spreading the word on it, selling tickets and working to make it happen, contact the Stop Mass Incarceration Network at (347) 979-SMIN (7646) or emailing email@example.com.
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
April 24, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
We are outraged at the illegitimate, immoral and dangerous decision made by CLPP organizers, including CLPP Director Mia Sullivan, to use police to eject us from your conference under threat of arrest simply for peacefully advocating an anti-pornography position to those who approached us at our own organizational table.
This action on your part violates the most basic and essential standards of any movement against oppression. The police are the armed enforcers of a highly oppressive and repressive state. There is a long and brutal history of the role of the police—from the murder and wrongful imprisonment of Black Panther Party members in the 1960s to the more recent coordinated brutality inflicted on Occupy protesters across the country—in attempting to crush, punish, and demoralize those who would lift their heads to fight against oppression. No one who calls on the police to suppress and physically threaten others who are fighting against oppression can legitimately claim to be doing anything other than the work of this highly oppressive, violent, and repressive state.
We demand that you repudiate this decision and that you invite us back to have an open forum to put forward our views which were forcibly suppressed to the Hampshire community. This is all the more critical given the dire situation with women's right to abortion so imperiled, which is the primary reason we were motivated to attend your conference in the first place.
We cleared our calendars and traveled to your conference, "From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom," due to our intense alarm over—and desire to connect with others concerned about—the stunning escalation of assault on abortion rights as a key front of the overall war on women. As you know, 2013 is set to be the third year of record restrictions on abortion. In the weeks just prior to your conference, several states passed the most extreme restrictions on abortion seen to date—including a law in North Dakota that would criminalize any abortion after six weeks (long before the majority of women even know they are pregnant!).
We came with an announcement of April 25th as a National Campus Day of Action for Abortion On Demand and Without Apology! Our aim with this was to unite with students and others to wear stickers, speak out and raise awareness about the right to abortion on this day and to build for massive struggle throughout the summer to defend this essential right.
On another level, we aimed to share with people our approach of situating the struggle for abortion in the context of the broader war against women, including the increasingly violent, degrading and mainstream nature of pornography and the sex industry. Within all of this, some within our group were eager to get into the common source of the many forms of oppression in the system of capitalism-imperialism and the need for all-the-way genuine communist revolution, as it has been re-envisioned by Bob Avakian, to get rid of this system and bring into being a far better, fully liberated world.
It came as no surprise to us that, starting with the first evening when one of our group told the story of her abortion as part of the Abortion Speak Out and continuing through the many workshops we attended, we encountered people with divergent responses to ours, including among your organizers. Some loved our desire to challenge feelings of shame and guilt that many women are made to feel about their abortions, others disagreed. Some appreciated our insistence that Obama is responsible for conciliating with the most severe spate of restrictions on abortion since Roe v. Wade and that he is a war criminal for reviewing "kill lists" every week to decide who will be murdered by drone, assassinating U.S. citizens, and continuing torture at Guantanamo; others insisted that Obama is "our friend." Some loved our opposition to porn and began wearing our stickers ("If you can't imagine sex without porn, you're fucked!"), while others were curious about this and got into thoughtful discussion and still others strongly disagreed. Numerous other examples could be given.
We welcomed this. Isn't one of the purposes of a conference on social justice to provide the opportunity for people to hear different approaches as they are put forward by people who share a commitment to defending the lives and rights of oppressed people? In fact, we had been commenting among ourselves about how positive our experience at the conference had been, how many welcomed our views and how important it was to engage the differences.
All this added to our shock when Mia Sullivan and other CLPP organizers showed up at our organization's official registered table with police, demanding that we leave under threat of arrest on the evening of Saturday, April 13th.
Our "crime"? A few people had come to our table to defend pornography and the sex industry and we got into a passionate, yet substantive and principled debate with them over our understanding of how these institutions enslave and degrade women. Despite the fact that they were free to leave at any time, they instead complained to organizers that they felt our presence made the conference no longer a "safe space." Even more outrageously, CLPP organizers never investigated what had happened with us or anyone else who had witnessed the exchange. They never tried to facilitate dialogue or participation of people with divergent views. Instead, they showed up immediately with police and insisted we leave. (For a more detailed account, please read this blog post [stoppatriarchy.tumblr.com/post/47934414578/criminalization-of-anti-pornography-position-at-social].)
Is it the official position of CLPP that you have to support pornography and the "sex industry"—or at least muzzle any principled opposition to it—in order to participate in your conference? If so, where is this stated?
Is "safe space" to mean that participants should be protected—through the force of the state—from encountering ideas that differ from their own?
Later, official student organizers of the CLPP conference defended the use of police by insisting that "people had been complaining about you since the first night of the conference." If this is true, why did no one from CLPP ever raise these concerns directly to us? Why was it that the first we heard of any complaints was with the arrival of police insisting we leave? If this was not the case, will you go on record to counter these rumors?
These same student CLPP organizers also insisted to us that the campus police "aren't real police" and "aren't part of the state" and weren't really threatening us with arrest. Will you clarify to your students (as the campus police did to us) that the campus police are indeed "real police" and were threatening to imprison us at the Amherst Police Precinct, with the additional threat of further time in jail for our alleged "violation"?
Finally, it is a bitter irony that your conference included numerous workshops on "state violence," "racial justice," and the "prison industrial complex" yet one of the people you called the police on is a young Black man who has been Stopped & Frisked growing up in Brooklyn more times than he can remember. This young man decided to put his body on the line and face up to a year in jail when he joined in the campaign of mass civil disobedience against Stop & Frisk last year together with Carl Dix, Cornel West, and dozens of others. It is a further bitter irony that your conference held workshops and gave voice extensively to concerns about making the conference welcoming and safe for LGBT people, yet one of the people you called the police on is a transgender person who has (owing to the obvious dangers which face transgender people particularly at the hands of police and in jail) has judiciously calculated which political activities to take part in specifically to avoid the risk of arrest. Neither of these people imagined that a conference on "Abortion Rights" and "Social Justice" would be the place where they faced the greatest threat of being imprisoned!
It is for all these reasons that we call on the CLPP organizers to repudiate this outrageous and unprincipled use of police force to suppress peacefully expressed political views. We also call on CLPP and the Hampshire community to open up a forum for StopPatriarchy.org to put forward our views, unimpeded and free of police threat, to students and others organizing against oppression.
We call on others, particularly alum of Hampshire and its "Sister Colleges," to send letters to CLPP to protest this action and to call on CLPP to provide an open forum for StopPatriarchy.org to put forward our views to the Hampshire community.
Sunsara Taylor and other members of StopPatriarchy who attended the Hampshire Conference
StopPatriarchy is calling on people to send a message to CLPP organizers that you oppose their use of police force to suppress peacefully expressed anti-porn views. Go here to send the message:
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
May 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
For a video explanation of what happened please watch:
On April 12, 2013 eight members of the movement to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women (StopPatriarchy.org) traveled up to Hampshire college to take part in the annual conference sponsored by the program for Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) called "From Abortion Rights to Social Justice, Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom."
We were motivated to attend by our overall opposition to the war on women, but especially by the extremeness of the attacks on abortion in the last few months. In addition to learning from and connecting with others, we aimed to bring in a program of mass political resistance and struggle to counter the spate of new laws, threats, stigma and restrictions on abortion access throughout the country—starting with the April 25th Student Day of Action for Abortion On Demand and Without Apology and continuing through major plans this summer.
At the same time, StopPatriarchy.org sees the assault on the right to abortion as the "mirror opposite" of the assault and violence against women being mainstreamed through the increasingly degrading, cruel, brutal and humiliating nature of pornography and the massive growth of the global sex industry which has destroyed the lives of millions upon millions of women and very young girls. This is something we were prepared to engage people over. And within all this, some of us were bringing the view of all-the-way revolution, rooting the 40 years of backlash against women's rights as well as the New Jim Crow and other crimes against the people in the system of capitalism-imperialism and advocating for revolution and communism as it has been re-envisioned by Bob Avakian [revcom.us/avakian/index.html].
The first night of the CLPP conference is an Abortion Speak Out. With her permission, we will share some of the story one of the women with Stop Patriarchy told during the Speak Out. She said, "My abortion story is very simple. I got pregnant, I didn't want a baby, so I had an abortion. That was it. It wasn't sad, it wasn't agonizing, it was my decision and it was the right decision." She expressed anger that abortion is so difficult to access and so stigmatized, stating, "No one should ever be made to feel guilty for getting an abortion! Fetuses are NOT babies. Abortion is NOT murder. Women are NOT incubators."
While she spoke, a CLPP organizer held up a sign insisting that she "use only 'I' statements." All we could deduce from this was that the organizer didn't like that our friend said woman shouldn't feel guilty. (For a fuller argument on why women should not feel guilty for abortion, see Sunsara Taylor's piece Should a Woman Feel Sad About Her Abortion? Fuck No!)
Not everyone was preoccupied with "I" statements. Several women in the audience, at least one of whom then got up later to tell about her abortion and who was clearly moved and motivated by the approach taken by our friend, came up afterward with deep appreciation.
At lunch on the second day we registered, paid for and set up our organizational table in the main conference area along with all the other organization's tables. Immediately, attendees (and folks from other tables) began visiting, picking up literature and buying t-shirts which read "Abortion On Demand & Without Apology!" and stickers which read "Imagine/Create a World Without Rape" and "If You Can't Imagine Sex Without Porn, You're Fucked!"
While that went on, some of us went around with the call for April 25th and got an extremely positive response from attendees. Then we split up to attend various workshops.
Many of us spoke up in the workshops that we attended, and at times this included questioning or challenging some of the assumptions of some of the speakers. More than once we challenged the idea that Obama is "our friend," pointing out that he has conciliated with and demobilized others in the face of the most extreme assault on abortion since Roe v. Wade. We also brought in that he is carrying out crimes against humanity with his use of targeted assassinations through drones and through presiding over the torture in Guantanamo. We argued against relying on the Democrats and in favor of relying on ourselves to bring forward mass political struggle to defeat the total war against abortion and birth control.
While we expressed differences at times with various speakers (and leaders of CLPP), this was all well within the expressed unity and purpose of the conference overall. Even more, the spirit of our participation was to take part in open, principled, and deep examination of how to understand the challenges we are facing and what it truly will take to change the direction of all of society around the assaults on women.
At dinner, Sunsara Taylor and those with the New York Revolution Club among us invited attendees to join a "DIY" (do-it-yourself) workshop at a big round table in the eating area (this is the same area where the organizational tables were set up). The workshop was called, "The Oppression of Women is NOT Human Nature, It is the Nature of the System: Where this Oppression Comes from and the Revolution We Need to End It."
As we were about to get started, a group of about four people came over to take part in what they thought was going to be a discussion/debate about pornography and the sex industry. Taylor apologized for what appeared to have been a misunderstanding among our own group as to what the topic was going to be. She explained that while the workshop would encompass some discussion of porn, it wasn't going to focus on it and made clear they were welcome to stay or they could schedule another time to talk about porn specifically. A man in that group seemed annoyed and held up a copy of the Stop Patriarchy Call to Action (which condemns porn), saying, "I just think if you are going to have a discussion of sex work you ought to have some sex workers present."
As they walked away, a woman in that group said loudly, "Did we just get kicked out of a discussion we were invited to be part of?" Taylor responded one more time, "To be clear, we made a mistake among our group and didn't communicate clearly and I apologize that you were given the impression we were holding a discussion on porn." She repeated the title of the actual workshop and made clear again that they were invited to join in or we would schedule something later that focuses on porn.
That group walked away and the DIY workshop commenced.
While most of the folks in our contingent turned our attention to the workshop Taylor was conducting, the group that had come to argue about pornography and "sex work" went over to the Stop Patriarchy table and got in an argument there instead. As far as the two Stop Patriarchy organizers who were at the table, this was not only fine—it was welcome.
The pro-porn group brought to bear their personal experiences with the "sex industry," with sexual violence, and with sexual practices including bondage, domination, and sado-masochism (BDSM). Our people kept posing that we are not in the business of policing individual's consensual sexual behavior, but we do insist that sexuality is not something that is formed for anyone in a vacuum. We live in a world that is saturated with violence against and domination of women, a world that sexualizes degradation and humiliation and we are not surprised that those ideas get reflected in people's genuinely felt sexual desires. Including by people who have been victims of sexual violence and by people who in some ways may be seeking to oppose sexual violence and oppression. But, you don't have the "right" to market yourself as a sexual commodity outside of a world that gives rise to the idea of women's bodies as commodities, as things to be used, tortured, degraded and hurt for the sexual pleasure of men. And in that kind of world, this real world that is bigger than any individual and which is what shapes and influences individual's impulses, is littered with the bodies of literally millions upon millions upon millions of women and very young girls who have been kidnapped, pimped, beaten, tortured, sold by starving families, drugged and tricked, and repeatedly raped and sold and then discarded as nothing more than unthinking flesh.
If men have the "right" to buy women's bodies and subordination, if men have the "right" to purchase and get off on images depicting the objectification and humiliation and torture of women, then women will never have the right to walk the earth free of being viewed as nothing more than despised objects and free from the ever-present threat of being attacked, raped, tortured, pimped, and in millions of other ways dehumanized and degraded (including through the widespread humiliation in the mainstream culture: rape jokes, dehumanizing ads, woman-hating music, and much more).
This conversation went on for a while and while it was passionate, our people were calm, substantive and principled. They repeatedly refocused things on the need to liberate the half of humanity that has been in chains for thousands of years (women) and look at all these phenomenon from that vantage, not from one's own narrow experience.
Our two members from StopPatriarchy also repeatedly clarified our position. The pro-porn group kept accusing us of shaming, blaming, stigmatizing and seeking to criminalize women in the sex industry and we drew their attention to our Call to Action which makes clear:
"Our purpose is NOT to lobby for new legislation to ban pornography ("decency laws" have always served to further repress homosexuality, boundary-challenging art, and scientific sex education). We oppose the criminalization of women in the sex industry. Our mission is to challenge the new generation in particular to reject this culture of rape and pornography, to resist the shaming of women who have sex and/or abortions, to wage fierce cultural and political resistance to wake others up, and to bring forward a liberating culture that celebrates the full equality and liberation of women."
Eventually this pro-porn group got frustrated and walked away. Our members thought that was the end of it.
Apparently, however, this group didn't just walk away. They went to the CLPP organizers and told them they felt that the conference was no longer a "safe space" because of our presence at it.
Soon, a couple of CLPP student organizers appeared at the Stop Patriarchy table followed almost immediately by CLPP Director Mia Sullivan and Campus Police. They told our people at the table that they had to pack up the table and leave immediately or be arrested. The only explanation they gave was that "students had complained that we had made the conference no longer a safe space for them."
To repeat and be very clear: the first time our organizers were told to leave the police were already there. Neither the CLPP student organizers nor Mia Sullivan asked our organizers about what had transpired. They did not ask others who had witnessed the exchange. They did not seek to find a way to discuss and resolve any potential problems or facilitate the principled continued participation among people with divergent viewpoints at their conference. They simply came over and told our organizers to pack up and leave or be arrested.
After this happened, one of our organizers spoke for a few minutes with one of the CLPP student organizers, clarifying once again that we stand firmly against criminalizing or shaming people in the sex industry. For a moment, our organizer thought this was part of a process of working through what had been a misunderstanding. But Mia Sullivan, who had been standing nearby this whole time with police, intervened again making clear that nothing was up for investigation or discussion and insisting once again that we leave or be arrested.
When the rest of us noticed police and CLPP organizers surrounding our table and came over to inquire what was going on, Mia Sullivan refused to explain, simply stating, "I have already told one of your other organizers and I am not going to explain myself." The police then made clear that the rest of us would also be arrested if we didn't immediately leave.
The police and Mia Sullivan hovered over us as we packed up our table and carried the boxes to our car. Campus police stood with our people in the darkened parking lot until we loaded our car and took pictures of our license plate.
Even by the conference's own principles we never violated anyone's "safe space." It says very clearly in the pamphlet "creating conference community: a guide to a Healthy Conference Experience" put out by CLPP, in the section on "safety":
"Protocol: ask for consent to continue conversations that were begun earlier, allow the space for people to leave a situation that is triggering, and be conscious of how our questions or comments might be marginalizing or tokenizing."
At every point people were free to "leave [the] situation"! The pro-porn group had approached our table, we didn't go up to them. They had our Call to Action in hand. They had at least read enough of it to know that we oppose porn and they had come specifically to argue with us about that.
Is "safe space" to mean that people should be protected from ideas that differ from their own?
Who could possibly have respect for a group that, when approached, didn't even defend what they stood for?
It also states in CLPP's "Conference Community" pamphlet that:
"We want all participants to know that Hampshire College Campus Police officers will be around campus during the conference weekend. These officers are available to de-escalate situations if opponents of our social justice causes become disruptive over the weekend. We recognize that our communities have different histories with law enforcement and have worked with the officers to raise awareness around these issues."
First, it is outrageous that anyone can call themselves a movement for social justice and rely on police and the force of the highly repressive, oppressive and violent state that rules over the people. There is a long and well-documented history of police and other state agencies fomenting divisions, setting people up, and outright assassinating and wrongly imprisoning fighters for liberation. Calling police on others in the movement is doing the work of the state.
Second, these officers were not called out against "opponents of our social justice causes," unless CLPP has some unspoken official policy of upholding and defending the porn industry and the sexual enslavement of women!
Stop Patriarchy did not violate any principles or standards of CLPP as officially set forward. And, as people with a well-documented track record of fighting on the front lines against the various fronts of the war on women—traveling to Charlotte and to other places where abortion clinics were under siege, spearheading for two years in a row an abortion rights presence in both DC and Bay Area on the anniversaries of Roe v. Wade, protesting at St. Patrick's Cathedral when Timothy Dolan who is based there) led the attacks on birth control, taking over the original Hooters Restaurant and various porn stores in Times Square, joining in the outpourings against rape and sexual violence and much, much more—we could hardly be called "opponents... of social justice causes." (Unless—again—upholding porn and the sexual enslavement of women is an unspoken official policy of CLPP!)
Third, the police were not used to "de-escalate [the] situation." Quite the opposite; the "situation" had ended. It was calling in the police and using them to suppress and expel, under threat of arrest, a differing political view that was peacefully expressed, that was the "escalating."
On Sunday morning, Stop Patriarchy decided to go back to the campus in the hope of participating in the final sessions of the CLPP conference. We did this both because we felt that the use of police against us set a terrible precedent that had to be opposed, and because we wanted to reconnect with the people we'd met to make the April 25th day of action as powerful as possible.
Our time back at the conference was short. Within minutes of our arrival, CLPP organizers (including, once again Mia Sullivan) appeared with campus police (more of them this time) and threatened us with arrest if we did not leave immediately. One of the officers grabbed Sunsara Taylor by the arm even as she was already walking towards the exit. He only stopped, from what we could tell, because two of the people with her started yelling at them to take their hands off her and many students were around witnessing all this with alarm.
We had handed out some copies of the statement that we had printed up at our hotel protesting the use of police to eject us from the conference and very quickly were escorted by police back to our van.
By coincidence, one of the CLPP student organizers who emceed a portion of a plenary session and been present at one point as police were forcing us to leave walked past our van as we were approaching it. One of us called out to her, "How does it feel to call the police on revolutionaries? Does it make you feel powerful? Does it make you feel good?"
She looked squarely at us and said, "You people are foul."
We found this shocking and asked what exactly she thought we'd done.
She insisted that the police had only been called only after we refused student organizers' requests that we leave. This, as we've addressed, is untrue. She also claimed that "people had been complaining to us about you since you arrived." This is something that, if true, neither corresponded to the overall extremely favorable response we had been getting from those we were interacting with nor was it (if true) ever raised to us by CLPP organizers. But her claims and the disgust with which she addressed us did make us wonder what exactly is being claimed about us among other CLPP organizers.
One of the accusations that has come at us since the conference is that "we made someone cry" during the argument at our table.
While it is true that someone cried, two things must be said.
First, "making someone cry" is not a criminal offense.
Second, it is wrong to assume that just because someone cried that Stop Patriarchy had done something wrong. How could a movement possibly confront the oppression and enslavement of women—how widespread it is throughout the whole world and how deeply it wounds people into their most intimate and personal places—without it sometimes calling forth very deep emotions? There had been many instances throughout the conference—including during the Abortion Speak Out as well as other instances—where people were in tears. Should the organizers of the Speak Out therefore be arrested? Of course not!
Stop Patriarchy makes a principle of not blaming or shaming people for their experiences or desires and this was the approach taken by those at our table. This is not, however, a guarantee that no one will ever be upset. Always, we give people space to disengage if don't feel comfortable pursuing a discussion further. This, too, was the case during this discussion, everyone was free to walk away from our table at any time.
As we put it in our open letter to the CLPP organizers and Hampshire community:
"Finally, it is a bitter irony that your conference included numerous workshops on 'state violence,' 'racial justice,' and the 'prison industrial complex' yet one of the people you called the police on is a young Black man who has been Stopped & Frisked growing up in Brooklyn more times than he can remember. This young man decided to put his body on the line and face up to a year in jail when he joined in the campaign of mass civil disobedience against Stop & Frisk last year together with Carl Dix, Cornel West, and dozens of others. It is a further bitter irony that your conference held workshops and gave voice extensively to concerns about making the conference welcoming and safe for LGBT people, yet one of the people you called the police on is a transgender person who has (owing to the obvious dangers which face transgender people particularly at the hands of police and in jail) has judiciously calculated which political activities to take part in specifically to avoid the risk of arrest. Neither of these people imagined that a conference on 'Abortion Rights' and 'Social Justice' would be the place where they faced the greatest threat of being imprisoned!"
Please join us in demanding an apology from CLPP and that they open up a forum to StopPatriarchy to come back up and present our views to the Hampshire community free from threat or suppression. Send a message through our website: stoppatriarchy.org/opposesuppression.
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
April 23, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
April 23—The Manhattan District Attorney dropped all criminal charges against Noche Diaz, a young revolutionary and a member of the New York City Revolution Club, in two separate cases that the prosecutors had combined into one. Noche was facing serious misdemeanor charges stemming from arrests during a civil disobedience protest against stop-and-frisk at a Harlem police station in October 2011, and during a protest by high school students in Harlem against the racist vigilante murder of Trayvon Martin in March 2012. (See "From the NY Revolution Club: Defend Noche Diaz, Revolutionary Fighter for the People" for more on the political and legal persecution of Noche.)
In court this morning, the assistant D.A. approached Noche and his attorney, Gideon Oliver of the National Lawyers Guild, with a deal that involved no jail time or fine. A press release from the Stop Mass Incarceration Network said: "Diaz, who could have received two years at Rikers [NYC's main jail complex] for four misdemeanors, pled guilty to disorderly conduct, a violation. Several supporters described the events as a victory, in that Diaz received no criminal record or jail time."
Noche still faces other charges in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, along with other defendants, stemming from situations similar to the Manhattan cases, where he was arrested while witnessing or protesting police violation of people's rights.
About 40 people gathered outside the Manhattan court building this morning to rally in support of Noche before the trial. A statement demanding "Hands Off Noche Diaz! Drop All the Charges Against This Young Revolutionary"—initiated by Reverend Luis Barrios, professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice*; Carl Dix, Revolutionary Communist Party; and James Vrettos, professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice*—had gathered over 1,700 signatures leading up to the Manhattan court date.
Supporters of Noche Diaz include: Gbenga Akinnagbe, actor/director; Rosa Clemente, NYC; Rev. Robert Coleman, the Riverside Church,* NYC; Randy Credico, impressionist and social comedian, NYC; Annette Warren Dickerson, Center for Constitutional Rights*; Walt Frazier, former NBA player; Jasiri X and M1, musicians; Arturo O'Farill, musician; Michael Letwin, former President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys; Bill Perkins, NY State Senator; Rev. Stephen Phelps, the Riverside Church,* NYC; Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, and Raymond Santana of the Central Park 5; Mark Ruffalo, actor; Hector Soto, Hostos Community College*; Michael Tarif Warren, attorney, NYC; and Cornel West.
According to the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, after the news of this morning's developments in court went out, Cornel West texted, "Give my love to brother Noche on the occasion of this victory."
In a statement made in a packed courtroom, Noche said: "October 21, 2011 and March 27, 2012 were not your average days in Harlem, where the NYPD carries out some part of its 1,900 daily stop-and-frisks, 85 percent to 90 percent of which are of Black or Latino people, over 90 percent of whom are doing nothing wrong and given no legal or legitimate reason for being stopped, and routinely put up against walls and searched, have their basic rights violated, and often worse.
"October 21 was a day where hundreds came together in Harlem in peaceful protest to demand an end to this NYPD policy, which was followed by waves of protest. Now we see the policy being challenged in a lawsuit that has further revealed the illegality and illegitimacy of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practice.
"On March 27, a number of high school students spoke up about what they know and feel, knowing through their experience with NYPD's stop-and-frisk (and including on that day where a 14-year-old student was thrown through a bank window for allegedly having his hands in his pockets) what it is to be viewed as a generation of suspects, and saw themselves when they looked at how Trayvon Martin was murdered by a vigilante who saw Trayvon as suspicious and probably up to no good, for nothing other than being a young Black man. I stood with the students as they chanted 'We are all Trayvon Martin' and 'We want Justice.'"
* For identification purposes
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
May 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On April 15, explosive blasts at the finish line of the Boston Marathon killed three people, including an 8-year-old boy. Dozens more were injured, many very seriously. Scenes of bloodshed and terrorized race participants and spectators stunned people on the scene and hundreds of millions who saw the scene on TV.
Immediately after the events in Boston, the following statement was posted at revcom.us:
Many people are shocked and concerned over the events in Boston on April 15, 2013. As yet, it is not clear who or what is behind this, and uninformed speculation and comment serves no good purpose.
One thing is clear: acts such as this cause great harm and have nothing to do with genuine emancipatory revolution.
But almost instantly, those who rule this country moved through the highest political figures, through police authorities, and through the media that serves this system, to channel people's shock and pain into mindless revenge; to implement new assaults on civil liberties; and—most fundamentally—to whitewash, cover up, and justify their own far, far greater crimes around the world.
At this writing, law enforcement officials and news reports have identified two men as responsible for the bombing at the Boston Marathon. One is dead. The other was questioned by authorities for more than two days before being read his Miranda rights and informed of his right to an attorney. And at this writing, there have been no public statements from the surviving suspect, nor has any movement or organization taken responsibility for the attack. Under these circumstances, it remains irresponsible to speculate on who was behind this attack, and why.
Nonetheless, prominent reactionary forces in the ruling class and their mouthpieces immediately targeted all Muslims in the U.S. and beyond for attack, detention, and death. Republican senators demanded the surviving suspect be denied a criminal trial and instead be detained as an "enemy combatant." On April 23, former Republican Rep. Joe Walsh from Illinois recommended that the U.S. begin profiling "our enemy ... young Muslim men." And Fox "News" contributor Erik Rush said of Muslims on Twitter, "Yes, they're evil. Let's kill them all."
As this kind of rhetoric spews forth, Barack Obama seized on the moment to proclaim the moral superiority of the USA, to uphold and justify what it does around the world, and to rally people—including people in this country who are repelled by the kinds of fascist responses coming from Republican spokesmen—behind the USA and its flag and agenda around the world. At a church service on April 18, Barack Obama said "in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what's good. In the face of cruelty, we will choose compassion. In the face of those who would visit death upon innocents, we will choose to save and to comfort and to heal. We'll choose friendship. We'll choose love."
While the deaths of three people at the Boston Marathon were being given pervasive all-out media coverage, at the very same time another very important development was taking place, in another country. It received very little, if any, mention in that same media. The event was the trial in Guatemala of Efrain Ríos Montt for genocide—horrific massacres and mass atrocities carried out against the civilian population of that country. Human rights groups place the number of people massacred in the area of 200,000 men, women, and children brutally slaughtered.
Ríos Montt was president of Guatemala during the years 1982-1983—the bloodiest years in Guatemalan history. In March, Ríos Montt went on trial in Guatemala City, charged with the murders of 1,771 indigenous people. The charges against Ríos Montt came after decades of courageous protests and demands that he be brought to justice by people in Guatemala, in particular the indigenous people who suffered so severely.
Dozens of people who had, as children, survived the massacres Ríos Montt orchestrated risked their lives to testify against him. Death threats from people associated with Guatemala's military were sent to judges and lawyers charged with prosecuting Ríos Montt. On April 18, as the trial neared closing arguments, Ríos Montt's lawyers stormed out of the courtroom and declared the proceedings "illegal." Carol Flores, the presiding judge, then ruled that all matters in the case since November 2011 were null and void, and that the legal proceedings against Ríos Montt were suspended. Protesters in the court room screamed that Flores is a "sold out judge." At this writing, it is unclear whether the proceeding against Ríos Montt will resume. (see "Ríos Montt on Trial in Guatemala: A Censored Massacre Made in USA," at revcom.us).
Ríos Montt, a Christian fundamentalist, claimed he had been told by god to be president. And in fact he was fully and openly backed by the U.S. and its then president, Ronald Reagan. Reagan enthusiastically embraced Ríos Montt, personally and publicly. Reagan said Ríos Montt was a man of "great personal integrity" who was "getting a bum rap" from human rights activists. In December 1982, Reagan and Ríos Montt met at a conference in Honduras. After the conference, a reporter asked Ríos Montt about his "scorched earth" policies; he "quipped" that he had a "policy of scorched communists."
Compare the way in which the attack at the Boston Marathon was given massive coverage, to the almost total whiteout of the trial of Ríos Montt, and what it revealed, including about the role of the U.S. in massacres on a scale literally thousands of times greater than things like the attack in Boston.
Where are the politicians, the media pundits and others in positions of authority and influence denouncing Ronald Reagan for his sponsorship of these massacres? Where were the media and government officials demanding answers to how this could have happened—and how to make sure it could never happen again?
The gross disparity—the covering up of the greater crimes this country committed—is profoundly revealing of the logic and (im)morality of those who rule this country. A logic that anything that serves the interests of the U.S. empire is good, and a corresponding mass culture and morality that American lives are more important than other people's lives.
This is not the logic, and should not be the morality of people in this country.
At this moment, there is a need for all those who are outraged by unjust terror and violence to open their eyes to what it is the U.S. brings to the world. To learn about, to expose, to resist and rebel against the brainwash, and to politically confront the most monstrous criminals in this world.
As a basic point of orientation and morality, and with particular import at this moment, there is this statement by Bob Avakian:
"American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People's Lives."
(BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, 5:7)
In addition to coinciding with the trial of Ríos Montt in Guatemala, the attack at the Boston Marathon took place at a time of emerging exposure of great crimes the U.S. is carrying out around the world—including maintaining a torture chamber at Guantánamo (see "Hunger Strike at Guantánamo Bay: 'Respect us or kill us'" and "From A World to Win News Service: U.S. military moves to crush Guantánamo hunger strike," both at revcom.us), and the ongoing reign of terror against the people of a large swath of the world waged by the U.S. in the form of drone attacks.
A 2012 report, "Living Under Drones," issued by two U.S. academic research groups, calculated that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, U.S. drone strikes killed hundreds of innocent civilians in Pakistan alone. For example, the report describes a 2006 drone attack on a religious school in Pakistan that killed more than 80 people, 69 of them children. Sixty-nine children massacred in school by a U.S. drone! Where is the coverage by the U.S. media? Where is the corresponding outrage in U.S. public opinion?
And civilian deaths from drone attacks are not just accidental "collateral damage" but the deliberate result of U.S. policy: what U.S. authorities cynically call "double tapping," the practice of following up on one missile strike with another one or more, minutes or even hours later, with the clear intent of killing relatives and neighbors frantically searching through the rubble for survivors and loved ones, "looking for the children in the beds," and trained rescue workers. The report says, "one humanitarian organization had a 'policy to not go immediately [to a reported drone strike] because of follow-up strikes. There is a six hour mandatory delay.' According to the same source, therefore, it is 'only the locals, the poor, [who] will pick up the bodies of loved ones.'" (See "'Living Under Drones,' Interview with James Cavallaro on The Michael Slate Show" and "Murder by Drone," by Larry Everest, both at revcom.us.)
Since Barack Obama took office, there has been a radical increase in the number of drone strikes across a wide stretch of the world from Afghanistan to Yemen. At a U.S. Senate hearing on drones on April 23, Farea Al-Muslimi, a Yemeni who spent a year in the U.S. due to a State Department scholarship and who describes himself as pro-U.S., testified:
"Just six days ago, my village was struck by a drone, in an attack that terrified thousands of simple, poor farmers. The drone strike and its impact tore my heart, much as the tragic bombings in Boston last week tore your hearts and also mine."
And he stated, "I have to say that the drone strikes and the targeted killing program have made my passion and mission in support of America almost impossible in Yemen. In some areas of Yemen, the anger against America that results from the strikes makes it dangerous for me to even acknowledge having visited America, much less testify how much my life changed thanks to the State Department scholarships. It's sometimes too dangerous to even admit that I have American friends."
Al-Muslimi told the Senate that U.S. drone strikes in Yemen "make people fear the U.S. more than al-Qaida."
And again, the question has to be asked, where is the mainstream news coverage of this? Where are the statements of outrage from those in authority?
And where is political protest in this country commensurate with these crimes?
As emphasized in the beginning of this article, at this writing the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon attack has not made a public statement, and—at this writing—no Islamic Jihadist group has claimed credit for the attack at the Boston Marathon.
That said, there have been attacks in the U.S. that, from what can be known about them, have been committed by individuals or forces associated with or motivated by Islamic Jihad. And between the overtly fascist, "kill the Muslims" statements from the Fox News contributor and Obama's calls for everyone to rally around the principles that supposedly make America great, the U.S. ruling class is seizing on this incident to justify and rally people behind ongoing monstrous crimes, as well as attacks on civil liberties in the U.S. in the name of opposing Islamic fundamentalism.
In the aftermath of the Boston attacks, Obama declared a message to "anyone who would do harm to our people. Yes, we will find you. And, yes, you will face justice. We will find you. We will hold you accountable."
Such calls and threats have, in the recent past, been used to mobilize public opinion for wars against countries and people who had nothing to do with attacks on the U.S., but who the rulers of the U.S. saw as impediments to their interests, like the invasion of Iraq in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001. And coming in the context they did, Obama's statements had the effect of justifying the crimes the U.S. is carrying on right now against forces it claims are associated with Islamic Jihad.
The following points are crucial in getting at the reality behind imperialist crimes being carried out in the name of "fighting terrorism."
First, the rise of reactionary Islamic fundamentalist jihad is in large part a product of the workings of imperialism (including specific policies of the CIA in Afghanistan, where it backed and funded Islamic fundamentalists going up against the Soviet Union).
Second, the crimes of U.S. imperialism—with the U.S.-orchestrated massacre of 200,000 Guatemalan peasants being just one in a long list—far out-shadow those carried out by Islamic Jihadist forces.
And third, if you don't oppose, but instead fall into active or passive complicity with either "the West" (U.S. imperialism and other imperialists) or Islamic Jihad, you strengthen them both—in the vicious cycle where every drone attack that massacres dozens of schoolchildren in Pakistan (with far, far too little protest in the U.S.) serves to recruit more jihadists, and on and on.
So, again the question poses itself: Will people in this country allow themselves to be manipulated into active complicity with terrible crimes at this moment? Will people who know better be paralyzed by moral incertitude? Will far, far too many people be intimidated into passive complicity and silence in the face of the crimes "our own" government is carrying out around the world?
Or will people start from the interests of humanity as a whole, oppose "our government" and its immoral and criminal actions around the world?
Doing the latter—with courage and conviction—sets terms on which real struggle can be waged to end all oppression.
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
Ríos Montt on Trial in Guatemala
May 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
"In the afternoon, the raiders gathered about 50 women and children from the church and marched them toward the hills. Hernández positioned himself in the front of the line. He knew they were being taken to their deaths. So did the others.
"'We're not dogs for you to kill us in the field,' a woman declared. 'We know that you are going to kill us, why don't you kill us right here?' A soldier near the front charged among the prisoners to grab the woman by the hair. Hernández saw his chance and bolted off the path, gunfire echoing behind him. The boy hid in the vegetation and listened.
"One by one, the soldiers killed the prisoners. Hernández heard the groans of the dying, a boy crying for his mother. The soldiers executed them with single shots from their rifles, one after another, 40 or 50 shots in total.
"By nightfall, only corpses, animals and commandos inhabited the village. The squad bunked for the night in looted homes. Rain fell. Hernández crept back into town through the dark and mud. He passed the cadavers of his neighbors lying in streets and clearings. Huddled in tall grass, the boy heard the soldiers laughing.
"'We finished them off, bro,' a commando said. 'And we are going to keep hunting.'"
From an account by Salome Armando Hernández of the slaughter of 250 people in the Guatemalan village of Dos Erres in December 1982.
Efrain Ríos Montt was president of Guatemala during the years 1982-1983—the bloodiest years in Guatemalan history. Ríos Montt, a Christian fundamentalist, claimed he had been told by god to be president. In fact he was fully and openly backed by the U.S. and its then president, Ronald Reagan.
In March, Ríos Montt went on trial in Guatemala City, charged with genocide. He was specifically charged with the murders of 1,771 Ixil Indians. Allan Nairn, a journalist who traveled to Guatemala in 1982, said Ríos Montt was charged with these murders "because the prosecutors have the names of each of these victims. They've been able to dig up the bones of most of them."
This was the first time in history that a former head of state has been formally charged with genocide by a court in his own nation. The charges against Ríos Montt came after decades of courageous protests and demands that he be brought to justice by people in Guatemala, in particular the Indians who suffered so severely.
The trial of Ríos Montt was heavily contested. Dozens of Mayan people who had, as children, survived the massacres Ríos Montt orchestrated, risked their lives to testify against him. Death threats from people associated with Guatemala's military were sent to judges and lawyers charged with prosecuting Ríos Montt.
Towards the end of Ríos Montt's trial, a taped interview from 1982 with Otto Perez Molina, the current president of Guatemala, surfaced. Perez, using the code name of "Major Tito," was then an officer in the Guatemalan army. The interview indicates, as Nairn said on Democracy Now!, that "he [Perez] is the one who was the local implementer of the program of genocide which Ríos Montt is accused of carrying out."
Then, on April 18, as the trial neared closing arguments, Ríos Montt's lawyers stormed out of the courtroom and declared the proceedings "illegal." Carol Flores, the presiding judge, then ruled that all matters in the case since November 2011 were null and void, and that the legal proceedings against Ríos Montt were suspended. Protesters in the court room screamed that Flores is a "sold-out judge."
At this writing, it is unclear whether the proceeding against Ríos Montt will resume.
For decades, monstrous spasms of state-sponsored violence had engulfed Guatemala. It was directed at peasant farmers in general and specifically at Indians. Over 200,000 people, the vast majority of them civilians, were murdered by the government in this small, impoverished country in the years stretching from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s. The crimes perpetrated on the people of Guatemala reached a crescendo of genocidal savagery in the early 1980s.
More than 600 villages in the highlands of Guatemala, populated by Mayan Indian peoples, were systematically destroyed by the Guatemalan army. Tens of thousands of people were killed. The slaughter in the mountain villages of Guatemala was one of the most concentrated and horrific bloodbaths in human history.
Allan Nairn recently described on the radio show Democracy Now! how the Guatemalan forces under Ríos Montt carried out their atrocities.
"The army swept through the northwest highlands. And according to soldiers who I interviewed at the time, as they were carrying out the sweeps, they would go into villages, surround them, pull people out of their homes, line them up, execute them. A forensic witness testified ... that 80 percent of the remains they've recovered had gunshot wounds to the head. Witnesses have—witnesses and survivors have described Ríos Montt's troops beheading people. One talked about an old woman who was beheaded, and then they kicked her head around the floor. They ripped the hearts out of children as their bodies were still warm, and they piled them on a table for their parents to see.
"The soldiers I interviewed would describe their interrogation techniques, which they had been taught at the army general staff. And they said they would ask people, 'Who in the town are the guerrillas?' And if the people would respond 'We don't know,' then they would strangle them to death. These sweeps were intense. The soldiers said that often they would kill about a third of a town's population. Another third they would capture and resettle in army camps. And the rest would flee into the mountains. There, in the mountains, the military would pursue them using U.S.-supplied helicopters, U.S.- and Israeli-supplied planes. They would drop U.S. 50 kilogram bombs on them, and they would machine gun them from U.S. Huey and Bell helicopters, using U.S.-supplied heavy caliber machine guns."
In July 1982, Ríos Montt initiated a "rifles and beans" policy. This meant that civilians who were deemed to be "pacified" would receive beans—for everyone else it would be rifles. A CIA document in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California explains both how this genocidal approach set the stage for wholesale slaughter and destruction of entire villages and entire peoples, and how the blood-soaked enterprise was viewed by the U.S.
"When an army patrol meets resistance and takes fire from a town or village, it is assumed that the entire town is hostile and it is subsequently destroyed." If the army encountered an empty village, "it was assumed to have been supporting the EGP [Guerrilla Army of the Poor] and it is destroyed. ... The well documented belief by the army that the entire Ixil Indian population is pro-EGP has created a situation in which the army can be expected to give no quarter to combatants and non-combatants alike."
Women and girls were brutally and repeatedly raped before they were killed. One woman from the Ixil village of Santa Maria Nebaj testified at Ríos Montt's trial that when the army came to her home she "was 12 years old. They took me with the other women and they tied my feet and hands. They put a rag in my mouth and they started raping me. I don't know how many times. I lost consciousness. The blood kept running. Later I couldn't even stand or urinate."
Stephen L. Kass, a lawyer from New York who was part of a team investigating atrocities in Guatemala, wrote that the government carried out "virtually indiscriminate murder of men, women, and children of any farm regarded by the army as possibly supportive of guerrilla insurgents." He said that children were "thrown into burning homes. They are thrown in the air and speared with bayonets. We heard many, many stories of children being picked up by the ankles and swung against poles so their heads are destroyed."
Journalists Sebastian Rotella and Ana Arana described some of the atrocities in the village of Dos Erres. "The commandos brought the villagers one by one to the center of the hamlet, near a dry well about 40 feet deep. Favio Pinzón Jerez, the squad's cook, and other soldiers reassured the captives that everything would be all right. They were going to be vaccinated. It was a routine health precaution, nothing to worry about.
"Commando Gilberto Jordán drew first blood. He carried a baby to the well and hurled it to its death. Jordán wept as he killed the infant. Yet he and another soldier, Manuel Pop Sun, kept throwing children down the well."
During this period, a pastor with the California-based church of Christian fundamentalists to which Ríos Montt belonged explained to a group investigating the atrocities, "The army doesn't massacre Indians. It massacres demons, and Indians are demon possessed; they are communists."
U.S. imperialism has a long and bloody history in Guatemala, from 1906, when United Fruit Company grabbed 170,000 acres of the country's best farmland, down to today—in August 2012 the Obama administration sent 200 U.S. Marines to patrol Guatemala's coast as part of the "war on drugs."
In 1954 the U.S. engineered a coup to overthrow the reformist government of Jacobo Arbenz. The U.S. replaced him with Carlos Castillos Armas, a colonel trained at the U.S. Command and General Staff School in Fort Leavenworth. The CIA coup began a wave of reactionary violence—thousands of people were arrested and many were tortured. Large unused tracts of land that had been nationalized by the Arbenz government were given back to United Fruit and other big landowners.
After the coup, anti-government guerrillas began operating in the mountains. The Pentagon set up a counterinsurgency base, and U.S. Green Berets trained Guatemalan officers. By the late 1960s as many as 1,000 U.S. Special Forces were taking part in a massive counterinsurgency. The Guatemalan military carried out "search and destroy" missions, rounding up villagers and sending them to concentration camps. These and other tactics were borrowed directly from the war that the U.S. was carrying out at the same time against liberation forces in Vietnam.
The infamous "White Hand" and other death squads first appeared around this time. The U.S. had a clear hand in this development. The head of the U.S. military mission in Guatemala said that he had urged the Guatemalan military to adopt "the technique of counter-terror." The death squads were a key part of this "counter-terror." Agents working out of the U.S. embassy advised and trained a Guatemalan army unit known as G-2, which carried out torture and assassinations and dumped bodies in secret graves.
Colonel Carlos Arana Osorio, the man hand-picked by the U.S. to head the vicious counterinsurgency in the late 1960s, became known as the "Butcher of Zacapa." In 1970 he became the president of Guatemala. Arana said, "If it is necessary to turn the country into a cemetery in order to pacify it, I will not hesitate to do so."
The counter-revolutionary violence the U.S. waged against the people of Guatemala in the late 1950s and through the 1960s was part of a global series of wars to impose the economic and political domination of U.S. imperialism—grotesquely distorting economies, crushing resistance and dissent, and installing "strongman" rulers around the world—in Vietnam, in the Middle East, in Central and South America, in the Congo, and in countries throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
By the mid-1970s the U.S. was reeling from the defeat it had been dealt in Vietnam, and also was locked in an increasingly intense confrontation with a rival imperialist bloc that emerged after the restoration of capitalism in the formerly socialist Soviet Union. Many forces that had been fighting for national liberation allied with the Soviet bloc to different degrees. The Soviets, acting out of their own imperialist interests, were attempting to utilize these struggles to weaken the U.S., and the aid they offered was designed to draw these forces more closely under Soviet influence, thereby in fact weakening these struggles.
None of these factors in any way justify the U.S. attempts to drown these struggles in blood. Reagan and the U.S. ruling class portrayed their own imperialist domination as opposing the Soviet "evil empire." But while the dynamics of global conflict were going through changes in the 1970s, the nature of U.S. imperialist domination remained the same, and in many ways became more vicious and bloody in the face of what they perceived to be a strategic challenge to what they saw as their "right" to exploit and oppress the people of the world.
During the presidency of Jimmy Carter, much of the U.S. support and training for Guatemala's military and death squads was funneled through the reactionary Zionist state of Israel. As a recent article in the journal of the North American Congress on Latin America said, from "the late 1970s to the early 1980s, Israel assisted every facet of attack on the Guatemalan people. Largely taking over for the United States on the ground in Guatemala (with Washington retaining its role as paymaster, while also maintaining a crucial presence in the country), Israel had become the successive governments' main provider of counterinsurgency training, light and heavy arsenals of weaponry, aircraft, state-of-the-art intelligence technology and infrastructure, and other vital assistance."
But when Ronald Reagan became president, U.S. involvement in the growing genocide in Guatemala became more direct and more overt. Shortly after coming to power, Reagan's administration issued a national security document authorizing military aid to the Guatemalan regime to exterminate "Marxist guerrillas" and, as journalist Benjy Hansen-Bundy reported, " their civilian support mechanisms."
Soon after Reagan took office, he sent Vernon Walters, a retired general, to meet top Guatemalan officials. Walters told them that the U.S. was ready to supply the Guatemalan army with millions of dollars worth of supplies, and with "intelligence briefings on regional developments from our perspective. Our desire, however, is to go beyond the steps I have just outlined. We wish to reestablish our traditional military supply and training relationship as soon as possible."
Soon Walters was cabling the State Department that the Guatemalan military leader he met with "made clear that his government will continue as before—that the repression will continue. He reiterated his belief that the repression is working and that the guerrilla threat will be successfully routed."
During his trial, Ríos Montt was confronted with a Guatemalan army training manual that acknowledged the challenge of getting soldiers to carry out "repressive actions" against civilians, especially women, children, and sick people. But, the document continued, with proper training, they can do so. Ríos Montt told the court, "That training document which we used is an almost literal translation of a U.S. training document."
Reagan enthusiastically embraced Ríos Montt, personally and publicly. Reagan said Ríos Montt was a man of "great personal integrity," who was "getting a bum rap" from human rights activists.
In December 1982, Reagan and Ríos Montt met at a conference in Honduras. After the conference, a reporter asked Ríos Montt about his "scorched earth" policies; he "quipped" that he had a "policy of scorched communists."
While these two monsters were chortling over their sick little "joke," killers in the elite Kaibil Unit of the Guatemalan army were on their way to the village of Dos Erres. The Guatemala Human Rights Commission reported on what happened when they got there a few days later:
"Approximately 300 residents of Dos Erres, Libertad, Peten, were surrounded by the military's special Kaibil Unit. Of those killed 113 were children under the age of 14. The soldiers began with babies, throwing them down wells. Next, the women and children were gathered in the town's churches, where the women were raped and the children were beaten. The children were eventually thrown, some of them still alive, into the wells. After the women and children, the men were beaten to death and their bodies were thrown into a well."
Efrain Ríos Montt, a mass murderer, was justly put on trial for genocidal crimes against humanity. It is an infuriating outrage that his trial has been disrupted and postponed.
But what about Ríos Montt's godfather, Ronald Reagan? Shouldn't he be on trial posthumously for genocide, for war crimes and crimes against humanity?
Here is a question, and a challenge: Can anyone name any leading figure in the ruling circles of the U.S.—including Obama, or any other leader of the political power structure, the media, the military, the corporations—who does not uphold Ronald Reagan as an icon and praise him as a great leader of this country, and for the world? Does Obama or any other leading figure denounce Reagan for what he really was: someone who, as the head of the U.S. empire, carried out truly monstrous crimes against humanity—the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in Guatemala, including children, and the savage rape of countless women being just one of the many crimes of this icon of imperialism, Ronald Reagan?
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
April 28, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From someone in StopPatriarchy.org:
A crew of us from StopPatriachy.org in New York City—including students from Hunter College & Brooklyn College—were out at both Hunter & Brooklyn College on Thursday for the National Campus Day of Action for Abortion on Demand and Without Apology. With our supercool "Abortion on Demand & Without Apology" signs & stickers—we were beautiful! We passed out flyers at a fast clip—and held out stickers, "Make a donation, get a sticker, wear it all day & take a stand for abortion on demand & without apology!" It was great.
A lot of people—both young women & guys, and especially some older women (who remember when abortion was illegal and often have a keener understanding of the stakes) loved this, and enthusiastically plastered a sticker on themselves. "Yes—I'll wear that!" "I am so glad you're doing this." About 60 people signed up, some eager to participate in further struggle for abortion rights this summer.
And of course we got just the opposite: "That's disgusting." Along with a lot of uneasiness and ambivalence. "I think a woman should be able to decide... but really, women shouldn't use abortion as 'birth control.'" "Shoulda thought of that when you spread your legs." "Women should have deal with the consequences of unprotected sex." To such confusion, we would point out that not a single "pro-life" organization isn't also against contraception!
We also found—even on college campuses—a huge amount of ignorance about basic biology. Which is why it was great that we also had a big enlargement of a centerfold from Revolution #166, "A FETUS IS NOT A BABY" (May 31, 2009), which illustrates the biological truth of that. There was lots of conversation and debate and buzz.
Here's what's also very disturbing when you think about it: We actually had a number of people (at both campuses) come upon us and ask, "Are you against abortion... or for abortion?" At first, I was like, "What's not clear about this?" I'm thinking, "How can anyone not get where we stand?" And we realized here's why: Because almost the only time most people encounter anyone making a bold, unapologetic stand about abortion—hell, even saying the word "abortion"—it's the fucking bible-thumping bigots & the so-called "pro-life" movement!
The media, the political "debate," the movies... frankly even on college campuses across this country: Almost nowhere does anyone get to hear the clear, unequivocal truth about abortion: That abortion is one of the most common medical procedures for women in this society (about 1 in 3 women will have an abortion); that fetuses are not babies, abortion is not murder, and women are not incubators. Almost no one gets to engage the actual moral question at the heart of the "abortion debate," i.e., that you are either for women being able to decide, for themselves, when and whether to have a child OR you are for women being forced to bear children against their will. Forced motherhood is female enslavement.
The situation facing women's most fundamental rights to abortion is dangerously imperiled. And people don't even know it. Of course, the antis know it and are on the offensive. Especially a place like NYC, where I live, most people do not know that 97% of rural counties have no abortion provider. They do not know that 2011 and 2012 saw a record number of restrictions on abortion across the country, and already there are 278 bills introduced to further restrict abortion. That several states have only ONE abortion provider, and starting August 1 in North Dakota (for example), abortion will be illegal at around 6 weeks (that's before most women know they are pregnant!).
We also got a report from Revolution Books in Berkeley about a lively speak-out to mark the Day of Action outside UC Berkeley. "Abortion on Demand" stickers flew out of people's hands, eagerly taken up by many, including a medical student who proudly announced she was training to become an abortion provider. Another young woman said she was right in the midst of working on a paper about the enormous hurdles facing poor women in South Dakota who want an abortion. When this scene drew forward a couple of Christian fundamentalists on a soapbox preaching against "sinful students," the Day of Action forces sharply agitated about these Christian bigots' reactionary outlook and program. A crowd of 80+ people gathered around to check out the scene and listen to the back and forth. "This is what Berkeley should look like," someone said. After some initial hesitation, a couple of UC students took the bullhorn to weigh in. "If women can't decide what to do with their bodies it takes away a piece of their humanity," one student said. Another said afterward that she'd had no idea an hour earlier that she'd be speaking to a crowd about abortion rights!
Aside from NYC & Berkeley, people around StopPatriarchy.org were out at DePaul University, Columbia College & Roosevelt University in Chicago, at Cleveland State University, at University of Washington, at Occidental College near L.A. and more.
There needs to be much, much more, on-the-ground, mass resistance to take on these attacks on abortion rights and to change people's thinking about abortion. Our experience in NYC and elsewhere on April 25 definitely brought this to the surface. ABORTION ON DEMAND & WITHOUT APOLOGY needs to become the slogan for the battle around abortion rights, and this summer needs to become a summer of resistance for abortion rights & women's lives.
(Mouseover to enlarge)
Revolution #302 May 1, 2013
400 Garment Workers Die in Building Collapse
by Li Onesto | May 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Update May 12, 2013: As more bodies are discovered in the rubble, the death toll in the Bangladesh building collapse is now over 1,100 people.
Wails and cries rend the air in Savar on the outskirts of Bangladesh's capital Dhaka on Thursday, as rescuers pulled out survivors or bodies almost every few minutes from a mountain of jumbled concrete debris.
News reports, CRI (English), April 25, 2013
We didn’t want to go up in the factory this morning, but the management forced us to go up and said there was no problem with the building. Just after that, I sat at my table to work, and the building just collapsed. I couldn’t even leave. I was trapped at my table.
Ria Begum, one of the survivors, Democracy Now!, April 25, 2013
It looked like an earthquake had hit on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. But this disaster wasn’t an act of nature. It was man-made: A shoddily built eight-story building now flattened, reduced to rubble with many, many people trapped inside.
More than 3,000 women had worked in the Rana Plaza complex that housed five garment factories in the Savar district of Bangladesh. When the building collapsed, hundreds died instantly. Others lived a few, last horrifying hours in a concrete tomb. Some 400 were crushed to death. Bodies shrouded in white cloth were laid out in rows in the front yard of a nearby school as relatives gathered, holding photos of their loved ones. More than 2,500 have been rescued, in some cases pulled out after days beneath the rubble. Many will be maimed for life. Many hundreds are still missing. As late as Sunday, survivors were still being found in the wreckage. Tragically, a fire broke out after army engineers tried to cut through a column to gain access to an air pocket where four people were believed to be trapped and a woman who the rescue team had been talking to since the morning died in the fire.
None of these deaths, none of these injuries needed to happen. This was not an unpredictable, unavoidable accident. In fact, these workers were forced to stay in the building which was known to be in danger of collapsing.
The day before, workers had reported massive cracks in the walls. They refused to work and left the factory in the afternoon. The local news reported the story and the police ordered the building evacuated.
The next day, on Wednesday, other businesses in the building closed down. But the owners of the garment factories made a cold-blooded calculation: The clothes to be sewn that day, the deadlines to meet, the profits to be made—all this was much more important than the safety of the thousands of women who keep the factory churning out products 24 hours a day.
The workers didn’t want to go back into the building. But, as one worker who survived recounted, supervisors told them the building had been inspected and declared safe and ordered them back into the building. Some workers said they were told that if they didn’t return to work they would have their pay cut.
Charles Kernaghan, director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, said, “The workers were told that if they didn’t go in on Wednesday to work, that they would not be paid for the month, because the owners said, ‘We won’t have the money to pay for the whole month, and therefore, if you don’t go to work, you will not receive any pay for a full month.’ Nobody in Bangladesh, no worker in Bangladesh could ever go for a full month without wages. They go from hand to mouth. So, the workers were literally put in a trap.” (Democracy Now!, April 25, 2013)
Shortly after this, less than an hour into the morning shift, the top floors of the building slammed into the bottom floors, setting off a deathly chain reaction.
In the wake of this tragedy there has been intense grief and agony. For days, many families did not know if their loved ones were dead or still alive, trapped in the ruins. Relatives of buried victims and others joined the rescue teams, using their bare hands and basic tools to dig out the pieces of concrete, trying to reach people who had managed to find pockets of space and air to stay alive.
But there has also been intense rage that has erupted in massive protests. There were reports of relatives at the site, angry at the factory owners and the lack of information, getting into clashes with the police. And protests have spread to the capital city of Dhaka, 20 miles away.
On Thursday hundreds of thousands of garment workers from areas around Dhaka went on strike to protest poor safety standards, bringing production to a virtual standstill. (Wall Street Journal, April 25, 2013) And the New York Times reported that “Thousands of garment workers rampaged through industrial areas of the capital of Bangladesh on Friday, smashing vehicles with bamboo poles and setting fire to at least two factories in violent protests.” (April 26, 2013) Demonstrators have blocked highways, marched on factories and rallied outside the headquarters of Bangladesh’s main manufacturers group.
Protests continued on Saturday, with reports of demonstrators smashing and burning cars and the police attacking people with tear gas and rubber bullets. Dozens of people are said to have been injured in these latest clashes.
On Sunday, the owner of the factory was arrested and charged with criminal negligence and illegal construction. Two clothing company owners have also been arrested. But the fact is, there is a whole criminal system responsible for the deaths and injuries of the workers in Savar.
The 4,500 garment factories in Bangladesh and the 3.6 million garment workers in Bangladesh who are mostly women, are part of a $1 trillion global clothing industry.
Garment manufacturing in Bangladesh, which is still expanding, is a $20 billion industry. It is the mainstay of the country’s economy, employing 40 percent of the country's industrial workforce. Bangladesh is the second-largest exporter of garments in the world (after China)—garments account for 80 percent of the country’s exports. The bulk of these exports, 60 percent, go to Europe; 23 percent go to the United States—more than any other individual nation.
The hundreds of thousands of pants, blouses, shirts and dresses being shipped across land and sea from Bangladesh everyday—that end up in stores like Wal-Mart, Children’s Place, and The Gap—come at a very HIGH COST. Not in terms of the money paid to the millions of workers sewing these garments, but in terms of the horror and misery of their working conditions, including the fact that many, many workers die in these factories every year.
The building collapse in Savar was the third major industrial incident in five months in Bangladesh. In November, 112 people died in a fire at the Tazreen Fashion factory, which is near Savar. In the last six years (not counting the building collapse in Savar), there have been 700 reported fire and building violation deaths in Bangladesh. (Reuters, April 26, 2013) According to the National Garment Workers Federation in Bangladesh, a total of 600 workers have died in factory accidents in the last decade.
Bangladesh’s garment industry has grown rapidly over the past decade. Why? Because it has become increasingly competitive on the world market. And a key thing in being competitive here is that in the garment industry, Bangladesh has the lowest cost of labor in the world. The national minimum wage in Bangladesh stands at 21 cents an hour or $38 per month. (Only three years ago, it was $20 a month, but was raised after huge protests.)
Charles Kernaghan told Democracy Now!, “The Chinese garment factories are moving to Bangladesh because of the low wages, 14 cents an hour up to about 24 cents an hour. The workers are hard-working; they work 14 hours a day. They’ll work often seven days a week. Bangladesh is sacrificing all of these young women, who are just being brutalized, starvation wages. There is no right to organize in Bangladesh. There are no unions with collective contracts. Every time the workers try... to organize, they’re beaten. They bring in gang members. They threaten them.”
Nearly all of the 4,500 garment factories in Bangladesh are non-union. In fact, there are just 11 collective bargaining agreements in the entire country of 150 million people, and there are only a few unions in the clothing industry. There are special police who patrol industrial areas to watch out for labor organizers. When workers try to form unions they are often fired, beaten and sometimes killed. Just last year a young garment worker, Aminul Islam, was tortured and killed, most likely because he was trying to organize garment workers.
The garment industry in Bangladesh operates within the system of capitalism which has certain rules:
First of all, the #1 RULE is that: Everything is a commodity and everything must be done for profit.
In other words, the owners of the garment factories in Bangladesh didn’t go into business because they care about providing people with pants and shirts and dresses. Everything under capitalism is produced in order to be exchanged, to be sold. And things must be useful to be exchanged. But under capitalism, the measure and motivation of what is produced and how it is produced is profit—whether we are talking about the food we eat or the clothes we wear.
Profit comes from exploiting people's labor power. Exploitation means that the capitalists take what workers create each day through their labor and pay them in return enough to survive (and sometimes barely that). This exploitation is where the capitalists get their profit. So in order to make maximum profits a capitalist has to exploit to the maximum—working people harder, paying them less. For those factory owners in Savar, the lives of the garment workers meant nothing; the safety of the building meant nothing. It was more important to keep the workers churning out the clothes for them to keep making a profit.
The #2 RULE is that: If you are a capitalist and you don't grow bigger, then your competitor will and drive you under—therefore, you must expand or die.
So, for example, in the business of making clothes, there are all the different clothing manufacturers producing clothes and trying to get a bigger and bigger share of the market. Each one has to keep fighting to outdo their competitors or go under—and they have to continually cheapen costs in order to stay alive. This means seeking out the lowest, most exploitative wages. This means cutting costs wherever possible—even if it means shoddy and dangerous working conditions. This means denying workers any kind of organizing rights. This means violating safety codes that if followed would require spending money. The owner of the Tazreen factory that burned down said only three floors of the eight-story building were legally built and it didn’t have any emergency exits. The owner of the building in Savar had a permit to only build five stories but added three more floors illegally. The whole building was built on swampland.
This is not neglect. This is a cold calculation. Case in point: Wal-Mart is the second largest buyer of clothing from Bangladesh—it buys more than $1 billion worth of apparel a year. In April of 2011, Wal-Mart attended a meeting in Dhaka, along with more than a dozen of the world’s largest clothing brands and retailers. Bangladeshi and international unions presented a proposal to improve safety conditions in the factories which included shutting down unsafe facilities and having inspections funded by contributions from the companies. Wal-Mart, which had a net income last year of $17 billion, rejected the proposal. According to the minutes of the meeting, the Wal-Mart representative said, “We are talking about 4,500 factories, and in most cases very extensive and costly modifications would need to be undertaken... It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments.” The Gap also refused to sign this agreement. (Washington Post, April 26, 2013)
In Bangladesh, every three minutes, a family from the rural areas moves to the capital city of Dhaka. (Al Jazeera, October 3, 2012) Conditions in the countryside are increasingly difficult and people come looking for a better life, searching for jobs, a way to feed their children and provide them with clothes. Most of them end up in the growing slums around Dhaka. The women come to work in the garment factories, where they know the work will be hard and long, but there is hope this will lead to something better; a simple desire to break free from a poverty that threatens to crush one’s spirit. There are dreams and hopes.
Instead there is the reality of a system of capitalism that cares nothing for these dreams and hopes. A system that cares nothing about whether those they exploit live or die—that knows there is an “endless supply” of others to take their place.
This criminal system is responsible for the mangled bodies inside the concrete tombs in Savar; the survivors with no arms and legs, who will now be “useless” to the capitalists because they cannot work. The fact is, this disaster is not the first—nor will it be the last. And the reality is that such factory deaths are not something unique to Bangladesh, but happen all over the world, because of the way this global system of capitalism-imperialism operates and can only operate—according to the rules of maximizing profit over everything else.
The hundreds of thousands in Bangladesh protesting this tragedy are sending a message to the rest of the world that this is intolerable. And indeed, this human disaster cries out for revolution, and nothing less, a revolution to get rid of the whole system responsible for the death of the workers in Savar—and the misery of millions of people all over the world.