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Revolution #322 Online November 11, 2013
by Raymond Lotta | November 4, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The world is a horror. More precisely, the world created and reinforced by capitalism-imperialism is one of unjust wars and brutal occupations, of life-crushing poverty and savage inequality, of the pervasive subordination and degradation of women. This is a world—and here it is proper to speak of the planet—on which accelerating environmental crisis is not only part of the warp and woof of everyday life, but threatening the very ecological balances and life-support systems of Earth.
The suffering of world humanity and the perilous state of the planet are, at their core, the outcome of the workings of the fundamental contradiction of our epoch: between highly socialized, interconnected, and globalized forces of production, on the one hand; and relations of private ownership and control over these forces of production, on the other. But locked within this contradiction is the potential for humanity to move beyond scarcity, beyond exploitation, and beyond social division—the potential to organize society on a whole different foundation that will enable human beings to truly flourish.
Which is to say, the world as it is... is not the way it must and can only be.
What is the problem before humanity; what must be changed in order to solve this problem; and how can that change come about? Communism is the science that enables humanity to understand the world, in order to change it—to understand the world ever more deeply, in order to transform it ever more profoundly in the direction of a world community of humanity. As with all sciences, communism proceeds from the world as it actually is, from the necessity (the structures and dynamics) that actually confronts humanity. Within reality lies the real basis to overcome exploitation and oppression, and to bring a radically different world into being through revolution.
And this brings me to the focus of this polemic.
In the international communist movement, there is sharp debate about the nature and process of working out of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism: between socialized production and private appropriation. The debate pivots on the forms of motion—and what is, overall, the principal form of motion—of this fundamental contradiction.
This debate involves crucial questions of political economy. But it also, and centrally, turns on issues of method and approach. Are we going to scientifically confront, analyze, and on that basis transform the world that actually exists, in its changing-ness and complexity? Or are we going to use Marxist terminology as an essentially pragmatic tool to locate sources of change and seek guarantees that history will "work out" for us, that the masses will prevail, by constructing a metaphysical framework of politics and philosophy?
What kind of international communist movement will there be: one rooted in science and proceeding from the world as it is, or one that proceeds from "narratives" that force-fit reality into a reassuring belief system?
The defeat of the Chinese revolution in 1976 marked the end of the first stage of communist revolution. This first stage saw the creation of the world's first socialist state in the Soviet Union (1917-56) and a further leap and advance with the establishment of revolutionary state power in China and the carrying forward of that revolution (1949-76).
In the wake of the counterrevolution in China, Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP), began a process of sifting through and scientifically studying the incredibly inspiring accomplishments of that first stage of communist revolution, as well as its shortcomings and real errors, some very serious. Upholding the basic principles of communism and advancing the science in qualitative, new ways, Avakian has forged a new synthesis of communism out of a scientific summation of the revolutionary experience of the communist movement and by learning and drawing from broader streams of scientific, intellectual, and artistic thought and endeavor.
Avakian has radically reenvisioned the socialist transition to communism and, at the same time, put communism on an even more scientific foundation. This new synthesis provides the framework to go further and do better in a new stage of communist revolution in the contemporary world.
The new synthesis of communism has developed in opposition to, and has been opposed by, two other responses to the defeat of socialism in revolutionary China: the one, a rejection of communism's basic principles and an embrace of bourgeois democracy; the other, a rigid and quasi-religious clinging to previous socialist experience and communist theory that rejects a thoroughly scientific approach to summing up the past and further developing communist theory.1
That is the backdrop of this debate. But the issues of political economy and methodology being joined in this polemic are not esoteric ones limited, or only of relevance and interest, to the international communist movement.
This debate encompasses issues of concern, theorization, and contention in broader progressive political and intellectual-academic circles, issues of profound import and moment. Is capitalism actually a system—with systemic drives and with systemic outcomes, that is, with its own laws of motion? How do we understand the scope for conscious human initiative, given capitalism's structural dynamics? What is a scientific approach to understanding and changing society? And what indeed constitutes human emancipation in this epoch?
A passage from Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, but Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon by Bob Avakian concentrates a critical point of departure:
[T]his is how things actually are in regard to the present circumstances of human society and the possibilities for how society can proceed and be organized: It is a matter of either bringing about a radical alternative to the presently dominant capitalist-imperialist system—an alternative which is viable, and sustainable, because it proceeds on the basis of the productive forces at hand and further unfetters them, through the transformation of the social relations, and most fundamentally the production relations and, in dialectical relation with that, the transformation of the superstructure of politics and ideology—creating, through this transformation, and fundamentally the transformation of the underlying material conditions, a radically new economic system, as the foundation of a radically new society as a whole; either that, or, what will in fact assert itself as the only real alternative in today's world—being drawn, or forced, into a society proceeding on the terms, and locked within the confines, of commodity production and exchange, and more specifically the production relations and accumulation process and dynamics of capitalism....2
In the early 1980s, the RCP initiated important theoretical work and research into the political economy of capitalism and how the contradictions of the world asserted themselves and interacted. The question was being posed about the dynamics of capitalism and how this sets the "stage" on which the revolutionary struggle takes place, both in relation to the concrete world situation at the time and in relation to the larger question of the historical transition from the bourgeois epoch to the epoch of world communism.
Central to this theoretical work was an insight brought forward by Bob Avakian. He had identified the "driving force of anarchy" as the principal form of motion of fundamental contradiction of capitalism, setting the overall terms for the class struggle.
The delineation of the "driving force of anarchy" as the principal dynamic of capitalism set off no small amount of upset and outrage from various quarters of the international communist movement (here I am referring to the Maoist forces and formations of the period, not to the revisionist communist parties associated with the then-social-imperialist Soviet Union, which had long given up on revolution).
It was argued by some in the Maoist movement at the time that this understanding effectively liquidates the role of the masses and of class struggle in history. Others held that since the exploitation of wage-labor, of the proletariat, is the source of surplus value (profit), and since maximization of profit is the raison d'être of the bourgeoisie—then it follows, logically and historically, that the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, rooted in the production of surplus value, is necessarily the principal dynamic of capitalist development.
The argument was also made that it is a core principle of Marxism that the masses make history, and that oppression gives rise to resistance that can be transformed into revolution—and so the class struggle and its revolutionary potential must be the principal form of motion.
It is objectively true that the masses make history. But it is also true that objective conditions actually set the overall framework for the class struggle, and that the masses cannot make history in their highest interests and humanity cannot get to communism without leadership, concentrated in the vanguard party, that bases itself on the most advanced scientific understanding of how the world is and how it can be transformed in the interests of emancipating world humanity.
This debate has surfaced anew, though now in the context of ideological struggle over whether the new synthesis of communism brought forward by Bob Avakian is the framework for a new stage of communism. At stake is the actual need and basis for all-the-way communist revolution in today's world, in order to truly emancipate humanity and safeguard the planet... and the need for an unsparingly scientific approach if that revolution is to be made and carried forward.
The basic change wrought by bourgeois society is the socialization of production. Individual, limited means of production are transformed into social means of production, workable only by collectivities of laborers. Production itself is changed from a series of individual operations into a series of social acts, and the products from individual products into social products.
These products were now in fact the product of a single class, the proletariat.3
The proletariat, the class that is at the base of collective, socialized labor, carries out production in factories, sweatshops, mines, industrialized farms, and other industrial-agricultural-transport-storage-distribution complexes. It works in common networks and webs of production on the vast, socialized, and increasingly globalized means of production that capitalism has brought forth. It utilizes the social knowledge developed and transmitted by previous generations.
But this socialized production is owned, controlled, and deployed by a relatively tiny capitalist class. The proletariat and this form of socialized production are in fundamental contradiction with capitalism's private appropriation of socially produced wealth—in the form of private capital.
In Anti-Duhring, Frederick Engels shows that the contradiction between socialized production and capitalistic appropriation of the product of socialized labor manifests itself and moves in two forms of antagonism.4
One form of motion is the antagonism of proletariat and bourgeoisie. With the rise and development of capitalism, wage-labor had become the main basis of modern social production. These wage-laborers are separated from—they do not own or control—society's principal means of production. These means of production are concentrated in the hands of the capitalist class. Possessing only their labor power (their capacity to work), wage-laborers must, in order to survive, sell their labor power to capital. Labor power becomes a commodity under capitalism.
Employed by capital, these wage-laborers set in motion these socialized means of production. But the product of that social labor and the process of social labor are controlled by the capitalist class. Capital subordinates living labor to the creation of value, and aims to extract maximal surplus labor (surplus value)—the amount of labor above and beyond the labor time embodied in their wages (corresponding to what is required for the producers to live and maintain themselves and families, rearing new generations of wage-laborers).
The struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie, along with other struggles arising from various social contradictions conditioned by and incorporated into the development of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism on a global scale, exert a profound influence on economy, society, and the world.
Let's take a few examples of how the class contradiction and other social contradictions are part of the ongoing necessity faced by capital:
A major concern of ever-more mobile manufacturing capital is social stability. There are tremendous competitive pressures goading capital to move from Mexico, to China, to Vietnam, etc., in search of cheaper production costs. But cost is not the only calculation; decisions are also influenced by factors of "labor unrest" and organization. Or consider the neocolonial state shaped and propped up by U.S. imperialism through the post-World War 2 period: one of its important functions was and is to enforce conditions of social order to facilitate deeper penetration by capital. There is the situation in Western Europe today, where the whole austerity offensive has been carried out with a calculus that includes anticipation of mass response. Going back to the 1960s and 1970s in the U.S., the hiring patterns of U.S. industry, the location of factories, and urban social policy were very much conditioned by the threat (and reality) of uprisings and rebellions by the oppressed Black masses. Again, the class contradiction and other social contradictions are part of the ongoing necessity faced by capital.
The antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is one form of motion of the fundamental contradiction.
The other form of motion of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism is the antagonism between the organization of production at the level of the individual workshop, factory, enterprise, and unit of capital, and the anarchy of production in society overall.
The individual capitalist strives to organize production efficiently in order to recoup investment costs and gain advantage and market share vis-à-vis other capitals. And to do so, the capitalist undertakes the scientific and "despotic" organization of production: input-output analysis, strict accounting, optimal scheduling, speed-up, stretching of work, and extreme surveillance and control of the worker. This takes place at all levels of private capital up through the contemporary transnational corporation (think Wal-Mart and the organization of its supply chains).
But as highly organized as production is at the enterprise level, there is, and can be, no systematic and rational planning at the societywide level. This has to be explained.
Under capitalism, the vast bulk of products that form the material basis of the social reproduction of society are produced as commodities. That is, they are produced for exchange (for profit). Buyers and sellers of these or those commodities—whether of means of production that are inputs into the production process or means of consumption—are taken as a given. But there are no direct social links between the agents of production; social production is not coordinated as a social whole.
Built into capitalist commodity production is a contradiction that has to be continually resolved. On the one hand, individual producers carry on their activity independently of one another: the many different labor processes that constitute the productive activity of society are privately organized. On the other hand, these individual producers are mutually dependent on one another—they are part of a larger social division of labor. How then does capitalist society's economic activity get coordinated? How do the different pieces fit together?
The answer is that these privately organized labor processes are linked together and forged into a social division of labor through exchange. Exchange is the exchange of commodities, and commodities exchange in definite proportions: they are bought and sold at prices that reflect the labor time socially necessary to produce them. This is the law of value, and social labor time is the regulator of prices and profits.
The quest for profit dominates privately organized labor processes. Profit determines what gets produced—and how.
In response to the movement of prices and profit, capital moves into high-profit sectors, and out of low-profit sectors. If an investment does not yield a satisfactory profit, or if a particular commodity does not get sold at a price that can cover its production cost, then capital is forced to raise efficiency, or to shift into another line of production. The movements of prices and profits communicate the "information" on which production decisions are based. The market regulates in this way and also dictates reorganization... and so the auto industry closes inefficient plants, retools, cuts its labor force; companies get swallowed up and workers are forced to change jobs. Thus the social division of labor is forged and re-forged.
This is blind and anarchic regulation. It is hit-and-miss, too-much-and-too-little: a process of over-shooting and under-shooting of investment; of discovering, after the fact, what the market will clear or not clear, and whether the labor process under the command of this or that capitalist is actually needed or up to competitive standard. Marx says of the regulating role of the market based on the operation of the law value: "the total movement of this disorder is its order."5 As Engels puts it in his exposition of the two forms of motion: "anarchy reigns in socialized production."
Individual capitals produce and expand as though there were no limit (again, presupposing the necessary buyers and sellers). Why? Because, as Marx explains in Capital, "[T]he development of capitalist production makes it constantly necessary to keep increasing the amount of capital laid out in a given industrial undertaking.... Competition compels [the individual capitalist] to keep constantly extending his capital, in order to preserve itself..."6
The fundamental contradiction of capitalism between socialized production and private appropriation develops through these two forms of motion: the contradiction between bourgeoisie and proletariat, and the contradiction between organization in the unit of production-enterprise and anarchy in production in society overall. Each of these forms of motion has its own effects and each interpenetrates the other.
But in an ongoing way, as long as the capitalist mode of production is dominant on a world scale, it is the anarchy of capitalist production that brings about the fundamental changes in the material sphere that set the context for the class struggle. Movement compelled by anarchy, the anarchic relations among capitalist producers driven by competition, is the principal form of motion of the fundamental contradiction. This was an important breakthrough in understanding made by Bob Avakian:
It is the anarchy of capitalist production which is, in fact, the driving or motive force of this process, even though the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and proletariat is an integral part of the contradiction between socialized production and private appropriation. While the exploitation of labor-power is the form by and through which surplus value is created and appropriated, it is the anarchic relations between capitalist producers, and not the mere existence of propertyless proletarians or the class contradiction as such, that drives these producers to exploit the working class on an historically more intensive and extensive scale. This motive force of anarchy is an expression of the fact that the capitalist mode of production represents the full development of commodity production and the law of value. Were it not the case that these capitalist commodity producers are separated from each other and yet linked by the operation of the law of value they would not face the same compulsion to exploit the proletariat—the class contradiction between bourgeoisie and proletariat could be mitigated. It is the inner compulsion of capital to expand which accounts for the historically unprecedented dynamism of this mode of production, a process which continually transforms value relations and which leads to crisis.7
The understanding of the primacy of the "driving force of anarchy" was further theorized, applied, and extended in America in Decline, which carried forward and advanced Lenin's systematization of the dynamics of imperialism and proletarian revolution.8
With the rise of imperialism, accumulation takes place in the context of the qualitatively greater unification and integration of the world capitalist market—no longer principally a function of the circuits of trade and money but now of the internationalization of productive capital (the production of surplus value). And accumulation takes place in the context of the political-territorial division of the world among the great powers and the shifting relations of strength among these powers in the world economy and global system of territorially-based nation-states.
Accumulation in the imperialist era has particular features. It proceeds through highly mobile and flexible forms of monopolized finance capital; through the division of the world into a handful of rich capitalist powers and the oppressed nations in which the great majority of humanity lives; and through geo-economic and geo-political rivalry concentrated in the rivalry and struggle for global supremacy among imperial national states.
The antagonism between different national imperialist capitals, and the struggle over the division over the world, chiefly grows out of, extends, and is a qualitative development of the contradiction between organization at the enterprise level and the anarchy of social production. This antagonism led to two world wars in the 20th century.
At the same time, the fundamental contradiction is also manifested in class terms. Among its key forms of expression are the contradiction between the proletariat and bourgeoisie in the imperialist countries, the contradiction between the oppressed nations and imperialism, and the contradiction between socialist countries and the imperialist camp (when socialist countries exist, which is not the case now).
One or another of these contradictions may become principal over a period of time, that is, one or another may influence the development of the others more than it in turn is influenced by them—and thus most determine how the fundamental contradiction develops at a given stage.
From the late 1950s until the early 1970s, for instance, the principal contradiction on a world scale was between imperialism and national liberation in the Third World. Revolutionary storms had swept through Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This contradiction was creating qualitative new necessity for the imperialist (and local) ruling classes and influencing the accumulation of capital on a world scale.
U.S. imperialism, in particular, was developing and applying, on a vast scale, doctrines of counterinsurgency. The Vietnamese liberation struggle was inflicting major setbacks on the battlefield; the war absorbed a huge fraction of the U.S. ground forces and spurred massive increases in U.S. military expenditure, which in turn contributed to the weakening of the dollar (and dollar-gold standard) internationally. During this period, the U.S. was promoting aid and development programs in South America, like the Alliance for Progress, the main aim of which was, in conjunction with repression, to stabilize social conditions and counteract the potential for revolution.
At any given time, the class struggle may be principal, locally (nationally) or globally. But generally, and in a long-term, overall sense, until the capitalist mode of production is no longer dominant on a world scale, the driving force of anarchy of the world imperialist system is and will be the principal form of motion of the fundamental contradiction. It is the driving force of anarchy—the underlying dynamics and contradictions of capitalist accumulation on a world scale, the various expressions of that, including but not only inter-imperial rivalry, and changes in the material and economic-social and, increasingly, natural-ecological conditions of life—that sets the primary stage and foundation for the transformation of society and the world.
And transforming society and the world on the basis of reality as it is, and not what we would like it to be, is precisely the point:
It is only in the realm of the superstructure that the contradiction between socialized production and private appropriation can be resolved. It is only through the conscious struggle to make revolution, to decisively defeat the bourgeoisie (and all exploiting-ruling classes) and dismantle its apparatus of control and suppression. It is only through the conscious struggle to constitute a new revolutionary state power that is a base area for the world revolution and on that basis creating a new socialist economy that operates according to different dynamics and principles than does capitalism (the law of value no longer commanding), and carrying forward the all-around struggle to transform society and people's thinking.
It is only through conscious revolution, based on a scientific approach to understanding and changing the world, that the fundamental contradiction of the bourgeois epoch can be resolved.
The historic mission of the proletariat is to abolish capitalism, to put an end to all exploitation and oppression, and to overcome the division of human society into classes, and to create a world community of humanity.
The identification of the "driving force of anarchy" as the principal form of motion of the fundamental contradiction has occasioned criticism and, at times, vitriolic attacks from some within the international communist movement.
One line of criticism unfolds this way: since a) the "ceaseless striving for more surplus" is of the essence of capital; and since b) this surplus rests on the exploitation of wage-labor; and since c) this exploitation calls forth resistance from the exploited—it therefore follows that the antagonism and class struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie stands at a deeper level of determination than does the anarchic interplay among capitals in the motion and development of the fundamental contradiction.
There is an apparent logic to this argument. But that is exactly the problem with the argument: its superficiality. It begs the question: why must capital "ceaselessly" accumulate? Is it merely the fact that there are proletarians to exploit (and opportunities to exploit)? I will come to this shortly.
Now some of the critics acknowledge the existence and force of competition but ascribe to it a secondary role. Competition is construed as something "external" to the deeper essence of capital, to the wage labor-capital relation. Some invoke Marx's passage from Volume 1 of Capital where he references the "coercive laws of competition" but points out that "a scientific analysis of competition is not possible before we have a conception of the inner nature of capital."9 And they raise the objection that the anarchy of capitalism is ultimately rooted in capitalism's exploitative character—with some even attributing this view to Engels.
But Engels does not locate the anarchy of capitalist production in exploitation of wage-labor and extraction of surplus labor as such, but rather in the particular dynamics of capitalist commodity production. Let's examine what he actually says:
[T]he capitalistic mode of production thrust its way into a society of commodity producers, of individual producers, whose social bond was the exchange of their product. But every society based upon the production of commodities has this peculiarity: that the producers have lost control over their own social interrelations.... No one knows whether his individual product will meet an actual demand, whether he will be able to make good his costs of production or even to sell his commodity at all. Anarchy reigns in socialized production.10
This general character of commodity production that Engels pinpoints takes a qualitative leap with the development of capitalism. On the one hand, commodity production becomes generalized, with the full monetization of the means of production and the transformation of labor power into a commodity. On the other, capitalist commodity production is carried out on the basis of unprecedented scale of production; the advance, and continuous advances, in technology; the dense network of interrelations among producers, now global; and the "scientific" and "rational" organization at the level of the individual unit of capital. And yet and still, the "social bond" of the individual producers, to use Engels's phrase, remains the exchange of products—only now it is highly socialized production for exchange.
As for the argument that Marx treats competition in (secondary) relation to the "inner nature of capital," here we must take note of an important aspect of Marx's method in Capital. In Volume 1 of that work, Marx scientifically penetrates to and identifies the basic nature of capital, distinguishing capital from other forms of wealth and abstracting from the interrelations of the many capitals.
Capital is a social relation and process whose essence is the domination of labor power by alien, antagonistic interests and the reproduction and expanded reproduction of that relation. The most fundamental law of the capitalist mode of production is the law of value and production of surplus value. The most important production relation of capitalism is the relation of capital to labor. And exploitation of wage-labor is the basis of the creation and appropriation of surplus value.
This is scientifically established. But the critics want to explain anarchy on the basis of the exploitation of wage-labor, as this exploitation is foundational. This is not science. It is not proceeding from reality and the fundamental contradiction in its complexity, and the "real movement of capital," but rather from a reductionist view of reality, a distortion of reality to serve the narrative of the primacy of the class struggle.
Which brings us back to the question: what drives the exploitation of wage-labor? Or to pose it differently: is there a compulsion to exploit wage-labor on a wider and more capital-intense basis? The answer is, yes, there is such compulsion, and it derives from competition.
Capital lives under the constant pressure to expand. In order to survive, it must grow: capital can only exist if more capital is being accumulated. At the concrete level, "capital-in-general" exists, and can only exist, as many capitals in competition with each other, precisely because capitalism is based on private appropriation. Marx explains:
Competition makes the immanent laws of capitalist production to be felt by each individual capitalist as external coercive laws. It compels him to keep constantly extending his capital, in order to preserve it, but extend it he cannot, except by means of progressive accumulation.11
Competition, the "battle of competition" as Marx describes it, compels individual capitals to cheapen production costs. This mainly turns on raising the productivity of labor and extending the scale of production and achieving what are called "economies of scale" (lower cost per unit of output) through mechanization and technological innovation, as well as organizational innovation.
The technological and organizational transformation of production demands more capital, which requires a growing mass of surplus value out of which to finance investment—thus the drive for more surplus value. The needs of accumulation are increasingly met through loan capital and the credit system, which enables capital to finance new investment and move into new lines of production—but this too is premised on an expanding pool of surplus value. In other words, for capital in its different forms, there is an underlying drive to expand, to increase capital accumulation. All of which is bound up with competition.
Those who move first to innovate are able to gain temporary advantage (extra profit), while those who fail to act and stay with the pack lose market share and position. Take the U.S. auto industry relative to the more innovative Japanese auto manufacturers from the late 1970s onward. Japanese capital was pioneering more efficient methods of production, which ultimately became generalized. This broke the monopoly of the "Big Three" auto manufacturers (in the U.S. market in particular) and forced the adoption of labor-saving technology.
The "coercive laws of competition" impose the imperative on individual capitals: "expand or die." The reciprocal interaction of private capitals forces the continual revolutionizing of the productive forces as a matter of internal necessity and self-preservation. This is what accounts for the dynamism of capitalism.
This is why capitalists cannot simply exploit and then just turn their wealth towards consumption—that is, if they are to remain capitalists. Because something deeper is at work: "as capitalist," in Marx's memorable and profoundly scientific phrase, "he is only capital personified."12
This is also why capitalism does not achieve a steady-state equilibrium. As explained earlier, it is through the blind competitive interactions of individual capitals that norms of social production (efficiency, etc.) are established, and that capital is allocated into this or that sector (in response to price and profit signals). These norms of production, in turn, must be obeyed... if particular capitals are to stay competitive.
But individual capitals develop unevenly, the one overtaking the other; new lines of production open, only to be glutted; new capitals form and old ones split apart on the basis of colliding claims to surplus value produced throughout society; and new competitive hierarchies are established. New technology develops, and this opens up new arenas of investment; technology becomes a battleground around which new capitals form, split apart, or collapse. Think about the shifts that take place in the global computer and high-tech industries.
The accumulation of capital is a dynamic and disruptive process of expansion and adjustment and crisis.
In the Grundrisse, Marx explains that competition "executes" the laws of accumulation: "Competition generally, this essential locomotive force of the bourgeois economy, does not establish its laws, but is rather their executor."13
What is this executor role? Competition impels growing concentration (new productive capacity, enlargement of the scale of production) and growing centralization (mergers, takeovers, etc.) of existing capitals. Competition impels increasing mechanization and specialization and complexity of social production and a rising organic composition of capital (more investment in machinery, raw materials, etc., relative to living labor), which underlie the tendency for the rate of profit to decline. The laws of accumulation driven by competition lead to the creation of a "reserve army of labor" (an important component of which are workers displaced by mechanization).
Competition involves the movement of capital from one sphere to another, in search of higher profit; it involves rivalry for market shares; it involves technical change that transforms the conditions of production.
In sum, capital necessarily exists as many capitals in competition, and competition has determining effects.
Competition is rooted in the private-ness of capital: in that private organization of discrete labor processes, organized around the production of profit (surplus value), but which are objectively interlinked with one another, with other privately organized labor processes. Competition and private-ness are rooted in the existence of independent sites of accumulation and discrete centers of decision-making in what is in fact an interdependent and integrated economic formation—where production is production for an anonymous market.
The very dynamism of capitalism arises from technical change embodied in the competitive process. That is the reality of capital accumulation.
Our critics are in a tight spot. They have to explain away the manifest dynamism of capitalism that arises from the expand-or-die urging that competition imposes on capital. They have to explain this dynamism by some other means in order to keep the class contradiction as the principal form of motion. So they trundle out another argument: worker resistance is actually the fount of innovation and mechanization. On this account, the capitalist invests to displace workers, to compress wages, and/or to better control a recalcitrant workforce. On this account, there is not the compulsion of competitive interaction, but rather the deliberate choice of technique and/or strategy to contain labor.
Let's return to the example of the Japanese auto industry to reveal some of the problems with this argument. The adoption of "just-in-time" production, of "responsible" work teams, the practice of keeping inventories tight (to reduce cost), and extensive robotification by Japanese capital constituted a critical transformation in modern manufacturing. But it would border on the absurd to argue that this was governed by the necessity to stave off or cut off resistance by workers; if anything, the Japanese proletariat was fairly docile at the time.
What in fact was going on in this period of the 1970s through the mid-1980s was that competition and geo-economic rivalry were intensifying in the Western imperialist bloc. Japanese imperialism, as well as German imperialism, was making competitive inroads at the expense of U.S. imperialist capital, even as this rivalry was subordinated to and conditioned by the more determining strategic global rivalry at the time: between the U.S.-led and then Soviet-led imperialist blocs for world supremacy.
Now it is certainly true that an important aspect of the "rationalization" of production, the organization of "supply chains" and forms of "subcontracting," the use of information technology, etc., serves the role of disciplining and controlling labor. But this is not what fundamentally drives innovation.
The dynamic of capitalism is not one in which the capitalist strives to maximize surplus labor according to his own desire for profit. It is not a dynamic in which the capitalist has the freedom to invest or not to invest, save for the limiting factor of resistance of the worker. In that case, the "logical" move would be for capitals to band together, agree to invest and produce at certain levels, normalize profit rates, make concessions, and achieve social peace. But that does not happen, because there is compulsion to invest, to expand, to win market share... on pain of ruin.
To return to Avakian's critical insight cited above: "Were it not the case that these capitalist commodity producers are separated from each other and yet linked by the operation of the law of value, they would not face the same compulsion to exploit the proletariat—the class contradiction could be mitigated."
The capitalist is subject to the "coercive laws of competition." The capitalist is compelled to cheapen costs and is the instrument of technical progress. As "capitalist, he is only capital personified."
The denial, by the critics, of the "driving force of anarchy" as the principal form of motion of the fundamental contradiction makes it impossible for them to deeply and comprehensively understand major trends in the world and the stage on which communist revolution must be fought for and conducted. The "narrative" of class struggle and worker resistance not only obscures the major and unprecedented challenges before this communist revolution, but the great potential for revolutionary struggle as well. This is what I want to illustrate and explore.
On May 9, 2013, the Earth Systems Research Laboratory in Hawaii recorded that the carbon dioxide levels in Earth's atmosphere had reached 400 parts per million. The last time Earth supported so much carbon dioxide was some three million years ago, when there was no human life on the planet. Climate science has established that a rise in the Earth's temperature beyond two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels could lead to irreversible and devastating climate change.
The capitalist industrial revolution beginning in the 1700s, the leap to imperialism in the late 19th century, and the enormous acceleration of environmental stresses of the mid-20th century through today have created a dire environmental emergency.14
The impacts are already with us: extreme climate events (unprecedented floods, cyclones, and typhoons), droughts, desertification, Arctic ice melting to its lowest levels.
Meanwhile the imperialists continue to make staggering investments in fossil fuels, with an ever-increasing share going to so-called "unconventional" oil and gas reserves (hydro-fracking, deep offshore, tar sands, heavy crude, and shale oil, etc.). Global climate negotiations, most significantly Copenhagen 2010, go nowhere.
On the one hand, oil is foundational to the profitable functioning of the whole imperialist system. Six of the 10 largest corporations in the U.S., and eight of the 10 largest in the world, are auto and oil companies. On the other, oil is central to inter-imperial rivalry. Major capitalist firms and the major capitalist powers—the U.S., China, the countries of the EU, Russia, Japan, and others vie with each other for control over the regions where new fossil-fuel sources are to be found: in the Arctic, the South Atlantic, and elsewhere.
Rivalry among the great powers for control of production, refining, transport, and marketing of oil is in fact rivalry for control over the world economy. U.S. imperialism's military depends on oil to maintain and extend empire, to wage its neocolonial wars and to maintain its global supremacy. And, right now, one of U.S. imperialism's global competitive advantages is exactly its growing fossil-fuel capability: in 2012, the U.S. posted the largest increase in oil production in the world, and the largest single-year increase in oil output in U.S. history.
None of what is happening (and not happening) in the sphere of energy can be understood outside the framework of the drive for profit and intense competition and rivalry at the enterprise, sectoral, and national-state levels in the world economy and imperialist interstate system.
The most salient characteristic of recent climate negotiations is the fact that they have been sites of intense rivalry among the "great powers"—on the one hand, unwilling and unable to make any substantive moves away from reliance on fossil fuels; and, on the other, pressing climate-change adaptation into the tool-box of competitive positioning (the Europeans and the Chinese, for instance, having advantage in certain renewable energy technologies).
And not just energy: the major powers are engaged in sharp global competition for the planet's minerals and raw materials. It is a scramble for the reckless plunder of Earth's resources, or as one progressive scholar has called it, "the race for what's left."
The emergence of China as the world's second largest capitalist economy, with its demand for resources and its growing international reach, is a major element in the ecological equation. Its growth has been fueled by the massive inflow of investment capital over the last 20 years, and that growth has been a major, if not the major, source of dynamism in the world economy. And China is now the largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
The real threat of unstoppable climate change is part of a larger environmental crisis. The planet is not only on a trajectory towards massive extinction of species but also the collapse of critical ecosystems, especially rainforests and coral reefs, with the threat of cascading effects on the Earth's global ecosystem as a whole. There is the real possibility of Earth being transformed into a very different kind of planet... one that potentially could threaten human existence. No one can predict the precise pathways and outcomes of what is happening. But this is the trajectory that we, and planet Earth, are on.
Why are tropical forests being wiped out by logging and timber operations? Why is soil being degraded and dried out by agribusiness, and oceans acidified? Why is nature turned into a "sink" for toxic waste? Because capitalism-imperialism invests, speculates, trades, and roams the globe treating nature as a limitless input to serve ever-expanding production for profit.
The short-term desideratum of expanded accumulation has long-term environmental consequences—but these are not of immediate "consequence" in the competitive battle. Individual units of capital seek to minimize costs to stay competitive, calculating with great precision (organization at the enterprise level). But the effects of production activities, like pollution, that fall outside the sphere of economic calculation of these units of private ownership do not "register" on the profit-and-loss ledger. These social and environmental costs are "externalized": off-loaded on to society and the planet, and pushed off into the future (anarchy at the societal and planetary level).
The calamitous environmental effects of globalization have been greatest in the oppressed nations, yet caused disproportionately by the imperialist countries. Between 1961 and 2000, the rich countries generated over 40 percent of the environmental degradation around the world while shouldering only 3 percent of the costs of ecosystem change.15
When capitalist firms cut down rainforest in Indonesia for timber, and plant trees to produce palm oil for bio-fuels—a highly volatile sector of the world economy reflecting intense competition between world energy and food markets—the carbon released into the atmosphere and the destruction of habitat of the Sumatran tigers are not part of the cost-benefit calculus of these capitals.
Now if someone is going to argue that the environmental crisis is principally the result of the class contradiction, that this crisis is the product of worker, peasant, or mass resistance, or the quest for labor-saving technology to control labor, I for one would be quite intrigued to hear someone make the case, although it strains credulity.
The inability of capitalism to interact with nature in a sustainable way... the devastation capitalism has caused nature... and the acceleration of planet-engulfing and planet-threatening environmental crisis are all rooted in the anarchic interactions of highly organized, private aggregations of capital, facing the compulsion to profitably expand or die—and rivalry at the global level.
At the same time, it is crucial to understand that the ecological crisis is impacting, and will impact, the class struggle in manifold ways. To begin with, environmental destruction is a fault-line of the global class struggle and a focal point of important mass resistance, especially in the oppressed nations, often connected with peasant and indigenous peoples' struggles, but also in the imperialist citadels.
Further, the kinds of instabilities and "environmental security crises" (as the imperialists call them) that might be set off by environmental degradation could very likely trigger massive social crisis, and could be an accelerant of revolutionary crisis.
Millions could be flooded out of densely settled delta regions like Bangladesh, prompting vast migrations. The effects of climate changes on agricultural systems, especially in the oppressed nations, will, similarly, cause enormous economic and social strains. According to some impact estimates, by the later decades of this century, 29 countries in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean and Mexico will lose 20 percent or more of their current farm output to global warming.16
And in the imperialist countries: Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. saw the intersection of global warming with the sharp oppression of Black people, and presented great necessity and opportunity to advance the movement for revolution in the "belly of the beast." The Fukishima reactor meltdown and resulting contamination—and Japanese imperialism's vast network of nuclear power and its robust export of nuclear reactors has been one of its global competitive advantages—is also expressive of the kinds of dislocative events that will likely increase in the future.
The underlying causes and monumental implications of the environmental crisis do not register and cannot be fathomed through the narrow, economist filter of the class contradiction as the ongoing principal form of motion of the fundamental contradiction. Yet this crisis, driven overwhelmingly by the anarchy/organization contradiction, will be a major factor setting the stage on which the class struggle will unfold.
As the 21st century opened, and for the first time in human history, more than half the world's population lives in cities. For almost four decades, cities in the oppressed nations have been growing at a breakneck pace. This is chaotic and oppressive urbanization. More than a billion people live in squalid slums-shantytowns within and surrounding cities in the Third World—and this population will likely double by 2030—while an equal number eke out a desperate living in the so-called informal economy.
What is driving this urbanization? For one, leaps in the industrialization of agriculture and the transnational integration of food production and transport, with imperialist agribusiness grabbing up land and consolidating holdings, have undermined rural livelihoods based on small-scale subsistence agriculture.
Imperialism has been transforming national systems of agriculture into globalized components of transnational production and marketing chains, more detached from local populations; and, increasingly, agriculture is becoming less "foundational" to many national economies of the Third World. And the imperialist-led conversion of land previously serving food production into land serving production of ethanol and other crop-based fuels has further exacerbated these trends.
At the same time, environmental devastation, droughts, and civil wars (often fueled or taken advantage of by the great powers, as in Congo) have brought ruin to agricultural systems—and driven people into the cities.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) insisted, as a condition for loans, that governments of many poor countries eliminate subsidies to small rural landholders, and also "open up" economies to food imports from the West to expand markets and to allow for further capitalization of agriculture. This has put incredible pressures on the rural poor, ruining livelihoods.
Vast swaths of humanity flee the poverty, devastation, and despair of the world's countryside.
Finally, China's rapid capitalist growth has siphoned hundreds of millions of peasants into the cities; this, the largest rural-to-city migration in human history, is propelled by the churning of market forces in China's countryside and the pull of jobs, often cheap-labor (sweatshop) manufacturing, in China's cities.
These phenomena are fundamentally governed by the needs, imperatives, and unforeseen consequences of accumulation on a world scale, particularly deepening imperialist penetration of the oppressed nations and globalization of production.
Urbanization and "shantytown-ization" cannot be scientifically explained as a primary consequence of the class contradiction. It's simply not true that class resistance in the countryside has propelled these social-demographic shifts. Is the argument of our critics that peasant revolts in the countryside were posing a threat to the social order such that the only way to stanch them was through the expulsion of peasant labor by means of undermining subsistence agriculture?
Is the argument that urban upheaval had brought about such levels of instability that the exploiting classes somehow have had to spur mass migrations of peasants into the cities in the hope that this might be a conservatizing and counterrevolutionary influence? This is not scientific methodology.
A brief historical aside and question: Would the partisans of this view argue that World War 1 was driven by the need to divert or re-channel the class struggle within the European countries—or was this war driven, as indeed it was, by intensifying inter-imperial rivalry and in particular contention over the colonies (even as Europe was the main theater of battle)?
The urbanization, proletarianization, and shanty-townization taking place in the oppressed nations, owing to the anarchic workings of capital, are having very contradictory effects on the masses: economically and ideologically. The uprooting of traditional ways of life in the countryside by imperialism and the instability attendant to urbanization of sections of masses who are not being incorporated into the "formal" economy have fed the growth and appeal of Islamic fundamentalism, Pentecostalism, varieties of religious millennialism, etc. These trends provide a coherent reactionary ideological and moral compass in conditions of uncertainty and dislocation.
Again, the underpinnings of what is actually happening, and the challenges this actually poses in terms of transforming society and the world, cannot be comprehended scientifically if the motion and development of the fundamental contradiction is viewed through an economist lens.
I have written on the factors propelling this crisis.17 Briefly, to identify some key dynamics of a particular trajectory of growth that turned into its opposite:
The dynamics that spurred growth generated new barriers to the profitable accumulation of capital. In sum, the crisis is a concentrated, though highly complex and fluid, expression and outcome of the anarchy of capitalist production.
But some of the critics cannot let go of easily earned theoretical fallacies when it comes to analyzing crisis.
Some have argued that the class contradiction, particularly in the form of resistance to globalization and the IMF, has been a major driving factor behind this crisis, affecting structural adjustment plans and so forth. Indeed, there was a major wave of resistance to globalization. But a) significant as that had been in the 1990s, this opposition and struggle did not rise to a level that qualitatively impinged on the motion and development of world accumulation; and b) in fact, as sketched out above, the crisis that erupted in 2008-09 has deep determinants in the contradictions of a particular trajectory of expansion, marked by that dynamic of heightened globalization and heightened financialization.
The argument is also posited that collusion is principal among the imperial powers, this flowing from the joint need of capital to exploit labor power. But rivalry, propelled by uneven development and the shifting tectonic plates of the world economy, has been a major feature of contemporary imperial interrelations. This rivalry has mainly expressed itself economically and geo-economically, and not so much in the military realm.
This crisis broke out in the context of major shifts in the competitive relations and strengths among the great powers, among which: the "rise of China" and its transition towards becoming an imperialist power, with its influence reaching beyond East Asia to the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa and its growth now influencing the international division of labor; European Union market enlargement and regional currency integration providing a framework for advantage in scale and efficiency for globalized West European capital, and for pressing a monetary challenge to the dominance of the dollar; and a re-assertive Russian imperialism.
The crisis has in turn had repercussions not just for the stability of the world imperialist system but for ongoing power shifts and rivalries within it. Two of the more salient: the crisis has exacerbated contradictions between the U.S. and China, with the U.S. more aggressively seeking to counter China's rise and growing reach; and the crisis has posed new difficulties for the EU imperial project.
In Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon, Bob Avakian makes the point:
[W]e we may not like all this, but that's where we are. We may not like the fact that capitalism and its dynamics are still dominant in the world, overwhelmingly so at this time, and set the stage for the struggle we have to wage—we may not like this, but that's the reality. And in that reality is the basis for radically changing things. It's in confronting and struggling to change that reality, and not through some other means. It's through understanding and then acting to transform that reality along pathways that the contradictory character of that reality does open up—pathways which must be seized on and acted on to carry out that transformation of reality.19
Avakian is not only commenting on the work of analyzing the dynamics of capitalism and how the contradictions in the world assert themselves and interact, and grasping why the "driving force of anarchy" is indeed the principal dynamic of capitalism. He is also focusing up a fundamental issue of science, of communism as a science: "whether" as he writes, "you proceed from objective reality and recognize the basis, within the contradictory dynamics of that reality, for radical change—or whether you're just proceeding from a set of ideas, including an idealized vision of the masses, which you are trying to impose on reality..."20
In coming to grips with capitalism-imperialism and its functioning, we are dealing with its necessity—with particular laws of operation and laws of motion. These laws are independent of the will of individuals and independent of the will of a class, even one (the capitalist-imperialists) that possesses the greatest arsenal of repression and force in history.
Capitalism is not a system based on greed, or the "will to exploit." It is not a system based on the profit motive as "first principle"—squeeze what you can from the workers. It is a mode of production based on the exploitation of wage-labor and driven by the inner necessity to expand. Not to grasp this is to objectively deny the need for revolution—if this system is not governed by necessity, by underlying laws and imperatives of accumulation, then perhaps... perhaps it can be reformed.
These laws and in particular the compelling force of anarchy do not, contrary to the charges of the critics, "liquidate" the class struggle. Rather, and to reiterate: this is what sets the primary stage for what has to be done to transform society and the world. If that is grasped, then it becomes possible, as Avakian emphasizes, to discover the pathways for radically transforming this reality. It becomes possible to seize and carve out freedom, because this mode of production and its laws are dynamic, are contradictory. And this opens up vast possibilities for the conscious factor, to act, on the basis of scientifically understanding reality—in its complexity and changing-ness.
There are diverse channels for change and for sudden eruptions. This scientific orientation is critical in building the movement for revolution, for a revolution that is total in its scope, and for recognizing and acting on the need and potential for that revolution—and the challenges before it. The environmental crisis is momentous in this regard.
There are the challenges posed by how the fundamental contradiction between socialized production and private appropriation actually develops. The growth of Islamic and other fundamentalisms at the same time that the productive forces have grown more socialized and the world more intertwined is a case in point. This "perverse" working out of the fundamental contradiction illustrates that its motion and development is not a linear process of modernization, proletarianization, and secularization. Rather, it is a complex process of changes in class and social configuration, of ideology and social movements interpenetrating with economic transformation, with need for a liberating morality and the question of uprooting patriarchy getting profoundly posed.
We are living in a period of transition with the potential for great upheaval: global capitalism in flux, heightening inequality and dislocation, environmental degradation, the horrors visited upon women, half of humanity. Capitalism in the imperialist era is a mode of production that is at once in transition to something higher and violently straining against its limits.
Are we going to invent realities and verities, and construct narratives that the class struggle is always principal, in order to console ourselves and ward off the real challenges? Or are we going to confront reality in order to transform it?
What is at stake is a materialist understanding of the world, of what must be changed in people's thinking and society, and how. Anything other than a truly scientific approach is going to leave the world as it is. What is at stake is the communist revolution that humanity needs: to resolve the fundamental contradiction of the epoch and to emancipate humanity and safeguard the planet.
1. For background, see Communism: The Beginning of a New Stage, A Manifesto from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2009), especially sections III-V. [back]
2. Bob Avakian, Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles but Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon (hereafter referred to as Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles) [back]
3. As capitalism emerged and developed, a vast global peasantry continued to play an important part in world production, and was quantitatively dominant, but pre-capitalist relations of production became increasingly subsumed by, subordinated to, and penetrated by capitalism. [back]
4. Frederick Engels, Anti-Duhring, (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969), pp. 316-324. [back]
5. Karl Marx, "Wage-Labor and Capital," in Marx-Engels, Selected Works 1 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1973), p. 157. [back]
6. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1 (New York: International Publishers, 1967), p. 555. [back]
7. See Bob Avakian, "Fundamental and Principal Contradictions on A World Scale" Revolutionary Worker, September 17, 1982. [back]
8. Raymond Lotta, America in Decline (Chicago: Banner Press, 1984), pp. 40-56. [back]
9. Marx, Capital, 1, p. 300. [back]
10. Engels, Anti-Duhring, p. 322. [back]
11. Marx, Capital 1, p. 555. [back]
12. Marx, Capital 1, p. 224. [back]
13. Karl Marx, Grundrisse (Hammondsworth: Penguin, 1973), p. 552. [back]
14. See the special issue of Revolution, "State of EMERGENCY: The Plunder of Our Planet, the Environmental Catastrophe, and the Real Revolutionary Solution," April 18, 2010. [back]
15. R. Kerry Turner & Brendan Fisher, "Environmental economics: To the rich man the spoils," Nature 451, 28 February 2008, pp. 1067-1068. [back]
16. William Cline. 2007. Global Warming and Agriculture: Impact Estimates by Country (Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Development and Peterson Institute for International Economics). [back]
17. See, for instance, Raymond Lotta, "Shifts and Faultlines in the World Economy and Great Power Rivalry: What Is Happening and What It Might Mean," Revolution, July 24, 27, August 3, August 24 (2008), especially Part 1; and Raymond Lotta, "Financial Hurricane Batters World Capitalism: System Failure and the Need for Revolution," Revolution, October 19, 2008 [back]
18. The reader is encouraged to study the discussion in Notes on Political Economy: Our Analysis of the 1980s, Issues of Methodology, and The Current World Situation (Chicago: RCP Publications, 2000), Part 1, pp. 7-30, where the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA identifies problems in the analysis it made in the 1980s of the motion of the U.S.-led and Soviet-led imperialist blocs towards world war. Methodological lessons are drawn out as part of a deepening grasp of the scientific method. [back]
Revolution #322 Online November 11, 2013
An interview by Sunsara Taylor | November 11, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Revolution Interview: A special feature of Revolution to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music and literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our paper.
On November 5, in the midst of a week-long mobilization by anti-abortion fanatics against the last abortion clinic in Mississippi, Diane Derzis, the clinic owner, sat down for an interview with Sunsara Taylor. Just days before, a panel of judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, ruled that a new abortion restriction in Texas would go into immediate effect, thereby closing down abortion services at 13 clinics in that state. Mississippi has passed a similar law that would have the effect of closing the Jackson Women's Health Organization and, although the clinic is challenging the law in court, the decision on this will be made by the same court in New Orleans. This bodes very, very badly for the women of Mississippi. The following interview explores the implications of this decision as well as many other questions surrounding the increasing state of emergency regarding abortion rights nationwide.
Sunsara Taylor: So I am sitting here with Diane Derzis inside the clinic that she owns, the Jackson Women's Health Organization, which is the very last abortion clinic in the entire state of Mississippi. She is a very courageous woman, and I want to first of all thank you for sitting down and doing this interview.
Diane Derzis: I am happy to.
Taylor: I want to talk to you about a number of things: about how you got involved in providing abortions, about how you see the battle overall, but I guess since I got down here to Jackson, I knew there was going to be Operation Save America in town, possibly terrorizing the clinic, laying siege to the city, all of this. But when we got down here the situation actually got much worse with this new ruling in the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans which ruled that there would be immediate enforcement of the Texas hospital admitting privileges law for abortion doctors, thereby shutting down abortion services at 13 clinics throughout that state. And this has implications for Mississippi as well, so I wondered if you could begin by speaking for a minute on what is the state of emergency with abortion rights here in Mississippi.
Derzis: I think it's now hopefully apparent to people in this country that we are on a very slim thread, losing this right completely. This is the same circuit that we are in front of. We knew it was one of the worst in the country, we've known that all along, but I don't think anyone realized... you know we've talked about it for years, "We are losing this right. We are losing this right," and it's kind of like an old fairy tale. But now you're seeing 13, at least 13 clinics closed in Texas. And we have to realize that we could very well be next. There's just no... We've relied too much on the courts. I think we've all known that for many years, but we're on a course where there really wasn't any other option till we see organizing of grassroots people who are demanding their rights as women and men and families, it's only going to worsen. I mean, right now the women in Texas are hanging with Justice Scalia, the worst justice—well, I'm not sure he is the worst, we still have Clarence Thomas—but one of the worst justices on the [Supreme] Court. And to think that the women of Texas are relying on Antonin Scalia to decide whether or not this should even be heard. It's frightening. Very frightening.
Taylor: And so the law that you are talking about is the hospital admitting privileges law.
Taylor: And that's the one that was passed in Mississippi.
Derzis: Absolutely. Last year. And this clinic made application to I think nine hospitals within a 30-mile radius and we were turned down immediately and the reason given—you know, people like to talk about this is because we're so bad that hospitals don't want us—but the reason was each one of those hospitals made the statement that they were unable to deal with the [anti-abortion] community that would have happened for this. And I always say to people here, "If Governor Bryant were so concerned about the women of Mississippi, why didn't he pick up the telephone and call those hospital administrators and say, 'Of course you're going to grant those privileges, aren't you.'" These guys know what kinds of laws they are passing. The state of Mississippi, each year they have passed a bad law and we have been able to comply. We have a transfer agreement. We have a doctor who has backup privileges and who has admitting privileges. But, then when they said every doctor has to have admitting privileges they knew. And I would say to the press at that time, "How many phone calls do you think these hospital administrators get a day from these anti-choice people all over the country demanding they not even think about this?" Can you imagine a hospital emergency room surrounded by these protesters? I mean, if any other business had to go through what abortion clinics in this country have to go through, I don't think they'd survive.
Taylor: One of the things that is commonly argued right now among people who support abortion rights, they try to make the argument—and of course, it is a true argument—that abortion is health care. And I think it is very true that it is a basic part of women's health care.
Derzis: It should be.
Taylor: Yeah, exactly. At the same time, that argument kind of obscures what you are describing because there's no protesters around other health care.
Taylor: So why do you think there's so much of a bull's-eye and an angry mobilized movement against this particular procedure?
Derzis: I think several reasons, and I think probably early on we contributed to this when we made ourselves self-standing entities, when we took ourselves out of hospitals. It's easy for a woman to go to a hospital and no one knows why she is there. But then we have watched over the years these anti-choice people put pressure on these hospitals so that now most hospitals in the country don't even offer abortion training. All these hospitals that are being consumed by the Catholic hospitals, for God's sakes. If women only knew what they are giving up.
I mean, I have a friend in the Gulf Shores and she was pregnant and she was just so ecstatic. She was 43 and she had a 25-year-old son and this was like a blessing. And she Facebooked everybody she was 20 weeks pregnant and she was on her way to the doctor to find out the sex. And so on Facebook she says, "Stay tuned, stay tuned, we'll let you know," and she gets there and the tech says, "Oooh, I don't see a heartbeat."
Taylor: Oh wow.
Derzis: The doctor comes in and he pulls out his little Bible, he happened to have one in his pocket. This is true, this just happened last month. He just happened to have one in his pocket and he said, "God handles these kinds of things. You might have one day of life, no days of life, a hundred years of life, but this is part of life. We're a faith-based institution and you have a dead baby." This goes on, so he said to her, "You can come in the morning and we can induce labor." And realize, she would be on the maternity floor with women who are ecstatic about having their babies and she's going to go through six to 48 hours of labor to produce a dead baby. No mention of going to an abortion clinic, this would not even have been an abortion clearly because it is a dead fetus. But then somehow this "baby" became a "fetus" a couple hours into this.
Taylor: You mean the fetus became a "baby."
Derzis: No. The "dead baby" became a "fetus." So the doctor says to the couple, "By the way, at this stage of pregnancy this is a fetus and we've got two options here. You can go to a funeral home and have a funeral or a memorial or whatever. Or, give this fetus to us to check, it could save other babies down the line."
Derzis: Right. So, I'm thinking this is real interesting how "babies" become "fetuses" again in faith-based institutions if it's to their advantage. But, long story short, the deal with this woman is she was in labor 28 hours and she said they were wonderful, the nurses were wonderful. But she had a dead baby. Instead of sending her to a clinic, or if a doctor in that hospital had been able to do a D&E [dilation and extraction] and remove the dead fetus.
Taylor: What would that have entailed?
Derzis: It would have been maybe an hour of cytotec to ripen the cervix to have her dilate and then a 10-minute procedure. Instead of this. It would have been easier, but that wasn't even an option for her.
Taylor: Emotionally, physically, it would have been easier.
Derzis: Absolutely. And, economically. I mean, I was thinking if white women knew. I mean, somehow it's okay when we don't think about poor people, but if women of privilege who've been accustomed to be able to walk into their doctor's office and demand whatever they need, find out that that is not available to them anymore. You know how many times I have a woman—and I am a woman of privilege so it's not that at all, but how many times I hear a woman say, "What do you mean I can't go to my doctor's office? I've got to come to a clinic?" Because "clinic" means poor women.
I'm digressing, but this is what happens to health care in this country right now surrounding abortion. Which is back to your original question. Abortion is a political issue now. It's not health care. We're looking at a procedure nine to 14 times safer than childbirth. Safer, statistically, than a shot of penicillin. And we are passing these kinds of laws... making surgery centers out of abortion clinics? We've got doctors doing plastic surgery, doing bariatric [weight-loss] surgery, doing procedures in their offices under absolutely no regulation, and yet we're doing this to an abortion clinic?
I've always thought about it, what if the Jehovah Witnesses or whoever it is that doesn't believe in blood banks, do you think this country would allow a band of them to close down our blood banks? But this is going to happen. I mean, you can't sit by and watch them pick off some people and not think that they are not going to come for you next.
Taylor: So you were talking about women who just take for granted their medical care and abortion services as part of that and you were contrasting that especially for people reading this who are not down here in Mississippi who maybe live in some of the urban areas or places where this right is more accessible and taken for granted. Why don't you describe some of the conditions for women here and the women you serve at your clinic, a little bit about what they have to go through.
Derzis: I'm not sure, though, that it is not in your area, maybe they should start looking because I will tell you even three or four years ago there were obviously patients who were, say, on Coumadin, which is a blood thinner, or women who have some kind of an underlying disease that should be seen in a hospital, but even for them there are no hospitals that do abortions. In Birmingham, Alabama, the largest, one of the largest, most respected medical centers in the country couldn't make a referral. I had to refer patients to Emory University in Atlanta. I mean, that's the kind of... women have no idea.
For years I haven't done business with someone who doesn't support women's reproductive rights. I'm not going to see a doctor, I don't care what kind of doctor they are, I ask on the telephone are you pro-choice? Now they may or may not get back to you because this works two ways. One of my staff people the other day, she was telling me she went into the new doctor and she saw pro-life literature in his waiting office and she said, are you aware, and he said, yeah, I put it out there. And she said, well, that's the last time you'll see me and she got up and walked out. And until women start doing that, things aren't going to change. It's just not going to happen.
Here, though, in Mississippi because women are so poor there is a clear disparity of the rural areas and the women in the Delta and for those women you realize they're having to take off work for the first day to get here, that 24-hour waiting period is deadly, they're taking off work, they're finding child care, they're finding the gas to get here. Then they have to turn around and come back the next day, so that time spent can actually put them into another trimester of pregnancy which can, in fact, increase their fee. You know this state is number one in infant mortality, number one in maternal mortality, number one in teenage pregnancy, I mean, these are just horrible things. We were talking earlier, they've reduced the food stamp money here. We keep saying that you can't have it both ways but they are; I mean, I guess we're going to see a nation that looks like Africa. I don't know what the other option is.
Taylor: When we were speaking before, and when I've heard you speak very unapologetically about women's need for abortion, that this is a positive thing that women should talk about it, they should hold their heads up about it, I wonder if you can just speak about how you see that.
Derzis: That's how I got into this field. I had an abortion after I got married at 19. Both of us were virgins. I mean, I wasn't using birth control. You know, you think back how crazy you are. But, regardless, I find out I'm pregnant, I was horrified, absolutely horrified. There were not clinics at that time but there was a doctor who charged $125. You went in, you pulled up your skirt, you pulled down your panties and you got on the table. He said to me, "You didn't have a problem spreading your legs before. If you can't spread them now, I'm not going to see you." I mean, I can't tell you something that I did yesterday, but I can remember that to this day. But I'll tell you one thing: thank God he was there; thank God he did a safe abortion on me.
That is what led... I got home and the next day there was some woman running for president or something on the right-to-life ticket and there were fetuses all over the television. I just was incensed, what in God's name, and when that first clinic opened I bugged them for six months until they hired me, and I couldn't believe I got paid $5 an hour to counsel. And it's been my passion ever since because if women can't make that decision we can't make any decision. We can't. How do you work if you have no child care? It's a Catch -22. Now some of us aren't designed to be parents, this society feels like somehow if you don't have children there's something wrong with you. Do I get pissed every time I see the Duggar family? I read last night, I didn't realize they were being used by the "pro-life" movement, that makes me even more insane. We have television stations awarding them parents of the year, for what? These are litters. Anybody can have a litter. We get upset about dogs having litters. When you've got 19 kids, that is absolutely, I mean, that is shameful, how do you support 19 children? Now I'm the one being judgmental.
Taylor: But the woman, the last child, her life was in danger and the "pro-lifers" had this whole campaign to pray for her, upholding her like she's doing the right thing, as if a woman should be commended for risking her life, like David Gunn was talking about the other day about the zombie apocalypse [David Gunn, Jr., son of the first abortion doctor to be assassinated, had spoken recently on a panel about how in the TV series, The Walking Dead, the woman couldn't bring herself to have an abortion even when the fetus growing within her was a zombie who would kill her], and then you should still have the fetus. But that message is being hammered at women, that compared to the fetus, "Your life doesn't matter."
Derzis: And I always hear "selfish." Women are selfish if they don't want to have children. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to have kids. You know, I thank God every day that was a decision I made not to have children, and I thank God every day I made that decision. But I understand and I support a woman's right to have as many children as she wants, it's just we all know there are consequences for any behaviors we choose. Women have got to be the ones who make the decision. It can't be the male, it can't be society, it has to be her. And I think clearly that's wrong with the anti-choice people, they're anti-women. People always say that if men got out of this and left it to women [the right to abortion would be protected] but that's not true because some of the most vicious people are women on this other side; they have no power now, they answer to men and it's always clear that the women outside these clinics follow the leadership of the man out there.
Taylor: The other day you spoke about we need to change the way people feel about abortion, we have to change hearts and minds on this. We have to change the situation so that people who support abortion rights feel they can speak up about it. I know huge numbers of people do not believe that women should be forced to have children against their will, they really feel this bone deep, but they are scared to say so out loud. But anti-abortion people feel they could talk about it all the time.
Derzis: Not only can they talk about it, they can come have abortions and then go back on the line. I mean, seriously, it's a horrible, horrible thing. You know, I think we've got to embrace, do I think my abortion was a moral choice? Absolutely, no question. Women who walk in these clinics, in every instance I've seen a woman who is a moral agent making a moral choice. Have many of these women struggled with this decision, no question. But there are many women who don't. There are many women who know immediately, just like I did, I don't want to have a baby. I'm not going to have a baby. And many people don't understand the issue that adoption and abortion are two totally separate things. Women who abort or think about abortion are not going to give a child up for adoption and that is across the board. You ask any provider in this country and you'll see those are two diametrically opposed things. A woman who has an abortion never considered adoption.
Derzis: For a woman who gives a child up for adoption, I have the absolute utmost respect. To imagine wondering for the rest of your life where that child is, what that child is doing, and I know there are those who would say you would rather "kill" but it's a totally different thing. Do I think that's selfless? Yes. But I think that having an abortion is selfless. Because the easiest thing to do in this society is to have a baby, whether you can afford one or not, whether you take care of one or not, whether you want one or not. Those same people who have problems with abortion don't want to feed these babies and I think that until people are faced with that, how many of these Tea Party people and all these people who are against abortion, they're anti-women, they're anti-sex. For many of them this is punishment: she laid down, she spread her legs, she gets what she deserves. What a hell of a way to think about having a child.
I mean, that says a lot about the society. I find that people who are pro-choice are far more cognizant of the importance of life. Abortion is definitely a moral choice and we've got to reclaim that ground. That's why women need to be able to say, yes, I made that decision—whatever it was, whether it was hard or wasn't hard. I was telling a friend earlier today, for those of you who can't talk about this issue hopefully you can talk about it in your home or you can talk about it with a friend and I think that's now what we're asking you to do, start the conversation, make a difference on a smaller level; that's how the dominos start. If you just do it amongst yourselves. If you don't feel you can write a letter to the editor, make a phone call to Rush Limbaugh or whatever, find something you are comfortable doing, you can feel proud.
I think we've let society shame us for making a decision that saved our lives or saved the lives of our family. I watch it myself when we start talking about stories, I always find myself going for those hard ones: let me tell you about a 12-year-old. Then there is that side of my head that says why don't I tell you about the 25-year-old woman who just doesn't want to be a mother. Her story is no different and not in any way lessened because we think she should have known better. You know, there are rape victims, there are incest victims, there are what we see are economic reasons for abortion. A family, a woman who is a single provider and she's got two kids and one more would throw the balance completely off. She makes a decision to have an abortion because she's saving her family; she's saving their lives and we don't give her credit for that.
Taylor: You are facing down the barrel of a legal gun right now with this court decision in New Orleans and the implications for your clinic here in Mississippi, with Bryant as governor, I don't know if you want to say anything about him, I think people around the country don't understand who he is, etc. I want to bring up that Stop Patriarchy has been making the point repeatedly that it is immoral to abandon the women of Mississippi, and that it is delusional to think that if this clinic falls that it is not going to spread. So, I wonder if you have any message for people around the country about what kind of historic moment we're in, what would you say to people?
Derzis: This is one of the most special places I've ever been. I love the people here, I love the women here. It brings me to tears to think about leaving these women with no options because that is what we're doing. If you would see the women that sell their cars or pawn things to come up with the money to buy gas to come here, and then find out that they're too far to be seen here, and that's kind of okay because that's just the way life is.
This is a Southern state, it's not an uppity state, I'm not sure that's the right word I want to use but that's what comes to mind. The expectations are so low that when they are turned away they go have a baby. That's what mama did, that's what grandmamma did. They were probably raised by grandma, and when you watch these women in their 30s bring their 15- or 16-year-olds here in tears, "I want more for my child than I had."
She knows how hard it has been for us and her sisters and brothers and it makes you realize how lucky you are, how lucky we are when a woman cut off from making a decision just plain accepts it because that's the way it is. There's that part of me, that angry part of me, that has allowed me to continue on with the clinic. Hell no that's not the way it is, whatever it takes I'm going to do.
We are closing out, that's what I think people have to know: we are closing people's lives. Abortion gives women a second chance. Abortion gives women the chance to make something of themselves. Not to say that if you're a mother you're not something, I'm not any way dismissing that, if that's what you choose to do. But if you're forced to do that, that's a different ball of wax. Does that make sense?
Taylor: It makes a lot of sense.
Derzis: These women; you know, I leave here and I learn so much and that's part of the beauty of this job, that I still learn. I learn from these women. You know, I heard Shannon [the clinic director], we had an 11-year-old in here this summer and the protesters were very violent that day and she was in tears and she came in and told mama she wasn't having an abortion. They called the cops. Now the police were already here because it was clearly a violation of the law because she was pregnant by someone who was older.
Taylor: The anti-abortion group called the cops?
Derzis: Yes, they called, but the cops were already coming, this was this young woman's first day. She gets into the back and can you imagine being 11 years old and ready to be a parent? Cuz he had told her that he wanted her to have his baby. She's 11, she's a baby. You know, you look and this child was a child; she had no breasts. You know, there are some 11-year-olds who look like they're 25; this one looked like an 11-year-old. And her mother was just in hysterics, "Oh my God, what am I going to do? She's my baby, what am I going to do?" Then I hear Shannon, who is the same color, and she says, "I have seven children," and she can talk and relate differently. And then Shannon is in tears because this is a memory too. You know, when we're talking about these babies, this is like dolls, this is like getting a new doll.
Taylor: I think that being a parent and sex are very similar in that they are two of the most extraordinary and wonderful things that humans can experience if they choose to and if they are done on the right basis, but when they are forced there is nothing that is more dehumanizing and degrading and enslaving.
Derzis: Absolutely right.
Taylor: My last question for you is, and it's a difficult one on one level because you have been on the front lines and you have been holding down the front lines for decades. You're not alone in that entirely but all too much providers have been alone. You've had a clinic bombed, you've had people lose their lives in that, you've been through legal battle after legal battle, I can't imagine all the dimensions of this. But what is your vision, if you could just pull back the lens and go to the white board; not just how do you save this clinic and keep this one alive and keep serving here and there, but what would be your vision of how this society ought to function in terms of the role of women, in terms of abortion access, in terms of what difference it would make, what kind of atmosphere it would require for abortion to be available on demand and without apology and what difference that would make for women?
Derzis: And how horrible that we're still having the same conversation, what, 40 years later?
Derzis: I don't know what the answer is to that, Sunsara. But, you know, it clearly ought to be that every doctor did abortions. That there weren't clinics that were out there and alone. That we put it back into mainstream medicine. That we looked at clinics, if that's how it has to be, if you look at a clinic, we are a perfect model of health care. We do things economically, efficiently, and beautifully. I mean, you know, that's why abortion is as safe as it is now. That's another aside. I think until women demand their doctors do this... I think this is a long process, because it's been a long process that we've allowed it to be eroded. You know and tell your doctor, that's part of it. I mean, you can do that by yourself, that's not hard. No one has to know that you ask your doctor whether he or she is pro-choice and then you make a decision based on that. I don't eat at Domino's Pizza [the owner is rabidly anti-abortion and uses his profits to support the anti-abortion movement as well as biblical fundamentalism overall]. I mean, you know what? There's just some people I'm not going to do business with because they're not pro-woman. It's not just pro-choice, it's pro-woman. I don't know. I don't have the answer for you.
Taylor: Well, it's a conversation I think we have to start opening up.
Derzis: It's a fantasy.
Taylor: I don't think so, but I also think that if we don't start bringing it into the picture we will never fight for it.
Derzis: You are right. You are absolutely right.
Taylor: If we only fight against the latest outrage and we don't fight for the world that we want...
Derzis: No, you're absolutely right.
Taylor: And now I lied because I want to ask you another question. I actually can't believe I didn't bring it up by now, but I just followed our train of conversation and only remembered it until just now. I want to ask you about the clinic in Birmingham and what...
Derzis: What happened?
Taylor: ...you know, maybe you have other stories you want to share about what it actually has meant to be on the front lines, with that bombing? And I know... I had worked closely with people who came down right afterwards, and read about that, but I think most people today don't even know that doctors have been killed, most people have no idea. So I just wonder what that was like and why you were so determined and out there the next day?
Derzis: It was just such an outrage, you know? And I think we do watch; you know, Dr. Gunn [the first abortion doctor to be assassinated by an anti-abortion fanatic] actually worked for me, and I'll never forget hearing that they had just shot him. I was thinking, "Oh my God." And then Barrett. Then Britton. You know, I was living in Virginia at the time and my administrator called me and said, "Do you know the sirens you hear are coming for us? They just bombed the clinic," and hung up the phone, and there was no answer back. I turned on the TV, and CNN had it on and it's like, you're in a state six hours away, and your nurse is not expected to live, and they just killed a friend, he was a policeman, and you can't believe that it's your clinic. And the guilt you feel because you weren't there... But the positives of that: the clinic was closed a week, because it [the bomb] really wasn't designed to do the building, it was designed to kill people. And that officer saved the lives of so many patients because when you look at the trajectory of the shrapnel that went in the clinic...
Taylor: It was a nail bomb.
Derzis: Right! ...The FBI did pink ribbon strands to show where it actually landed and they went to the seats in the room, which means that was bullshit about him coming one time. That means someone had been in my clinic, someone knew. Those strands went directly for the receptionist and the people standing there, and every seat, went for a person who would have been sitting there. So Rudolph intended to kill patients, no question. The clinic was closed for a week. Then women were calling, and I never forget there were those huge TV vans across the street, four or five of them, and women walked through those TV vans to get an abortion a week later.
You know what? It doesn't make any difference because that's what people don't understand: women were willing to risk their lives prior to '73 [the year abortion became legal nationwide], they're willing to do that now, because a woman that finds out she's pregnant and doesn't want to be is going to do whatever it takes to get rid of that pregnancy.
Taylor: Who said that he only came once?
Derzis: It was the FBI.
Taylor: They said he only came once?
Derzis: Oh yeah, clearly this was a... I mean, you know, I believe all of these acts that they're all part of something: with the Army of God, that all of these people know. It's just like with Michael Griffin, Paul Hill, all of these people. They found people who were a little bit off to have them do the assassinations, but clearly this is not one lone person, these are people who have designed that we're going to die.
Taylor: And yet they've always been treated as a lone individual by the FBI and all this.
Derzis: Right. Well, take a look at the guy, Tiller's killer. You know, on his front seat is Cheryl Sullinger's name, she's a felon, and she is high up in, she was part of...
Taylor: She's co-chair of Operation Rescue.
Derzis: Absolutely right.
Taylor: Yeah, she came out and photographed the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride and wrote articles about us this summer.
Derzis: Love it.
Derzis: Yeah, and to think that she didn't have anything to do with that and nobody knew what he was doing? I mean, that is just so naïve if that's the case. I think the longer that's been washed under the rug... You know, this movement, these are terrorists. They're just like McVeigh, they're just like the Ku Klux Klan. I mean, this is al Qaeda on American soil.
Taylor: It is. And the only reason why this kind of violence is not happening as frequently these days, not that the threat of violence is at all over, but there is also not the same need for it because they have the courts and the legislation closing down abortion clinics so now so they can do it that way.
Derzis: You're right
Taylor: They have the big authority. They have the state terrorism to shut down women's clinics.
Derzis: You're absolutely right. As soon as they start... As soon as they get a bad ruling, you're going to see the killing of doctors start again. Not a doubt in my mind. But, you know, freedom's not free. And I think that's something that every abortion provider in this country knows, when he or she goes to work, that could be their last day.
Taylor: One of the things that I'll just say in concluding that you know, that we've raised this slogan everywhere we go, and that it's true, and many more people need to understand this, and take up the example of it: that the people who put their lives on the line to provide women with abortions, without that there would be no choice for women. Abortion providers are heroes. They should not be left by themselves. I mean, I understand, and respect, and I really appreciate that there are people who are determined that despite the threat, despite all of the insult, despite all of the dangers that come with being an abortion provider, and all the isolation that comes with it too, and these fears, that they're going to do it anyhow. And that's righteous. But we should never make peace. And all of us, especially people who are not playing that particular role, should never accept that should be the price that has to be paid.
Derzis: I agree with you. Along with that, though, goes the joy: watching women be given a second chance. Watching women have the ability to go to school, to continue their education, and become whoever they deem to be in society. I would not change this for the world. If I had to do over again, I would still choose this, and I've always said if, you know, I think all of us have made that decision. You know, we're all going to die. And if you die doing something you believe in, what else could you ask for? You know? It's just, this has been a wonderful, wonderful way to... And you know, that's what I always say to these people when they ask me, "How do you feel about yourself?" WONDERFUL, you know? [laughter] I sleep well at night because I think about how women...
It had to have been six months ago, I was in a grocery store and I asked this woman who was bending down, I said, "Is that juice good?" And she turned around and said, "It's great and so are you." And she got up, grabbed me and started crying, and she said, "You saved my life." Now this happens rarely, so don't get me wrong here. But it was like, oh my God, what a wonderful, you know, what more could one person ask for? To have even one person feel like that, to make a difference in one person's life... And that's why this has got to still remain available.
Taylor: I think that's a good note. I'm glad. I'm much more glad to end on the joy and I think that's...
Derzis: There really is. There's so much joy with this.
Taylor: Well, thank you so much.
Derzis: Thank you, I enjoyed it.
Revolution #322 Online November 11, 2013
November 9, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On October 30, about 100 students at Brown University and others from the neighboring community in Providence, Rhode Island, prevented New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly from giving a speech on "Proactive Policing in America's Biggest City." (See "Brown University: Righteous Protest Shuts Down NYPD Head Raymond Kelly, Unapologetic Proponent of Stop-and-Frisk"). This has sparked an intense and much-needed debate on both the morality of stop-and-frisk and what constitutes "acceptable means of expression" on college campuses, with dueling Facebook pages containing letters in support of and opposed to the university's decision to invite Kelly to speak. And the university has now set out to seriously punish the students, calling for an investigation with the possibility of repercussions for students involved in the action.
The action the students took was completely correct and exemplary. They must be supported and the university's vindictive attempts must be opposed and beaten back.
From the beginning, the protesting students have taken the stand that the practices enacted, enforced, and espoused by Kelly – and in particular the stop-and-frisk program targeting Black and Latino youth—are immoral and unacceptable. One of the leaders of the protest, Jenny Li, said they first petitioned the university to cancel the lecture, but when this didn't work, Li said, "We decided to cancel it for them."
The students' action has created a lot of debate—some saying that the students violated Kelly's freedom of speech. But as one protester argued, "Allowing Ray Kelly his constitutional right to express his speech, in this particular situation, is illegitimate... an abolitionist is not interested in the freedom of speech of a slave master. He's simply trying to abolish the system..."
A guest editorial in the Brown Daily Herald the week following the action, said:
"I have no doubt that had his [Kelly's] speech been allowed to take place, the question and answer session would have been a display of intellectual force he would have been woefully unable to withstand. We could have collectively exposed him for the menace that he is and done so in an unimpeachably civil fashion that allowed us to feel good about our community as a place in which tolerance and reason triumph over intolerance and bigotry.
"But that's where it would have stopped: our community. This civil discourse would simply not have resounded far beyond the lecture hall, and word of 100 Brown students' intellectual triumph certainly would not have traveled to the communities throughout the country that are victims of the violent policies men like Kelly perpetuate and amplify."
The student ended his comments this way:
"Civility that comes at the expense of further marginalizing the subjugated is not only worthless, but also criminally dishonest.
"Because of this, I can appreciate that there are certain moments when an eruption of raw emotion—albeit a disruptive one—better empowers the voices of the oppressed than any sterile exercise in ‘intellectual rigor' undertaken on their behalf ever could. Upon reflection I have come to understand that last Tuesday was one of those moments, and I hope those of you who have not already will soon come to do the same."
This bold action has sharply divided the campus. In a poll done after the cancellation, over 80 percent of the students said they oppose stop-and-frisk while 8 percent said they supported it, and 80 percent of the students polled supported the demonstration outside the lecture hall. But when it came to the actual cancellation of the program, over 70 percent disagreed with the students going into the hall and disrupting the event. At the same time, 13 percent said they supported this action. This is actually quite a significant minority given how the demonstrating students have been attacked in the media and by the campus administration. But it needs to be said, very clearly, that no matter what the polls say—what the protesters did was entirely right and in the interests of the people's just struggle against the totally illegitimate, immoral, and unconstitutional practice of stop-and-frisk.
An open forum was called by the Brown administration for the following evening in an attempt to regain control of the situation. It was attended by over 600 students, faculty, and administrators.
Jenny Li invited attendees to recite with her the group's chant with a call-and-response format. "Asking tough questions is not enough," she said. "Brown is complicit. We stand in solidarity with the Providence anti-racism movement, and all those impacted by racial profiling."
Li said she and many other students felt emotionally "triggered" by Kelly's presence, adding that protesters considered their shutdown of the talk a "win."
Another student directed her comments to Brown University President Christina Paxson. "Ray Kelly is a terrorist, and he's terrorizing our communities." She added, "Until you feel terrorism in your life, I don't think you have the right to speak on this subject."
Students' comments throughout the forum were punctuated by snapping and applause.
Many students said they felt personally offended by Kelly's presence and believed the university should not have invited him to campus.
After the forum, in a blatant attempt to quash the potential for growing dissent on the campus, President Paxson sent an open letter to the entire Brown community threatening administrative action against protesting students. After having to acknowledge that the students took this action as a moral imperative, Paxson went on the offensive in her letter:
"We must develop and adhere to norms of behavior that recognize the value of protest and acknowledge the imperative of the free exchange of ideas within a university. This view is laid out in the Brown Code of Student Conduct, which all students indicate acceptance before enrolling. The section on ‘Protest and Demonstration Guidelines' states the following:
"'Protest is a necessary and acceptable means of expression within the Brown community. However, protest becomes unacceptable when it obstructs the basic exchange of ideas. Such obstruction is a form of censorship, no matter who initiates it or for what reasons.'" (emphasis in original)
Following this, Paxson announced in the letter that she was establishing a "Committee on the Events of October 29th" charged to "identify issues that may have contributed to this disruption," and added that: "After findings from the first phase of the Committee's work are complete, we will determine whether individuals or organizations involved should be referred to the University's established processes for resolving alleged violations of the Code of Student Conduct."
This is an outrageous threat and attack. One student responded in the Herald:
"I was taught at Brown that if my idea truly is better, I should feel comfortable matching it up against the best possible form of my opponent's argument. Instead, Paxson has proved the protesters' point that those with privilege and power have plenty of available platforms to advocate for their ideas, while others are limited to ‘persistent interruption.'"
At a time when college students are being force-fed a steady diet of moderating their convictions, lowering their expectation, and finding ways to brand themselves and market their ideas, these students at Brown have taken a very courageous and necessary stand that has already sent ripples throughout society. They are setting a real example for others to follow—and they need to be upheld, supported, and defended.
Revolution #322 Online November 11, 2013
November 11, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On November 19, people in the city of Albuquerque will vote on whether to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The very fact that a fundamental right of women—the right to abortion at whatever point in her pregnancy and for whatever reason she decides—can be put up for a vote is entirely illegitimate and reveals something profoundly wrong with the system that rules over us. It is yet another indication as to why the courts and the official political process in this country cannot be relied upon to protect the rights of women, or of any other oppressed group. This is why StopPatriarchy.org is traveling down to Albuquerque and calling on others nationwide to support in joining with people locally to defeat this proposed ban. The following are five things that everyone should know about the proposed ban on abortions after 20 weeks in Albuquerque:
Fetuses are NOT babies. Abortion is NOT murder. Women are NOT incubators.
Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!
Revolution #322 Online November 11, 2013
Letter from Reader
November 11, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The news about Jonathan Martin of the National Football League (NFL) Miami Dolphins being bullied by his teammate, Richie Incognito, has created a firestorm of controversy and discussion in the national media around the topics of bullying/hazing, use of the n-word, locker room/"guy culture," and other important issues. Sports talk radio and sports news has put this at the front of their shows. The national media has taken it up with front page articles in the New York Times ("In Bullying Case, Questions on N.F.L. Culture") and in the Los Angeles Sentinel, the nation's second largest Black owned newspaper ("NFL Hazing Blurs Racial Lines")
Incognito's bullying and use of the n-word has been all over the news and Internet:
It's also been revealed by Martin's attorney that others on the team harassed and bullied Martin, including Martin being told by one player that "We are going to run train on your sister. . . . She loves me. I am going to f—k her without a condom and c— in her c—." (Mike Florio, ESPN.com, "David Cornwell's statement regarding Jonathan Martin," November 7, 2013)
So what is this about? Jonathan Martin is a second-year player with the Miami Dolphins, who has started 23 of 24 games. He plays on the offensive line (very large players, 315-350 lbs, who protect the quarterback when the quarterback is throwing the ball and who block opposing linemen to allow runners on their team to make gains). Richie Incognito, who is a veteran on the team and an all-league lineman, plays on the offensive line with Martin. Martin is Black, with Harvard educated parents, grew up in California and was an All-American lineman at Stanford where he majored in Classics/Ancient History. Incognito is white, has had a very troubled background being dismissed from two college teams for violence/fighting and for off campus assaults (espn.com Nick Wagoner "Revisiting Incognito and the Rams, November 4, 2013), and is known as a dirty and particularly vicious player, including calling Black players "niggers" (to "take them out of their game," in other words make them mad so they won't play well) in several incidents.
The offensive line positions that Incognito and Martin play are the most physical and violent positions on the team and are referred to as "playing in the trenches" with "blue collar players." When Martin was at Stanford, he anchored the offensive line on a very good team that played "smash-mouth" football. At Miami he has been a starter for the past two years in one of the most difficult and "hard nosed" positions to play. However, he was perceived by the coaches as being "soft." When it comes to playing football, Martin is definitely not soft—but he does not have the macho/violent mentality that is incorrectly perceived as a needed quality to be a good football player. He is an intellectual. He is sensitive. He is soft spoken. His demeanor is different than the majority of pro football players. So Incognito was allegedly asked by a coach to "toughen him (Martin) up."
Hazing is a normal practice on NFL teams, where the rookies (first-year players) are hazed by the veterans in a number of ways—carrying the veterans' luggage, washing their dirty laundry, paying thousands of dollars for the veteran's meals, being humiliated and tied to the goal posts with duct tape, and other demeaning and more violent things. According to the New York Times, "Last year, Martin and other Miami rookies were subjected to deliberately bad haircuts at the hands of veterans. Offensive lineman Josh Samuda had his eyebrows shaved and his hair shaved into a penis-shaped Mohawk. 'Glad we're such a first-class organization, Josh,' Joe Philbin, then in his first year as head coach, said to a room full of laughing teammates, according to The Miami Herald."
A few days before Martin left the team, his agent called the Dolphins' General Manager, Jeff Ireland, and told him that Jonathan was being bullied by team members. Ireland's response was to advise Martin to go to Incognito and punch him out. That's the "locker room culture" solution to solving problems between players. Other players came forward to suggest the same solution. "Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton thinks Martin broke the code of the locker room by leaving it." This even came out in the classroom, where Professor Greg Dale said "I was teaching my class at Duke to a group of undergrads, and we were talking about this very thing in class...And the comments from several of the young men were, 'Well, he really needed to man up. He's a man, and you've got to handle that on your own. He shouldn't have walked away.'" (Erik Brady, Jim Corbett and Lindsay H. Jones, "Blame the victim? Some players criticize Jonathan Martin, USA Today online, November 5, 2013)
Football is given a pass by society to participate in legalized violence on the field on Saturdays and Sundays. Then, that culture is taken into the practice field and locker room on weekdays in order to "stay tough and build team unity" for next week's game. But this shit is also out there in a big way in society.
Football culture is a concentration of and promotes the kind of values associated with this society. Men across society are taught and trained from an early age to "man up." Bob Avakian, in his interview with A. Brooks, was asked about the arena of art and culture. He says, "...in an overall and ultimate sense, art and culture does give expression to one worldview or another, and it does become part of the arena of ideological and ultimately political struggle, even where it is given a lot of rein to go in a lot of different directions and is not so directly tied to political and ideological struggle." He goes on: "...football certainly does have a major influence, particularly on guys and 'guy culture'—which is not a healthy culture—it's a male chauvinist culture, for short, which incorporates the celebration of violence, real as well as ritualized violence." (Bob Avakian, What Humanity Needs—Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism.)
Bullying is a societal-wide horror. Just think about all the suicide deaths of middle school youth that have been in the news recently, caused by the bullying of schoolmates—and those who are bullied the most are LGBT youth. The essence of bullying, not only in football but in society in general, is tied up with patriarchy, sexism, and attacks on LGBT people. This has come out in how Martin was bullied. Horrible sexual threats were made against Martin's mother and sister. And when Martin was seen as an intellectual, being soft, and an introverted person, his sexuality comes into question, even though there has not been one actual assertion about that there have been news articles using the Martin bullying incident to talk about what might happen to an openly gay player in the NFL (see "The Jonathan Martin bullying case tells us little about what would happen to an openly gay NFL player", By Jim Buzinski, @outsports, November 5, 2013).
Just look at the abuse, bullying, and violence that are forced upon women by this male chauvinist, "locker room culture." The Steubenville, OH rape case became national news in 2012, when high school football players raped a 16-year old who had passed out at a party and then was dragged to different parties and violated at each. While she was being raped, 'guys can be heard laughing as one of them goes on for a full 12 minutes saying things like "'she is deader than OJ Simpson's wife,' and "She is deader than Trayvon Martin.'" (Revolution #299, March 21, 2013)
The Martin bullying incident has opened up in society and brought to life that being a woman in and around football players is harmful and dangerous to one's health, where "locker room talk generally treated women as objects, encouraged sexist attitudes toward women and, in its extreme, promoted rape culture." (Timothy Jon Curry, "Fraternal Bonding in the Locker Room: A Profeminist Analysis of Talk About Competition and Women," Sociology of Sports Journal, Volume 8, Issue 2, June, 2012.
In her article "Recent Events Expose Sexism in Sports Culture," Kate Fagan gives some examples:
But it is gang rape by football players that has been at the heart of the "locker room/guy culture" that is physically and violently enforcing the oppression of women. Besides the Steubenville gang rape, there have been two recent gang rapes by football players at Vanderbilt University and the University of Montana. One out of three sexual assaults on college campuses are committed by athletes, while student athletes perpetrated almost six times more sexual assaults than their collegiate peers. (Laura Finley, "Campuses must act to prevent sex assaults by athletes," Barry University Department of Sociology and Criminology, September 3, 2013.)
11% of all reported rapes in the U.S. are gang rapes and are overwhelmingly committed by fraternities, sports teams, and in the military— three organizations that operate by extreme concentrations of the "guy culture"—and the vast majority of those who commit gang rapes are previously unknown to the victim. "The swarming assaults are more violent and leave more post-traumatic stress and thoughts of suicide in their victims then any other victims of other forms of rape." (Kevin Fagan, "Gang rape survivors; It's not your fault," SF Chronicle, November 15, 2009.)
This promotion of sexism in football starts early in life, as we have just found out with the revelation that the Corbett, Oregon Middle School football team is holding its awards dinner at Hooters. Despite the national controversy over having 12-year olds partying at a restaurant whose main "attraction" is the degradation of women, the coach is going ahead with it. He said, "The boys' faces 'lit up' when they choose Hooters earlier in the season..." Many parents who opposed this argued that Hooters was the next worst place to hold this, "outside of a bar, tavern, or strip club." (LA Times, "Team still plans Hooters party," November 8, 2013),
In an outrageous promotion of this type of culture, giving full approval to racism, sexism, and violence, Damon Bruce, a KNBR (San Francisco) radio talk host spewed forth with this in a way that would make Rush Limbaugh proud. "There is a serious group of you fellas out there that have been just so feminized by the sensitive types out there who continue to now interject their ultra-feminine sensitive options in the world of sports.... This is guy's stuff. This is men's stuff. And I don't expect women to understand men's stuff anymore than they should expect me to be able to relate to their labor pains." (Dave Zirin, Edge of Sports, November 8, 2013). Fuck you, Damon Bruce and all your Neanderthal, women hating ilk!
There have been some who have spoken out about this sexist, violent, bullying "locker room culture." One of those is Brandon Marshall, the Chicago Bears receiver who has proposed a league-wide discourse on the topic of mutual respect. He says "...we're (society is) teaching our men to mask their feelings, don't show their emotions. And it's that times 100 with football players. Can't show that you're hurt. Can't show any pain. So for a guy that comes in a locker room and shows a little vulnerability, that's a problem. That's what I mean by the culture of the NFL. And that's what we have to change." (Carl Steward, "Miami Dolphins harassment scandal exposes NFL's secret locker room culture," San Jose Mercury News, November 8, 2013)
Ultimately it's going to take a real all-emancipating revolution to put this "locker room culture" in the dust bin of history—but we should think and dream today what it would be like for us to do that, and then act on that:
"Imagine a society where creative energies were no longer channeled into ever-descending new ways to demean women and accentuate oppressive social divisions, but instead, without the restrictions of gender or other unequal and oppressive social divisions, people broadly were brought into the process of creating art that uplifts people, challenges them to think critically, and expands their horizons. Imagine boys and men not mired in stupid and exploitative 'guy culture,' no longer influenced by a lifetime of bombardment with images of women's bodies, half-naked and half-starved, used to sell everything from consumer goods to ideology and wars—boys and men able instead to relate to women as equal human beings. Imagine the flowering of this radically new and liberating culture—founded on equality and mutual respect between men and women and between different cultures and peoples, teeming with diversity, and filled with fun as well as seriousness, meaning as well as humor, critical thought as well as exploration and beauty."
"A Declaration: For Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity," Revolution #158, March 8, 2009
Finally, it is important to take on the racist nature of the bullying of Martin with the use of the word "nigger" by Incognito, and how twisted this has become.
In the bullying of Martin, we have an example of a white player calling the Black player "nigger" in what has become convoluted, twisted, and totally bankrupt locker-room logic that reverses the correct verdict on national oppression. Get this: Black Miami Dolphin football players are now coming to Incognito's defense, saying he is "an honorary Black brother and that he is more Black than Martin is." Ricky Williams said about Incognito, "I know Richie and you cannot be a racist and ask a black man for help. Not possible. Richie asked me for help." (Jonathan Bass, "Ricky Williams says former teammate Richie Incognito is not a racist," on deadspin.com, November 05, 2013) It is interesting to note that "Black players who are well-spoken or highly educated are mocked or seen as soft by other black players. Only in a locker room is a good education or background seen as a negative." (Mike Freeman, "How Could Black Miami Dolphins Players Be OK with the N-Word? This Is How," Bleacher Reports online sports news, November 7, 2013.)
It even gets more convoluted when sports reporters and players talk about the locker room being racially open because of the "friendly" use of racial slurs the players use against each other. "Things get so open (in the locker room), in some cases, that they get raw. The Dolphins case exposed this rawness to a world that lacks racial openness. From the outside, we see these dynamics, and are shocked." (Mike Freeman, "How Could Black Miami Dolphins Players Be OK with the N-Word? This Is How,"Bleacher Reports online sports news, November 7, 2013.)
Well, Ricky, Mike, and all those who support or try to rationalize Incognito using the word "nigger" against a Black person, I'll tell you, it IS racist. It is in the service of white supremacy, and it reinforces the national oppression of Black people that has continued since Day 1 of slavery in this country.
(It seems as if new information comes out every hour and new articles are being written about this incident of the bullying of Jonathan Martin and all it reveals about sports and society. It's happening so fast that's it's almost impossible to keep up with what is going on. Today, Saturday, November 09, 2013, the New York Times ran an article on Richie Incognito's tortured upbringing. So there will be more to write.)
Revolution #322 Online November 11, 2013
November 11, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
I want to start a conversation with all who have dreamed of a whole different world, with everyone who has begun to get familiar with Bob Avakian and the new synthesis of communism and is beginning to imagine how this could change society if BA's vision and work were to be known everywhere: on the campuses, in the housing projects, artists, intellectuals, professionals—people from all strata—including the very wealthy—who aspire to and desire a better world for all.
There is a very present need to get way, way out in society with BA. People need to know that Bob Avakian has forged a new framework, vision and strategy for a radically better way the world could be through revolution. How he breaks down the complexity of the world we live in showing why anything less than a thoroughgoing revolution can't solve the systemic crises confronting humanity, and why and how revolution is possible. For this to be a seen as a viable alternative to the present, it needs to be contending throughout society.
Once you start to think about what it will take to impact all society, you confront the need to raise really large funds. Where are those funds going to come from? While funds must be raised among all sections of the people, we cannot raise the amount of money needed without substantial donations from wealthy people. There is basis to do this.
There are people from all strata including among the very wealthy who have tremendous outrage over the way people are forced to live in today's world. There is conflict and turmoil over what to do about making meaningful change within the spheres of philanthropy and charity. There is a section of philanthropists wrestling with the great suffering and destruction of people and the planet and the actual impact and effect of their giving.
For example, recently Peter Buffett stirred up controversy with an op-ed piece in the New York Times, "The Charitable Industrial Complex." Peter Buffett is the son of Warren Buffett and co-chair of the NoVo Foundation, which has a mission "to foster transformation from a world of domination and exploitation to one of collaboration and partnership," with the goal of ending violence against girls and women. It is worth reading his whole op-ed and thinking seriously about what he is saying and why he is saying it now. His piece has caused ripples and responses among people involved in NGO's, philanthro-capitalism, effective altruism, educators, and people who work in the non-profit organizations.
In the op-ed he touches on many things. One, is the way philanthropy has become a big business and is run like one—including pointing to how it functions to a great degree as a safety valve for the very function of the system. He writes: "You witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left."
He points to a sharp contradiction with important implications:
"As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to 'give back.' It's what I would call 'conscience laundering'—feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity."
"But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life."
Peter Buffett—and, I am sure many others in this strata—agonize over the reality that millions of children slave away mining coltan for cell phones or are brutalized in brothels all over the world, with 100's of millions barely surviving in squatter slums. Buffett opened up a huge and glaring contradiction that philanthropy's best and most generous efforts at charity to redress these huge global problems actually serve to reinforce the structures and wellsprings of the very inequality they seek to redress.
Acknowledging the systemic implications of this, Buffett writes: "I'm not really calling for an end to capitalism. I'm calling for humanism.... My wife and I don't have the answers, but we do know how to listen. As we learn, we will continue to support conditions for systemic change." With this, he has opened up one of the biggest questions confronting humanity ... can we do better than capitalism?
Isn't this a big opening to go out to people in this strata with what is the solution to the horrors of this world, concentrated in the vision and framework for a radically better world in the new synthesis of communism developed by BA? Inviting people everywhere to engage BA's analysis of the underlying problem that we face—that the capitalist system can only generate and regenerate the most horrific exploitation and oppression; and, even more important, the solution—why nothing less than revolution to bring about a new economic and political system can really change this. And, how if BA and what he has brought forward were known throughout society, even as some people agree while others disagree, but all were grappling with the questions of "whither humanity and the planet," how this would change all the terms in which the acute social problems of the world are even looked at. How this would rekindle and inspire dreams of a whole different world anew.
At a time when the future offered by capitalism is increasingly bleak, when the heartless machinery of empire crushes people all over the world, when the political institutions have no answers, and the "solutions" they provide only lead to more grotesque and horrific outrages, there is an acute need and basis to bring the vision and work of BA to people who have accumulated great wealth and who want to do something beneficial for the world. There is a need for struggle over what difference this would make—showing why contributing to BA Everywhere is the thing that could make all the difference in changing the world. Entering into the controversy that Peter Buffett's op-ed reveals, it will matter if debate and dialogue are carved open with those who fund the massive global charity machine over fundamental questions of problem and solution. We can make the case that why BA and the new synthesis of communism concentrate the only viable future for humanity and that as they and people more broadly engage and sort through their thinking about that, this will breathe a fresh wind of radical possibility for the emancipation of humanity, for a viable, sustainable future for the planet.
First, there is reality. To take just one example: The planet faces a global water crisis, 780 million people lack access to clean water. 2.5 billion people on the planet have no access to a toilet. The capitalist economies, driven to accumulate more and more wealth and beat out the competition have generated more cell phones in the world than toilets. This is because the logic that drives development and production under the capitalist system is not meeting societal need but is instead the competition and drive for the highest profit.
There really is no way to solve this within the confines of global system of competition over ever more ruthless exploitation of people and resources. But, the most important part of reality is that in BA and what he has brought forward there is a vision and practicable plan for a new socialist society that is overcoming all the inequalities of this epoch that is organized to meet the overall needs of humanity, including as a core principle protecting and preserving and enhancing the ecosystems and bio diversity of the planet for current and future generations. This would make possible the access to clean water for everyone as part of a process to emancipate all humanity. This is brought to life in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), which is based on the new synthesis of communism developed by Bob Avakian.
Many well-intentioned people are contributing large sums of money to projects that actually do great harm—institutionalizing dependency, building up ruling forces and state structures that oppress the people, and fostering widespread illusions about solutions that are anything but. Others are contributing to alleviate the suffering of some people in one corner of the world or another while leaving the very cause of the suffering of billions more to continue crushing lives and spirits every day.
There are many people from these strata who would want to contribute to a world where humanity and the planet could thrive, overcoming millennia of oppressive societies, but who are mentally trapped within the framework of this system because of the distortions and lies of the actual experience of the first socialist revolutions and what communism actually is, and because millions of people don't even know that there is a new synthesis of communism based on the liberating achievements of these revolutions as well as their shortcomings—as they developed in a capitalist world, and even in conception. This leaves people with no options and no way to see beyond the current framework of trying to just do some good for a few people within the confines of the whole horrific setup.
So, let's go out and find everyone who sees the need for big and fundamental change. As we call on people with great financial resources to donate significant funds to BA Everywhere, let's challenge them with the reality that trying to repair or salve a little piece of this system just leaves the whole thing continually destroying lives. Let's bring to them BA's visionary model for a society that is in transition to a world without class distinctions or oppressive social relations or antagonisms, a viable vision for the emancipation of all humanity. Bring to them the vision of a new socialist state that unleashes and relies on the formerly exploited to be a driving force in taking up the big questions confronting the society to move it forward, while encouraging ferment and dissent among all strata, a society that does not plunder the planet or its people, that instead strives to be a caretaker of the environment for future generations, and that works to be a base area for that revolution all over the world. And, that there is a strategy and leadership in the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA to get there.
Once again, let's give people of great wealth the opportunity to be a part of this great endeavour—to use their resources to make the greatest difference there could be. Let's struggle with them about what kind of world humanity is capable of. Introduce them to BA through the new film, Stepping Into the Future: On the Occasion of the Publication of Basics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World . Get them a copy of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION NOTHING LESS! Bob Avakian Live and encourage them to read the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic of North America (Draft Proposal) so they see a blueprint for a new society based on BA's new synthesis. And while they are beginning to get into BA, persevere and fight for them to donate the large sums of money needed so that BA Everywhere can truly have societal impact.
These are times that demand radical thinking and radical solutions. Peter Buffett's op-ed in the New York Times gives voice to this. Are we going to do anything less than fight for people to have a chance to contribute to a whole new world?
Revolution #322 Online November 11, 2013
by Larry Everest | October 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On September 27, the President of the United States spoke directly (by phone) to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hassan Rouhani. This is a big deal. The leaders of these two countries haven't spoken to each other since 1979. Since then, the U.S. and Iran have been nose-to-nose in conflict, with the real possibility of U.S.-Israeli military action that would hold terrible consequences for the people of Iran, and the whole region and beyond.
The Obama-Rouhani conversation comes at a time of great upheaval in the Middle East that's impacting the calculations of all the players involved, including the world's big powers. Against this backdrop, the phone call between the two heads of state appears to be part of a new, broader diplomatic effort, which Obama claimed is aimed at lessening U.S.-Iranian tensions and would "help serve as a foundation for a broader peace." Since then, Secretary of State John Kerry met directly with the foreign ministers of Iran, China, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany. New talks are reportedly in the works.
It's important to analyze and assess all of Obama's UN comments on Iran, as well as why the U.S. is making this move now, what it's demanding from Iran, what the Iranian position is, the prospects for an agreement, and what it would mean for the people of Iran, the Middle East, and the world. Revolution will be doing so in future coverage.
But to understand any of these particular moves and, more importantly, the overall course of U.S.-Iranian relations, you have to understand the actual history and relationship between the United States and Iran. This is a subject the powers-that-be in the U.S. constantly lie about—as Obama did at the UN, which we'll dig into here (and in Part 2).
One way to get into that history and relationship is to take apart the script Obama put forward in his UN speech, shortly before he reached out to Rouhani. Here's how Obama characterized what he called the "difficult history" between the U.S. and Iran:
The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs and of America's role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War. On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy and directly—or through proxies—taken American hostages, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.
Obama has chosen his words very carefully so that every sentence distorts history and reality with half-truths, omissions, mischaracterizations, and outright lies to serve U.S. imperialism and foster a "thinking like an American" outlook and understanding of history. Is this too bald a statement? Knee-jerk, blame America rhetoric? Let's break it down, step by step.
What is the overall picture that emerges from Obama's "balanced" portrayal: the U.S. and Iran are more or less equal players in the region and that each has its own complaints. Iran's "mistrust" is rooted in American political actions ("interference"), which he implies took place long ago ("during the Cold War"—this omits or covers up the crimes the U.S. has carried out against Iran over the past several decades). In contrast, Obama presents America's fears as present, immediate, and literally life-and-death: Iran has declared the U.S. an "enemy," actually killed Americans, and threatened to obliterate its ally Israel. As we'll show below, Obama is touching on certain partial truths to totally distort the big picture, including the Islamic Republic's actual positions, and to whitewash and cover up U.S. actions and motives toward Iran—and what it's still doing.
The first and most important thing this distorts and thereby falsifies is the overall context and framework within which the U.S.-Iran clash is taking place. To begin, the U.S. is far, far, far more powerful than Iran, a reality Obama slides over, giving the impression of some sort of rough equality. In fact, the U.S. economy is 30 times larger than Iran's and worlds ahead technologically. Nor is there any equality militarily: the U.S. spends 100 times more on its armed forces than does Iran; it has roughly 750 military bases around the world; Iran has none, though it does have military forces and advisors deployed in Iraq, Syria, and perhaps Lebanon, along with relationships with other forces that are engaged in small-scale conflict with Israel—the key U.S. ally in the region. America has approximately 5,113 nuclear warheads; Iran, none.
But these are just indicators of the deeper, foundational, and overall relationship between the U.S. and Iran: the U.S. is the world's dominant imperialist power, while Iran is a relatively cohered and highly repressive country that stands in a dependent and subordinate relationship to world imperialism. In other words, the U.S. and a handful of other imperialist powers compete to dominate and shape the global economic-political-military playing field and subordinate the economic and political life of countries like Iran to their overall needs.
U.S.-orchestrated sanctions and their impact on Iran illustrates imperialism's stranglehold on the global economy. The U.S. and a handful of global powers control the international banking and financial system which shapes how—and whether—countries are able to conduct business, obtain basic goods, etc. One element is called SWIFT, a mechanism for transmitting money electronically around the world. The U.S. first imposed sanctions which legally restrict trade and commerce with Iran in 1979, but they've been ratcheted up significantly since 2002. In 2010, the U.S. and its allies tightened the noose by expelling Iran from SWIFT, making it extremely difficult for it to trade internationally. Oil sales, which make up 80 percent of government revenues, have been cut in half. Iran is unable to access its own foreign currency reserves held abroad, and is facing an intense shortage of foreign currencies. Severe restrictions are placed on how it can use the money it is earning from oil sales. All this, according to a recent New York Times analysis, is "bringing the country's economy to its knees."1
Such sanctions are a form of warfare against an entire population—a real weapon of mass destruction—that is causing enormous suffering, including needless deaths, on Iran's population. Factories and businesses have shut down, unemployment is widespread, even vital medicines are unavailable. "Hundreds of thousands of Iranians with serious illnesses have been put at imminent risk by the unintended consequences of international sanctions, which have led to dire shortages of life-saving medicines such as chemotherapy drugs for cancer and blood-clotting agents for haemophiliacs," the Guardian UK reported earlier this year.2
Think about it: In today's world it's unimaginable that Iran, Argentina, Nigeria, or any other country could exert this kind of stranglehold on other economies. In this and many other ways, the system of imperialism is the cause of unseen and untold suffering for hundreds of millions of people worldwide.3
Why has the U.S. concentrated such power in its hands? Because the functioning and global dominance of U.S. capitalism-imperialism requires the control of key markets, labor pools, resources, and strategic regions. These are the real drivers of U.S. actions around the world—not the declarations of so-called universal principles and core American values like "peace" and "human rights," that America's imperial spokespeople incessantly yap about to cloak actual motives.
The Middle East is one such strategic region—the geographic, military, and trade nexus between Europe, Asia, and Africa, and where over 60 percent of the world's known energy reserves are located. This necessity has driven decades of fierce U.S. jockeying, interventions, and wars in the region to defeat or fend off other global powers and regional forces that arise (in reaction to American actions and the anarchic workings of their system globally) to challenge the U.S.-dominated order. It has led it to build the settler-state of Israel into its key pillar of U.S. regional political and military power, and to its vociferous support for every towering crime Israel has committed against Palestinians and others in the region and globally.
For the past 30-plus years, the Islamic Republic of Iran and other Islamic fundamentalist trends from North Africa through the Middle East, Central Asia, and beyond have been one such major challenge facing the U.S. empire. That Iran sits at the geopolitical fulcrum of key and shifting world contradictions (energy, geopolitics, ideology, religion), with its own regional ambitions and links to major world powers (and U.S. rivals) including Russia and China, makes the Islamic Republic's existence and ambitions all the more vexing and problematic for the imperialists.
Any real understanding of U.S.-Iranian relations—borne out by every episode of history discussed below—must start from this overall reality.
Obama is largely repeating the empire's "narrative" about Iran that's been relentlessly drummed into the American mind. So it's crucial to dig into some of the key chapters of U.S.-Iran history Obama touched on in his UN speech and excavate the actual motives and interests of the imperialists as well as the class forces they're clashing with in Iran.
Here's Obama's capsule version of the U.S. record in Iran: "Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs, and of America's role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War."
What Obama is referring to when he speaks of "America's role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War" is the CIA-organized 1953 coup d'état that overthrew the government of Mohammad Mossadegh and made the Shah, Reza Pahlavi, an absolute monarch serving the U.S.
Some background is important.
Iran had been invaded, colonized, and dominated by the Russian and British empires since the late 1700s. British imperialist domination in Iran was highly oppressive itself, and it relied on local oppressors—Iran's Kings (known as "Shahs") and feudal landlords, along with some urban merchants, to protect its interests there. These local oppressors played the key role in suppressing the masses of Iranian people, whose interests lay in Iran developing as an independent nation free of imperialism—and in getting rid of feudalism—while the local oppressors benefited politically and economically from their relationship with imperialism. But at the same time, there were many ways in which capitalist-imperialist domination disrupted and undercut the traditional feudal economic and social relations, and the traditional feudal ideologies, which had held society together, on a reactionary basis, for generations.
British imperialist domination also meant directly controlling and exploiting Iran's main commercial resource—oil—via the British government-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later renamed British Petroleum). In 1947, Anglo-Iranian earned $112 million from Iranian oil, while paying Iran only $19.5 million. Meanwhile, the bulk of Iran's population was impoverished and denied basic political rights.
By the late 1940s, a broad movement to take control of the country's oil wealth was gaining momentum. It coalesced in the National Front, a diverse alliance under the leadership of a bourgeois nationalist, Mohammad Mossadegh, who sought to loosen imperialism's control of Iran and strengthen parliament's power against the monarchy. In April 1951, Iran's parliament (Majlis) nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC). A week later, Mossadegh was named Prime Minister.
These modest reforms were intolerable to the U.S. and Britain. At the time, Middle East oil production was controlled by Western oil conglomerates, and Iran's nationalization was unprecedented. The U.S. was moving into the Middle East and taking over from Britain and France as the region's predominant power. The Eisenhower administration feared that Mossadegh's actions would not only rob the West of billions in oil revenues and supplies, it would set a bad precedent for other oil producing countries in the region. And it could enable the then-socialist Soviet Union to increase its influence in Iran.
In 1953, Iran's military carried out a violent coup "under CIA direction" and "as an act of U.S. foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government," the CIA finally admitted in August 2013.4
Iran's CIA-directed military government made Shah Reza Pahlavi an absolute monarch. With full U.S. backing, the Shah imposed indefinite martial law that was overseen by U.S. military advisors and imposed by the dreaded secret police—SAVAK. Opposition groups were outlawed. All forms of political organization and activity—even literary gatherings—were banned. Massive arrests, unjustified detentions, institutionalized torture, summary tribunals, prison-murders, and executions were the order of the day. Five out of every six publications that were operating before the Shah came to power were shut down by his regime. The Shah ruled Iran with an iron fist for the next 26 years.
Full control of production and sale of Iran's oil was returned to a consortium of international oil corporations, which now included five American oil giants.
Some may hail Obama's "candor" in critically referring to this sordid chapter of U.S. history. But think about it: The fact that the1953 CIA coup is rarely, if ever, discussed by top officials or in the mainstream press just shows how thoroughly America's ruling structures suppress the truth and exercise overall dictatorship over the discourse and thinking of the population.
Second, Obama is talking about these events as part of a strategic move aimed at maintaining overall U.S. control of the Middle East—including reasserting greater control of Iran. But he's talking about these events in ways that not only cloak the reality but are aimed at legitimizing U.S. maneuvers and aggression toward Iran.
The events of 1953 were just the start of America's strangulation of Iran under the rule of the tyrant it installed, the Shah, which helped sow the seeds for the whirlwind that was to come—Iran's 1979 revolution and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
Talking generically and generally of Iranian "complaints" of a "history of U.S. interference in their affairs" doesn't even begin to capture the enormity of what the U.S. did to Iran and its tens of millions of people during the 25-plus years the Shah ruled with an iron, U.S.-controlled, hand. It's like saying a neighbor "complained" because you burned down their house and murdered their children.
For 25 years, Iran under the Shah became internationally notorious for the torture, jailing, and repression carried out by its U.S.-trained secret police SAVAK. And Iran's infrastructure, oil industry, economy, and military and political posture were all configured to serve Western interests. This process caused tremendous suffering and dislocation in Iran, in both the countryside and cities, and it alienated wide swaths of the population—including elements of the old ruling order, most notably sections of the clerical establishment.
At the same time, the U.S. was building up the Shah's regime as a regional instrument of American power—arming and utilizing it against revolutionary movements in the region and as a bulwark against the Soviet Union.5 The U.S.-Soviet "cold war" was a battle between imperialist rivals for global dominance. This conflict played out intensely across the Middle East, and decisively shaped U.S. policy toward Iran. During these decades, the U.S didn't "advise" Iran—it utterly dictated the course of development and political life. All this resulted from how the U.S. perceived and was fighting for its interests in Iran, the region, and globally—not from "universal values" or "human rights." This was also the period in which the U.S. greatly stepped up its support for—and arming of—the state of Israel, its other main pillar in the region.
This is the bitter, blood-stained, 25-year history that Obama covers up, trivializes, and whitewashes as "Iranian complaints"—and on a par with some U.S. personnel being held hostage for a year-plus (none of whom were injured or killed). Meanwhile, Iran was held hostage for over two and a half decades!6
At the UN, Obama said, "The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979." He makes it sound like the U.S. didn't have much to do with the revolution. True, it wasn't in control of events—but that wasn't for lack of trying, including backing the Shah's violent attempts to crush the uprising.
Opposition to and hatred for the Shah had simmered for decades. And it was no secret to the victims of the Shah's brutal rule that he had been installed, and was backed lock, stock, and barrel, by the United States. A succession of U.S. presidents embraced the Shah, perhaps none more exuberantly than Jimmy Carter, who branded himself the "human rights" president. In December 1977, as protests against the Shah were on the rise (particularly among students abroad), Carter toasted the Shah and his regime as an "island of stability" in a sea of turmoil.
Literally weeks later, a mass uprising began that soon became a tidal wave of revolt, seemingly out of nowhere, The U.S. was hardly "isolated" from what was taking place. As the uprising unfolded and gained momentum in 1978, the Shah attempted to drown it in blood—backed and supported by the United States. In a September massacre known as "Bloody Friday," the Shah's troops killed thousands of people. But this ended up broadening and accelerating the mass upheaval and de-legitimizing the Shah. In December 1978, more than 10 million people—a third of Iran's entire population—took to the streets demanding an end to the Shah's rule. In January 1979, the Shah was forced to go into exile under U.S. protection. The Islamic Republic of Iran was established in February 1979, sending shockwaves rippling across the region and world.
A wide variety of political forces and people from all walks of life congealed to topple the Shah. Radicals and leftists, including revolutionary communists, played a key and heroic role in the rebellion (and in the final overthrow of the old regime).
A section of Iran's Islamic religious establishment, headed by the Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini (who had been living in exile since the mid-1960s), emerged as a major and ultimately the leading element in this mix. The Khomeini-led Islamists condemned the history of colonial and imperialist interference in Iran. They pointed to the West, and the U.S. in particular, as a source of the oppression and repression Iran's people faced under the Shah. And they argued that only an Islamic state, a theocracy based on the Koran and Islamic law (Sharia) and ruled by a hierarchy of clerics, could end these abuses and create a just society.
Khomeini's vision and program were extremely reactionary—not emancipatory. They would not and could not free Iran from imperialist control (despite their claims to the contrary). Nor would this Islamist agenda alleviate the exploitation and oppression of the vast majority of Iran's people, which was closely bound up with the country's subordination to global capital.
Ayatollah Khomeini's actual program and ideology reflected the outlook of remnants of outmoded strata—classes from Iran's feudal past—that still retained influence in modern Iranian society. Khomeini in particular claimed devotion to the impoverished masses, the "mostazafin" (literally, shoeless). But his program and outlook sought to alleviate suffering by going backward (for instance, promoting religious charity), not challenging the basic oppressive economic and social relations of class society in Iran, let alone the world. So Khomeini's Islamist project could only serve to perpetuate those class and oppressive divisions. In fact, Khomeini and his supporters aimed to cohere (and retrench) Iranian society around fundamentally oppressive social relations and a culture and morality that reflected those relations. For example, the subordination of women by men was an essential pillar of Khomeini's program, which was violently imposed, including by attacking an International Women's Day rally less than a month after the revolution.
Yes, Khomeini did develop a mass following, including among sections of Iran's downtrodden and oppressed. On the eve of the revolution, there were many forces in the field, but the Islamists retained a nationwide network and platform in many mosques. Khomeini was in exile in Iraq and then Paris, but was able to speak to thousands and later millions via widely circulated audio-taped messages. It is beyond the scope of this article to explore all the reasons the Islamist movement developed such significant traction among anti-Shah Iranians. But the fact that many oppressed masses rallied to Khomeini's banner did not in any way change the reactionary nature of his program, or the fact that it did not represent the interests of the Iranian masses or humanity.7
The 1978 events in Iran took the U.S. rulers and their "intelligence" agencies by surprise. Not grasping the deeper contradictions at work, Iran did appear to be an "island of stability," where the Shah's enormous U.S.-armed and -trained military and repressive apparatus could readily crush any and all challenges. U.S. strategists suddenly faced a choice of bad options.
Given the alignment of anti-Shah political forces and the depth and breadth of the uprising against his hated regime, the U.S. sensed that pushing Iran's military to attempt to violently suppress the revolution would only make matters worse. It would likely fail, and instead radicalize the situation and enable a host of secular left political trends—from Mossadegh-style secular nationalists, to pro-Soviet revisionists, to genuine Maoist communists—to gain traction. It could also have fractured Iran's military—the key pillar of U.S. influence in Iran. So instead, the Carter administration calculated that U.S. interests could be best served by going along with Khomeini's ascent to power. In early February 1979, Khomeini was allowed to return to Iran from exile in France, and by mid-February he became the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
For one, Khomeini and his followers were vehemently anti-communist and anti-Soviet Union, so U.S. officials assumed a Khomeini-led regime would remain a bulwark against their main global adversary. In January 1979, a U.S. Embassy official wrote in a secret cable that the Khomeini-led forces were "far better organized, enlightened, able to resist communism than its detractors would lead us to believe."8
The Carter administration was also betting that the more secular, pro-Western, and so-called "moderate" elements in Khomeini's entourage were likely to end up doing the actual governing. They didn't grasp that Ayatollah Khomeini and the clerical establishment were not going to fade into the background as cultural advisors, but were intent on establishing a reactionary Islamic theocracy, ruled by clerics and their ideological followers.
So during the first months of 1979, the U.S. maintained diplomatic relations with Iran, and attempted to build ties with and strengthen the hand of these "moderates," while publicly supporting the Khomeini regime's efforts to crush the oppressed Kurdish people, as well as radical secularists, leftists, and communists broadly.
This chapter too is part of the long history of U.S. "interference in Iranian affairs."
Obama "balanced" his airbrush of Iran's grievances with U.S. counter-charges: "On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy, and directly—or through proxies—taken American hostages..."
These charges stem in part from the 1979 "Hostage Crisis," as it was labeled, an event which helped inaugurate decades of U.S. hostility toward the Islamic Republic and still shapes how most people living in this country view Iran and U.S.-Iranian relations.
On October 22, 1979, the Carter administration admitted the deposed Shah into the U.S., ostensibly for medical treatment—this after refusing Iranian demands that this hated butcher be returned to face trial in the country whose people he so tormented. This added to growing anger at perceived U.S. efforts to continue to shape Iran's politics, and sparked fears of a replay of the 1953 coup. The U.S. Embassy in downtown Teheran became a site of frequent protests and chants of "Down with America" and "Death to America."
On November 4, at one such protest, a group of Iranian students linked with the Islamic Republic entered the grounds and seized control of the embassy itself, taking some embassy staff hostages. The students then held them and the embassy for 444 days with Khomeini's blessing. None of the U.S. personnel were killed, beaten, or tortured.
Why did Khomeini support these students? Establishing an Islamic Republic meant establishing it as against the U.S. in certain ways. Khomeini needed to ride the widespread popular hatred of the U.S. and what it had done, as well as rebuff attempts to use the embassy to shape Iran's politics (as embassy cables, shredded by embassy officials but painstakingly pasted back together by the occupying students, revealed). The Islamists also used the embassy seizure to oust lukewarm supporters within the Islamic Republic and crush its opponents without. Over the first several years of its rule, the Islamic Republic murdered tens of thousands, including many revolutionary communists, partly under the banner of "anti-imperialism." (See "Interview with Former Iranian Political Prisoner," Revolution, March 23, 2008.) And it instituted draconian repression against women, suppressed scientific and critical thinking, and forced fundamentalist religion on society.
Overall the Khomeini regime sought to loosen the U.S. and Western stranglehold on Iran's politics, economics, military, and, very importantly culture—and carve out a somewhat more independent role internationally. This was driven by both the clerics' ambitions and the necessities the array of clerics and other forces emerging as a new ruling class in Iran faced in consolidating Islamist rule, and reshaping Iranian law, politics, culture, and ideology accordingly.
A key tenet of the Islamic fundamentalist movement has been stated opposition to Israel and its treatment of Palestinians, and one of the Islamic Republic's first acts was to break relations with the state of Israel. In part, the fundamentalists are playing to the hatred of Israel's crimes that is widespread across the Middle East. In part, this stance reflects Islamist ideological opposition to a Jewish state in the heart of the Islamic world. And in part, the Islamic Republic sees Israel as an impediment to its regional needs and ambitions. It should be noted that this is not the same thing as genuine support for struggle aimed at fundamentally liberating the Palestinian people. But in any case, the U.S. is heavily committed to the Zionist state as its main and only fully reliable enforcer in the region, a commitment that increased after the sudden fall of its other main regional pillar—the Shah's regime. So the Islamic Republic's posture toward Israel fed and deepened U.S. antagonism.9
None of this had anything to do with Iran fundamentally rupturing from the global market, uprooting capitalism, narrowing and ultimately eliminating class divisions, or emancipating humanity. It was in vehement and violent opposition to those communist goals and to the fundamental interests of the popular strata they rallied under their wing. Instead, the Iranian revolution marked the rise of another outmoded, reactionary force in the region contending with outmoded, reactionary imperialism that had been dominating the region for over a century.
The U.S. imperialist class reacted to the embassy seizure with a frenzy of American chauvinism, anti-Iran propaganda, and a bevy of economic, political, and military attacks on the Islamic Republic. The U.S. immediately froze billions in Iran's assets, began imposing sanctions, in April 1980 broke diplomatic relations, and later that month conducted a military raid to free its embassy personnel, which failed. Meanwhile, the U.S. built up its regional military forces, and later in 1980 encouraged Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran.
The system turned the 444-day embassy seizure into a daily "made-for-TV" exercise in American chauvinism, training people to see the world through the eyes of the ruling imperialists and their interests. ABC began a nightly program—America Held Hostage: The Iran Crisis, hosted by Ted Koppel (which later became the program Nightline). Night after night, it was "America Held Hostage, Day..." whatever. History was obliterated and turned upside down: Suddenly the power responsible for 25 years of torture under the Shah, of robbing Iran of billions, and stomping on Iranian needs and aspirations, was now the "victim." This upside-down and reactionary storyline was recently, and shamefully, reprised in the film Argo, and is being channeled in basic form by Obama.
In reality, the U.S. rulers' concerns didn't start or end with the situation of their embassy personnel. The issue for them was their continued hold on this vital country and region and their overall contention at the time with the imperialist Soviet Union. The embassy seizure was a direct slap at U.S. global credibility—America's perceived ability to impose its will at will—and it threatened U.S. interests in Iran, the region, and globally.
This episode also put revolutionaries in the U.S. to the test. Communist opposition to the reactionary nature of the Islamic Republic and its assaults on revolutionary and progressive Iranians did not mean going along with U.S. imperialist aggression, intervention, or propaganda. Instead, it meant opposing such attacks, supporting the genuine revolutionaries in Iran, and being clear that U.S. imperialism represented the far greater danger to humanity. It meant being clear on the special responsibility people living in the belly of this imperial beast had to stand against the crimes, aggression, and legitimacy of "our" rulers. And it meant ideologically opposing American chauvinism with communist internationalism. This stance was powerfully captured in Bob Avakian's statement at the time:
"It's not our embassy, we don't have an embassy; this is the embassy of the imperialist ruling class and we stand with the Iranian people." (From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, Insight Press, 2005, page 400)
The 1979 Revolution and then the U.S. embassy crisis marked the beginning of over three decades of U.S. antagonism toward the Islamic Republic. But as we'll delve into in Part 2, this has not meant, as Obama claimed, that the U.S. and Iran have been "isolated" from each other! On the contrary, Iran has been directly subjected to U.S. aggression for over 30 years, from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War which the U.S. helped fuel (when Iran was hardly "isolated" from the effects of Iraqi chemical weapons attacks, which were facilitated by the U.S.), to crippling U.S. sanctions which reach deeply into every corner of Iran's economy and society, and repeated U.S. military threats over the past 20-plus years. Nor was the U.S. isolated from Iranian moves to increase its presence in the region, including in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine.
To be continued
1. "Iran Staggers as Sanctions Hit Economy," September 30, 2013. [back]
2. Larry Everest, "Sanctions: Weapons of Mass Death and Destruction," Revolution, January 20, 2013. We'll dig further into the role and impact of U.S.-imposed international sanctions in Part 2. [back]
3. See Raymond Lotta, "Nicholas Kristof's Ode to Imperialism...What Kind of World Is He Celebrating? What Kind of World Can Emancipate Humanity?" Revolution, October 14, 2013. [back]
4. "In Declassified Document, CIA Acknowledges Role In '53 Iran Coup," CNN.com, August 22, 2013. [back]
5. The Soviet Union was then an imperialist power, having restored capitalism (in the form of ownership of major enterprises by various (and competing) government agencies and departments, i.e, "state capitalism") in the mid-1950s. This state capitalist form enabled them to continue to operate under the guise of "communism." Wielding this mask of (phony) "communism," the Soviet Union tried to increase their influence in the Middle East, where (real) communism was widely identified with opposition to imperialism and oppression. [back]
6. For background on much of the history of U.S.-Iran relations outlined in this article, see "The U.S. & Iran: A History of Imperialist Domination, Intrigue and Intervention," by Larry Everest, Revolution, May 20, 2007. [back]
7. Those factors included widespread opposition to Western influence and imperialism, which was blamed for backing the Shah and all the suffering and dislocation that took place under his rule. This gave traction to the notion that going back to the "old ways" and traditional culture were antidotes to imperialist-driven economic and cultural "modernization." Another major factor was the global political and ideological impact of losing the revolutionary pole represented by Maoist China in the wake of the 1976 coup that restored capitalism following Mao's death. For a thorough discussion of these and other factors in Islamic fundamentalism's rise, see Bob Avakian's Away With All Gods, Insight Press, 2008. [back]
8. Robert Dreyfuss, Devil's Game–How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Metropolitan Books, 2006), p. 219. [back]
9. It should be noted that over the last decade, the Islamic Republic has made it very clear that it was willing to recognize Israel and work out a modus vivendi with it in return for U.S. recognition of its legitimate place in the region and an end to the U.S.-imposed state of siege. [back]
Revolution #322 Online November 11, 2013
November 7, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Over 50 people came together in Chicago on Saturday, November 2 to celebrate Gregory Koger's release from Cook County Jail. Gregory's release came after he served the remainder of an outrageous sentence that should never have been imposed, for a political act that was never a crime. (See "Revolutionary Gregory Koger Sent Back to Jail" for background.) The evening of music, hugs, and conversation was sponsored by the defense committee that has fought for his innocence and freedom for four years, warmly welcoming him back to the "outside" where he vowed to continue to fight to liberate humanity.
Sunsara Taylor, whose statement protesting censorship Gregory was filming when he was arrested, sent a beautiful statement. A member of his defense committee, the Ad Hoc Committee for Reason, spoke for many when she said, "Speaking as a visitor to that hellhole, spending even one hour there was too much. How anyone incarcerated under those conditions could be expected to survive, much less be rehabilitated is unrealistic. Gregory did manage to survive and no doubt had some damned good discussions with his fellow inmates and will continue his fight against injustice."
Gregory's heartfelt talk was the highlight of the evening. We want to share this with the readers of Revolution, especially those who are locked down in the hellholes of this country:
"In talking to someone earlier tonight, I recounted that in the last 19 years of my life, I have had 9 months when I wasn't in jail, in prison, on parole, on probation, or on bond. Including over half the time of the [seven years] since I've been out of prison has been spent fighting this case."
"It didn't surprise me what the criminal injustice system did in this case, but there were aspects that I think surprised all of us. The fact that I was charged with criminal trespass for just standing there holding an iPhone, which every legal scholar and lawyer we consulted with said there is no way that is trespassing; the fact they tried to hold me in contempt of court because my defense committee had a website that talked about the larger political questions related to this case; the fact that at the very end of the case, the judge issued a secret ruling without any notice to my attorney or myself that there was a hearing happening and then issued a warrant for my arrest. The fact that none of the substantive legal issues we raised were ever addressed by the court was not all that surprising to me because I know how the system works."
"People have spoken about where I come from. It was very much in the conditions of torture, conditions in which tens of thousands of people in U.S. prisons are held in solitary confinement, where I began to really grapple with the broader questions of society, including why is the world this way. And that is where I ultimately came to conclude, through reading Revolution newspaper and other revolutionary literature, that there is absolutely no reason for this system to do what it does to people—billions and billions of people in the world—ruining their lives and offering them no hope whatsoever. There are the resources on this planet to feed, clothe, provide housing, healthcare, and education for everyone, and to provide intellectual and cultural life for the millions and billions of people who are systematically locked out of those realms. All that could happen, but it doesn't because of the capitalist-imperialist system. But we can get to that world through revolution—nothing less. This is what I firmly believe."
"During the course of this battle I have made friends with so many people who don't all agree with what I believe, including many who do not agree with communism. But we have united together to oppose the glaring injustices of this system, of which one small part is this case we have fought for the last four years. To me this is an expression and an example of what needs to happen much more in society. An example of both the core strategic approach and outlook of the Revolutionary Communist Party—that we have to bring together people from the bottom of society and people from middle class backgrounds who don't have the direct experience of that kind of oppression and injustice. We will never get to another world without people from the bottom and people from other parts of society being firmly committed toward humanity. We really had a great expression of that throughout the course of this case."
"On a personal level, just seeing and knowing everybody here, many of whom I first met through the work of struggling against this case, people from many different backgrounds—writers, intellectuals, and people who don't have a fucking thing. Artists like [the world-renowned jazz musicians] who are performing here tonight. Other people who know what torture is like [a friend at the party] who was tortured in Chile under Pinochet, who was out there fighting against the torture that's happening to prisoners in solitary confinement in the U.S. People like me, and like this brother here, who was in the same prisons as me in the same conditions, who are now revolutionaries fighting against the system. I was on a hunger strike the first two weeks I was in jail in solidarity with the California prisoners' hunger strike against torture..."
"I want to thank everybody. This has been a very trying and difficult four years, but we have built a tremendous amount of strength taking this on. On the biggest level in society, the core fault line contradictions that were embodied and encapsulated in this case—from the role of prisoners in this society, and mass incarceration, to the repression of voices of dissent and critical thinking. I will say that we lost the case legally, but we won it politically." [cheers]
"This is a big inflection point, not the least for me. This has been a major component of the last 4 years. The last time I was in Cook County Jail three years ago there was a point when I was depressed, recognizing that the place they had me—in that jail cell—was exactly where they wanted me and people like me. But this time I didn't get depressed, I got pissed off. My life will continue to be dedicated to fighting against this system and its outrageous manifestation of mass incarceration, against the degrading oppression of women and LGBT brothers and sisters; against the oppression of immigrants and all the things this system does to people here and around the world. I will continue to be on the front lines and continue to fight, and I know many of you will be there with me. So I want to thank everybody for coming out tonight from the bottom of my heart."
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