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Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
Updated December 6, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela died at the age of 95. In the coming period, revcom.us/Revolution will have more reporting and analysis of the significance of the struggle against the brutal racist apartheid regime in South Africa with which Mandela was so closely associated, Mandela's role in that, and the nature of South Africa today. But at this moment, the following are five points of orientation:
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
December 9, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
In the barrage of self-congratulatory eulogies for Nelson Mandela, spokesmen and ideologues for the rulers of the United States have conveniently whited out two things:
Oh yes. They drag out their old quotes, issued over the years, deploring (in words) some of the most egregious crimes of the apartheid regime. But they cover up the depths of the horrors. And they lie about the reality that from 1948 the U.S. provided—sometimes indirectly, sometimes directly—the money, the guns, the “moral” cover, and the diplomatic endorsement that enabled all those crimes.
And they backed the apartheid regime to the hilt not because they lost touch with their basic core values, but as an expression of them. Most fundamentally, they backed the crimes of apartheid because of the essential nature of this global system of capitalism-imperialism.
It would take libraries and libraries to begin to tell the story of the horrors inflicted on the black people of South Africa by colonialism and imperialism—even just through the apartheid era that lasted from 1948 until 1994.
From the time of their arrival in the mid-1600s, through wars and massacres, the white settlers stole nearly all the usable land in South Africa. Nearly 90 percent of the land in South Africa was reserved for whites, while Africans—the vast majority of the population—were locked down in “Bantustans”—essentially mass concentration camps.
South Africa’s rich mineral resources including diamonds and gold produced billions in profits for global capitalism-imperialism, and made it possible for the “American way of life” to include the purchase of gold and diamond jewelry in shopping malls. But the mines were a hellish horror for the black people enslaved in them. Hundreds of thousands of black South Africans dug gold and diamonds out of the mines, without earning enough to feed and clothe their families. Miners spent nine to eleven months away from home, unable to see their families who were confined by pass laws to Bantustans. They lived in prison-like barracks, often without the most basic necessities like showers.
Black South Africans were driven into the cities in search of jobs, or worked on white-owned farms or in the mines to survive. Under “pass laws,” black South Africans were only allowed to travel from these Bantustans to work or for short trips. A black person caught without a pass faced severe consequences.
South Africa enforced a whole series of white supremacist laws. Marriages between white people and people of other races were against the law under apartheid. Laws limited the majority black population to owning a maximum of 13 percent of the land. The hated “Group Areas Act” confined blacks (and other non-whites) to officially demarcated ghettos. No representation for black people was allowed in South Africa’s governing parliament, and multi-racial political parties were against the law.
Black people driven to work in the cities lived in terrible conditions, with inadequate housing, poor health and transport services, and often no electricity. Those black people with “passes” to work in the cities were forced into squalid slums, often without even electricity. Women who came to live with their partners in the cities usually did so without passes, living the precarious lives of “illegals.”
The black people of South Africa never stopped struggling against their oppression, and the regime never stopped attacking them with whips, jailings, and guns.
From 1960 to 1982, three million non-white South Africans were forcibly and violently removed from their homes and relocated in “group areas” designed for them. Thousands of black South Africans were forcibly removed to the city of Sharpeville (originally "Sharpe Native Township"). Deep in the interior of northern South Africa, and removed from access to regional factory towns, conditions for blacks in Sharpeville were abysmal—14 homes shared one water tap and there were two bathing complexes in the entire city.
As in any mass struggle, there were different trends and political movements that opposed apartheid in South Africa. One was Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC). A more radical trend was the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). On March 21, 1960, the PAC organized the people relocated to Sharpeville to burn the hated passbooks used to enforce the pass laws. South African police opened fire on the crowd. Sixty-nine black people were killed and 178 wounded by police during the violence.
The Sharpeville Massacre ignited a powerful wave of struggle throughout South Africa against apartheid. And throughout the world, people protested their governments’ support for South Africa. The movement for “divestment,” an end to investment in South Africa, began to grow.
How did the rulers of the U.S. respond as the world reacted with outrage and horror to the Sharpeville Massacre, and emerging exposure of the crimes of apartheid? With diplomatic endorsements of the regime, and economic backing.
As foreign investors became nervous in the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre, outbreaks of struggle and rebellion across South Africa, and an emerging worldwide movement of protest against apartheid, a consortium of 10 banks led by Chase Manhattan provided South Africa with $40 million in rescue loans. The money stabilized the regime and sent a signal to the “international community” (of global oppressors and exploiters) that the U.S. imperialists were standing behind apartheid’s most appalling crimes.
As a matter of fact, from the start of apartheid to the mid-1980s and even beyond, the U.S. actively blocked any serious international sanctions or moves to isolate the South African regime, especially any sanctions that would impinge on the regime’s ability to massacre the black people within its borders, and invade and terrorize its neighbors.
While building a record of covering their asses with face-saving calls for reforming apartheid, the U.S. consistently blocked moves in the UN to impose economic sanctions or arms embargoes against South Africa. In 1963, U.S. ambassador to the UN Adlai E. Stevenson opposed a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa.
In 1974, the UN General Assembly voted 91 to 22 to reject South Africa's membership credentials, but the U.S. (and its imperialist partners the UK and France) vetoed a Security Council resolution to expel South Africa.
Stephen Biko emerged as an inspiring leader of resistance to apartheid in the 1970s, and beyond that was a founder of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) that opposed the oppression of black people in South Africa in any form. Like every serious political, cultural, and intellectual challenge to the regime, Biko was “banned”— not allowed to speak to more than one person at a time or to speak in public, restricted to one district, not allowed to write publicly or speak with the media. It was illegal to quote anything Biko said, including speeches or simple conversations.
In spite of this, Stephen Biko and the BCM organized resistance to apartheid across the country, including the Soweto Uprising of June 16, 1976. Students from numerous Sowetan schools began to protest in the streets of Soweto in response to being forced to study in Afrikaans, the language of the dominant section of white settlers in South Africa. Tens of thousands went into the streets. The regime responded with brutality that shocked the world. Police opened fire on the students, killing a still untotaled number of unarmed protesters—estimates of the dead range from 176 to 700.
After Soweto, the regime went after Biko with renewed fury. They arrested him on August 18, 1977, under South Africa’s “Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967,” tortured him, and beat him to death.
Biko’s death served to further intensify and radicalize the struggle in South Africa, and around the world. (For more on this, see Donald Woods’ book, Biko, Henry Holt publishers, New York, 1987, as well as the movie Cry Freedom.) On October 7, 2003, the South African justice ministry announced that the five policemen accused of killing Biko would not be prosecuted because the time limit for prosecution had elapsed and because of insufficient evidence.
Even as the apartheid regime grew more exposed and isolated, the rulers of the United States continued to back it—albeit at times covertly, but often overtly.
In the context of the extreme isolation of the apartheid regime, the “human rights” president, Jimmy Carter, appointed Andrew Young, a Black man associated with the civil rights movement, as ambassador to the UN and called for reform in South Africa. But in 1977, the U.S. abstained from a UN General Assembly resolution recommending an oil embargo against South Africa, effectively blocking the embargo.
Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, was more overt about U.S. sympathies, interests and objectives, declaring that the U.S. should work "with a friendly nation like South Africa" that "strategically is essential to the free world..."
Reagan’s statement—coming from the mouth of an unabashed cheerleader for everything the United States has always really stood for, tells you much of what you need to know about the essence of what the U.S. brings to the world. U.S. imperialism has always defined the “free world” as including many of the most brutal, depraved, oppressive regimes on earth, from the genocidal mass murderer Rios Montt in Guatemala to the white supremacist rulers of South Africa.
And throughout this period, even when the U.S. took formal positions opposing apartheid in international forums, or when it was unable to block diplomatic, economic or military sanctions, it arranged for its closest allies and puppets to keep the oil and arms flowing into South Africa. When the Organization of Arab Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OAPEC) imposed an oil embargo on South Africa in 1973, the Shah of Iran, a U.S. puppet, stepped in to become South Africa's major oil supplier.
The roots of the tight bonds between the rulers of the U.S. and apartheid go even deeper than the fact that the U.S. ruling class is racist to the core and saw the rulers of South Africa as “kin”—though they are, and did!
At the very time South Africa was viewed with outrage by people all around the world, and carrying out the most heinous crimes, justified with the most Nazi-like white supremacist immorality, the United States needed South Africa.
The deep ties between the U.S. and the apartheid regime were rooted in the reality that the U.S. presides over a worldwide system of imperialism which feeds, and must feed, vampire-like off the blood-soaked superprofits it extracts from Asia, Africa and Latin America, and the apartheid regime was, for a time, a key pillar of that—including as military enforcer for the interests of the U.S. in southern Africa.
In the 1970s and 1980s in particular, the rulers of the U.S. saw a (relatively) stable South Africa as a strategic military bulwark to defend their interests in southern Africa—a region where they faced challenges from anti-colonial and national liberation movements as well as from a rival Soviet Union which branded itself socialist (and was called that by the rulers of the U.S.) but which had restored capitalism and headed a rival imperialist bloc (see Revolution special issue "You Don't Know What You Think You "Know" About...The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future").
By the mid-70s, independence movements backed by the Soviet Union had come to power in the former Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique—countries in southern Africa with large borders and with strategic resources of their own (like Angola’s large oil reserves). The consolidation of a bloc of stable southern African countries aligned with the Soviet Union was seen by the rulers of the U.S. as an intolerable challenge to their empire.
The U.S., working through South Africa, set up or adopted and enlisted some of the most depraved terrorist groups in modern history to wage terrible wars against these new regimes. And South Africa itself continued to forcibly occupy what is today the country of Namibia, where a tiny strata of white settlers had seized over 99 percent of all the usable land.
The wars launched by these U.S./South African proxies, UNITA in Angola and RENAMO in Mozambique, resulted in a regional reign of death and terror. From 1977 to 1992, an estimated one million people died in the war in Mozambique, and the war in Angola claimed even more lives. Millions more in each country were displaced.
The bloody hands of the South African military were all over this slaughter, including training of these terrorist forces, direct military intervention, and funding. And through a combination of aid to South Africa, open aid, and CIA secret funding, the U.S. orchestrated, sponsored and enabled these two decades of horrors. The U.S. openly aided UNITA, and RENAMO shared an office address in Washington, D.C. with the reactionary Heritage Foundation. In 1982, the U.S. urged the International Monetary Fund to grant South Africa $1.1 billion in credit, an amount that happened to be equal to the increase in South African military expenditure from 1980 to 1982.
Through this entire period, the U.S. arranged for its allies, especially Israel, to train the South African military, provide weapons technology, and train “intelligence” agencies in torture. In 1981, the South African military used Israeli drones in combat against Angola. That same year, Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon spent 10 days on the ground with South African forces in Namibia. Most Israeli aid to the apartheid regime was covert, including significant steps by Israel to provide South Africa with nuclear weapons.
In 1972, the “Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act” was introduced in the U.S. Congress, which would have banned direct flights to the U.S. by South African airlines, and imposed significant economic sanctions.
It was 14 years before that act passed—over the veto of Ronald Reagan. By the mid-1980s, the U.S., through unofficial channels, had begun negotiations with the imprisoned Nelson Mandela (even as they kept him on their “Terrorist Watch List” until 2008!). By the late 1980s, the U.S. had begun the process of overseeing the transition from apartheid to new forms of oppression in South Africa. But that was not because the rulers of the U.S. suddenly grew a conscience.
There was a huge international movement against apartheid. Some of the most influential figures in music came together in Artists United Against Apartheid, and students on campuses in every part of the world were confronting authorities over their shameful complicity with the crimes of the South African regime.
So the indomitable struggle of the people of South Africa and the global struggle against apartheid were significant factors in the U.S. change of tactics vis-à-vis South Africa.
The other defining factor was the collapse of the Soviet Union. That major geopolitical event created new freedom for the U.S. to repackage the forms of oppression in South Africa, and to negotiate new relationships (on the basis of decades of waging massive terrorist attacks) with the governments in Angola and Mozambique, and the independence forces in Namibia.
With the collapse of its Soviet rivals, and in a move to stabilize South Africa, the U.S. orchestrated a transition to new forms of oppression in South Africa. It did so only after getting assurances that the country would continue to serve the U.S. empire.
Formal apartheid was ended in 1994. Nelson Mandela was released from jail and became the first black president of South Africa. The obscene, overt segregation against black and other non-white peoples had ended. But the basic situation for the vast majority of black people was not improved, and the fundamental causes of their exploitation and oppression remain.
Now, in the wake of the death of Nelson Mandela, the U.S. ruling class and their mouthpieces drag out their old meaningless, face-saving diplomatic calls for reform of apartheid over the years, and initiatives they took to explore what kind of deals they could make with Nelson Mandela and the ANC, all to portray themselves as longtime (if occasionally flawed) opponents of apartheid, and a powerful force for the ideals of freedom and democracy around the world.
These are lies. From the imposition of apartheid in 1948, to the moment they decided different forms of oppression would better serve their interests in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rulers of the U.S. were the main prop of apartheid. Sometimes overtly—as when U.S. banks moved to bail out South Africa in the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre. Sometimes covertly—as when oil producing Arab countries refused to send oil to South Africa and the U.S. arranged for its puppet the Shah of Iran to fill the gas tanks of the South African bulldozers, bombers, and armored personnel carriers that spread terror from the black townships of South Africa to the country of Namibia. When it was too awkward to openly send military advisors and weapons, the U.S. subcontracted the job to Israel.
But the basic truth is that the immoral, bloody reign of apartheid was a source of vast profits and a strategic military outpost for U.S. imperialism, and its existence is hard to imagine without the foundational backing it got from the U.S.
And none of this is a “blemish” on the record or nature of U.S. imperialism. It is a profound example of the essence of what it is the United States brings to the world.
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
Raymond Lotta | November 25, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The following is an excerpt from a recent article by Raymond Lotta, "On the 'Driving Force of Anarchy' and the Dynamics of Change: A Sharp Debate and Urgent Polemic: The Struggle for a Radically Different World and the Struggle for a Scientific Approach to Reality." In this excerpted section, Lotta discusses the environmental crisis, including what the recent climate negotiations have been really about. We urge readers to dig into the whole article, which examines crucial issues of political economy and methodology in the international communist movement, which are also "issues of concern, theorization, and contention in broader progressive political and intellectual-academic circles, issues of profound import and moment."
* * * * *
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.*
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.
* 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, at revcom.us. [back]
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
by Orpheus Reed | Updated December 8, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The 19th United Nations (UN) "Conference of the Parties" (COP) talks on global climate change concluded on November 24 in Warsaw, Poland.
Just as these talks were about to begin, typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda slammed into the Philippines. Haiyan's wind speeds were the highest ever recorded in world history. Its devastating storm surge was made worse by the higher ocean levels brought by global warming. Thousands upon thousands were killed, whole villages swallowed up by the ocean. Four million people have been made homeless and are suffering from lack of food and water.
While it's not possible to say Haiyan was directly "caused" by climate change, its power was quite likely enhanced by the warming oceans. Climate scientist Michael Mann recently wrote that scientific models "suggest more frequent and intense storms in a warmed world" and that "a number of scientists suspect that recent storms like Sandy and Haiyan exhibited characteristics outside the range of natural variation." And higher ocean levels caused by global warming make the damage to coastal areas from such storms worse. There is much other evidence that climate change is already causing more extreme weather events, such as heat waves and droughts.
Filipino climate negotiator Yeb Saño announced in an impassioned plea at the start of the Warsaw conference that he would fast until the delegates made real agreements to do something to stop climate change. Saño said, "What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness, right here in Warsaw." Climate activists around the world joined Saño in his fast.
The delegates at the conference gave Saño a standing ovation. And then the conference proceeded and accomplished nothing to stop, or even seriously address, the climate emergency already wreaking havoc on the planet and its people.
The stated purpose of these UN climate talks, which have been held every year for 19 years, is to stabilize greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide—CO2—and other gases that cause global warming) in the atmosphere "at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [human-induced] interference with the climate system." Instead, these talks have obstructed, and even sabotaged, any actual agreements to put binding cuts on greenhouse gas emissions.
This past year, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere broke the 400-parts-per-million barrier, a level not seen on earth in three million years. And over the 19 years of talks, the damage and danger caused by climate change has become substantially worse.
There was a "partial deal" struck in Warsaw. This in theory sets up ways to help fund the development of green technology and some payments to poorer nations for damage caused by climate change. These countries have done the least to cause the problem but are suffering the worst. The deal also involves continuing to work toward forging a climate "agreement," in talks in Paris in 2015, that would supposedly result in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Even if such an agreement were to come about, it would not even take effect until 2020!
Waiting until 2020 is insane and criminal. Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that time is running out to stop the planet from a global average temperature warming above two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). A rise of two degrees C in the global average temperature will mean terrible changes in a world that is already greatly impacted by climate change from only the .75 degree C average temperature rise that has occurred over the last 100 years. But two degrees C is the uppermost limit that temperature rise must not exceed if catastrophic climate change is to be prevented. All experts agree on this, and this goal is written into the already existing climate agreements from past talks.
To keep below the limit of a two degree C rise would require drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, beginning immediately and continuing until fossil fuel burning and other practices that spew gases into the atmosphere are almost completely phased out and replaced by green energy technologies over the next decades. So putting off any agreement until 2020 is deadly inaction.
Furthermore, the plan for the Paris agreement is supposedly based on each country coming forward with plans for how much they want to cut their own emissions, and then the other countries looking at the plans and deciding if these are enough. The proposals for cuts by the U.S. and European Union are nowhere near what are needed to stop the worst of climate change. Other countries, like Japan and Australia, actually even took back promises to make emissions cuts they had agreed to previously!
Even as the Warsaw conference was going on, scientists with the Climate Action Tracker website showed that if the current pledges and policies on greenhouse gas emissions cuts of the world's governments are added up, they would result in nearly a four degrees C temperature rise and possibly more.
An article in the UK Guardian quotes from a presentation by climate scientists Alice Bows and Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester in England. According to Bows and Anderson, if there was a global temperature rise of 4 degrees C, the hottest days on earth would be 6-12 degrees C (about 11-21 degrees F) hotter, sea levels would rise by 80 centimeters (over 2.6 feet) or higher, and the yields for key crops like corn, wheat, and rice would drop by as much as 40 percent.
As Dr. Bows notes, "Those sorts of things would be absolutely devastating—they would be catastrophic.... There's a widespread view that four degrees could be incompatible with organized global community and would inevitably lead to conflict and disruption and could potentially be beyond adaptation. Ecosystems are already being threatened—at four degrees we have irreversible impacts on ecosystems."
These talks are not an arena where the world's people and scientists are gathering to deal with what is in reality a global climate emergency. Instead, they are another arena where each of the main players is vying to advance its own interests at the expense of the others, driven by the vicious and cutthroat drive of capitalism for economic profitability and strategic power. None of this has anything to do with saving the planet. (See "Climate Negotiations and 'Big Power' Rivalry")
As the talk shop charades continue at these conferences, the big powers scramble to find and burn even more "unconventional" and carbon polluting fossil fuels. (See "Check It Out: The Race for What's Left: The Scramble for the World's Last Resources, by Michael Klare")
The Warsaw talks, like climate conferences in the past, were extremely divided and contentious, reflecting the intense divisions that exist in the world: Divisions among the imperialist powers like the U.S. and the European Union that have overwhelmingly caused the climate crisis through their relentless burning of fossil fuels. Divisions between these imperialist powers and rising capitalist powers such as China and India, who point to the U.S., the EU, and Japan as mainly responsible for causing climate change, but who are only maneuvering to increase their own positions and power in the capitalist shit pile. And divisions between all these world powers and the governments of the poorer oppressed countries dominated by imperialism. It is in these poor and oppressed countries where the majority of humanity lives, where millions are already suffering the impacts of climate change, and where hundreds of millions will be the most devastatingly impacted as climate change continues.
Here's the reality that everyone needs to confront: The capitalist-imperialist powers have set the world on a trajectory that will cause immense and almost unimaginable disruption and suffering to people everywhere and to the whole amazing fabric of life on this planet. The system has locked the world into a trajectory that threatens ecosystems worldwide and even the eco-balance of earth itself. This trajectory—if it is not ruptured out of—could potentially threaten the future of humanity itself.
There were significant protests at the Warsaw talks. Three thousand people from around the world converged on Warsaw in protest at the conference site. Greenpeace hung banners on government buildings to condemn the Polish government, which hosted a world conference on the use of coal at the same time as the climate conference. And hundreds of environmentalists with non-governmental organizations walked out of the climate talks in protest.
These protests are important, but they largely remained confined to speaking of the horrible situation and demanding changes—and seeing the way to do this still as putting pressure on these world powers and other governments to act rationally, to "end the madness," as Yeb Saño said.
But what is required is a rupture out of this framework that sees the solution as coming from appealing to or pressuring these criminal capitalist powers who have shown themselves utterly incapable of doing anything about this crisis. What is needed are urgent efforts by millions of people who are being impacted by climate change and millions who care about the environment and humanity's future, to develop truly massive political resistance to the criminality of these regimes and the system of capitalism-imperialism. To fundamentally stop the deadly direction we're on, we need to wrench the world from the framework and domination of world imperialism through revolution and establish new socialist systems that immediately move away from fossil fuel production.
What is required are radical and immediate measures to move away from use of fossil fuels, to leave oil and coal in the ground, to immediately mobilize all resources, technology, and people to bring forward alternative, green, and sustainable forms of energy in service of the needs of the world's people and to protect, preserve, and stop the destruction of species and ecosystems. Economic production under this system would be consciously and collectively planned, based on the interests of humanity and ecosystems, not driven by capitalist profitability and the "workings of the market" which have brought the world to the brink of disaster.
This is what's needed. Time is long past for anything else or any other approach. There is a way to do this all over the world, through communist revolution—a re-envisioned communist revolution that is possible because of the work of Bob Avakian (BA). The new synthesis of communism brought forward by BA opens up a way out of the horrors we face today to a world where humanity could flourish and that would be based on sustainable ecological principles where people act as caretakers of the planet and work to mitigate the damage already built into the climate system by the insane workings of capitalism. (See "Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development.")
In response to those who say, "That's not realistic"—what's truly unrealistic is to believe that this current system and its representatives will do anything other than leave the planet's environment and humanity fucked.
The science on global climate change and the danger is clear. The trajectory this system is taking things is apparent. We are at a point where it's unacceptable for people who see this and know that systemic and radical changes are required, to lock themselves in self-delusion that working through or "pressuring the system" to change its ways is all that's necessary or possible. We must start from the reality of the level and urgency of the problem and what is truly required to create a situation where this can be addressed. And it's also unacceptable for people to allow despair about the immensity of the problem to lead to a refusal to look at the whole picture and end up clinging to their "comfort zones" while working for change on a small scale. There is a way forward—and a strategy for this revolution in the U.S. (see "On the Strategy for Revolution," a statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA). Yes, this will require hard struggle and sacrifice—but nothing less than revolution is required.
New socialist systems brought about through communist revolution won't magically transform climate emergency—because there is a momentum to the global climate changes that have already built up and will continue. But such a revolution is the only thing that can allow humanity to quickly move to begin dramatic changes that will have an actual chance to prevent the most catastrophic damage that is coming, unless such changes are made.
We need to fight and struggle to develop massive, uncompromising political resistance to the main and critical ways this system is destroying the environment right now. This resistance needs to be stepped up to stop as much destruction as possible—but fundamentally, if this mass resistance isn't increasingly part of the whole movement for revolution, the trajectory of catastrophe can't be averted. This is the only hope for preservation of ecosystems and humanity's future. The resistance needs to be built urgently, and it must be linked to hastening the time when a revolution can be made—to start the process where we can work in common to do everything we can to prevent the worst of what climate change will bring and allow the climate system to stabilize and natural ecosystems to come back.
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
November 27, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
What follows is a new version of a previously posted article which incorporates some changes to more correctly express the relationship between the leadership of BA and the prospects for revolution.
Life is an unrelenting horror for billions of people around the world. It doesn’t have to be this way, there is a way out of the madness, but people do not know this.
Why do 10 million children die every year from preventable disease? Why are the earth’s atmosphere and water being destroyed? Why are women subjected to rape, assault, and degradation on every continent? Why are millions of Black and Latino youth in the U.S. going through life with a target on their backs with the prospect of prison more likely than college? Why did the election of a Black president in the U.S. not change any of this, and in some ways made it worse?
Why? Because what drives every nation on every continent is a dog-eat-dog system. A system driven by competition over who can viciously exploit the people and the resources ever more ruthlessly. Wars are fought, laws written, people jailed and suppressed to enforce and reinforce these relations. All this misery, all the outrages that people agonize over, have their common source in the system that dominates the world today—capitalism-imperialism.
But, can you get rid of it?
Yes. This way of life is no longer necessary. There is a whole other way humanity could be. A world where people could work and struggle together for the common good... where exploitation and all forms of oppression were no more and where people could flourish and live lives worthy of human beings. This is communism. A society that can only come about through a great, liberating revolution as the first step to emancipate all of humanity.
The basis for revolution lies within the very nature of the capitalist system itself—the very sharp contradictions within this system which it is incapable of resolving and which repeatedly give rise to great suffering and crisis, including at times acute situations when the system is shaken to its foundations. Whether the contradictions and crisis of this system can be transformed into a revolution depends in great part on far-sighted, scientific revolutionary leadership. With this understanding, the importance of the leadership of BA, and the new synthesis of communism he has brought forward, stands out.
The first communist-led revolutions in Russia and China were defeated in 1956 in the Soviet Union and then in 1976 in China after the death of Mao Zedong. At this juncture, BA stepped up to scientifically analyze these first liberatory revolutions in order to deeply understand and draw from this experience so that humanity could move forward again. BA faced an analogous situation to that of “Marx at the beginning of the communist movement—establishing in the new conditions that exist, after the end of the first stage of the communist revolution, a theoretical framework for the renewed advance of that revolution.”1 Learning from the path-breaking achievements of these first revolutions and digging deeply into their shortcomings, including at times serious errors, along with drawing from broader human experiences, BA developed a new synthesis of communism that is an advance in the science of revolution that in several dimensions is a radical rupture beyond what came before, enabling humanity to do even better going forward.
A key breakthrough in Bob Avakian’s new synthesis has been the development of a viable strategy to be able to make revolution to get to a new society. BA leads a party that is actively working today to prepare millions to carry out that strategy and realize the vision of a new world when conditions emerge to do so.
For these reasons, communism today means BA’s new synthesis of communism. People need to know about this. Putting communism on a more scientific foundation, we have a deeper understanding of the problem: the life- and spirit-draining profit system, and the solution: a new era of revolution to thoroughly uproot and overcome all forms and relations of exploitation and oppression, domination, and degradation throughout the whole world.
People need to know BA so that they have a vision of a whole new world, an understanding that the horrors of today need not be forever. People need to hear this not in whispers or off in some niche to the side of society, but as a point of reference and a contending pole in society. This needs to resonate deep into the neighborhoods of the oppressed, be known and debated on the campuses, become a source of controversy in the media, given backing by respected prominent voices of influence—by all kinds of opinion makers. In short, BA needs to become a revolutionary pole with impact and influence penetrating all quarters of society. The BA Everywhere campaign will make BA a household name and, in so doing, make this revolution known. This requires huge sums of money. That is why BA Everywhere is a multi-faceted fundraising campaign to involve and bring forward thousands of people to contribute and be a part of raising these funds with the stakes being no less than whether or not humanity is going to suffer needlessly under the vicious workings of capitalism.
The widespread promotion and popularization of the new synthesis of communism that BA has brought forward, and what is embodied in his leadership overall, is a crucial part of preparing minds as well as organizing forces for revolution. In this period BA Everywhere is the concentrated focus of the work to carry out that promotion and popularization. It is the leading edge now of a whole strategic process interacting with objective developments in the world through which the movement for revolution and the party that is leading the revolution gets built; a process through which a revolutionary people takes shape; a process which can hasten the understanding of people broadly that the system is the problem—with its leaders and structures seen to be illegitimate and through which millions can come to see that this revolution is the solution to the horrific and intractable problems that humanity faces. If people broadly do not know there is another way the world could be—with a vision and plan for a far better society that would actually be liberatory; and know and respect that there is a plan and a leadership to make that real; that there is a whole other way to think about, understand, and act on what is the problem and what the solution is in the world today, then the world will stay as it is—destroying lives and crushing spirits.
BA and the new synthesis of communism sets the goal, context, and framework for all the different elements of revolutionary work in today’s situation—preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution. Without this, no matter how much resistance and struggle is waged—against mass incarceration, against the oppression and degradation of women, against the wars, torture, and mass police state spying, against the demonization and deportation of immigrants, against the accelerating, wanton destruction of the environment—the source of these outrages, capitalism-imperialism, will continue to give rise to the same oppression in even more grotesque forms. Without the vision and plan for a new society and the strategy to get there, all the “movement building” and struggle will become aimless and reformist, serving to reinforce this horrific system—which is the problem—rather than serving to build up the understanding and the forces to finally do away with it.
BA has written:
“...what people see as tolerable, or intolerable, is dialectically related to what they see is possible or necessary (or, on the other hand, what they come to see as un-necessary—or no longer necessary—no longer something they just have to put up with and endure).... the more that people grasp that this is not the way things have to be, but only the way things are because of the workings of a system—a system which is full of contradiction—the more they can feel, and will feel, impelled to act. Lacking that, even our best efforts at mobilizing them to act are going to eventually run into their limitations and be sidetracked or turned around into their opposite, into something which actually reinforces the present system and the sense that nothing can be done to radically change things.”2
Looking back over the past decades since the 1960s and early 1970s, the reality that there was not a revolution in this country even after all the upheaval of that time, as well as the loss of the first socialist revolutions, weighs heavy, even if unexamined, on people’s consciousness of the possibility of revolution. Getting out now in a big, bold, contending way with BA’s new synthesis and with BA Everywhere is key to people beginning to think about how society actually works, seeing things from the vantage point of the whole world—coming to understand what the sweatshops in Bangladesh have to do with whole generations of Black and Latino youth being treated as superfluous, suitable only to be locked up; opening eyes so that people find common cause with the oppressed of the whole planet. Even more fundamentally, sharply delineating that either this system continues with what it does to people and the planet or there is the road of this revolution—in reality there are just two choices—enables more and more people to see revolution not as some far-off dream but as something to be actively and urgently worked for.
This applies and matters internationally. Look only to Egypt to see how urgently people need a materially founded—that is, a scientific—framework for a new, emancipatory society and the strategy to get there. And, how without it, not only is the struggle being drowned in blood and jail, but disillusion spreads there and globally because people don’t see another way.
A key part of how to build the movement for revolution is fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution. Fighting the power, standing up and refusing to be crushed, helps people to raise their sights—propelling them to look out beyond their daily grind. But again, without transforming their thinking about why these abuses keep happening, why those who govern and rule this society cannot and will not redress these enormous injustices, why this system can only keep doing what it is doing, in short, without having a scientific understanding of the problem and the solution, which is concentrated in BA’s new synthesis, then all this struggle will only lead to new outrages and a sense that you can’t change the world—that what is must always be.
In the course of the BA Everywhere campaign, people should learn about the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal),3 which is a plan for a new kind of state power that would be organized with radically different aims, morality, laws, a qualitatively different and greater justice than what exists anywhere in the world today, and a plan and structure for society that would be overcoming all the oppressive social divisions of the past, and is a living, concrete application of BA’s new synthesis of communism. Imagine this being debated up against the U.S. Constitution—an enshrinement of the principles of exploitation—and you get a picture of the difference that BA Everywhere can make.
BA Everywhere puts revolution at the front and at the center of preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution. There needs to be a situation where growing numbers of people from all strata are seeking out and want to be a part of or to support the movement for revolution. For this to develop, people need to see and know there is a way—that there is the leadership, organization, vision, and a concrete plan for revolution. This, the real solution to casting off the millennia of oppressive society, the leadership and work of BA, being way out in society, known everywhere, hastens the development of a revolutionary people and a situation where revolution could actually be possible.
* * * * *
There is a very real objective basis, and need, for broad numbers of people, from many different parts of society, to take part in and contribute to BA Everywhere. People will have varying levels of agreement and disagreement with what is represented by the new synthesis and BA, but can at the same time recognize—or be won to see—the importance for this to be out there in a big way creating major impact in society, playing a significant and positive role in influencing and raising the level of what people think about, discuss, and debate regarding human possibility and the kind of future that would be both desirable and achievable.
Those who are raising funds for BA Everywhere should expect, welcome, and engage in healthy struggle over the big questions while finding the ways for people to contribute even as they are engaging what it’s all about. Fundraisers should recognize that people will come to these conversations with all their preexisting assumptions and ways that they think about the world: Is the world today the product of a flawed human nature or the nature of the system? Is it a god’s will or fate? Weren’t the past attempts to radically remake society really bad and unworkable?4 And most critically, what sort of world is really desirable, viable, and possible? Isn’t U.S. democracy a perfectible society and model even if it is imperfect today? Often these ideas have to be brought to the surface, articulated in the discussion, so that they can be joined and so that people are able to see what is real and true and what is not. It is, after all, true that society at this stage of human history is either going to be organized in accordance with the vicious exploiting dynamics of capitalism, or be organized on the basis of communist principles that are leading to a world community where all forms of exploitation and oppression are being overcome.
Fundraising for BA Everywhere necessarily involves transforming the thinking of blocs of people. And that’s a good thing. It’s a big part of the whole point—the campaign is raising big funds so that revolution is in the air. Now that would be a big societal change in thinking. People can see and be won to the importance and difference that BA and what he represents being widely known and debated will make even as they have not yet resolved their thinking about what they agree with and what they don’t. People can appreciate, desire, and support the political, cultural, and intellectual ferment and process that will be unleashed as BA increasingly becomes a point of reference in society. On the basis of good ideological struggle over the heart and soul of what BA and the new synthesis of communism means for the future of humanity, and as people come to see the positive impact this being out in the world can have, people can unite with and contribute funds to make this possible.
In What Humanity Needs: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism, An Interview with Bob Avakian by A. Brooks, speaking of the BA Everywhere campaign, Bob Avakian said that:
...people are fully capable of holding two thoughts in their head at the same time.... [They] can feel that they personally don't know that much about, or maybe don't agree with parts or much of what is actually embodied in the new synthesis of communism and my body of work and method and approach overall, but they can at the same time feel that it would be very important for these ideas to be projected broadly into society and for many, many more people, in all corners of society, to be actively engaging and debating these ideas as part of generating a much greater and much loftier wrangling with the question of, once again, "whither humanity?" What is the situation humanity is confronted with? Why are we confronted with the situation we are today? Is there a possibility of radically changing it? Does it need to be radically changed? If so, how?
Even people who may not agree with or may not know that much about the new synthesis of communism, for example—many, many people, thousands and thousands of people—can get actively involved in and be motivated to be part of helping to project this into all corners of society. They can find their own level, so to speak—as long as the way is provided for them to find their own level—to participate in that, with that kind of contradiction in their own understanding, and in their own approach.
There are millions of people from all strata who are agonizing over the state of the world—and each of us reading this article can think of family, friends, and colleagues who feel this way, because we all live in this same social reality with its truly massive, horrific suffering, injustices, and devastation that is continually generated by the workings of this system. Recognizing this should open up huge vistas of places and people to take the BA Everywhere campaign, from concerts and plays, to schools and campuses, to churches and libraries, to museums and cultural festivals, in the media and on the Internet, and into the projects and neighborhoods.
Achieving this—BA Everywhere—will require truly massive fundraising, on a mass scale among people of different strata, including major donors.
This need for massive fundraising comes into sharp relief with even just a moment of reflection and real reckoning on what it will take to get BA out to ALL corners of society. Just think of what is spent for the advertising budgets to attract audiences to major films involving known Hollywood actors. Then, think about what a large-scale promotional campaign for the films Stepping Into the Future...and BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! Bob Avakian Live would cost. Consider too what it would cost to sustain and support teams of full-time young volunteers for a nationwide campaign, or to really get thousands of copies of BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian into the prisons on a mass scale, and then to make known the response. The amount of money required starts not just adding up, but multiplying, quickly.
Raising money for BA Everywhere is bringing something new onto the political landscape that will accelerate the whole process of building a movement for revolution, giving a living sense and involving people from all strata, transforming the thinking of different sections of people impacting on the whole atmosphere. These are times that require radical thinking and radical solutions. People can recognize and support how BA Everywhere makes that possible.
BA Everywhere should be, and can only succeed if it is a mass campaign infused with imagination, defiance, and community in all it does. These are times of great peril and great potential—potential that is currently constrained by people not knowing that there is a viable revolutionary solution. That can—and will—be changed through BA Everywhere. Millions and millions will come to know of BA, and that there is a way out of this madness and horror. Society will resonate with big dreams and a living, growing potential of fundamental change and the emancipation of humanity.
4. See the special Revolution/revcom.us issue: "You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future." [back]
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
December 9, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
I was really glad to see the editorial posted online in the last issue, "BA Everywhere—Imagine the Difference It Could Make! Why and how it is key to changing the world—to making revolution." There's a lot in it, but I wanted to share an experience related to the point in the second half about "the very real objective basis, and need for broad numbers of people, from many different parts of society, to take part in and contribute to BA Everywhere."
First off, this point is hardly "obvious." Ask most people who have learned something about the BA Everywhere campaign and the work of the RCP about who else should be approached with this campaign and their first reaction is often "can't think of very many people." Too many people initially think that "this is only for revolutionaries," or at least those who have already firmly decided that the current capitalist-imperialist system needs to be overturned. But just because people think this doesn't mean it's true.
I recently had dinner with some friends who are longtime supporters of the Party and who have already decided that only revolution can finally put an end to the horrors of how society currently operates. They had already decided to contribute several hundred dollars to the BA Everywhere campaign and the other work the Party is doing. I was anxious to see them and to share some of the things we're doing.
I also told them beforehand that I wanted to ask their help in reaching out with the campaign to raise the "BIG money" that we need to succeed, and specifically wanted to ask them to help set up a get-together with someone else they know to see if she would also donate. She apparently doesn't share their revolutionary sentiments (at least as far as I know), but from what they've told me she does see a lot of the terrible suffering in the world and doesn't like the way things are.
She's a small-business person who was born in another part of the world and came to the U.S. later in life. She has a much more real-world understanding of the role the U.S. plays around the globe and she's not so inclined to excuse America's international crimes or the way it treats huge sections of the population here at home. At the same time, she is also very influenced by a political viewpoint that argues for slow, incremental change within the capitalist system. For example, she has been a supporter of President Obama, even in the face of the horrendous crimes that his administration has carried out like the widespread use of military drones to kill people in the Middle East or the massive spying by the National Security Agency, arguing that Obama is at least better than the Republicans.
The point is, she's contradictory. Yes, she made a small donation to the Obama campaign in 2008, but she's also helped raise funds for programs dealing with the problems of AIDS and homelessness, and from what I know she supports people fighting against the inequalities in society. In other words, there's a part of her that thinks (or at least hopes) that this system can solve the problems of the world, but her starting point is that she's concerned about those problems and wants to do something about them.
When I first saw my friends, they were anxious to hear how the work of building the movement for revolution was going. But they were also doubtful about whether it would be worth it to approach their friend. As one of them said, there wasn't really much basis to even talk to her about this until she's repudiated her support for Obama and the Democrats. I tried to get them to look at the things more scientifically, especially the fact that a lot of people in the middle strata of society are very contradictory—part of them is attracted to the system's promises of "democracy," they'd really like to see that work, and it seems much more "realistic" than revolution. But another part of them looks at the real world and hates the fact that people are suffering, and on some level they see that this system is responsible.
Okay, I said, they support the Democrats. That's not good, and there should be a lot of struggle over this question with them. But at the same time, think about how this might start to change if the movement for revolution became a more significant force on the scene. And think what a difference it would make if more of them knew about BA, if they were exposed to his revolutionary analysis, and if this was much more a part of what they were considering as they formed political opinions about how to tackle the problems of the world!
Anyway, we wrestled with this for a while, then I told them I'd brought a copy of the film Stepping Into the Future about the April 2011 celebration in New York on the occasion of the publication of Bob Avakian's book BAsics. We popped the disk into their DVD player and the screen came alive with all kinds of musicians, poets, visual artists, and longtime activists who participated in the celebration, but for all kinds of reasons.
Some of the people interviewed or performing in the film are clearly drawn to Avakian's message of revolution. Others don't seem as sure but they want to see his message get out there as a necessary part of what broad numbers of people are encountering and discussing. And still others seemed really new to the whole scene, but wanted to be part of a program celebrating "the vision of a new world."
In short, the film is sort of a snapshot of what difference it starts to make when people are exposed to BA and given the chance to consider a radical, revolutionary communist position on what is causing all the terrible things in the world that they hate, and what could happen if a revolutionary society were brought into being.
My friends loved the film and they kept making comments about different parts on the screen. Halfway through it, the one who was somewhat pessimistic about the basis to get their woman friend to consider supporting the BA Everywhere campaign turned to me and said, "Let's send her this when we invite her to get together to talk!" It was clear that he thought the film would have a very positive impact on her, and might very well help persuade her to contribute.
We sent her a copy of the DVD, as he suggested, along with a letter explaining why we want to get together. We haven't heard back from her yet and I'm sure there will be further back and forth before we finally sit down together. But I'm confident it will lead to a very productive discussion, and potentially a significant contribution to the campaign. I'll keep you informed.
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
December 9, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
We recently had a fundraising discussion for BA Everywhere with a retired doctor and scientist who "wants BA to succeed" but also has some serious differences. We began by introducing the campaign, BA Everywhere, saying we wanted to discuss the importance of raising funds to get BA's work out to every corner of society, and why he should support it.
He responded that he agreed with BA on the goals of justice and equality for humanity, but has differences with communism and with the method of revolution. Communism has a bad reputation, he said; the communist countries—Russia, Cuba, China, Venezuela—all failed. Communist countries have all been dictatorships turning people into slaves.
This country is also a dictatorship, he said, a hidden one. It's run by corporations, the corporations are crazy and the government has to do what they want—that's why Congress is useless, they're afraid to do anything because they need money and support, and anyone who goes against corporate interests will be targeted. He said he agrees that the system needs to be fundamentally changed, but we need a new way to do that.
We said he was wrong about communism and sorted out the countries he mentioned. Cuba did have a national revolution, but it was never a society aiming to emancipate humanity; it's a capitalist society with some social welfare. Avakian bases himself on the experience of two revolutions in the last century—the Russian revolution and the Chinese revolution, though neither of those countries is socialist today.
He was surprised at our view on Cuba and wanted to know when Russia was a socialist country. When we said Russia was socialist from 1917 to 1956, he said that Russia had never been free and told us a story about people who went back to their home country in the USSR in 1949. They agreed in advance on a signal to let others know what the situation there was—if it was good, they would send a picture of themselves standing, if it was bad, sitting down. In some of the pictures sent, people were lying down, it was so bad. We said that stories and anecdotes don't get to the larger picture and truth of what was going on, the context and the main direction, that the Soviet Union was the first time humanity broke free of capitalist society and had done amazing things—legalizing abortion and de-criminalizing homosexuality, for example; backing women in throwing off the veil; opposing anti-Semitism and the oppression of nationalities.
He countered with a story about Stalin—who supposedly said that if anyone had a problem or disagreement, to let him know, he would solve it—by killing the people. We said that Stalin never said that and didn't do that. He led and fought to develop and defend the first socialist state in a very difficult situation. He made serious mistakes that have to be analyzed scientifically in the context of the situation and what Stalin understood.
Our friend disagreed and told us his plan for changing the present system, not through revolution, but evolution. He asked if we had studied psychology and said that much of humanity is literally insane. Not only are the people in power crazy but there's mass insanity. He is working on a plan for humanity to evolve beyond that, which he would like to share with BA.
He put forward Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries as a social model that works, in opposition to revolutionary Russia and China. In Switzerland, he said, the cantons fought each other in the past, but they've gotten beyond that. People can only be in government for limited terms, and have to govern by consensus. The people are happy and live relatively well without a lot of poverty or unemployment.
We said he was wrong. Where did the wealth in Switzerland come from? Much of it came from the Nazis, or from rulers and exploiters from all over the world. Switzerland plays a certain role as an international banker in the division of labor of capitalism-imperialism. There's a resurgent fascist movement today in Sweden and some of the other Scandinavian countries. You can't look at these countries in isolation from their role and relations with the rest of the world. In Belgium, for example, the wealth came from Congo, where people were brutalized, mutilated, and forced to slave, going back to King Leopold.
Our friend didn't want to go there and insisted that the Swiss model is working.
We brought the discussion back to the larger horrors of this system—the crisis of the environment, making the planet unfit for humans and other species. Rape, police murder, mass incarceration of Black people—things we would like to change immediately but can't under this system.
He said, we have consensus on that, the system needs to change, fundamentally, but he doesn't want to be part of the RCP or the communist movement.
We said that he couldn't be part of the RCP, he's not a communist, but he should donate to BAE to see these questions opened up and debated—people never have the kind of discussion we're having! We shared with him what we're learning in our work among different sections of the people—on college campuses, the idea of radical, fundamental change is not part of the conversation, revolution is not an option, not something people think about. In the oppressed communities, people think that they themselves are to blame for the conditions they face.
He said, of course, they are lied to, they are slaves. He agreed that this should all be changed, but put forward Martin Luther King and non-violence in opposition to revolution. MLK accomplished a lot, he said, for example Barack Obama, the first Black president, is in line with what MLK fought for. We said yes, it's true, Barack Obama, a war criminal, is in line with Martin Luther King's goal of getting into the system.
He agreed that Obama is a war criminal but still held to Martin Luther King and non-violent change. Look at South Africa, Nelson Mandela didn't kill the capitalists, they had reconciliation. Yes, and the masses of Black people in South Africa are worse off now than they were under apartheid. He admitted that that's probably true.
Though he had to agree with some of our points, he kept saying he couldn't donate because he doesn't want to be associated with communism, and even said that saying you have a new synthesis of communism is like saying you have a new version of the Mafia that's going to kill less people. We said, come on, you know that's not true.
He put forward the Indian woman socialist who had just been elected in Seattle as a hopeful sign and a model of peaceful change. He had to admit that she wouldn't be able to accomplish anything in the context of this capitalist-imperialist system. He wouldn't go further in following this logic to its conclusion but reiterated that he couldn't donate because of his disagreements with communism and revolution.
Finally, after all this back-and-forth, we challenged him to get Stepping Into the Future, and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, to seriously engage them, and if he is at all inspired and moved, to donate. He said he would, gave us a hug and thanked us for the discussion.
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
December 9, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
I met with a Black attorney, about 40 years old, and one of her areas of focus in her work is the school-to-prison pipeline, particularly as it relates to minority children with disabilities.
To arrange the meeting, I gave her the BA Institute mission statement and the Cornel West interview with Bob Avakian, and told her very briefly about the BA Everywhere campaign—that it is a campaign to raise the kind of money that can accomplish what is described in that mission statement, getting BA's works and vision known throughout society. I told her because of BA's work there is a viable vision and strategy for revolution and a radically different way the world could be. She had heard the interview with BA on the Michael Slate show, and we had talked once before about BA and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America—just after the Trayvon verdict.
When I told her about BA Everywhere and asked her for the meeting, she wanted to know what we are raising money for. I told her we are not now raising money for one particular project, though there are several projects we've done more focused fundraising for—like raising over $20,000 during the summer for van tours that took this work into neighborhoods in the major cities. She seemed impressed by that. I told her now we are raising money to make a breakthrough overall—money that can go into national advertising and promotional campaigns for the films, van tours with volunteers going out to different parts of the country, etc. She asked how much we are trying to raise and I told her in the hundreds of thousands. She agreed to have lunch with me the next week to talk about this.
When we got together, to begin with I told her about BA, his background, the work he's done, what his work and leadership open up at this point in history, and what can be transformed by people throughout society learning about and engaging this—the real possibility of a radically different way the world can be. Throughout the discussion, I did a lot of talking and she mainly asked questions. I'm not sure I have all the questions here in the order in which she asked them (nor am I sure whether what I said was exactly in response to some of the particular questions or were woven into different parts of the conversation), but this gives somewhat of a picture.
One of the things I mentioned when talking about BA's work is his work on the "George Jackson contradiction"—what George Jackson identified about a section of youth who don't think they are going to live to be 18 or 21, and how to bring those youth into fighting for a future revolution. I talked about the ways the Black Panther Party went off in either direction in relation to that, and how this is something BA has spent a lot of time revisiting and really wrestling with in order to solve.
One question she asked was something like how does the Party go about building this movement outside of the existing structures that would confine it to the way things already are. I should have learned more about what she meant by this question. I kind of assumed she was talking about elections, and so I talked about how the goal is not elections, but real revolution and that is what we are building a movement for—with the strategy of fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution. This seemed to speak to her question in part, but later she referenced it again when talking about something else.
I asked her what she was thinking after I had laid out a lot about what is revolution and the new synthesis of communism. She said she likes everything I was talking about and thinks this is what's needed, but can't see how people would be discerning enough and thoughtful enough to take this up. She said there needs to be radical change. When I asked her about why, she talked about listening to NPR every morning and hearing the stocks report and wondering why people aren't angry and outraged at how the stocks keep going up and these people keep making all this profit, while she just came from a school where the children can't take the books home because there are not enough books. She is outraged by the inequality, and disturbed that there is not mass outrage. I talked about the basis for this revolution in the reality of what this system actually means for the planet and people here and around the world, and how there is a backbone force for revolution in potential among those for whom daily life is already a horror and chaos. I talked about how people's thinking is shaped by the workings of this system, including the verdicts on communism, how there are people searching out how to bring about radical change, but they are not reaching for communism and that has to be transformed—through setting the record straight about the historical experience and most importantly bringing people the work of BA in a way that they can begin to see it as legitimate, and a real alternative with organization, leadership, and a movement for revolution fighting for this in the world.
At some point when I was talking about the historical experience of the communist revolution in the Soviet Union and China, she said she doesn't remember anything she ever learned about that. I told her mainly we haven't been taught about it, and when we have it's been a lot of slander and propaganda. I showed her the special issue of the newspaper which she looked through for a couple minutes.
She also asked how do we gauge the influence we are having, the people who are being transformed and becoming part of this movement. I told her the website and newspaper readership is one important way. How many people are going to the website regularly, and how many are subscribing and getting the newspaper every week, but also in particular with the website people writing in, reporting on how this is being taken up in different parts of the country, writing in letters. I talked about how the newspaper is a key way in which we lead the masses, and I told her how there is a strong base for this in the prisons, where 800 people receive the newspaper weekly and the newspaper often prints letters from prisoners where you can actually see how people's thinking is being transformed. One example I gave of the role the paper is playing is the writing that's been done there about fighting for what's true vs. basing ourselves on what "everyone knows"—that this has been a topic of discussion and struggle within the ranks of the revolution and some of this is happening on the website.
At one point she asked how long I've been involved with this. When I told her 20 years, she wanted to know what is different now, or why I think there are changes that can come about now. I talked about what the times have been like, how this Party was the fruit of the struggle of the 1960s, but was forged as that upsurge was already dying out and then there were changes on a global scale together with an ideological onslaught against communism, the way the Party began to settle in, and the way BA called the question and launched a cultural revolution inside the Party, fighting to revolutionize the Party. Then I talked about what is happening in the world now, the difficulties faced by the U.S. imperialists in rivalry with other world powers and the infighting at the top over how to handle this, with a reassertion of white supremacy to keep the social glue together (and the real danger of fascism) with the question of the oppression of Black people in this country intensifying and coming into sharper focus including in the culture in this period, but also manifested in a real way in the murder of Trayvon and why and how that was a societal jolt.
At the end of the conversation, one thing I'd mentioned was a comment from the British comedian Russell Brand about Occupy, about how it actually changed things because it changed the discourse, it introduced the idea of the 1% and the 99% into what people are talking about and how they see things. I was using this as an example of how we can have societal impact in changing the terrain to be more favorable to revolution. She wanted to know why we didn't try to make revolution at the time of Occupy. She saw it as a major crisis where lots of people were involved, standing up, and this should have been an opportunity for the Party to get in and lead a revolution. I told her it was not a revolutionary situation, not the least of which is because the base of society was not mainly involved—it was an important upsurge among the disillusioned and in some ways disenfranchised sections of the middle class, including a lot of students, and we never know how far any jolt will go and we were in the midst of Occupy and working to bring a revolutionary understanding into it and take that jolt as far as it could go (including ourselves going to people from the base to step forward, not on the basis of Occupy, but as a revolutionary force). I told her about the struggle that went on in Occupy about questions of leadership in particular and that even within that movement, people by and large were not ready for revolution. She didn't understand why we would rule out the possibility of revolution just because the people from the bottom of society are missing—she said something like you never are going to have a perfect situation where all the elements of a revolutionary situation exist. I said something about how you actually cannot make a revolution without this backbone force, and I also used the example of what the 1960s looked like as a contrast to something that actually could have developed into a chance to make revolution.
She also asked basically a question about how do we see the development of a revolutionary crisis—as something that happens outside of us or as something that happens as a result of what we are doing. This was at the end of the conversation, so I talked very briefly about how crisis develops out of the workings of the system itself, but what we do can hasten and shape a revolutionary crisis and that is what we're working on.
In the middle of the conversation I asked her to donate $500. At the end I asked her what she thought about that, and she said she wouldn't be able to donate $500, and might give a donation but wanted to go home and read the special issue of the newspaper and think about it. She said she would read the paper that very night because it was a night she had some time and wasn't on mommy duty. In addition to the special issue, I gave her Stepping Into the Future and encouraged her to watch it right away. I am awaiting her decision.
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
December 9, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
A few of us wanted to write to revcom right away after the December 7 New York City premiere celebration of the documentary film Stepping into the Future: On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics—A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World. The audience of all ages and nationalities shared with the artists and performers a beautiful celebration and premiere of the film. People crowded into a reception and talked for over an hour after the event.
You'll see more at revcom and in Revolution newspaper about this event and the premiere celebration in LA on December 11. But we wanted to bring home how deeply the event touched people and how much is possible and needed in this moment to involve many, many more people in learning about BA's work and vision of revolution and a new world, and winning those people to donate to support this being spread into every corner of society. When people see this film, eyes, hearts and minds open to a whole different way the world could be, with revolution—and a whole other way people can think, feel, and be, up against the nightmare, disaster and cruelty of this world and the brutal and ugly commodification of people, human interactions and everything in society.
Right now, there is a moment to grab hold of: Create a movement of dozens of house parties, salons and small-group and large-group showings of all kinds of Stepping into the Future—challenging people with the opportunity to support BA Everywhere, the campaign to raise major funds to make Bob Avakian's work and revolutionary leadership known everywhere.
Right now, get your friends together through the season when people gather and as they consider what they may donate to. Show the film to relatives and coworkers. Work with those who were part of the premiere celebrations or were invited and didn't make it, as well as people across the country who are learning about BA, to go to people they know and host gatherings and start up fundraising projects. Set up appointments to talk to people about donating—including those with people who can donate in the thousands and tens of thousands. Pop in and visit with professors and students before campuses close down for the holidays. (Here, people are planning various kinds of gatherings and showings, including fundraising salons; a possible showing at a high school and at a public university campus; a jewelry sale. A group of Harlem residents is taking orders for a holiday pie-and-cookie bake sale to raise funds. These are just the beginning of a much bigger groundswell that can and should happen, very quickly.)
As you show Stepping into the Future, talk to people about what the impact could be if there were major funds raised so that literally millions of people were encountering, discussing and debating BA's work. Expect, welcome and get into the big questions that come up about whether it's really possible to have a different world and for people to be different—while finding the ways for people to contribute even as they are getting more into what it's all about. Invite people from the local BA Everywhere Committee, Revolution Books, or the Revolution Club if you have any of these in your area, to help represent and talk with people about why they should donate.
Work together with groups of friends and share what you are accomplishing, what you are learning—and how to break through on what you are having trouble with. And write in to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org about your efforts. There is nothing more ambitious and nothing more vital—if you want a world that is fit for humanity and all the species that live on the planet—than making BA and work REAL and PRESENT in the world, now, today!
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
December 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
"I feel really inspired. First of all, it is really well done. It weaves Bob Avakian and the ideology and all that behind it with the performances, with the speakers, with the history... it had me captivated."
—Someone active in arts and events.
"...you can find inspiration and uplift in this [film], and possibly come away with a whole different mindset if you open yourself up to it. For me, it really did inspire me and gave me a little bit of hope that what I'm doing artistically, while not commercial, is on the right track. It's uplifting, and uplifting that there is room for me in this type of revolution."
"I'm excited for the screening in December because [the film is] very diverse... I think it'll touch base with a lot of issues and bring forward the problem and solution... The most important thing I got from watching this film is that change needs to come. I would recommend it to others because it will show them what they need to see, it will give them the truth and won't hide or sugarcoat it. This is the truth, now you do what you think is right... people will change, will react to it."
These are just some of the comments from a diverse range of people after watching the documentary film Stepping into the Future—On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World, which will be screened in release celebrations on Saturday, December 7, in New York City and Wednesday, December 11, in Los Angeles.
Stepping into the Future takes off from an event on April 11, 2011, where hundreds of people joined in a thrilling taste of revolutionary possibility at Harlem Stage in NYC. BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian—the handbook for revolution in the 21st century—had just been published (and today is in its second printing and as a free e-book). To mark the occasion, musicians, dancers, poets, actors, visual artists came together with revolutionaries and activists from the 1960s down to today for a cultural event titled "On the Occasion of the Publication of BAsics: A Celebration of Revolution and the Vision of a New World."
Harlem Stage soared with revolutionary joy as hundreds of people, young and old, of different backgrounds and diverse political viewpoints, were taken on a journey: lifted off their feet and touched to their cores as they traveled through the night of jazz, funk, soul, rock, poetry, dance, theatrical readings, and visual arts all woven together with deep revolutionary insight from archival film of Bob Avakian, readings from his BAsics, and commentary from voices who have been on the front lines for decades. As Revolution newspaper wrote at that time: "All of it aching for, giving voice to, and infused with the possibility of a radically different world than the maddening planet we live on now."
The New York celebration and screening of the film Stepping Into the Future will include special performances by Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and Abiodun Oyewole; directors' Q&A with Annie Day and Andy Zee; and a reception.
This film is the story of that night—the reflections of the artists and participants—what inspired them, their hopes and dreams. In one hour and 15 minutes, you feel and understand the depth of transformation that can take place when the revolutionary vision and framework developed by Bob Avakian, which is concentrated in BAsics, sets the stage—here for an evening—yet foreshadowing the potential for a whole new world. The film features tastes of the performances at Harlem Stage, and the urgency, uplift, humor, and beauty of the night comes through a compelling narrative of the deep concerns of the artists and presenters about the horrific state of today's world, the lies and the crimes of America, the importance they see in revolution and in BA's voice being known throughout society—why that matters and their hopes for what this could mean for the future of humanity.
In the initial smaller screenings, people have been deeply impacted by this film. For people who have never seen or experienced Bob Avakian and the impact of his words, this film is an inspiring introduction. In the documentary, jazz composer and musician Matthew Shipp comments: "Avakian talks a lot about revolutionaries having a poetic imagination, so it was really good to see that idea within the context of an event that has to do with the political or philosophical idealism of revolution."
A number of people have commented about getting to see BA develop over the years, learning how long he's been committed to revolutionary change and how he's persevered in the face of great difficulty. The reggae musician quoted at the beginning said, "[The film] gave me the impression that what is available for revolution is really possible. There's a very scientific method, there's theory, there's also the idea of a very structured plan that's available for those with consciousness and it can open up that consciousness also."
A couple of artists commented on how the film makes you recognize the brainwash of this culture and society and impels you to want to find out more about this revolution and BA. Others have said how much this went up in the face of the incorrect conventional wisdom about what communism is and the exciting and liberatory culture people should be striving for today. There have been comments on how moving it is to see this whole range of people who are putting their lives on the line for something so much bigger than themselves. A number of people have talked about how rare it is to see the range of nationalities, viewpoints, and ages... all inspiring and challenging each other... bouncing off of BA, challenging people to get into BA, and working towards real change in their words and in their art.
Imagine this multiplied throughout society... reverberating through people's hearts, changing their thinking and lifting their hopes. Imagine people coming together to experience this—the forging of something new up against all the degrading culture and in-it-for-self mentality. And imagine this part of fighting to go somewhere... building a movement for revolution... and as part of the mass campaign to raise major funds to project Bob Avakian and his vision for a radically new society and his works into every corner of society: BA Everywhere... Imagine the Difference It Could Make!
Stepping into the Future shows this with life, voice, and diversity. You feel what is possible for all of humanity with the real potential of revolution and a beginning understanding of the new synthesis of communism brought forward by BA... and it gives you a living, heart-beating, and foot-stomping feeling of what can change if BA were really everywhere... a contending pole in society right now up against all the exploitation, mass immiseration, and low dreams of the world as it is.
Right now, we are in the middle of a major two-month effort to make a serious leap in this campaign—to raise the kind of serious funds required to truly impact society, making BA a household name. These celebration premieres are coming at the perfect time and should be a tremendous impetus in this drive, raising funds and making known what this is all about, and what can be broken open with BA Everywhere—the inspiration, the intolerance and outrage with the needless suffering today, the debate over what is the source of all the suffering and torment that is plaguing humanity in this system of capitalism-imperialism, and what is the solution: revolution and the new synthesis of communism developed by BA, who is leading a movement to make revolution in today's world. There is great joy in coming together to forge the new—the debate, discussion, and dreaming of what is possible for humanity... and the serious understanding of what we are up against in fighting to bring this into being.
This is what BA Everywhere is about... and what should be brought together coming into these December screenings, and brought to a whole new level through reaching throughout society and raising lots of funds through all this.
Anyone seriously agonizing about the state of the world should be in the house at the celebration premieres on December 7 and December 11. People should be buying their tickets, spreading the word and getting unleashed themselves in all kinds of ways... to contribute funds to BA Everywhere, to bring their friends to these events, to get out word about these screenings and BA Everywhere on social media and more. There should be a movement of house parties coming off these screenings through the rest of December, mass fundraising efforts of yard sales, candy sales, collecting change jars—or for those with much greater resources, contributions in the thousands and tens of thousands and serious sit-down meetings to discuss this.
Along with Stepping into the Future, there should be screenings of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—Nothing Less! Bob Avakian Live; sales and discussions of the new special issue of Revolution, "You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future," sales of BAsics, BA's memoir, and more. And these screenings should be just the beginning of efforts over the next year to get these films way out in society: small film festivals, cable TV, and more. And there will be an opportunity for people to volunteer to be part of these efforts at these screenings (or by writing to email@example.com right now).
On December 7 and December 11, step into the future... a future people would actually want to be in... a future that really could be.
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
November 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Some people reading this interview may be saying to themselves: "Ok, Raymond Lotta says these socialist societies were incredibly liberating, and that all these amazing things happened. But my teacher... my textbook... that magazine article I read... my friend whose family is from Russia... everything I have ever learned or heard about these societies... says that they were nightmares. How do we know who's telling the truth? Why should I believe Raymond Lotta?"
Special Edition of Revolution:
Read it online at revcom.us or get it in print from your local Revolution newspaper distributor.
In response, two quick points must be made right away:
First, it's not a question of what Raymond Lotta says vs. what your teacher, or textbook, or friend, or magazine article says. There are not two, or three, or four different competing "versions" of reality; there is one reality. In other words: Either something is true, or it's not. Either something is in line with reality, or it isn't. Either something happened, or it didn't.
Second, here's how you definitely don't decide what's true: By looking at what most people think. Very often what most people think is wrong! For example: At different points in the history of the world, most people thought that the earth was flat... that the sun revolved around the earth... and that slavery was completely natural and acceptable... and most people today still think that god created human beings and all life on earth. 0 for 4!
But then this leads to the question: How do we tell what is really true, and who is really telling the truth about communism?
The short answer to this question is: Be scientific. Examine the evidence, and examine the methods and criteria being applied.
More specifically: Examine the evidence being offered, and criteria and methods being applied, in this interview with Raymond Lotta to argue that the past experience of the communist revolution was principally emancipatory... and compare and contrast this with the evidence (or lack thereof) being offered, and criteria and methods being applied, by those who tell you communism was a nightmare.
There is a basic question that you should ask yourself again and again as you read this interview and compare it to everything you've heard and been told and will again encounter about communism: Who is proceeding scientifically here, and who is not?
Now, what does it mean to be scientific, or to proceed scientifically? And why is this important? Being scientific means starting from, and consistently returning to, reality. It means doing that as opposed to starting from conventional wisdom, what one wants to be true, what one subjectively "feels," or one's prejudices and preconceptions about what is true.
As Bob Avakian has put it:
Let's not mystify science. Science means that you probe and investigate reality, by carrying out experiments, by accumulating data, and so on; and then, proceeding from that reality and applying the methods and logic of rational thought, you struggle to identify the patterns in the data, etc. you've gathered about reality. If you're approaching it correctly, you're struggling to arrive at a correct synthesis of the reality you've investigated. And then you measure your conclusions against objective reality to determine if they are in correspondence with it, if what they sum up and predict about reality is confirmed in reality. That's the way breakthroughs in science have been made—whether it's in the realm of biology, like the understanding of evolution, or whether it's things about the origins of the universe (or the known universe), like the Big Bang Theory, or whatever. That's the process that goes on, and the question is: is it scientific? That is, does it, in its main and essential lines, correspond to reality?
—From What Humanity Needs: Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism, An Interview with Bob Avakian by A. Brooks
And why is it so important to be scientific? Because this is the only way to actually get to reality and to continue learning more about reality. To return to the examples given earlier: where would we be if Copernicus and Galileo, or Darwin, or the Abolitionists who fought against slavery, proceeded from "what everybody knows," or decided that no one could really say what was true, or what was right and wrong, that there was no objective reality but simply "different versions" of that reality, or that truth depended on one's individual perspective?
Now, to be clear, the point is not that if someone is applying a scientific method—and the communist method of dialectical materialism in particular—that automatically means everything that person says about communism is true, or that everything anti-communists say is not true. In fact, at the heart of the new synthesis of communism brought forward by Bob Avakian is an understanding that while the communist outlook and method represents the most systematic, comprehensive, and consistent means of arriving at the truth, this does not mean that communists have a monopoly on the truth, or that those who are not applying this outlook and method are incapable of discovering important truths. Rather, with anything that anyone says, the test should be: Does this, in fact, correspond to reality?
But it is also the case that with this interview, as is the case with literally anything that one reads about any topic, everyone who reads this is not going to be able to independently verify every single statement made or fact cited. And if you just look things up for yourself, without an eye towards all the points being made above, you are—to be blunt—going to run across a lot of lies and bullshit and unsubstantiated garbage about communism and not know what to make of it.
So, again, as you are reading this interview with Raymond Lotta and comparing it to everything you've been told about communism, consider the question: Who is proceeding scientifically here? And who is not?
Let's compare and contrast how Raymond Lotta discusses the Great Leap Forward in revolutionary China with how a recent New York Times article—which is representative of the standard anti-communist account of this experience—approaches the Great Leap Forward.
If you read how Raymond Lotta talks about the Great Leap Forward in this interview, you will notice that he consistently applies the method of proceeding from, confronting and probing reality, and the complexity and contradiction within that reality. He starts by talking about the context—the situation within China and the world as a whole—in which the Great Leap Forward was launched. He addresses the challenges Mao and the Chinese revolution were faced with, and the problems and obstacles they were trying to solve and overcome. He addresses the basic question of why Mao initiated the Great Leap Forward and what its goals were. He speaks to what the Great Leap Forward accomplished. And he does not shy away from, but rather directly engages and refutes, the anti-communist accusations that "Mao was responsible for tens of millions of deaths" through the Great Leap Forward, illuminating where these charges and figures come from and exposing how anti-communists both inflate the numbers of deaths and also treat the deaths that did occur as people "killed by Mao." And in terms of the massive food crisis that hit China, Lotta does not attempt to cover up or shy away from this, instead explaining the various actual causes of this food crisis, the mistakes that the Chinese leadership made, and the ways that this leadership learned from and corrected these mistakes. And the basic criteria Lotta is applying to evaluate all of this is: To what degree were the Chinese communists seeking to—and to what degree did they—advance in the direction of overcoming all exploitation and oppression and the ways of thinking that go along with that?
It is very instructive to compare and contrast how Lotta approaches the Great Leap Forward in this interview with how it is approached in the New York Times article, "Milder Accounts of Hardships Under Mao Arise as His Birthday Nears" (October 16, 2013). In contrast to the interview with Raymond Lotta, which is consistently proceeding from, probing, and synthesizing the lessons of reality, the Times piece is proceeding from and returning to what "everybody knows."
The tone for this article is set in its opening sentence, which claims: "The famine that gripped China from 1958 to 1962 is widely judged to be the deadliest in recorded history, killing 20 to 30 million people or more, and is one of the defining calamities of Mao Zedong's rule." Right there, you have a combination of at least three standard anti-communist methods in a single sentence. 1) Toss out a huge number of deaths without offering any actual evidence for the claim, which the Times never does in the article. 2) Be sure to blame those deaths on communist leaders—again, evidence not included. 3) Use phrases like "widely judged" to convey the impression that "everybody knows" the above two points to be true, thereby freeing you of the burden of having to offer any evidence.
From there, in addition to putting forward snarky, distorted, and crude misrepresentations of what the Great Leap Forward was seeking to accomplish and the reasons it was launched—read how Raymond Lotta explains this in the interview, and then compare it to the Times' characterization—the basic method of the Times article is to lean on the "everybody knows" crutch over and over again, instead of offering any evidence or reality-based analysis to support its claims. For instance, the article refers to a mathematician, Sun Jingxian, whom the article says "asserts that most of the apparent deaths were a mirage of chaotic statistics: people moved from villages and were presumed dead, because they failed to register in their new homes." But the article never even attempts to show why what Sun says is inaccurate! Similarly, the Times refers to a book by Yang Songlin, whom the Times identifies as a "former official," who argues that the numbers of deaths in the Great Leap Forward have been severely inflated, and that the deaths that did occur were caused mainly by "bad weather, not bad policies." But again, there is not even an attempt by the Times to show why what Yang says is not true.
We are not commenting one way or another here on Sun Jingxian and Yang Songlin, or their specific claims and methods. Rather, we are pointing to the Times' methods here, which is to start with what "everybody knows," and then measure everything else against that, rather than actually probing and investigating reality and using that as the yardstick to measure what is true.
The method, and message, of the Times article is clear: When it comes to negative things about communism, if someone said it, it must be true. If someone didn't say it, say it now. And if it can be claimed that lots of people say it—well, all the better!
Pieces like this article, which again is one of many examples that could be given, train people to think that Mao sat around and said: "Hmm, how can I implement a policy that will cause the most people to starve?" Among the things you would never know from these anti-communist slanders and methods is that there was mass starvation and mass inequalities in China before the Chinese revolution; that Mao launched the Great Leap Forward with the aims of overcoming mass starvation and inequalities, radically transforming social and economic relations, and developing the Chinese economy in a way that would reduce, not widen, the gap between the cities and the countryside; that within 20 years of the Chinese revolution, everyone in China indeed had enough food to eat; and that the deaths that occurred in China during the Great Leap Forward were principally caused by a massive famine that gripped China as a result of the floods and drought that affected over half of its agricultural land, by hardships caused by the Soviet withdrawal of aid to China, and by mistakes that the Chinese leadership made in that context—NOT by some insane and evil plot by Mao to starve people!
Again, compare all this—and many other examples you will unfortunately encounter of anti-communist methods and accounts—to the evidence that Raymond Lotta presents and the methods and criteria that he applies, in this section of the interview, and in fact throughout the interview.
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
December 4, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
In all of our work, it has been very important to emphasize that we ARE building a movement for revolution, and that all that we do must proceed from the strategy for revolution that the Party has put forward. In line with that strategy, it is also decisive that we build the Party as the leading core of that movement for revolution.
If there is to be a revolution, there must be a revolutionary party.
All those who see the burning need for revolution, who are working to build the movement for revolution, need to confront the reality that without a strong vanguard party, without the Revolutionary Communist Party, there can be no revolution in this country. And without new forces stepping forward now to build and strengthen this Party, there will not be the strong core of leadership that the revolution must have.
As the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA puts it:
"Making revolution against a powerful and vicious enemy—and going on from there to bring into being a whole new world, without exploitation and oppression—is an incredibly challenging and complex process! Such a revolution requires leadership; it requires an organization with a sweeping vision, a scientific method to analyze reality and how to go about changing it, and serious discipline. An organization that can awaken and unleash the revolutionary potential of the masses of people, direct their outrage against the real enemy, and loft their sights to the emancipation of all humanity. An organization that can chart the path through extreme ups and downs, and dangerous twists and turns. That organization is the revolutionary vanguard party. Only with an organization such as this can the masses rise to the historic challenges, and win their emancipation."
There is such a Party—the RCP, USA—led by its Chairman Bob Avakian.
This Party is built on and takes as its foundation the new synthesis of communism that has been brought forward through the body of work and method and approach of Bob Avakian. The fact that BA leads this Party is a huge strength for the revolution and for this Party, and one that must not be squandered. The members of the RCP, USA are united in their profound desire for a radically different and better world, and their understanding of the need for revolution to get to that world. They have dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to revolution, and on the basis of that they channel their individual abilities and passions to the cause and needs of this revolution.
The statement On the Strategy for Revolution correctly argues: to prepare the people and to hasten the conditions for revolution, and for the revolution to have a chance of winning, there must be leadership, and there is leadership. But there is work to be done...
"To support and strengthen our Party as the overall leadership of this revolution. The more our Party’s revolutionary viewpoint and strategy is spread and gains influence throughout society...the more that people come to understand and agree with what the Party is all about, and join its ranks on that basis...the more the Party’s 'reach' extends to every corner of the country...the greater its organizational strength and its ability to withstand and to lead people forward in the face of government repression aimed at crushing resistance and killing off revolution—the more the basis for revolution will be prepared and the more favorable the chance of winning."
"The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA has taken the responsibility to lead revolution in the U.S., the belly of the imperialist beast, as its principal share of the world revolution and the ultimate aim of communism. This is a great and historic undertaking–and all those who yearn to see this happen should rally to and support this vanguard, working together with the party, building support for it and, on the basis of taking up the cause and outlook of communism, joining it.
"The emancipation of all humanity: this, and nothing less than this, is our goal. There is no greater cause, no greater purpose to which to dedicate our lives."
(from the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA)
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
by Li Onesto | December 9, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
With some 2.3 million people behind bars in this country, the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with the majority of prisoners Black and Latino. Thousands of prisoners in California recently went on a hunger strike, protesting and exposing conditions of torture that 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement face in the U.S. A total of 105 countries have already gotten rid of the death penalty, including all the countries in Western Europe. Meanwhile the United States is infamous for executing people—and keeps thousands on death row, many of whom have been then found to be innocent, indicating that many more innocent people have been executed. The U.S. is also the biggest transgressor of the international ban on executing juveniles, and 26 states in the U.S. allow putting to death mentally retarded defendants.
Now, the American Civil Liberties Union has released a report, “A Living Death—Life without Parole for Nonviolent Offense,” revealing another ugly reality of mass incarceration in the USA. [Unless indicated, statistics in this article are from this report.]
In the U.S., 49,000 prisoners are serving life-without-parole (LWOP) sentences—told they will live in prison until they die. As of 2012, 3,278 of these prisoners are being punished for non-violent drug and property crimes in the federal system and in nine states (that provided statistics). This doesn’t even include those prisoners who are serving, say, a sentence of 100 years for a series of nonviolent drug sales. Nor does this include others found guilty of a “violent crime” even though what they did was non-violent—like failing to report to a halfway house or trying to steal an unoccupied car.
Four decades of the War on Drugs has resulted in extremely harsh sentencing laws—like “three-strikes” provisions where judges are required to give minimum sentences for a third felony conviction or certain types of crimes. Such laws force judges to issue sentences that are severe and unjust and three-strike laws have expanded the number of crimes a person can get LWOP sentences for. This has all resulted in an increase in the number of people imprisoned and the lengths of their imprisonments. And this has also given rise to so many people condemned to LWOP—with many sent to prison for life including: drug couriers; drug addicts who sold small amounts of drugs in order to support their addictions; petty thieves; girlfriends or wives who were caught up in the mass arrests of members of drug conspiracies and, because they knew little about their partners’ or ex-partners’ drug activities, were unable or unwilling to trade information for more lenient sentences.
Imagine you get arrested for one of these things: possession of a crack pipe; possession of a bottle cap containing a trace, un-weighable amount of heroin; possession of a small amount of marijuana with intent to distribute; acting as a go-between in the sale of $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer; sharing several grams of LSD with Grateful Dead concertgoers; having a stash of over-the-counter decongestant pills that could be manufactured into methamphetamine; attempting to cash a stolen check; a junk-dealer’s possession of stolen junk metal (10 valves and one elbow pipe); possession of stolen wrenches; siphoning gasoline from a truck; stealing tools from a tool shed and a welding machine from a yard; shoplifting three belts from a department store; breaking into a closed liquor store in the middle of the night.
You’re found guilty and then a judge basically tells you: “We’re putting you in a cell and you will stay there until you die.”
You might be wondering—could this really be true? Thousands of people did something as little as shoplifting and now their whole life has now been thrown away? Someone maybe as young as 25 is convicted of a very small crime and now they will be in prison until they die?
Yes, this is happening—and the statistics only tell part of the unjustness of the story.
Here are just two examples from the ACLU report, which profiles 110 offenders sentenced to die in prison for nonviolent crimes:
Sharanda Purlette Jones, a mother with no prior criminal record, was sentenced to mandatory life without parole for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine based almost entirely on the testimony of co-conspirators who received reduced sentences for their testimony. All 105 people arrested as part of the conspiracy in her majority-white Texas town were Black. Other than a taped phone call during which she agreed to ask a friend where two government informants might be able to buy drugs, there was no physical evidence, including no drugs or video surveillance, presented at trial to connect her to drug-dealing with her co-conspirators.
Timothy Jackson is serving life without parole for shoplifting a jacket worth $159 from a Maison Blanche department store in New Orleans in 1996. Jackson, who was 36 at the time, worked as a restaurant cook. A store security agent followed Jackson, who put the jacket down on a newspaper stand and tried to walk away when he realized he was being followed. At the time, Jackson’s crime carried a two-year sentence for a first offender; it now carries a six-month sentence. But the court sentenced Jackson to mandatory life without parole, using a two-decades-old juvenile conviction for simple (unarmed) robbery and two simple car-burglary convictions to sentence him under Louisiana’s four-strikes law. Jackson has served 16 years in prison.
Before the 1970s, sentencing people to LWOP was actually very uncommon. Then in 1972 the death penalty was temporarily abolished through the Supreme Court decision Furman v. Georgia. This is when the courts began giving lots of people LWOP sentences—in part because the courts couldn’t give people the death penalty. But even after the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, LWOP sentences continued to soar.
In the mid-1990s only 16 states had some form of LWOP—now 49 states hand out such sentences. In 1992, less than 12,500 prisoners were serving LWOP. Today this number is over 49,000. The use of life-without-parole sentences is not only used more, but it has been made available for a broader range of offenses—including nonviolent crimes, including low-level nonviolent offenses.
This rise in LWOP sentencing is part of the larger situation of mass incarceration where in the United States, since the 1970s, there has been an explosive growth of prisoners in the United States. In 1970 there were 338,029 people being held in federal and state prisons and local jails. In 1990, this number had risen to 1,148,702. And by 2010 it was 2,266,832. (Bureau of Justice Statistics: “Correctional Populations in the U.S.”, and Justice Policy Institute analysis of U.S. Justice Department data.)
Carl Dix from the Revolutionary Communist Party talks about what is behind mass incarceration in the United States—and the stakes of the struggle against it:
“Mass incarceration is a huge attack on the masses, especially on oppressed nationality masses. 100,000’s are jailed for simple possession of banned drugs. People in prison are subjected to horrible conditions. The pipeline leading to this warehousing in prison includes inner-city educational systems that are geared to drive millions of youth to drop out and a criminal justice system that treats a whole generation of youth like potential criminals, guilty until proven innocent, if they can survive to prove that innocence. It includes racial profiling by police, gang injunctions and discrimination in the courts.
“And after release, millions of people are stamped with a badge of deprivation and shame. Denied job opportunities, access to public housing, food stamps, government loans for education, the right to vote, and more. All this is the result of conscious policies adopted by the ruling class.
“This horrific racially targeted massive incarceration is a consequence of not having made revolution in the ‘60s. The revolutionary upheaval of that period rocked the ruling class back on its heels, but it didn’t seize power from them. Having ridden those storms out, and conscious of the role the uprisings of Black people played in spearheading that and their potential for sparking future upheaval, the ruling class has moved to viciously suppress that potential before it can manifest itself—counter-insurgency before the insurgency.
“If things are allowed to continue on this trajectory, the reality of millions of the oppressed penned up in the ghettos and barrios without opportunity or hope will intensify. Going in and out of jail will remain a rite of passage for millions of oppressed youth, many of whom already look to their immediate future and can see nothing more than prison or death. This is slow genocide and, given the sharp divisions in the ruling class and the building up and unleashing of outright fascist forces, it could easily become fast genocide.” (Revolution #242, “Taking the Movement of Resistance to Mass Incarceration to a Higher Level Thru Unleashing Determined Mass Resistance“)
This is what has brought about three strikes laws. This is what policies like stop-and-frisk— where the NYPD illegally racially profile Black and Latino people, stopping and harassing millions who are doing absolutely nothing wrong—are part of. The “school to prison pipeline” is part of this—where “zero-tolerance” policies that criminalize minor infractions of school rules channel kids into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. And this is what the explosion of LWOP sentencing is part of.
Mass incarceration in the United States—where 40% of the prison population is Black—is a major component of the slow genocide of Black people being carried out by the system. Black people are clearly disproportionately incarcerated and there is even more disparity when it comes to those who are given LWOP sentences overall, and those with LWOP sentences for nonviolent offenses. For example, Black prisoners comprise 91.4 percent of the nonviolent LWOP prison population in Louisiana, 78.5 percent in Mississippi and 70 percent in Illinois. And Black people were sentenced to LWOP for nonviolent crimes at 20 times the rate of whites.
Black people constitute about 11 percent of the U.S. population, but make up 60 percent of the prison population serving LWOP for nonviolent offenses—and they serve such sentences at a rate of 46.5 per 1,000,000 residents, over 20 times the rate of whites. These disparate rates cannot be explained by white and Black defendants’ differential involvement in crimes alone. As the ACLU notes:
“A report released by the U.S. Sentencing Commission in February 2013 concluded that in recent years, Black male offenders have received sentences that are nearly 20 percent longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes. The racial disparities increase with the severity of the sentence. The level of disproportionate representation of Blacks among prisoners who are serving LWOP is higher than that among parole-eligible prisoners serving life sentences. The disparity is higher still among prisoners sentenced to LWOP for nonviolent offenses.
“Blacks receive disparate treatment at every stage of the criminal justice system, including stops and searches, points of arrest, prosecutions and plea negotiations, trials, and sentencing. In some of the cases documented by the ACLU, there is anecdotal evidence of possible disparate treatment by law enforcement and justice authorities, such as apparently baseless traffic and pedestrian stops and searches that may be the results of racial profiling and targeted drug enforcement in predominantly Black communities.”
The title of the ACLU report is “A Living Death” and this completely inhumane suffering is what this system is forcing upon tens of thousands of people, including thousands who are being punished for doing non-violent and in many cases, very minor crimes.
The ACLU reports that prisoners sentenced to LWOP talked about “feelings of unremitting hopelessness, loneliness, anxiety, depression, fear, isolation from family and their community, and suicidal thoughts.” Those who had committed nonviolent crimes described their sentences as “a slow death sentence,” “a slow, painful death,” “a slow, horrible, torturous death,” “akin to being dead, without the one benefit of not having to suffer any more,” “like you’re...a walking dead,” and “like you are a living dead person on a [life] support machine.”
Let’s be for real. Some lip service is paid to “rehabilitation” by certain sections of the ruling class. But to understand what is really happening here, we need to step back and look at the larger picture, as concentrated in the quote above from Carl Dix. Rehabilitation is NOT at the heart of the unjust prison system. The massive incarceration of Black and Latino people is not about protecting the society from crime—and few people with their heads on straight would argue that possessing a small amount of marijuana “with the intent to distribute” constitutes a crime against society that should be punishable by life in prison.
Incarcerating over two million people is about wielding the power of the state apparatus to keep whole sections of the population (and particularly Black and Latino people) down, by first of all locking up hundreds of thousands of people which as Carl Dix says has long term implications for them and their families—and in doing that delivering a message broadly to certain sections of society that what awaits them is prison or death. The state apparatus is not a force which “stands above” all the different contending forces in society which mediates the conflicts between them and protects the people as a whole. What we have is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, with not only laws but a state apparatus of repression consisting of the armed forces, the police, the courts, the prisons, the bureaucracies, etc., to maintain the basic economic relations of exploitation and the basic social relations that go along with that in society.
An editorial in the New York Times quotes Burl Cain, the warden who presides over the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, saying, “Everybody forgets what corrections means. It means to correct deviant behavior. If this person can go back and be a productive citizen and not commit crimes again, why spend the money to keep him in prison?” The editors end by saying, “If the United States is to call itself a civilized nation, it must end this cruel and ineffective practice.” (New York Times, 11-16-13)
Indeed, this does raise a huge question of legitimacy for the United States. The supposed “leader of the free world”—with the highest rate of incarceration in the world, that so clearly targets and locks up Black and Latino people disproportionately, many of them youth for whom this system can provide no future, and condemns so many people to a “living death” for very small, non-violent crimes?
And we also have to ask: What kind of system locks away tens of thousands of people who have carried out other crimes—and gives them no hope, no chance, no opportunity to change, rehabilitate or ever make any contribution to society.
What kind of a system looks at people this way? What kind of a system wastes so much human potential?
It is a system of capitalism/imperialism that looks at everything, including human beings, as either something to be used by the system or discardable waste to be controlled and repressed. And in the case of tens of millions of Blacks and Latinos, especially the youth, this system sees them as potentially volatile who must be put under extreme social control.
This system has no reason to treat prisoners with humanity. It has no reason to rehabilitate people. It sees no reason to recognize and act on the fact that people can change—even those who have carried out terrible crimes—and can in turn contribute to society.
In a genuine socialist society, not based on profit, the economic and social institutions would be based on cooperation—enabling people to work for the common good and contribute to the betterment of society and the world. Such a system would have a whole different kind of judicial and penal system that would be part of moving society in the direction of getting rid of all oppression and exploitation. As the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) says:
“In regard to all those convicted and sentenced to be punished for violation of the law, the basic orientation with regard to such imprisonment shall be to rehabilitate the persons convicted and imprisoned, and to release them and reintegrate them as productive members of the larger society, as soon as it may be possible to do so, in accordance with the judgment that this can be done without unacceptable risk and danger to society and the people, and where doing so would not be contrary to what is set forth in this Constitution. To this end, education, in accordance with the principles set forth in this Constitution—and in particular the principle of “solid core, with a lot of elasticity,” including education in the communist worldview and values but also access to a wide variety of political and philosophical, scientific, literary and other works, expressing a diversity of views—shall be afforded prisoners, and they shall be provided with the means to engage in productive work which can make a contribution to society, under conditions which are not only humane but which conform to the general standards of work in society at large. In no case shall persons be kept in prison for a period longer than that provided for by law and through legal proceedings embodying due process of law.”
In this way, such people can be further transformed so they can then take part in the struggle to bring about a whole new world where the prison hellholes of capitalism will only be found in history books.
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
December 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
By a reader in the San Francisco, Bay Area
Oakland, California. On a public bus ride home from high school one afternoon in early November, Luke “Sasha” Fleischman was catching a little nap. Sasha woke up on fire! Was there a terrible accident with the fuel tank of the bus rupturing and spilling flammable liquid through the bus which subsequently lighted—a terrible disaster? No. Another human being set the sleeping 18-year-old Sasha on fire, then got off the bus and ran. Sasha struggled to put out the fire but wasn’t able to. Passengers rushed to help and put out the fire, saving Sasha’s life. Sasha’s skirt had been set ablaze which caused second-and third-degree burns to Sasha’s legs which means months of surgery, skin grafts, etc. Sasha was just released from the hospital this past week and will continue to need treatment for some time.
Sasha’s gender orientation is agender, or gender neutral—Sasha doesn’t identify as male or female.
There was an immediate outpouring of support for Sasha from Sasha’s friends and the community around Maybeck High School in Berkeley, California where Sasha is a senior. Maybeck is a small, private, college preparatory high school that tries to make room for all forms of diversity in its student body. Support also came from the school that Sasha’s alleged attacker attends, Oakland High School. OHS is the oldest public high school in Oakland, with a student body that is 96% Black, Latino, and Asian. Some of the students come from middle class families and many more come from the poorer neighborhoods of such as East Oakland and the Fruitvale district. Students there are very familiar with police brutality and at times have walked out to protest murders by the police, such as the murder of Oscar Grant and others. Some students also walked out in the past in protest against the war in Iraq.
Sasha got some tentative support from the family of the alleged attacker, too. But up to this point there has been little discussion of Sasha’s attacker’s motivation. Only a short police statement saying that the attacker admitted to police that he is homophobic, which the youth’s attorney now says was coerced from his client.
Where did this idea come from that anyone who doesn’t appear “normal” should be attacked? Because he/she doesn’t appear in step with the traditional norms of society, he/she should be burned? We don’t know the motivation of the high school student who attacked Sasha. But we do know that attacks on gay and transgender people (LGBT in general) are increasing, including murder.*
A San Francisco Chronicle article quoted Carolyn Laub, executive director of the Gay Straight Alliance Network saying that “I was horrified by what Sasha had gone through, but I was heartened by the response...so I was struck by the dissonance. It’s that jarring contrast between support and rejection that presents a larger message about where we are as a culture.” The article went on to say, “few would dispute that gender nonconformity is taking a more prominent place in culture. More than 60 percent of public high schools in California have gay-straight alliance clubs on campus...”
In a dramatic and wonderfully defiant action, pretty much the whole student body of Maybeck HS (including faculty and staff) had a “Skirts for Sasha” day, which was colorful, stylish, and lots of fun. Oakland HS students have raised over $1,300 for Sasha, are wearing “NO H8” buttons and had made “Be Yourself” signs. In addition, they have held speak outs, and an anti-bullying assembly was held at the school. Students at Maybeck HS, Oakland HS and others organized a “Stroll for Sasha” march originating at Oakland HS and following the route of the 57 bus which Sasha was riding when attacked. These are great developments and need to be applauded, actively supported—and built on.
*See report of National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs 2012, page 58 and elsewhere.
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
December 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On Friday, November 22, the National Black Theater of Harlem hosted a benefit, featuring Grammy-winning jazz musician Arturo O'Farrill, to raise money for the STOP Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN).
About 150 people came out for what was to be an amazing night. This was a very diverse crowd—Black, white, Latino, and Asian, young and old, people from the projects along with middle-class people, students, activists, and revolutionaries. A host committee of 17 people—including Dr. Cornel West, journalist Herb Boyd, Mimi Rosenberg, actor Gbenga Akinnagbe, and Dr. Antonia Cedrone, along with longtime committed antiwar and anti-repression activists, professors and others—threw in to make the event a success. The STOP Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN) had called for fundraising to enable the network "to enter 2014 on the offensive to reach millions, change the way people view mass incarceration, and bring many of them into this movement." People from all walks of life stepped up to this call in beautiful and inspiring ways—raising funds, lifting spirits, and creating art that celebrated resistance so urgently needed in these times.
Beautiful cards were created to promote the event with this quotation from Arturo O'Farrill:
..In my own small way, I'll use my voice, I'll use what I have, the platform that I've built, the orchestra, the music, the records, the composing, everything I can do, I aim towards the purpose of letting people know that things have got to change. It is the most important thing a person can do.
— Arturo O'Farrill
Welcomes were given by Alejandrina from STOP Mass Incarceration Network, who spoke in English and Spanish, and by Nabii Faison, the director of the National Black Theater. The Reverend Stephen H. Phelps of Riverside Church co-mc'ed with Jamel Mims of the NY Revolution Club and the STOP Mass Incarceration Network.
Arturo O'Farrill's performance was the culmination and centerpiece of the evening. O'Farrill is a world-renowned, two-time Grammy award-winning jazz composer and performer. Dedicated to musicians, he devotes tremendous attention to music training and education and working with young musicians. He performed with a six-piece band that came together for this night, including two of his sons.
Before playing, O'Farrill spoke movingly about what brought him there. He told about becoming a jazz musician, getting more and more well-known, playing on bigger and bigger stages, winning awards, yet feeling that more was required. He said: "Artists have a responsibility to report back to the people what is going on in the world. And what I saw in the world was freaking me out." He talked about the NYPD murder of Ramarley Graham in the bathroom of Graham's house—and how his own son was the same age at that time, and he knew he had to speak out.
He said, "We live in a horrible age, we live in a terrible police state." But still, "I was one of those people who thought, 'What can I do? I'm just a musician.'" But he came to the conclusion that his music and his renown could be a platform to influence other people, and that now he has to do all he can to bring the message of change through his work and voice.
Arturo O'Farrill's band did an extended set of incredible music. Jazz aficionados and those who knew nothing about jazz all came away deeply moved. His set included a mournful and painful "prayer" for the families who have lost children to police brutality, which then segued into the urgent chaos and conflict of Arturo's "Stop and Frisk Blues" followed by a moving lyrical piece, “The Moon Follows Us Wherever We Go” composed by his son, Adam O'Farrill. Arturo O'Farrill described how his father (the famous jazz artist Chico O'Farrill) and his family of musicians have all believed in erasing the boundaries between different kinds of music, and he powerfully transcended categories to reach inside people, grabbing hold of the pain and rage as well as a lyrical humor and soaring beauty.
Near the end of his set, O'Farrill spoke about what holds back other artists from taking a stand, noting that once he started to do this, "People on Facebook and critics were panning my albums for referring to AmeriKKKa—triple K." He alluded to pervasive government spying and repression. He said that "not enough of us in the jazz community speak out. I know a lot of jazz musicians are lovely people... but we're scared, because if you speak out... you can get in a lot of trouble.
"But that's no excuse."
The program leading into Arturo O'Farrill's performance was begun by the Reverend Phelps, who told of being asked to join Carl Dix and Cornel West in getting arrested two years ago to put their bodies on the line to stop the NYPD stop-and-frisk program. He spoke of the prisons and of being in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Drawing from this, he spoke of the moral necessity to act to stop mass incarceration: "It's going to take a long time—it's going to take people putting their lives on the line, because the systems and structures of power do not change without that, but if enough people do that, they cannot stand against it."
Carl Dix—co-founder of SMIN and a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party—spoke of the mass incarceration, stop-and-frisk, racial profiling, police murder, and all the other manifestations of what he described as "a slow genocide that could easily speed up," and he challenged the audience to be part of ending this: "Out of tonight a message has to emanate, not only throughout the city but throughout the country, the whole society. No more to mass incarceration. No more to 2.2 million people in prison. No more to 80,000 of those in prison being subjected to the torture of solitary confinement. No more to the five million former prisoners being treated as second-class citizens in this society. No more to Black and Latino youth being treated as criminals by police, guilty until proven innocent... if they can survive to prove their innocence. No more stop-and-frisk. No more 'Driving while Black. No more police swarming people for the crime of walking while Black, or—this is racist vigilantes doing this—for the crime of going to the store for Skittles and iced tea while Black, or searching for help after an auto accident while Black. To say 'No more' and mean it means we have to bring forward a movement of millions from all different backgrounds who are involved in saying no more to these abuses, and saying it and meaning it."
Dix said, "Through revolution, we can get rid of this system and end the slow genocide of mass incarceration and all the other horrors it enforces on humanity—the attacks on women, the wars for empire, the devastation of the environment and more." He said that there is the leadership needed for this revolution in Bob Avakian, BA, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA: "BA has studied the experience of the previous revolutionary societies and developed a new approach to revolution and communism. We have a plan and strategic approach to getting ready and in a position for such a revolution in a country like this. And we are building a movement for revolution."
The humanity of the criminalized generations and those lost to police murder was alive in the house, drove the performances, and they were named on the stage: 19-year-old Renisha McBride, murdered by a shotgun blast to the head when she sought help from a Dearborn, Michigan, homeowner after a traffic accident; the victims of "shop-and-frisk" in NYC—Black people arrested in department stores for making purchases that store security deemed "too expensive" for Black people. Juanita Young and Nicholas Heyward Sr., who both lost sons to police murder and have fought for many years for justice and to stop police brutality, were in the house and recognized from the stage. The felt loss of Ramarley Graham and Trayvon Martin, and the outrage unleashed and the injustice of their killers being set free by the "justice" system, wove through the performances and the anger of the audience. And the audience gave a lot of love and appreciation to Carl Dix, Noche Diaz, the Reverend Phelps, and others who came together two years ago to begin the mass civil disobedience to STOP stop-and-frisk and build the resistance that has begun to take shape to STOP all the police brutality, mass incarceration, and criminalization of a generation.
Jamal Joseph spoke preceding the performance of the IMPACT Repertory Theatre, which he founded. Joseph is a former Panther, author of Panther Baby; A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention, and a Columbia University professor. IMPACT is a company of Black youth of all ages who come together to use their art to "change the world in a positive way." Jamal Joseph spoke with a forceful eloquence of the necessity for militant resistance to oppression. When he asked the 20 members of the IMPACT group who were arrayed in silent tableau behind him how many of them had relatives who were in or had been in prison, all of them raised their hands. Then the troupe—kids of every age, shape, and size—performed songs and raps of their own words in choreographed numbers that captured not only the energy of the streets, but also the sense of collective strength and joy that comes from commitment to resistance to the day-in and day-out oppression of this system.
An ensemble of actors read excerpts from letters that prisoners have written to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, traversing the ground from a 32-year-old prisoner who said, "I will likely die here, in this cell" but who was looking forward with hopeful anticipation to the statewide prisoner hunger strike in California, through the growing unity of prisoners of all nationalities during that strike, and the growing consciousness of the roots of mass incarceration in the capitalist-imperialist system, and the need for revolution together with people around the planet, to bring about a better world for humanity.
Other moving moments included Noche Diaz, a member of the New York Revolution Club who has been in the forefront of SMIN and the movement to Stop Mass Incarceration, expressing the "honor and privilege" of urging people to donate to SMIN; Jamel Mims of SMIN, who performed two rap pieces he wrote as a contribution to forging a new culture that calls on people to create a new world with new relations among the people, rejecting the degradation and objectification of women in particular; and Kaseem Walters, a young rapper from the Brooklyn neighborhood where 16-year-old Kimani Gray was murdered by police last year, performing raps that included beautifully choreographed signing for deaf people.
After the formal program ended, there was an informal reception marked by enthusiastic discussion about what had just happened, about what the music touched and moved in people, and about the importance of having more evenings like this with art and culture that breathes resistance and revolution. People wrestled with the challenge to build a mass movement of millions with the breadth and determination to wage a society wide fight to put a stop to the slow genocide of mass incarceration. Conversations turned to revolution as well—grappling with the deep need and desire to bring about a world where, as one of the prisoner letters and Carl Dix said, no more generations of our youth will be criminalized, harassed, degraded, and murdered by the system and its enforcers.
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
December 5, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
We encourage readers to continue to write on the special issue of Revolution with their thoughts and ideas for taking it out.
Letter from a Reader
I want to share some initial thinking—including on radically simple campus plans—around the recent special issue of Revolution newspaper, #323, November 24, 2013, "You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About ... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future."
First, a quick word of appreciation. I have been carefully reading and studying the interview with Raymond Lotta and am learning a lot from HOW he goes at the questions from the interviewers—not only picturing in the abstract, but also feeling transported to and "living in" the social reality confronted and changed by the past revolutions and socialist societies—all of which contributes to the sweep of this experience, and is approached from a scientific 'macro' vantage point of what these revolutions faced, what they were trying to accomplish and transform, and how they went about doing it, guided by what leading conceptions, method and approach.
I feel this gives a very living—and scientific—sense of these revolutions, their theoretical breakthroughs and what they accomplished against great odds, and where and how they fell short ... and while truly momentous and breathtaking, the need to and how we can do better and go further the next time around. I also particularly appreciated the sharp contrasts with societies ruled by the very people who relentlessly slander and spread lies about the communist experience, with all its problems and shortcomings, truly a "far better world."
Second, my basic thinking was that even as campuses wind down the fall semester and precious few days are left on the academic calendar, we should take a big stack of these special issues, go to the campuses and as we approach and talk to folks about the massive multi-faceted fundraising campaign to get BA Everywhere. We should get this issue in the hands of professors, graduate and undergraduate students, administrators and others. We should also get this issue to everyone who over the last decade has raised any questions and/or objections about these experiences of communist revolution in the Soviet Union and China—whether sincere and wanting to learn, or informed by the pervasive slander, or as is so often the case, just ignorantly and uncritically parroting "conventional wisdom," or otherwise.
This does not require a whole "production" involving hours of preparation but individuals and groupings can do this rather simply - and quickly - at times of their convenience—with a basic, friendly but challenging, approach informed by the title, because the vast majority of intellectuals today, including and especially on these campuses ... Don't Know What They think they know about... this experience. Distributing this issue is not—and should not be—"antagonistic" but it does challenge what and how folks think ... and this particular question is high-stakes, having everything to do with whether this is the "best of all possible worlds" or a radically different and far better world is possible—and what is the "... REAL path to emancipation" as the title so eloquently states.
Given these stakes, for people of conscience, and/or agonizing in some aspect about the state of the planet and humanity, the challenge can be put to people on the moral and intellectual responsibility—and courage—to follow through on their convictions, to learn—for themselves, and with the right method—what is true and what is not, how to correctly and scientifically view and assess these first attempts of humanity to consciously free itself. As it says in the important sidebar article in the same issue "But How Do We Know Who's Telling the Truth About Communism", "you definitely don't decide what's true... by looking at "what most people think" which unfortunately is the dominant criteria today.
Get the issue to people on the campuses, referencing, tell them to read it over the winter break, and you want to hear their thoughts, either over the break or when school reopens. This special issue can be transformative in changing the thinking of blocs of people on this question—and part of opening the lids on and changing the discourse on what kind of society and change is desirable and possible.
Third, and briefly in closing, it is important to realize, in the real world, the positive dynamic with the fundraising this is, and for BA Everywhere—because these questions on the past communist revolutions addressed in the main interview generally arise rather quickly in any serious engagement with what BA represents and has advanced in the new synthesis of communism—and the kind of atmosphere, ferment and process this special issue can potentially unleash in different scenes and among people, the thinking it transforms, and new pathways it creates and opens up to raise the kind of funds needed to project BA Everywhere.
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
December 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
After watching the discussion between Sunsara Taylor and Dr. Willie Parker* at Revolution Books, we decided that there needed to be a quick and dirty protest at UC Berkeley to draw attention to the emergency situation unfolding around abortion rights. We sent out a mass email, called the folks we knew, and tried to call on the women's studies department and others to take part.
Five folks who had been around the movement for revolution and two who are fairly new to it went out to the center of campus with a banner that read "Abortion Rights Emergency; Texas—Mississippi—Albuquerque; Stop the War on Women," Revolution newspaper, and a banner for students to sign. We agitated at the lunch rush about the speed at which this essential right is being stolen from women, that this was about, as Sunsara Taylor said in the discussion, whether women will be seen as full human beings or reduced to breeders.
We also talked about how this was part of a larger war on women and a system of patriarchy that could only be done away with through revolution. We distributed palm cards for the upcoming showing of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!
The response from students, women in particular, was positive—many coming over to find out more, to sign up, and to sign the banner. One woman, who was walking with her daughter, responded to the agitation that this would mainly affect poor women and women of color and would steal their futures and foreclose on their lives. "FUCK THAT! That's what I'm gonna write on this banner." Her daughter invited us to speak to her women's empowerment group on campus. A young man said he really agreed with the main message: "People shouldn't be able to impose their religion on other people, the separation of church and state is so important." A lot of people, women in particular, were attracted to the banner and some took pictures.
There was one very enthusiastic young woman who had a lot of agreement, but as we talked she had a lot of questions as well. "Why do we emphasize abortion so much? What about contraception?" "I can get behind the abortion on demand, but I don't know about the 'without apology' part, what if the woman regrets it." She was confusing, as many people do, the strong feelings related to making a major life decision with the guilt that comes from feeling you've done something morally wrong, which comes from the propaganda that you're killing a baby. "It's really good what you're doing, but what people need to be doing is dealing with those Republican states, because we all agree here." Just as we were explaining that there is actually a lot of confusion about abortion and why it's worth fighting for, a young Asian woman with a cross on her neck came up literally crying and asking how could we be saying what we're saying, "I'm a straight-A student, and if my mom had had an abortion, I wouldn't be here." I guess the bad students should have been aborted.
One Latino guy was very concerned with the anti-science part of the fundamentalist movement, spreading ignorance, but saw it too much as being the fault of the Republicans. We talked about how the Democrats have mainly been going along with this and consciously not mounting any serious fight to halt it.
We were able to meet up with a couple students later that evening off of this protest, one of whom, an atheist religious studies student, has started BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, and is reading Bob Avakian's Away With All Gods! They were both very excited about the showing of REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! and took cards to turn some friends on to the film.
* Editor's note: Dr. Willie Parker is one of the two heroic abortion doctors who regularly fly to Mississippi to provide abortions. On October 27, Dr. Parker (via Skype) and Revolution correspondent Sunsara Taylor discussed this state of emergency and what people can do to turn the tide. The video is available at http://vimeo.com/77949722. Readers should also check out the "Revolution Interview: Dr. Willie Parker, Doctor at the Last Abortion Clinic in Mississippi" by Sunsara Taylor. [back]
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
December 9, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Ju Hong is a 24-year-old student of Korean ancestry. On November 25, Ju disrupted a speech by President Obama in a community center in San Francisco's Chinatown. Obama was well into his presentation and was talking about immigrants and native-born people having a "shared responsibility to leave this country more generous, more hopeful than we found it," when Ju Hong, who was one of the human photo props on the stage behind Obama, began shouting over him.
"Mr. Obama," he said, "my family has been separated for 19 months now. I've not seen my family. Our families are separated. I need your help. There are thousands of people torn apart every single day. Mr. President, please use your executive order to halt deportations for all 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in this country right now. Do you agree that we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform at the same time we... you have a power to stop deportation for all undocumented immigrants in this country."
Several people in the audience of 300 began chanting "Stop deportations! Yes we can! Stop deportations!" Others chanted in support of Obama.
Security personnel moved to force Ju Hong and others out of the room, but Obama told them to stop. He then concluded his speech with a condescending lecture to the young protesters. He completely ignored the fact that record levels of people have been deported in the years of his presidency, claimed his hands were tied from stopping further deportations, and accused Ju and other protesters of "taking the easy way out. What I'm proposing is the harder path, which is to use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal you want to achieve. But it won't be as easy as just shouting. It requires us lobbying and getting it done."
Books could be written exposing what a load of bullshit is contained in those three-and-a- half sentences. What has the capitalist system's democratic process meant for immigrants during the years of Obama's presidency? It has meant that the vicious, systematic, relentless attacks upon immigrants underway for decades in this country have greatly intensified in the Obama years.
Deportations are at an all-time high, far outstripping—in fact basically doubling—the numbers of people ripped away from their lives, their families and friends, their schools and jobs, during the Bush years. A federal system of immigration prisons has become "the largest immigration detention infrastructure in the world," according to the Global Detention Project, and many thousands more immigrants are imprisoned in city and county jails across the country. Government officials, including Obama, claim U.S. laws are focused on deporting "criminal aliens"; in fact most of the people imprisoned have been charged with only the most minor of crimes and many with none at all. Special prisons have been used to hold immigrant children, and immigrant children have also been placed in prisons and other forms of confinement for adults. Hundreds of immigrants have been tortured with prolonged solitary confinement.
The U.S.-Mexico border decades ago was turned into a war zone against oppressed people seeking to earn a living, and has become far more militarized during the Obama years: a $600 million bill Obama signed in October 2010 led to more Border Patrol, police forces of all types, and military personnel scouring the border; double and triple fences of razor wire, drones overhead and sensor monitors in the ground; multiple barriers and checkpoints on every road leading north from the border—and more of all the above to come. Just this week, officials in Texas announced that "continual surges" of a "beefed up presence of boots on the ground and patrols in the air and water" were being unleashed upon the Rio Grande Valley.
A hateful anti-immigrant atmosphere has spread like a malignant virus from state to state while Obama has been president, and at least 164 anti-immigrant laws were enacted in 2010 and 2011. Federal "landmark legislation" that Obama has worked for and was promoting in his recent trip to California has, as its essence—and as agreed to by Democrats and Republicans alike—"an interlocking web of repression: enforced registration with the government, mandatory electronic identification, and heightened militarization and control of the U.S./Mexico border. This would represent an ominous, fascistic leap in repression of immigrants in this country, and would lay the basis for truly monstrous crimes on a large scale in times of severe crisis and shock to the system." (From the Revolution article, "An Ominous Leap in Repression and the Need for Resistance")
Intense repression and exploitation of immigrants is cemented deeply into the very functioning of the capitalist-imperialist system. This system relies on brutal exploitation of immigrants for its continued existence; yet it fears the crumbling of a social coherence that has white supremacy and "English Only" as two of its pillars.
Ju Hong boldly called out Obama's hypocrisy and responsibility for his part in spearheading and promoting the attacks on immigrants, in a setting Obama undoubtedly regarded as part of his "home court." Ju spoke of the predicament millions of people in this country are trapped in by cruel government attacks. Especially as Obama and Congressional leaders again seem to be maneuvering to come to terms on the new law or laws mentioned above, and as protest demanding that the attacks stop continues, it is crucial that resistance go to much wider, deeper, and fiercer levels, among all sections of people.
Revolution will continue to report on these developments in the weeks and months ahead.
Revolution #324 December 15, 2013
December 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On November 25, a university "rally" of hundreds was held in response to a racist hate crime on the San Jose State University campus. Some students wore duct tape over their mouths as a symbol of their protests against racism being repeatedly ignored, as well as the fact that no students had been scheduled to speak at this rally! The University President Mohammed Qayoumi spoke (offering apologies for having "failed") as well as the NAACP. Students were finally given the podium after making their demands known.
Some of the students raised their fists at the foot of the statue honoring former Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos who raised their fists at the playing of the national anthem during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. (According to The Nation, SJSU is known to many as the birthplace of Black athletes' protest in the 1960s.)
Starting in August, a series of racist incidents began when a Black freshman was racially harassed by his four dorm roomates who were white. They called him "3/5" or "fraction" in reference to the U.S. Constitution's definition of a slave. They displayed a Confederate flag and Nazi memorabilia on their wall; they frequently locked him in the room; and once collared him with a bike lock, throwing away the key.
Although other campus officials knew about these incidents from parents and other dorm residents as far back as October, nothing was done until protests broke out, and only then were they even suspended by the campus. The District Attorney Jeff Rosen has now charged the racists with misdemeanors. (In a sidenote, a former Santa Clara County judge wrote in the San Jose Mercury News that NOT filing the charges as a felony sends a message that these crimes are "not serious.") In essence, the university and the DA were dismissing it as a "prank" or "joke."
But these types of incidents go back a long way at San Jose State University. According to the San Jose Mercury News, "Gary Daniels [of the Black Unity Group] said black student groups had tried for a year to meet with [University President] Qayoumi, and that they had sent him ideas for making black students—who make up about 3% of the student body—feel safer and more welcome on campus." At the rally, Black and other students of color complained of having their programs inadequately funded, and their requests ignored. One of the speakers at this rally was Denise Johnson, whose son Gregory was found dead at a fraternity house in 2008. Although the death was ruled a suicide, she believes it was a hate crime!
The anger of many students remains strong; although one student noted "look at all these other students just walking by. This should have stopped the university in its tracks. It should have been shut down!" One Latino student said, " Hell, this is unacceptable. These things can not be tolerated. No one should have to put up with this. These things are aimed at all of us. These things jump lines."
More demonstrations are planned for next week.