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Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
January 6, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed and became an instant tomb for more than 1,100 people. Aside from the dead, many others are now maimed for life, their bodies mangled, without arms and legs. The incident became emblematic of a world of inequalities. But what people aren't talking about is why capitalism must generate such inequalities.
Since this disaster, the deadliest in the history of the garment industry, questions have been raised: Who should be responsible to the victims' families? What can be done to prevent this from happening again? What is the culpability of companies like Walmart that outsource to factories in Third World countries?
Many have pointed to the unfair, unsafe, sweatshop conditions of the workers in Rana Plaza: that Bangladesh has one of the lowest costs of labor in the world with the national minimum wage at 21 cents an hour, or $38 per month; that the eight-story building was so shoddily built that workers had reported massive cracks in the walls the day before and refused to work—but factory owners coldly calculated that deadlines were more important than safety so workers were told if they didn't return to work their pay would be cut.
Millions around the world looked at this horrific incident and what it says about the gross inequalities in the world. Many people are not just aware of, but appalled by the fact that we live in a world where so many people live in conditions of misery, poverty, and starvation. Some talk about how capitalism is "greedy" and "unfair" for the majority of people who live on this globe.
But what is really needed—to get at the problem AND the solution—is a lot more discussion and understanding about WHY capitalism, by its very nature, HAS TO generate such inequality and impoverishment. WHY the economic laws that govern the system of capitalism will and can only lead to horrors like what happened in Rana Plaza. That no amount of regulation, reform, compensation, or even capitalists with good intentions who try to treat the workers fairly, is going to fundamentally change this hellish situation. That what is really needed is REVOLUTION to get rid of this system of capitalism, and to replace it with a whole new economic and political system working towards the emancipation of humanity worldwide.
The story of Rana Plaza provides a lesson in exactly this point.
Mango is an international fashion brand based in Spain that ships 60 million garments a year. At the time of the disaster, it had arranged to have 25,000 samples of polo shirts and other items produced at the Phantom Tac factory in Rana Plaza. This factory, a recent New York Times article noted, "could be regarded as an unlikely attempt to prove that a Bangladeshi factory could be socially responsible and make a profit." But let's look at what these efforts to be a "socially responsible" factory really show.
One of the owners of the Phantom Tac factory, David Mayor in Spain, did seem to be trying to do some good things. His fashion clothes, for example, had the motto "clothing with a heart." Mayor said he wanted to show it was possible to run an ethical business in which workers were trained well and treated with respect. He teamed up with a Vatican missionary to offer a training program aimed at poor women in rural Bangladesh who flock to Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital, in search of work. He hired about a dozen of them at his own factory. He wanted consumers to understand how their clothes are made, so he created a website to connect them with workers sewing their clothes. He opened a shop in Dhaka where clothes had a code on the sales tag so that buyers could type this in and learn about the Bangladeshi women who had made the garments they had bought. (See "Clothing Brands Sidestep Blame for Safety Lapses," New York Times, December 30, 2013.)
All this, of course, took money to set up. It took money to finance the rural training program. It took money to set up the shop in Dhaka. A woman was hired to develop the website. So what happens when someone like Mayor tries to "do something good" like this in the whole setup of capitalism?
Well, first of all, Mayor was not operating in a vacuum. He had to go up against all kinds of other capitalists all over the world who are trying to make a profit just like him. Other capitalists who are not spending this extra money on "socially conscious" projects.
Think of all the different companies around the world making clothes. There's a lot of anarchy here—uncertainty, disorder, and chaos.
By the time Mr. Mayor had set up his factory in Rana Plaza, he had already bought machinery, the cotton for the shirts, and bought people's labor to work and was paying them wages for that. He had already invested all that, and that money was gone—it was now embodied in the machinery, the raw materials, and the wages. So the only way he could get that back—plus end up with more capital in the form of more money, or profit—was to exploit the people working for his company—to have them produce more value than all the money he had invested in the first place. Then he had to sell the products, the shirts, in order to realize his profit.
BUT here's where the anarchy of capitalist commodity production and exchange comes in. Every capitalist is competing with all the other capitalists doing the same thing all over the world, facing the same compulsion to "expand or die," to beat out your competitors—or go under. And this requires cutting costs at every step along the way.
The fact of the matter is: The capitalists who aren't doing extra socially conscious projects like training programs for young girls in rural Bangladesh or connecting consumers in the West with factory workers in the Third World—which cost money—are going to have a competitive edge over someone like Mayor. So eventually Mayor will have to either stop such programs or go under.
In a 2008 interview in the World Trade Review, Mayor said he'd figured out that he would have to charge an extra 10 cents per piece to really improve the lives of his workers. And he said, "When you are a manufacturer negotiating orders with buyers that 10 cents becomes very important, it is very competitive and 10 cents becomes a lot."
In fact, Mango set up production in Bangladesh at Rana Plaza in order to cut costs to be more competitive. The New York Times noted: "Technology and investment are transforming the upper end of the industry, enabling Mango and other brands to increase sales, manage global inventories with pinpoint precision and introduce new clothes faster than ever—all as consumers now expect to see new things every time they visit a store. But these brands depend on factories in developing countries like Bangladesh, where wages are very low and the pressure to work faster and cheaper has spawned familiar problems: unsafe buildings, substandard work conditions, and repeated wage and labor violations."
While Mayor was trying to carry out some socially conscious projects, workers at the Phantom Tac factory said deadline pressures were relentless. Managers hid excessive overtime or other wage violations. There were violations of child labor. Conditions in the factory deteriorated as the company began to focus on winning larger orders. Right before the building collapse, under pressure to meet orders, workers were forced to work through the night. Workers were told if they complained they'd lose their job. (Reuters, "Bangladesh disaster crushes owner's ideal of clothes with a conscience," June 16, 2013)
Mayor's factory was just a small part of Mango's worldwide operations where a big part of its "growth strategy" has been placing a premium on efficiency, cost and speed. No room here for any extra "socially responsible" costs.
Eventually Mayor had to tighten expenses at his factory in Rana Plaza. He stopped funding the training program for women in the rural areas. The person developing the consumer website left.
Now, 200 of the men and women who worked in Mayor's factory—bent over their machines for 12 or more hours a day for barely enough to live on—are dead and others are now living with bodies crushed beyond repair.
Mayor has disappeared and his business partner in Bangladesh is in jail in connection with the building collapse.
The 4,500 garment factories in Bangladesh and the 3.6 million garment workers in Bangladesh who are mostly women are part of a $1 trillion global clothing industry. Garment manufacturing in Bangladesh is a $20 billion industry. It is the mainstay of the country's economy, employing 40 percent of the country's industrial workforce. Bangladesh is the second-largest exporter of garments in the world (after China)—garments account for 80 percent of the country's exports. The bulk of these exports, 60 percent, go to Europe; 23 percent go to the United States—more than to any other individual nation.
In the business of making clothes, just like any other business, a capitalist has to get a bigger and bigger share of the market. Each one has to keep fighting to outdo their competitors or go under—and have to continually cheapen costs in order to stay alive. This means seeking out the lowest, most exploitative wages. This means cutting costs wherever possible—even if it means shoddy and dangerous working conditions. This means denying workers any kind of organizing rights. This means violating safety codes that if followed would require spending money.
The needless deaths of the workers in Rana Plaza teach us a lesson about the problem AND the solution.
There is no such thing as capitalism without inequality, without exploitation, without misery, without horrific disasters like what happened in Rana Plaza. This hellish situation is dictated by the very nature and laws of how this system must and can only operate. And yes, no amount of regulation, reform, compensation, or capitalists with good intentions who try to treat the workers fairly, is going to fundamentally change this hellish situation. What is really needed IS revolution to get rid of this system of capitalism, and to replace it with a whole new economic and political system working towards the emancipation of humanity worldwide.
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
Originally published January 1, 2014 | Republished October 19, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
This statement from Bob Avakian, first issued on New Year's Day, 2014, remains timely and profoundly relevant.
This is Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, with a New Year's message—A Call To REVOLUTION.
We need a new world, a radically different world.
Look at the world today. Destruction of the environment. Youth in the inner cities robbed of a future, "presumed guilty" for being Black or Brown, hounded and shot down by police, incarcerated in huge numbers. Women raped, battered and murdered, denied their basic humanity and their full potential as human beings. People scorned, bullied, brutalized for being gay, or just being "different." Millions of children dying every year from starvation and disease. Immigrants driven from their homelands, forced into the shadows, exploited, deported, ripped away from their children. Slaughter and enslavement in the name of one god or another. Wars, torture, and massive government spying.
Things are this way because of the system that rules over us and declares its "special right" to rule the world. A system like this is a system that no one should put up with or go along with. It needs to be swept off the face of the earth. And it can be.
This system is not a mystery, or something that only a few people can understand. And it is not all-powerful. This system has a name—capitalism. This system is full of contradictions—an economy based on ruthless exploitation and dog-eat-dog competition, repeated crises, unemployment and poverty...savage inequalities...claims of "peace" and "justice for all" that are bitter lies—contradictions that this system cannot resolve. All this is the basis to bring this system down and bring something much better into being.
A lot of people say: "You can't really change things. Nobody cares what we think. Those who have the power don't give a damn about us." Yeah, they don't—but so what! Their power is illegitimate anyway—a law and order of injustice and exploitation, enforced with brutality, murder, high-tech assassination and devastation, here and worldwide. It needs to be overthrown.
And what we do matters a great deal. Our lives should be, and can be, about something with meaning and purpose that is really worth living for and fighting for. Why should we do what they want us to do—killing and crippling each other, trying to beat down or beat out each other, ending up in jail, or paralyzed, or dead at an early age—instead of joining together to go up against the system that has got us in this mess in the first place? Why should we accept the lies that people who are of a different color, or live in a different place, or speak a different language, or love in a different way, are less than human and deserve to be locked up, or beaten down, or murdered? Why should girls and women be treated like things, whose only value is to be used for sex and having babies? Why should we go along with the sickening culture of this system which says money is more important than people, and people are only a means to make money? Why should we believe that "it's all in god's hands," when all this horror and suffering is completely unnecessary and could be ended? Why should we accept the way things are, or just try to make things a little bit better, still living within this system that will keep on destroying the lives of human beings, and denying a decent future to the youth, all over the world?
We need to, and we can, do much better than this. We can change all this—we can change ourselves as we change the world—Fighting the Power, and Transforming the People, for REVOLUTION.
Revolution is not an impossible dream. It is not "unrealistic." Changing all of society, changing the whole world, is not a crazy or dangerous idea. What is crazy, and dangerous, is going along with the way things are, and where things are heading, under this system. Revolution—a radical change in how society works, how we relate as human beings, what our values are, how we understand the world and act to affect it—this is what we, what people all over the world, desperately need. And it is a lot more realistic than trying to "fix" this system.
People say: "Revolution has been tried, and it didn't work. It got smashed, or turned into something worse than what it was fighting against. Everybody has given up on revolution." No. The process of revolution has gone through twists and turns, mistakes have been made, there have been setbacks and defeats—but the truth is that, in its short history so far, the communist revolution has accomplished great things on a road of liberation never before taken. This revolution remains the only road which can actually bring about a radically different and much better world. As long as human beings continue to be exploited and abused, there will be the need and the possibility for this revolution.
And everybody has not given up on revolution. On my part, I have not just refused to give up, but have recognized the need to make new breakthroughs for this revolution. I have gone to work to learn from the experience of revolution, and from experience more broadly, and this has led to a new synthesis of communism—a deeper, even more scientific understanding of the methods, the goals, the strategy and plan for making revolution and creating a new society. On this basis, our Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, is right now building a movement for revolution, and we are building our Party as the leadership that is needed for that revolution. But this movement and this Party have to get much stronger. More and more people need to get with this.
I call on youth in the inner cities, men and women in prison, people struggling just to keep from going under, mocked by the lie that "you can make it if you try," all those catching hell under this system, everyone deeply troubled by the desperate situation and dismal future facing so many youth—I call on students, academics, musicians and other artists, all those outraged by the crimes perpetrated by this system, everyone who agonizes over the state of the world and the future of humanity—to seriously get into this revolution. Go to the website revcom.us, and read the newspaper Revolution, where our Party puts forward why we need revolution, what the goals of this revolution are, and how to work for this revolution. With the guidelines this provides, thousands can move now in a unified way and build up the basis to lead millions when the time comes. Fighting back against the injustices of this system, and learning as we fight. Spreading and deepening the movement for revolution—preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution—in the neighborhoods and schools, everywhere people are who need to know about and join in this revolution. Helping to bring about, and getting ready for the time when millions can be led to go for revolution, all-out, with a real chance to win.
This is no joke, and it is not just some "grand idea" with no basis "in the real world." It is real, and it is being taken up with a serious, scientific method and approach—and with the joy of striving for a world where the suffering and madness that is now daily life for the masses of humanity will be gone, and whole new dimensions of freedom and of human potential will open up for people everywhere, no longer divided into rich and poor, masters and slaves, rulers and ruled. No longer fighting and slaughtering each other, but working together for the common good. No longer destroying, but acting as fit caretakers for the earth. This is communism, the goal of our revolution, a future—for the youth, for all of humanity—that is truly worth dedicating our lives to.
This is Bob Avakian, with a message of revolution. The challenge is there. The leadership is there. What's needed...is you.
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
January 2, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Happy New Year!
On the first minute of the new year, Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA—BA—sent out a message of revolution, and ended with a challenge.
Let's begin meeting that challenge, now.
First, let's listen again to, reflect on, and discuss this message.
Then let's start the new year by making a renewed effort to carry forward the nationwide campaign of BA Everywhere—raising funds from people of all walks of life to make Bob Avakian and the new synthesis of communism that he has brought forward a major question in society, a real pole contending against all the dead ends and non-solutions out there.
Let's spread BA's New Year's message through the internet, sent out to all friends old and new, including those who don't already agree, with a renewed challenge for the funding that can truly begin to make BA a household word in society.
When we get out in the streets this week, let's have the audio ringing on street corners. Let's take the time to listen to it with people around kitchen tables and community centers... and let's make sure the printed statement is coursing through the neighborhoods and busy streets, posted up in dorm rooms and passed out at the bus stops where students begin to return to college.
In all of this—we should continue to find ways, new and old, to involve more and more people in ever broader fund-raising. Let's give people an opportunity to contribute to letting the whole world know that there is a way out of the madness of this system and a real potential for a radically new and better world. Learn from what is on the website, and contribute your experience to meeting this goal and building this movement for revolution.
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
January 6, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
In December, a group of people from Harlem and the Bronx in New York City teamed up for a project to raise money for the BA Everywhere campaign. They decided to make and sell sweet potato pies and cookies during the holidays. They set a goal of $1,000 and raised $700 of it by the end of December. Revolution talked with several of the people involved to learn more about this effort—including a woman from Harlem who wrote a statement (see below) that played an important role in the project.
Revolution: How did this project come about?
A: We had been brainstorming some questions about: can we really get a significant number of people to donate to BA Everywhere? Through the work in helping to build for the Arturo O’Farrill concert [a benefit for the Stop Mass Incarceration Network] and especially the premiere celebration for the film Stepping into the Future, a significant amount of people came together to talk to each other and got to know each other, and there was a lot of inspiration. We called on B to play a big role, and she stepped up with her statement as a unifier.
B: I felt challenged with the statement. Wanted to make clear this is something we could do. Regardless of the gender and ethnicity, people could come together in harmony and do something significant, and the outcome was the bake sale. That’s what made the project so amazing. In fact you had a 12-year-old who volunteered his services and helped deliver the pies and cookies. You had a guy who just came out of prison who had the skills to bake the pies and led us in baking 30 pies. A person who lent us their apartment so we could do this and come together. Lots of other people who volunteered their services and all came together. The major thing was to get out BA’s name, to help it spread everywhere.
Revolution: How did you set the goal of raising $1,000? Was there any controversy around it?
A: B did the statement that was very inspiring, and it was read at the get-together of people before the Stepping into the Future premiere celebration. People really took it up. One guy said, “My aunt could bake 12 pies.” He had already gone out to raise money for this. A lot of people were saying, “I want to help,” “I want to do this.” They were calling their friends. We could see there was the necessity, the basis. The “$1000 Challenge from a Neighborhood Revolution Club,” written by a young Latina, that went up on revcom.us was in our minds.
C: The challenge from the young Latina was what spurred it. We didn’t have a goal of $1,000 at first. People were saying, “Can we actually raise a significant amount of money?” Folks say, “I don’t have money, folks in the projects don’t have money, I work all the time. What can we actually do?” The statement by B was really important, what brought everybody together. There was tremendous enthusiasm for what BA brought forward among people at the core of this, people getting into Stepping into the Future, watching Revolution—Nothing Less!, people understanding the importance of this being out in society, what difference this could make.
The statement by B was taken to Riverside Church [a progressive church in Harlem]. We sold a significant number of pies there simply by reading the statement. Some people compared it to the program eulogizing Mandela [which took place a few days earlier at the church]. One woman said about the statement, “This is talking about changing the world. All I heard at [the Mandela event] was self-congratulatory promotion.” She immediately dug in her pocket and ordered a pie.
Somebody inspired by B’s statement went to all their neighbors, read the statement and “An Invitation” from BA. He said, “I’m going to read this before we eat the pie.” This was a middle class person—it shows the way in which this was reaching out and affecting other folks.
Revolution: [to B] What did you think about the goal?
B: Definitely, I wanted to rock and roll with it! I was fired up. I’m still fired up. Actually I’ve been fired up ever since I first heard BA’s works in 2013. I figured I need to do something. I don’t have much money. But I need to do something, I can’t just stand there and don’t do nothing, I can’t close my eyes, I have to face this and have to do something. A lot of it is out of frustration and seeing the world is getting worse. A lot of it is, I really want the word of BA to get out because people need to hear this. They need to know that there’s someone who’s willing to stand up and say this is not right and challenge other people, and if you feel this way, say let’s do this, let’s do something positive. Come with me, let’s do this. His saying that it’s not just him doing it. He needs everyone—the carpenters, the cooks, everybody—to make the world like that. That’s the challenge. That should be everybody’s challenge.
C: People who did this, who came together to do it, some are a step away from being homeless, or are homeless, a step away from being in prison and a step away from going back, a young kid 12 years old from projects. Folks like that. Reflection of the point that BA makes in BAsics 3:16 about how people who the system has counted for nothing can count for a great deal in what they can actually do when they do come together, how much more actually is possible.
Revolution: What was it like when you all came together to make the pies and cookies?
B: Amazing. Not the bickering and the cussing. People in the room, all various ages, all genders and then there’s this kid, and the most important thing is this kid is hearing the adult conversation and watching what they’re doing and people conversating as they’re making pies and cookies. Conversations around everyday life, and BA was coming up. Relationships and how it’s affected. We was talking about especially around people of color. Sexism in America. Definitely talking about BA. Looking at BAsics. Found out in things that was said we had a lot in common. Had a lot to do with everyday experiences, job-related, being incarcerated, how we grew up. Even a simple thing that we found out this one lives on this block and I live across the street.
A: One guy, who was two months out of prison, started talking in a very moving way about how every door is closed and what that means to your spirit. How much he wanted to form a stable relationship, to love someone and have someone love you. He’d been in prison all his life on and off—25 years, and he’s only 40 something. All his youth. Bringing this out very honestly. We barely knew this guy. All these women started in a very comradely way helping him.
B: You get a bunch of women and you hear, “All men are dogs,” but it wasn’t like that. We felt his pain. We was trying to give him suggestions and really be there for him. Also felt we had a lot of stuff in common. Issues of how society looks at relationships, what Black men face. He saw Stepping into the Future but never seen Revolution—Nothing Less! We watched a part of that, the first part of the film.
A: He needed to know that BA addresses those questions. Everything that he has felt, BA addresses—and that’s the key thing we wanted to get across to him. We are opening the door for you. You need to look at this. You need to listen.
C: He was coming from, “Why is this stuff happening? Why is this happening to me?” You were bringing out, “Why is this happening to billions of people around the world?”
A: That’s where B and the other woman were coming from when you talked to him. Black men and how they were attacked.
B: We spoke to him about how in the history, how slavery played a part in that, how the family was divided and the woman had to take on more roles—from that point to now, and how the man is treated now. Job-wise, and how the Black woman will get a job before the Black man and how unequal....we went to children, and the different roles in the family. Basically, we wanted him to know that BA got you. When we say he got you, we mean: He thought about all of that, he analyzed all of that. All the time we baking pies, and he’s the leader. Amazing, because this was a group of people that nobody would have expected to be in the same room together and getting along—and it’s no racial division, there’s no putting nobody down, degrading anybody or anything. We all have a common bond, we all have a common goal, and it worked. The whole issue was BA and you need to get with this, and this is how it’s supposed to be.
A: Another cool part of that, and I don’t know all the conversations that went on, it was hard work—a young woman, revolutionary young person, very much part of the Abortion Freedom Ride, she participated at certain points about women and what they face. One time he said, “I read in the newspaper that women, they only want men for sex and only interested in their careers. Is this true? I try to talk to women on the street and they turn away in disgust.” This guy was very honest. He found an atmosphere where he could talk. She started talking about how women have to steel themselves before they go out the door. I think there was some talk about pornography. I don’t think he’d ever heard this stuff before.
B: Most men is taught to be the “hero”—come to me, I’m the protector—where they are also taught to disrespect people, particularly women. I know he didn’t expect that, he did this and didn’t think of this as disrespect—that’s what he’s been taught how to “get a woman.”
A: All the roles that men are put in, he can’t meet any of that due to having been a prisoner. “When you first meet a woman you have to spend $300. Borrow from my friends.” He was finding himself in an environment where there was a vision of something new—because you guys were very much utilizing not just your experience, but what you had learned through this movement.
B: BA talks a lot about women, and the youth and all the spaces you hold, and that was brought up. We challenged him to look at BA, BAsics and his speeches. When you listen to BA you could almost close your eyes and picture him speaking to you. He doesn’t go over your head. You can’t fall asleep on him...you cannot. BA is the type of person who is very amusing. He challenges you, things you don’t even think about, it’s in your face every day. After you listen to BA you’re not going to forget it.
Revolution: Your team raised about $700 with the holiday bake sale, which was great, but that was short of the goal of $1,000. Tell us about the challenge you’ve issued to people to help meet the goal.
B: We’re hoping that people will match us and that we will reach our goal of $1,000 by January 11. We’re urging people to open their hearts as well as their pockets and write checks—and if they any bakers out there, to help us. The goal is to get BA’s name and viewpoints heard globally.
C: Everybody can give something. There’s a vast reservoir of people who can be involved. We’re calling on people who have means to match this challenge—going out to them with the statement, and showing them that there were people from Harlem and the Bronx organizing like this. That goal should be matched numerous times: OK, this was raised in Harlem, I’m going to give $1,000 or a couple of thousand. There were people who liked the pies and have said, when are you going to do that again? We’re working with people at core of doing this to get penny jars spread to friends and family and have 20 jars filled by the BA Everywhere “Bring in the New” party/celebration on January 11. We have one with over $11 in it, and need 19 more with $15 plus to make up the $300. The 12-year-old who helped make pies and deliver them, he’s going to make wristbands, and sell them for 50 cents or a dollar.
B: I really want to thank the Revolution Club. You always hear adults say, “Kids are always killing each other,” all the negatives. And this is a group of kids coming together for the revolution, and they helped deliver the cookies and pies, particularly that one 12-year-old. That’s what we’re doing this for, the ones BA is talking about.
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
by Li Onesto | December 16, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
When a judge ruled on December 3 that Detroit could not pay its debts, the place best known for making cars and soul music became the largest U.S. city to declare bankruptcy. The judge also decided that as part of restructuring its debt, Detroit could cut pensions, affecting some 23,000 retired municipal workers.
The judge declared that with his ruling, Detroit now has an "opportunity for a fresh start." But the people living in Detroit are already suffering from unemployment, poverty, cutbacks, and lack of social services, and all signs point to things only getting worse.
In 1950, Detroit was the fifth largest city in the U.S., with 1.85 million people. Today Detroit's population of only 700,000 continues to shrink. Eighty-five percent of the people living here are African-American. An estimated 1 in 3 people live in poverty with more than half the children impoverished. This is the poorest large city in America. Many neighborhoods have simply been abandoned by the government. Anyone driving through large parts of Detroit can testify to the stark landscape, how it brings to mind an almost post-war scenario: whole blocks with only one or two occupied houses, vast areas where no one lives—vacant, overgrown with weeds, big school buildings with broken windows, empty and decaying.
The city estimates 78,000 "abandoned and blighted" structures, roughly one-fifth of Detroit's housing in an area of 139 square miles—big enough to fit Manhattan, Boston and San Francisco. Twenty-two percent of the city's industrial zoned land is vacant; 36 percent of commercial land is vacant. For every 100 residents, there are only 27 jobs. Official unemployment is 18 percent—twice the state level. Among Black people, especially the youth, official unemployment is over 30 percent, but even city officials say it is actually closer to 50 percent.
Many residents don't even have access to basic things needed to live day-to-day. People wait two to three hours for the bus. There are no large chain grocery stores within city limits. More than half the parks have closed in the last five years. Forty percent of the streetlights don't work. Only a third of the city ambulances function. In large parts of the city many public schools have shut down and there are no essential services like transportation, fresh water, gas, electricity, and emergency services.
Speaking to the current conditions in the city, one resident said, "As an oppressed 24-year-old Black woman, sometimes I feel like I am an endangered species."
All kinds of "explanations" are being given for the financial collapse of Detroit. Some touch on part of the picture, talking about the loss of tens of thousands of jobs when the auto plants shut down. Most lead in the wrong direction—pointing to things like corruption, incompetent officials, and "greedy corporations." And racists are spewing all kinds of poison which in essence says that this just goes to show how a city "run by Black people is bound to fail."
But to really understand what's going on in Detroit today, you have to look back at how the economic and political workings of capitalism have shaped this city for many decades.
There are intersecting dynamics that have come to a head here, resulting in an extreme economic, political and social crisis in Detroit. There is the dynamic of the intense and systematic national oppression that Black people have faced since they began coming to the city from the South in the early 1900s. There are the major changes and transformations associated with globalization that have impacted the auto industry—the traditional heart of employment and a primary source of city tax revenues. And there are the effects of the global-economic crisis of 2008 and its continuing fallout on the finances of cities like Detroit.
This is obviously a big topic. But these are the things that need to be explored if one is to understand the situation in Detroit. The following is a beginning outline of these points.
You can't discuss the crisis in Detroit without talking about the fact that this is a city that today is more than 80 percent Black, and about the oppression of African-Americans since they began coming to Detroit almost 100 years ago.
The Great Migration of Black people from the South in the early 1900s profoundly changed the economy and social structure of many northern cities, including Detroit. When Detroit became the center of the automobile industry tens of thousands came looking for jobs, including Black people from the South. In 1915 fewer than 6,000 Black people lived in Detroit; five years later there were 40,000 African Americans in the city. The total population nearly doubled every 10 years for the next four decades, making it the fastest growing city in the world. By 1950 nearly two million people lived in Detroit, more than 16 percent of them African Americans.
Black people came looking for a better life—not only for employment, but also for an escape from the humiliation of Jim Crow and the constant threat of the lynching tree. But it is no exaggeration to say that what they ended up with was an apartheid-like set-up backed by laws, police and vigilante violence—all of which echoes up through today.
The Ku Klux Klan sent their first recruiter to Detroit in 1921 and by 1924 had signed up 35,000 members.
Black people in Detroit, as an unofficial rule, were only allowed to live in a 60-square-block area on the city's lower east side that became known as "Black Bottom." And if they tried to move into a white neighborhood, they were met with violence.
In 1925, a Black doctor, Ossian Sweet, and his family moved into a home on Detroit's east side. A mob of hundreds of angry whites gathered in front of the house, throwing rocks and shouting racist threats. Someone from the house fired into the crowd, injuring one man and killing another. The person accused of this was acquitted, but the incident demonstrated the danger Black people faced if they tried to resist the systematic discrimination they faced in housing—as well as in other things such as employment and education.
White real estate agents refused to show Black families properties outside the Black Bottom neighborhood. And then, starting in 1924, associations of real estate agents actually barred members from selling houses in white neighborhoods to Black customers and imposed sanctions on those who broke this rule. Banks and insurance companies also restricted access to home and business mortgages as well as home improvement loans for Black people in Detroit. (See Arc of Justice, by Kevin Boyle, 2004, p.145)
After World War 2, the development of suburbanism was a major feature of the U.S. landscape and was underwritten and fostered through conscious government policies. In Detroit this contributed to further racial segregation. As Thomas J. Sugrue wrote:
"New expressways accelerated the process of suburbanization. New housing developments for both blue and white collar workers sprung up virtually overnight in what had been rural areas on the outskirts of the metropolis. The largest blue-collar suburb (and soon the third largest municipality in the state) was Warren. A community of truck farms before World War II, by 1960, it was home to over 150,000 people who lived on streets lined with block after block of little ranch houses and Cape Cods. Warren and suburban Macomb County (of which it was a part) became a Mecca for blue-collar whites fleeing the city. White-collar workers also filled up new subdivisions as quickly as they could be built in the city's northern and western suburbs. Wetlands and farmlands alike became seas of green lawns, divided by ribbons of tarmac. By 1960, more whites in metropolitan Detroit lived in the suburbs than in the city (though very few blacks did—because real estate agents refused to sell to them and they faced intense hostility and often violence when they tried to cross suburban boundaries)." (From Motor City to Motor Metropolis: How the Automobile Industry Reshaped Urban America)
Black people were prevented from buying affordable houses in these all-white suburbs. Meanwhile, whites benefited from big homeownership subsidies through the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration.
In 1945 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case in which a Black family had bought a house with a "restrictive covenant" that barred "people of the Negro or Mongolian Race" from occupying the property. After the Court ruled that such a covenant could not be enforced by the state, real estate brokers and developers in Detroit encouraged the formation of "neighborhood improvement associations" to enforce the longstanding rules of segregation.
Between 1943 and 1965, Detroit whites founded at least 192 neighborhood organizations throughout the city. Their rhetoric echoed the KKK—referring to the "white race" and speaking of "we the white people." (See The Origins of the Urban Crisis—Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, by Thomas J. Sugrue, 1996, p. 212)
In the years after World War 2, such groups instigated over 200 incidents of harassment, mass demonstration, picketing, effigy burning, window breaking, arson, vandalism, and physical attacks against Black homeowners to try to keep them out of white neighborhoods. (See Heather Ann Thompson, Whose Detroit? Politics, Labor, and Race in a Modern American City, 2001, p.14)
This continued for decades. For example, Sugrue describes what happened when Easby Wilson, a Black auto worker, tried to move into a predominantly white neighborhood in 1955. This incident was typical during this time:
"White members of the Cadillac Improvement Association approached the Wilsons and demanded that they sell the house. That evening, someone threw a stone through the bathroom window. For two straight nights, the phone rang with angry, anonymous calls. On Friday, after dinner, a small crowd gathered on Riopelle Street in front of the Wilsons' house. They were soon joined by more than four hundred picketing and chanting whites, summoned by young boys who rode their bikes up and down the street, blowing whistles. The crowd drew together a cross-section of neighborhood residents: as Mrs. Wilson reported, 'it was children; it was old people; it was teen-agers; in fact all ages were there.' Demonstrators screamed epithets. 'You'd better go back where you belong!' shouted an angry neighbor. A rock shattered the dining room window." (Sugrue, p. 232)
The attacks continued over the next two months, sometimes while police sat in their cars nearby. Eventually the Wilsons moved and years later, in 1960, only 2.9 percent of the neighborhood's residents were Black.
In 1963, white neighborhood groups proposed a "Homeowners' Rights Ordinance" to preserve their "right" to segregate neighborhoods and their right to discriminate in real estate sales. After this was defeated, there were 25 cross burnings in 1965 alone.
So what about after the Civil Rights Movement? And what about today? Do Black people in Detroit still face an apartheid-like situation?
In 1986, then mayor of Detroit, Coleman Young, said something that shines a light not only on the situation then, but what exists even more intensely today:
Controversy over a law in Dearborn, a white suburb Detroit, that barred "outsiders" from its parks had brought to the surface intense racial tension. In the midst of all this, Young denounced more restrictive gun control measures that had been proposed for Detroit, including collecting guns from the public. He said:
''I'll be damned if I'm going to let them collect guns in the city of Detroit while we're surrounded by hostile suburbs and the whole rest of the state who have guns, where you have vigilantes, practicing Ku Klux Klan in the wilderness with automatic weapons.''
Attorneys for Dearborn argued the law was not discriminatory in intent because it had been approved by voters, "whose motivation could not be determined." And when it came right down to it, they argued that Dearborn residents basically just had the right to say who could use their parks—just like they had the right to keep Black people from moving into their neighborhoods or going to their schools.
Other suburbs around Detroit had been able to avoid the charges of open discrimination by simply building physical barricades and requiring residents to show ID cards to enter (like gated communities). In the suburb of Grosse Pointe Park officials proposed cul-de-sacs and walls—that supposedly were to ease traffic and prevent flooding. But clearly these were a way to "keep out Black people," to enforce what amounted to apartheid rules.
Think about this situation 27 years ago and then think about Amerikkka today:
2010: Detroit police raid a house in the middle of the night and kill seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, sleeping on the couch with her grandmother, and now, in 2013, a judge declares a mistrial in the trial of the only cop to be charged for the murder. 2012: Trayvon Martin is gunned down by a racist vigilante for the "crime" of being young and Black—and the system lets the killer go free. 2013: a 19-year-old Black woman, Renisha McBride, gets in a car accident and looks for help in the white Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heights, but instead of finding aid is treated like a suspect, shot in the head and killed.
But it is not just this, and it is not just Detroit. There is what Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA has called a slow genocide of Black people in this country—that can easily become a fast genocide.
You've got some 2.3 million people in prison, the majority Black and Latino, subjected to horrible conditions, many doing long sentences for minor drug crimes. You've got a pipeline leading to this warehousing in prison that includes official policies like gang injunctions, the NYPD's stop-and-frisk and inner-city schools that treat a whole generation of youth like potential criminals—guilty until proven innocent, if they can survive to prove their innocence. And there are tens of millions of Black people, who when they get out of prison are then branded with a badge of deprivation and shame, denied jobs, access to public housing, government benefits, the right to vote and more. All this due to the conscious policies of the U.S. ruling class.
As Carl Dix says, "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."
Indeed, the kind of vigilantes and KKKers with automatic weapons who were practicing in the Detroit suburbs in the 1980s are alive and active in the USA today. Just check out the activity and rhetoric of the NRA. But even more significantly, there is a section of the ruling class that represents a rightwing, fascistic program that gives ideological leadership, backing, and encouragement to the ground soldiers who are clutching their guns in the suburbs and doing "survivalist training" in the woods. Just listen to Tea Party leaders like Texas Senator Ted Cruz who openly praised former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, who was a racist, woman-hating, gay-hating, reactionary fascist.
At one point Detroit was a place where you could come into town, walk to a factory door and you might get a job on the spot. At its peak the River Rouge auto plant alone employed 90,000 workers. This was a city where for many decades Black people could get a relatively good-paying job—even if it was lower-paying and worse than what white workers got.
But the number of manufacturing jobs in Detroit fell from 296,000 in 1950 to just 27,000 in 2011. Today there are only two auto factories left in Detroit, employing fewer than 10,000 workers. And other businesses that thrived off the auto industry, like restaurants, parts suppliers and financial services have also suffered. In 2009 the unemployment rate in Detroit peaked at close to 25 percent. Today it's close to 18 percent. For the youth, it's more than 50 percent. So what happened?
Almost all of the big auto plants in Detroit eventually closed down because it was more profitable to move these jobs—first to rural areas in the U.S., then across the border to Mexico, and then overseas to places like Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. This is the dynamics of capitalism, where different capitalists are locked in rivalry and competition with each other—always searching for the highest profit, and therefore looking for cheaper sources of labor, cheaper ways of producing profit.
This law of capitalism led to so many jobs leaving Detroit, and then more particularly, over the last 15 or so years, U.S. imperialism has forged a globally integrated cheap-labor manufacturing economy with huge labor reserves from China, India, and other parts of the Third World. And these larger workings of global capitalism-imperialism have deeply impacted Detroit as well, leading to further de-industrialization and loss of jobs. In 1992 the big Chrysler plant moved, and overnight 4,500 people were left unemployed.
For Black people, getting a job in Detroit has always meant having to penetrate a thick blanket of racial discrimination—even if this was a city where lots of Black people could get not only factory jobs but also jobs as city employees and some could even make it into the midde class.
Black workers, as Thomas Sugrue puts it, got "the meanest and dirtiest jobs" and sometimes they were simply denied jobs outright. A Black worker would respond to a job posting and be told the job was already taken, even though it was not. Blacks were not allowed to apply for certain types of highly skilled jobs. Sugrue notes, "Labor markets were also structured by workers' culture, attitudes, customs, and work rules. When workers formed a sense of 'brotherhood' on the shop floor, they often defined it through the pratice of racial and gender exclusion." And if anyone is wondering what "a sense of brotherhood" meant, there is this story: In 1943, the Packard Motor Car Company promoted three Black men to work next to whites on their assembly lines. In response, 25,000 whites walked off the job. This was three weeks before violence broke out between Blacks and whites in which, over the course of three days, 34 people were killed. Twenty-five of those who died were Black, 17 of them killed by the police. Over 400 were injured in the three days.
Before the state of Michigan passed a Fair Employment Practices Law in 1955, private employment agencies regularly listed racial preferences in job listings.
A woman described what it was like to work in the auto plants in the early 1970s, following the 1967 Detroit Rebellion when Black people rose up for five days against their oppressive conditions of life. She said the factories hired many Black workers, including people without much education, and later more women began to be hired as well. Then hiring essentially stopped for about 10 years and when it picked up again the hiring was noticeably different. She said it was more white—50 percent as opposed to around 20 percent white in the 1970s, people with education and longer work experience. She herself at one point worked in a printing company in downtown Detroit and said, "They did not advertise job openings in the Detroit papers. Instead, they would place ads for job openings in the papers for the all-white far northern or western suburbs." She also recalled how one Black autoworker tried to apply to one of the plants and even though he had been in the union for many years, was required to take a psychological profile test that included questions about how he felt about the government.
On top of the built-in dynamics of capitalism, bleeding the city of jobs, the financial crisis/recession, starting in 2007 resulted in the further de-industrialization of Detroit, along with many other cities. Then there was the sudden jolt in 2009 when the U.S. government bailed out the U.S. auto industry.
In January 2009, the federal government used $25 billion to rescue two of the Big Three auto companies, General Motors and Chrysler. Some might think the U.S. government bailout of the U.S. auto industry would have helped Detroit. But again, the anarchy of capitalism—the laws dictating how things work under this system, along with conscious policies framed to a great degree by Detroit being an overwhelmingly Black city—led to a situation where a relative "recovery" of the U.S. auto industry did NOT mean a "recovery" for Detroit, but instead meant utter bankruptcy.
The days where the success of the U.S. auto industry is tied up with the health and fate of Detroit have ended. And this too is because of the larger, global dynamics of capitalism-imperialism.
There has been an increasing "disconnect" in which Detroit has been disproportionately dependent on the auto industry. But the forces determining change in the U.S. auto industry are coming from the larger world arena, not by what is happening in Detroit. Indeed, the 2009 restructuring and bailout of the auto industry has been calibrated not on the needs of Detroit, but on the overall needs of U.S. imperialism and global competitiveness.
To begin with, the decision by the U.S. government to bail out the U.S. auto industry was based on the larger needs of U.S. imperialism.
The effect of this bailout has been a "leaner and meaner" industry achieved through the shutting down of plants, layoffs, decreased wages, cuts in workers' benefits, and a two-tier wage system for auto workers where new workers are given half the wages of previously hired workers. And it has meant moving operations out of Detroit to countries like China where costs are lower and production is therefore more profitable. For example, GM increased its manufacturing capacity in China by 55 percent since the 2009 bailout.
The 2009 bailout helped save what little industry still remains in the city—two manufacturing plants and General Motors' world headquarters. But this is also not just about the loss of jobs. It also has to do with the tax revenue all this provided to the city of Detroit.
The basic rule of capitalism, of "profit in command," also applies in terms of taxes, pensions and what the city government has and has not been able to do in the face of this crisis.
In his talk, "Why We're in the Situation We're In Today..." Bob Avakian talks about how some people pose the question, why can't the government identify social needs, get revenue and apply that to the problem?
The fact is government can get money from borrowing, but that has to be repaid with interest, so that doesn't generate more money. The government can sell bonds—but those too usually have to be repaid with interest. So ultimately in order to raise revenue that is larger than what it already has, the government has to do it through taxes. It does this both through taxing private citizens and also through taxing corporations.
Under capitalism, this amount of taxes is going to depend on the profitability of capital investment. So when the auto industry was huge and doing well in Detroit, the revenues to the city from the Big Three auto companies, as well as all the other companies and services associated with the auto industry, were relatively large—at least large enough to sustain minimal, if not adequate, social services and the city's basic infrastructure (like water, electricity and public transportation) that people need. The fact that tens of thousands of peope in Detroit were working meant that they were all paying taxes. But as all this has fallen apart—as the auto industry has left the city, as the jobs have left, as hundreds of thousands of people have left the city, this has had a huge negative impact on the city's ability to generate revenue. As Bob Avakian points out, even the limits and the context and the confines within which the government can address social needs in an ultimate and fundamental sense, depends on the profitability of capitalism in an overall sense.
So now there is a situation where people living in Detroit have no jobs, the city isn't providing them with basic services, and Detroit is literally decaying before people's eyes.
And what has this system done in the face of this dire situation for the people?
Those who rule over this system haven't declared an emergency and said we have to do something right away to help people out. In fact just the opposite has happened. People have been hit with even MORE hardship with cutbacks in education, health care, social services and basic necessities of life. Thousands of people who have been working all their life for the city government, people who counted on retirement with a pension they could live on, are now facing severe cuts in their pensions that will have a devastating impact on their ability to survive. And the bankruptcy ruling by the judge giving Detroit the right to cut people's pensions was also written as a precedent for city and state governments across the country. In fact, only hours later, the Illinois legislature voted in favor of a pension "reform" that drastically cuts the retirement income of Illinois state workers.
The crisis in Detroit—the dire situation for the people living there and the system's "solution"– is further exposure of the fact that capitalism cannot, by its very nature, meet the needs of the people.
Capitalism is insane, inhumane and viciously exploitative. While the rulers and defenders of the USA crow about "democracy" and the "land of the free," this system destroys the lives and spirits of millions of people here around the world on a daily, hourly pace. Its very foundations have been intertwined since the beginning, with the enslavement of African people and the continuing systematic oppression of African-Americans. And all this has come together like an economic/political/ideological hurricane that has left the people of Detroit suffering, and many of the Black people of Detroit who make up most of the city, living in conditions that have much in common with a South African bantustan under apartheid.
The financial collapse in Detroit was not the result, fundamentally, of the greed of corporations, the corruption of officials, or the ineptitude of politicians. The "dying" of the city—with its shrinking population, abandoned buildings, lack of basic services, and increasingly desperately poor people—is not the result of "bad decisions" and "lack of will" on the part of government or citizens. All this is due to the playing out of the economic, political and social dynamics of this system of capitalism that have been going on in Detroit for decades. All this is NOT something that this system can "fix." Cities all across the U.S. are right behind Detroit, facing similar situations because the same dynamics of capitalism intersecting with the oppression of Black and Latino people (in many cases) have been and will continue to be at work. All this is yet another example of why we need a whole new system, not based on profit, but on the needs of people, with the goal of emancipating all of humanity.
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
January 1, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Two recent letters from prisoners point to how crucial donations to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund are:
I'll like to say thanks a lot to all the "PRLF" donors. Thank you for paying for my education. In essence that's what you're doing with your donations. Thanks to your donations, I've been able to start learning about the rapacious economic system (capitalism) that dominates every aspect of our lives. I've been able to learn that under capitalism, society is divided into different classes—between those who can only live by selling their labor to the highest bidder, (and only as long as their labor is producing profits to capitalist) and those who live by exploiting the labor of others; between oppressed and oppressor. And consequently, under capitalism, there can never be democracy or justice for all. I've been also able to learn that such social relations were not created by nature, but were created and are enforced, by the capitalist class.
And most importantly, I've been able to learn that a whole different and better world is possible; that capitalism can be overthrown through revolution. Thanks to your donations, I've been able to transform myself from a gang member to a revolutionary; from a homophobic and machista, to a progressive thinker; from having a defeatist mentality: "there isn't anything I can do, things are never going to change"; to having a radical mentality: Knowing that I can make a difference; that we are all worthy of a decent life—demanding a better life for everybody, and willing to fight for it!
And thanks to your donations, I've been able to liberate other people, (by sharing the literature that your donations enable me to receive) and I'm fairly confident that it'll have a snowball effect. I would like to end this letter by encouraging people to keep making donations to "PRLF," or to start, if you haven't yet. Your donations are helping us (prisoners) break the mental shackles, that have been placed there by this capitalist/imperialist ran system.
In Solidarity, Prisoner from California
Hello there. My name is XXX and Im a 22 year old Mexican. I've been incarcerated since the age of 15. It seems like from the begining of my life I was destined to hardship. At 1 years old my dad died, wich left my mother with 5 kids to raise. At 1 I was tooken away and placed in foster home. At 9 I came back to live with my mom. With only gangs and strife all around were else was I to flock? At 15 I got sent to prison.
Ever since my life has been not only up-lifted but great! Your probably thinking what the... but through my incarceration not only have I found my-self but I realized what my life was to consist of. Enough of this monotomy of working 8 to 5 job, being a part to the genocide of my own people, degrade my wommin, ancestry and most of all, took the deliberate act that my life is not mines, it [belongs to] the people that suffer, they people that are in such a state of distitute that they can only resist so much.
Me, I've come to this realization by reading books and more, my First experience of communist literature was with the Revolutionary Communist Party and the books [that I got] through PRLF. Like a man coming out of the cave for the first time, my eyes read every word, my mind was not only shocked but my life changed. It changed in that through the power of words, I came to know a sickness and given a blue-print on how to cure what is really a epademic.
But as a donater can contribute to what cause they choose, you by donating to cause of humanity help oppressed all over. For by educating one person, that person in turn is not limited to who can they educate back and therefore having a ripple affect. So not only have books opened my mind but let me see a better and more wonderful world can be born. From the depths of my crying heart thank you for your contribution to the cause.
—Prisoner in California
$10 pays for a copy of BAsics.
$35 pays for a one one-year Revolution subscription for a prisoner.
$50 pays for current requests for BAsics from prisoners in New York.
$100 pays for current requests for BAsics from prisoners in Texas.
$350 pays for 10 recent unfilled Revolution subscription requests from prisoners in North Carolina!
$500 pays for 50 copies of BAsics for 50 new subscribers in California
$1,015 will renew subscriptions for 29 subscribers in Florida
$1,400 pays for 40 recent unfilled Revolution subscription requests from prisoners in California!
Regular and tax-deductible donations can be made at www.PRLF.org.
Make checks payable to "PRLF". Make tax-deductible checks payable to "Global Exchange/PRLF" and send checks and correspondence to:
PRLF, 1321 N. Milwaukee Ave, #407, Chicago, IL 60622
In the hellhole prisons of AmeriKKKa, home to over two million people, prisoners—who society calls the "worst of the worst" or "irredeemable"—are standing up and resisting the inhuman conditions in which they are enslaved. And, as they do, they are going through transformation in how they understand the world and their role in changing it.
This past summer, 30,000 prisoners in California asserted their humanity by starting a hunger strike against the torture of long-term solitary confinement. Earlier, a group of prisoners had issued an inspiring statement calling for unity and a halt to hostilities between people of different nationalities in the prisons. After 60 days, the prisoners collectively decided to suspend the hunger strike—but the struggle to end torture continues. Other hunger strikes and political struggles against the dehumanization of American prisons have occurred in other states in recent years.
Within this emerging new generation of rebellious slaves is a significant section of prisoners across the country who are looking for a deeper understanding of why this world is a horror, how we can get out of it, and what it means to be human—and are engaging with the challenging vision and strategy for a radically new, and much better, society and world presented in the weekly Revolution newspaper, in BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, and in other revolutionary literature sent to them by the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund. Bob Avakian, BA, is the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, and his BAsics is a handbook for revolutionaries in this time, speaking powerfully to the big questions of revolution and human emancipation.
From the notorious "Special Housing Unit" (SHU) at Pelican Bay in Northern California to the notorious Texas prison system to Sing Sing in New York and across the country, the PRLF sends approximately 800 English and Spanish subscriptions of Revolution and has sent over 1,200 copies of BAsics so far to prisoners in 43 states and the District of Columbia.
YOU play a vital role in the PRLF not only continuing this vital work but expanding it to many, many more prisoners (see poem).
DONATE: The existing Revolution subscriptions for prisoners cost $28,000/year. Each copy of BAsics costs $10. Imagine if the PRLF could significantly increase the number of Revolution subscriptions and copies of BAsics making their way to prisoners.
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
December 24, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
I've been thinking—at this time of year—about how important it is that the work of the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF) be supported. PRLF gets BAsics from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian—which I consider to be the handbook for revolution, and Revolution newspaper into prisons, and connects people locked up in America's hellish prisons with an understanding of how to bring about a whole different world—one free of exploitation and oppression of any kind.
As a poem printed in this issue of Revolution puts it: these prisoners "turn to you—to give them a light. DONATE TO PRLF".
For millions in America's inner cities, a big part of the holiday season means piling onto busses or trains, or driving—even hundreds of miles to desolate places—to visit incarcerated loved ones. Over two million people are packed into U.S. prisons, almost half of them Black or Latino, in conditions that evoke the holds of the ships in which kidnapped Africans were originally brought to these shores as slaves. Conditions in solitary confinement units meet every objective definition of torture. Thousands serve "life without parole"—a slow death sentence—for committing nonviolent crimes, or no crime at all.
Along with so many others, I've gone through the degradation and dehumanization they put you through just to visit a family member in jail. It's all set up to make a statement that "people locked up here are worse than nothing, and you are too." Think about what it means in this nation of prisons for a child's connection with a father or mother to be holding up a hand to a thick glass plate.
The searing impact of this slow genocide extends far beyond the prison walls. In great expanses of abandoned and locked-down inner cities—from Oakland to the Bronx, from Detroit to New Orleans—going to prison is the expectation and rite of passage for youth. And the desperate culture produced and enforced in the prisons casts a deadly shadow over the lives of millions and millions.
But, as BA says in BAsics 3:16, "those the system has counted as nothing can count for a great deal." They can become part of the backbone of actual emancipators of humanity. But that requires real revolutionary sustenance!
Through sending revolutionary literature to prisoners in 41 states, PRLF connects prisoners with that revolutionary sustenance. The literature PRLF sends to prisoners gives them the means to engage with the method and approach, and the vision and plan to really change the world that is Bob Avakian's new synthesis of communism.
Over the past year, we've seen a truly heroic hunger strike in the California prisons against solitary confinement, and an inspiring movement for peace among the different races in the prison system. Readers of Revolution—especially at revcom.us—can connect with correspondence from prisoners who receive PRLF materials, and are engaged in broad and deep discussion and transformation around a wide range of questions about the world, especially those connected with building a movement for revolution and a whole new world. You do get a feel in all this for "fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution" coming to life. Check out the links to several of those that I'm including with this letter.
But right now, PRLF can't even fill the requests it gets from prisoners for literature! This holiday season we have to change that.
PRLF is an educational literature fund that fills requests from U.S. prisoners for revolutionary literature. It is a sponsored project of Global Exchange, a 501 c3 nonprofit international human rights organization. At this time of year, when people reflect on the world and their responsibility to change it, (and when some people decide where to make tax-deductible contributions), this is a time to make a donation that will contribute to something REAL. Not band-aids on the cancer of exploitation and oppression, but enabling a section of people cast off by society to transform themselves and the world—to rise to the challenge posed in BAsics 3:16 to "Become a part of the human saviors of humanity: the gravediggers of this system and the bearers of the future communist society."
According to their website, the main requests received by PRLF from those behind bars are for subsidized subscriptions in Spanish and English to the weekly newspaper Revolution, and for BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian—a book of quotations and short essays that speaks powerfully to questions of revolution and human emancipation. PRLF has sent 2,000 copies of BAsics to readers in prison.
But there is so much more PRLF must do in its work to shine the light of revolution behind prison walls. Let's step up ourselves, and challenge everyone to help meet this great need. Think about what you can do, or what people you know can do. A donation of $10—raised by a couple of homeless people from what they get for turning in cans and bottles at a recycling center—can pay for a copy of BAsics that is probably going to be studied late into the night, discussed in the prison yard, and maybe spread outside the walls—something positive coming out of prison. College students who raise $350 selling brownies at the midnight movies can pay for ten recent unfilled Revolution subscription requests from prisoners in North Carolina. Envision the impact of each of those copies shared from cell to cell. A contribution from a professor of $500 can cover the cost of 50 copies of BAsics for prisoners in California. A donation of $1,015 will renew subscriptions for 29 subscribers in Florida, and one of $1,400 will pay for 40 recent unfilled Revolution subscription requests from prisoners in California.
BA needs to be everywhere, including in the hands of those locked down in America's prisons!
You can find out more at prlf.org, where you can make regular or tax-deductible donations. Or make checks payable to "PRLF". Make tax-deductible checks payable to "Global Exchange/PRLF" and send checks and correspondence to: PRLF, 1321 N. Milwaukee Ave, #407, Chicago, IL 60622.
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
January 2, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
Cheers to the United Methodist Church of Claremont, California, who included a bleeding Trayvon Martin in their yearly Christmas nativity scene. In the past the scene has depicted Mary and Joseph as a homeless couple, as Mexicans stopped by the U.S.-Mexico border fence, as Iraq War refugees, and as Mary, by herself, as a Black woman in prison with her baby. In an interview with the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Sharon Rhodes-Wickett, the church’s lead pastor said, “I found this year’s (nativity scene) hard to look at, a young man who’s shot and bleeding to death. But even though I’m uncomfortable with it, that’s the point.”
This scene is coming from the perspective of religious forces with their solution for achieving “social justice.” This is a very good thing they have done, and it should make everyone want to seek out why Trayvon Martin was killed. And this search should lead to how the real solution to ending this madness—of Black and Latino youth being gunned down in the streets by cops and racist vigilantes—is revolution.
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
January 6, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Pushed by outrage from all over the country and not wanting to have Lynne Stewart die while in their custody, the federal courts in a sudden about-face freed Stewart on New Year's Eve. Stewart, who was being held in a prison hospital in Texas, immediately flew home to New York with her husband, Ralph Poynter, to be with the rest of her family.
Stewart, who is 74 years old and suffering from terminal cancer, has been an ongoing target of the government's vindictive campaign against anyone who comes to the legal aid of those who, for a range of reasons, have come into the crosshairs of the U.S. empire and its massive apparatus of spying and repression. She has also inspired a national movement of support for release from her particularly cruel and unjust imprisonment.
In a motion now submitted by the U.S. attorney, the government asked that Stewart, who may have only months to live, have her sentence reduced to time served plus a supervised release of five years "in the event the defendant should outlive her current life expectancy."
The arrest, trial, and compassionless imprisonment of Lynne Stewart has been from the beginning an outrage. She has devoted her life to defending oppressed people, people who resisted injustice, and people whose criminal defense other lawyers wouldn't touch. Stewart was convicted for essentially doing her best to defend a controversial Egyptian defendant—in particular, making public a press release indicating her client's continuing opposition to the Egyptian regime of Hosni Mubarak. The government construed this as material aid to a terrorist, while the U.S. government continued its very real material aid for the Egyptian military—the same military now using that aid to maintain its military dictatorship in Egypt.
For this, Stewart was originally sentenced to 28 months. But a federal appeals court overturned this as being too lenient, which resulted in Stewart being re-sentenced to 10 years. The court was well aware that she was suffering from breast cancer and that its sentence would effectively end her medical treatment.
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
January 6, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
New York City: The following statement was issued on December 15, 2013 (two weeks before de Blasio’s inauguration) by Parents and Families Against Police Brutality.
We are all outraged over Mayor-elect de Blasio’s choice of William Bratton for police commissioner and furious with Al Sharpton for allowing Bratton to speak at the National Action Network, knowing Bratton is not for the good of the Black community. At an inaugural press conference on October 3, 2002, newly appointed LAPD Chief William Bratton was quoted by the LA Times as saying:
Where you have guns, you have drugs. Where you have drugs, you have youth. Where you have youth, you have gangs. Why treat them like four different diseases? When you go to a doctor, he treats the totality of all that are affecting your body. L.A. is not doing that in any way, shape or form.
What can we expect from a cop who considers youth as a disease?
We can look to the bone-chilling reality of Bratton’s New York, when he was NYPD Commissioner between 1994 and 1996. Disturbing allegations of mistreatment, police brutality, deaths in custody and unjustified shootings became so serious during Bratton’s tenure that Amnesty International sent a team from London to investigate. Amnesty International found a “serious problem of police brutality and excessive force” in the NYPD under Bratton. The evidence suggested “that a large majority of the victims of police abuse are racial minorities, particularly African Americans and people of Latin American or Asian descent and that racial disparities appear to be most marked in cases involving deaths in custody and questionable shootings.”
Bratton dismissed the 72-page Amnesty International report as having no merit, despite the fact that Amnesty used the NYPD’s own statistics. Amnesty International found that in Bratton’s first year in office, there was a 34.8% increase in civilians shot dead by NYPD, a 53.3% increase in civilians who died in police custody, an upsurge in the number of civilians injured from officers’ firearm discharge, and 4,920 new police brutality complaints by citizens made to the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, an increase of 37% over the previous year (according to the New York Times, in 1995, 8,767 complaints were filed with the CCRB, and between July 1993 and December 1996, the CCRB handled 16,327 complaints).
And how about this one: as soon as Bratton was sworn in as NYPD Commissioner, all NYPD officers were issued a 15-round rapid-firing 9-millimeter semi-automatic handgun, replacing the 6-bullet .38 caliber revolvers that were formerly carried. Before this, even some NYPD Commissioners had resisted the use of semi-automatic weapons on the grounds that they would increase the likelihood of officers firing more rounds than necessary, or emptying their guns into people. Newsday described this as “one of the largest re-arming projects the country has ever seen.” In 1999, a few years after Bratton’s departure, the NYPD “Street Crime Unit” shot Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo 41 times, thus realizing the worst fears many had about Bratton’s issuance of these high-powered weapons to thousands of NYPD cops.
From 1994 to 1996, New York saw an explosion in the number of people arrested. In 1994, 198,066 people were arrested. In 1995, 268,057 were arrested. The majority of arrests were for non-violent misdemeanors. Thousands were arrested for “illegal peddling,” 40,000 youth were picked up by police for truancy. Bratton’s “Streets Crime Unit” made 9,000 arrests in 45,000 stops in the two years under Bratton’s “Stop and Frisk” policy. 63% of those stopped in those two years were Black, and most of the others were Latino. Close to 90% of those “Stopped and Frisked” were people of color. In one case, the City of New York paid up to $50 million to settle a lawsuit on behalf of some 50,000 people who were illegally strip searched after being arrested for so-called “broken windows” offenses, the largest monetary settlement of a civil rights lawsuit in New York City history.
A police murder spree ensued during the two years on Bratton’s watch. Between January 1994 and August 1996, over 60 people died at the hands of NYPD. The book Stolen Lives: Killed By Law Enforcement, published by the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation; the National Lawyers Guild and the Anthony Baez Foundation, has documented the horrifying reality of Bratton’s New York. Nicholas Heyward Jr.,13 years young; Anthony Baez, 29 years young; Shu’aib Abdul Latif, 17 years young; Anthony Rosario, 18 years young; Hilton Vega, 22 years young; Anibal Carasquillo, 21 years young; Yong Xin Huang, 16 years young, Frankie Arzuaga, 15 years young. The list of Stolen Lives under Bratton goes on.
Now tell us what gave the Rev. Al Sharpton the nerve to have this man whose history he knows well come to the National Action Network to speak in honor of Nelson Mandela. If the reverend cares as much about police brutality as he claims, he should be standing with parents of those murdered by police in voicing our concerns for all New Yorkers. We are extremely disturbed by Mayor-elect de Blasio’s appointing of Bratton as Police Commissioner of New York City.
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
by Sunsara Taylor | December 24, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
It is foolish to mistake style for substance. When this is done not merely by mistake, but on purpose, and further, when this is done in the service of the most vicious and murderous empire in all the history of the world, this is an act in the service of that empire. In other words, to do so is to act as the empire's tool.
Unfortunately, if perhaps unsurprisingly, this is exactly what Ishmael Reed has done in his December 18, 2013 New York Times op-ed entitled "The President of the Cool."
In this piece, written after Reed saw Obama make an appearance at the San Francisco Jazz Center last month, Reed bends over backwards to bestow upon Obama some of the outward style of Cool Jazz in order to defend Obama against growing criticisms for his many crimes against the people. Reed writes, "Like the president, cool musicians carried themselves with a regal bearing. Some members of the generation before them had to engage in minstrel-like antics to make a living. Cool musicians demanded respect, and when attacked didn't blow up, but, like the president, responded stoically." Reed musters his credentials as the poet laureate of the new San Francisco Jazz Center and his association with "the Cool" to bolster his seeming authority in making this comparison.
But whatever superficial similarities Reed may be able to string together between Obama and jazz, regardless of Obama's own professions of appreciation for jazz, and despite the shameful number of jazz musicians who have cheered the election of the first Black president and performed for Obama, there is nothing "cool" about Obama.
Jazz grew out of the tortured experience of Black people and their centuries of bitter oppression in AmeriKKKa. Cool jazz included musicians like Billie Holiday, whose haunting renditions of "Strange Fruit" scathingly indicted an era of lynchings of Black people and, together with other jazz musicians of her time, powerfully presaged the Civil Rights movement.
Obama, on the other hand, is the eager commander-in-chief of AmeriKKKa and all of its vicious crimes—including those against Black people. The murderous facts and crimes against humanity speak for themselves. Obama has:
Is that "cool"?
Is that "cool"?
Is that "cool"?
Is that "cool"?
Is that "cool"?
Is that "cool"?
Is that "cool"?
Is that "cool"?
And for those who have been squinting hard enough to willfully blind themselves to all of this in order to focus merely on the fact that he is the first Black president, Obama has presided over the most massive—both numerically and percentage-wise—and punitive program of incarceration in the world; a program of incarceration that amounts to a slow genocide against Black and Latino people.
What the fuck is "cool" about any of that?
But Reed doesn't stop at lauding the War-Criminal-In-Chief. He continues to act the fool by ridiculing those who are actually standing up with courage and conviction against Obama's crimes. After equating being "hot" with being "corny" and "square," Reed derides the protesters who had gathered when Obama appeared at the San Francisco Jazz Center. Reed writes, "Outside, though, it was hot. Demonstrators against everything from military drones to energy pipelines greeted the president's entourage when it arrived."
Excuse me, Mr. Reed? You wouldn't even be where you are if people hadn't stood up against AmeriKKKa's crimes in the face of great risk and ridicule! It is those protesters outside, not you on the inside, who are true to that legacy. Are you really so eager for a place at the Empire's Table, for an invite to attend an Event with the President, that you shamefully ridicule those who are righteously doing today what you lack the moral principle to do?
To all this I can only respond: Far from making the case that Obama is "The President of the Cool," you have demonstrated the Precedent of the Fool and acted like the Empire's Resident Tool.
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
January 6, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Editor's note: This issue of Revolution includes "An observation by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party," on "The crude and venomous rantings of Phil Robertson, 'patriarch' of the "Duck Dynasty...". The following is background for readers unfamiliar with the TV show "Duck Dynasty" and the content of those rantings.
Duck Dynasty is a widely promoted (and widely watched) "reality show" on the A&E Network. It is described by the distributor as a "family show," featuring a family of self-described "Bible-thumpers" in Louisiana who run a lucrative business making duck hunting products.
In a January 2014 article in GQ magazine, Phil Robertson, one of the central figures in the show, is quoted as saying that "America was a country founded on Christian values" which have now become "diluted" and where there's a situation where "sin becomes fine." Asked what he considers "sinful," Robertson answers, "Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men... Don't be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won't inherit the kingdom of God."
Along with these anti-gay attacks, the article quotes Robertson whitewashing racism in the Jim Crow South. He claimed that growing up in the pre-Civil Rights Movement era South, he "never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once."
And Robertson spewed the most obscene, patronizing, slavery-whitewashing stereotypes of Black people, saying "They're singing and happy." And, "Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues."
After protest and controversy over the interview, A&E said they were "extremely disappointed," reportedly in part in response to protest among their staff, as well as from others including gay rights groups. Phil Robertson was temporarily suspended from the show.
But that move was immediately met by howling cries of outrage from the likes of Sarah Palin, Christian fascist and former nominee of the Republican Party for Vice President of the United States. After the suspension, Palin posted a picture of herself with members of the Duck Dynasty family. And she tweeted "Free speech is endangered species; those 'intolerants' hatin' & taking on Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing personal opinion take on us all."
Nine days later, A&E ended Phil Robertson's suspension. On FOX-TV he proclaimed, "I follow Christ and also what the bible teaches."
This isn't a "free speech" issue. Duck Dynasty is not just a bunch of racists and bigots ranting a bunch of bigoted and racist bullshit in their backyard (although it is that). The show is a significant cultural phenomenon in the United States with the backing of powerful forces in the "mass media" (so-called not because it is controlled by or essentially reflects the sentiments of the masses, but because it is a tool for programming the masses by those who sit atop a whole economic and political system of exploitation and oppression).
Duck Dynasty is part of that picture. The show's network, A&E, is partially owned by Disney-ABC Television Group and the Hearst Corporation. The show has broken ratings records on both A&E and cable television as a whole. The fourth season premiere drew 11.8 million viewers; it was the most-watched nonfiction cable series in history. Walmart, America's largest retailer (and through that, a purveyor of culture, values and outlook), has embraced the show and its aisles are stocked with Duck Dynasty gear. And in the wake of exposure and outrage over Phil Roberton's racist, patriarchal and anti-gay comments, the Duck Dynasty group launched its own line of guns.
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
January 6, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
The news recently has been filled with stories about pressure on the Washington “Redskins” professional football team to change its name. Growing numbers are denouncing the name as racist and part of a long, long history of treating the Native American peoples as sub-human. I wanted to share some thoughts on the context for this controversy and a few things it raises about the “mind set” of different groups in this society.
For readers who haven’t followed the controversy, here is some background:
George Preston Marshall, the original owner of the team when it was first organized back in 1932, claimed he came up with the name because he wanted to “honor” native people. Team fans are encouraged to cover their faces with “war paint” and do “war chants” that turn the American Indians into cartoon characters.
Marshall was without a doubt a big-time racist. For example, when he got married in 1936, he hired Black people to serve food dressed like the household servants from the days before the abolition of slavery and sing songs that glorified those slave-owning days. Marshall was the last professional football team owner to integrate his team and allow Black athletes to play—the National Football League banned Black players in 1933 (apparently Marshall was the main person behind the ban) and didn’t lift it until 1946, but Marshall held out for another 16 years before finally signing a Black player in 1962.
And then there’s the name of the team itself. “Redskins” is nothing but a bigoted and derogatory term that has been used against the native peoples for centuries. Think John Wayne movies and stories about the “savage Redskins” being hunted down by “brave cavalry soldiers”—in real life, those soldiers massacred whole villages, then herded the survivors onto reservations in some of the most desolate parts of the country where they were half-starved and randomly murdered for any sign of resistance. Or think about scalping, an obscenity created by bounty hunters to prove how many native people they’d killed by slicing the hair and skin off their skulls and then bringing the scalps in to collect their financial reward.
“Honor” native people? Many have asked, what if the team was called the Washington “Darkies” in order to “honor” Black people, or the “Wetbacks” to “honor” Mexican and other Latino immigrants? Or maybe the Washington “Gooks” to “honor” the three million peasants and others in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos that the U.S. military murdered during the Vietnam War during the 1960s and 1970s?
The fact that this name is so acceptable to millions of Americans who don’t even think twice about what it means is a sign of how callous the culture has become. Far too many people go along with this, saying, “It’s just a name, for god’s sake,” and they end up complicit in covering over the real history of this country. So what if whole sections of people “aren’t bothered” by the name. What does that say about the culture of this country? It’s like pointing to backward men who laugh at rape “jokes” and saying that proves there’s nothing wrong with rape.
Recently the owner of the Washington team tried to defend the name by bringing four tribal members of the Navajo “Code Talkers” onto the field, at least some of whom said they had no problem with the name. The Code Talkers were members of the Navajo and other native tribes who served in the U.S. military in the Pacific in World War 2 and transmitted using their tribal languages. The Japanese military troops were never able to understand what was being said, and it gave American troops a real advantage.
For the context of all this, consider a few things about the Code Talkers:
First, the men who did this in World War 2 may have genuinely believed that they were on the side of the “good guys,” but American military aims in the Pacific objectively were nothing but an attempt to replace the colonial domination of Japanese (as well as British, French and other “allied” powers) imperialism with American neo-colonial domination. Think about the fact that after American forces “liberated” many island chains in the Pacific during the war, they used their new dominance to test nuclear weapons in those islands without any concern about what the radioactive fallout did to whole populations in the area. Many of those island chains are still uninhabitable half a century later.
Second, the Code Talkers and other forces are regularly pointed to as examples of the “warrior spirit” among native peoples. The U.S. military regularly appeals to this to convince huge numbers of native youth that they can “honor their ancestry” by joining the Marines or the Army—the very forces that massacred their ancestors in the past, and are now used to massacre other oppressed people around the globe. Think what it means that the military capitalizes on this “warrior spirit” idea by naming their weapons of war after native peoples, like the “Apache” or “Blackhawk” helicopters or the “Tomahawk” cruise missiles.
(By the way, the current president of the Code Talkers Association and one of the people on the field to defend the “Redskins” name is Peter McDonald. He was chairman of the Navajo Nation in the Arizona/New Mexico area in the 1970s and 1980s and was notorious for selling out the mineral and timber interests of the tribe to enrich himself and his supporters while most tribal members were still without electricity or running water, and for working hand-in-hand with the FBI to repress activists from the American Indian Movement who were protesting the conditions of native people. I don’t think McDonald represents the thinking of all of the remaining Code Talkers or their relatives, but it’s indicative of the way the Code Talkers are used today that such a backward force fits right in.)
And third, this whole notion of collaborating with and joining the U.S. military to murder and terrorize other oppressed people is hardly limited to the Native Americans. For example, Bob Avakian talks in his speech Revolution—NOTHING LESS! about the Buffalo Soldiers—Black troops that fought heroically to end slavery during the Civil War but then stayed in the army and went west as “Indian fighters” to help complete the conquest of native peoples resisting U.S. westward expansion.
Nobody with an ounce of humanity and a desire to see a world free from oppression and suffering can stand on the sidelines of this controversy. “Redskins” is a shameful and disgusting example of racist America. It’s long past time for the name to be abolished, and for the whole backward culture it symbolizes to be abolished with it.
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
By Sunsara Taylor | December 19, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
I recently had the chance to speak at a very small college in a very small town (under 8,000 people) in the Midwest. I was invited by the secular student group. They explained that they had done several events in the past that were very good, but also a little "safe" in the sense that they focused on people's stories of how they personally became atheists, or focused on the basis for ethics and morality without god. As important as these themes are, they hadn't yet brought a speaker who argued directly that religion is harmful and certainly not one who connected up the fight for atheism with the fight to fully liberate women and to make the kind of communist revolution that can emancipate humanity. They were excited to expose students to a more radical perspective and I was very excited to speak to and learn from these students and others. The title of my talk was "Why I Am A Godless Communist and Why You Should Be One Too! Sunsara Taylor speaks on Casting Off Religion, Liberating Women and Emancipating Humanity."
I spoke about how I became an atheist and then a communist and the ways that patriarchy (the domination of women by men) is woven into Christianity as well as every other major religion in the world today. I got into many of the other harms of religion, both the specific harmful content of biblical morality as well as the way it trains people to not think critically, and I argued for science, a scientific approach to knowing and changing the world. Throughout my speech I drew heavily from, and cited the works of, Bob Avakian, especially his book, AWAY WITH ALL GODS! Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World. I also argued for the new synthesis of communist revolution that has been developed by Bob Avakian. I ended my talk by speaking about communist morality and quoting from one of my favorite quotes (5:23) from Bob Avakian's book, BAsics:
"If you have had a chance to see the world as it really is, there are profoundly different roads you can take with your life. You can just get into the dog-eat-dog, and most likely get swallowed up by that while trying to get ahead in it. You can put your snout into the trough and try to scarf up as much as you can, while scrambling desperately to get more than others. Or you can try to do something that would change the whole direction of society and the whole way the world is. When you put those things alongside each other, which one has any meaning, which one really contributes to anything worthwhile? Your life is going to be about something—or it's going to be about nothing. And there is nothing greater your life can be about than contributing whatever you can to the revolutionary transformation of society and the world, to put an end to all systems and relations of oppression and exploitation and all the unnecessary suffering and destruction that goes along with them. I have learned that more and more deeply through all the twists and turns and even the great setbacks, as well as the great achievements, of the communist revolution so far, in what are really still its early stages historically."
Even though it was a rather small grouping of students and professors who had gathered, it was very exciting to be able to share all of this with them and what I really want to share with readers of Revolution is some of the richness of the exchanges that followed my speech.
Most, if not everyone, who attended were atheists. But, like me, most of them grew up Christian and most of them grew up in extremely conservative small towns or small cities in the Midwest. Like me, several of them had never met an atheist (or at least never met someone who admitted to being an atheist) until they were in college. Many of them were very concerned about sexism and the religious attacks on women's rights to abortion and birth control and quite a few of them were critical of other aspects of this system's crimes against the people. But none of them had heard of Bob Avakian or thought a whole lot about what a real communist revolution would look like in the world today.
During the question and answer session that followed my speech, the first question was from a young professor who grew up surrounded by extreme right-wing fundamentalism. He cited the atheist author Sam Harris as having argued that there is no point in making logical arguments to people who are trapped in a religious fundamentalist thinking because that framework makes them "immune" to logic. He expressed frustration at how he has provided ample facts and irrefutable evidence in his many arguments with fundamentalists only to watch this be disregarded and cast aside because the fundamentalists were proceeding based on blind faith and religious fervor. He noted favorably that he had watched the youtubes of my appearances on Bill O'Reilly's show over the years and wanted to know why I thought it was worth it to argue with people who were very closed in their thinking and whether I thought this could be effective.
I responded that Sam Harris has a point; it is true that religion, and fundamentalist religion in particular, trains people to disregard the facts and logic when it conflicts with what they are told is the "literal word of god." But I argued that Sam Harris is leaving something very critical out. The subtitle of Bob Avakian's book on religion is "Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World" for a reason. It is impossible to change the world without changing people's thinking and their modes of thinking, and it is impossible to fully change people's thinking in a truly mass way without bringing in the stakes for humanity and without actually fighting to transform the horrific and empty conditions of life that make people seek the false comfort of religion. I argued, as Avakian does, that we have to hit hard at the foundations of religion and force people to confront the contradictions between the core of their religious beliefs, on the one hand, and reality and what most people think is moral and good, on the other.
I said I always get a kick out of it when atheists will ridicule the Bible in the face of fundamentalists by saying things like, "Isn't that a poly-cotton blend you are wearing? Looks like you are a sinner!" (Leviticus 19:19 condemns wearing fabrics woven from two different materials.) However, whether someone wears a "blended fabric" really doesn't have any real social significance and so it is unlikely to be important enough to cause someone to question things they have been indoctrinated in for their entire lives. It is better to cite the Biblical commandments to do things like stone women if they are not virgins when they get married (Deuteronomy 22:14-21), to kill children if they are disobedient to their parents, to whip slaves (Luke 12:47—cited very powerfully in the new film 12 Years A Slave), or the many instances in which the Bible contradicts itself and where Jesus is shown to be completely ignorant of basic science or even his own scripture (see AWAY WITH ALL GODS!). These are things where the immorality and errors in the Bible have enormous stakes.
It is not that everyone will be convinced to let go of their belief in the Bible and god because these outrageous commandments of the Bible are pointed out to them. Some will reveal that they are willing to go along with truly fascist and horrific crimes. But others will be forced up against the contradictions in their own thinking that they have probably always pushed aside and never directly looked at: the contradiction between what they and many people think is right and what the Bible commands. These foundations of religious belief must be relentlessly hammered at, sharpening up the contradiction between what people think and reality, as well as the contradictions within people's thinking. It is in this way that we can fracture the foundations of many people's closed systems of religious thought and repolarize and transform the thinking of blocs of people. If we go at it in this kind of way, even the people who more openly own up to the horrific passages of the Bible (and other religious belief), or who make illogical contortions in order to both deny passages of the Bible and insist that the entire Bible is the literal word of god, will be part of what helps highlight to others what is wrong with their mode of thinking.
The second question was from a young woman who is pro-choice, but had never heard abortion spoken of as something positive, "Isn't there a limit, though, on when a woman should be able to get an abortion? Is it always a good thing?" I spoke to why abortion is a very positive thing on several levels. First, scientifically fetuses are not people and abortion is not murder. There is nothing wrong with it. But, if you treat a fetus like a person you have to treat the woman as less than human, as just an incubator or vessel. While there are sometimes circumstances which are tragic or sad that contribute to the need for the abortion, that doesn't mean that the abortion is tragic or sad. For example, if a woman gets pregnant from being raped, it is the rape that is the crime. The ability to get an abortion so that she is not forced to bear the child of her rapist is profoundly positive and liberating. If a woman wants a child but experiences medical complications during pregnancy, it is the medical complications which are tragic. The ability to get an abortion to ensure her safety and eliminate unnecessary suffering is profoundly positive and liberating. And beyond all that, most women who get abortions later in pregnancy either wanted to have a child and discovered that there were untenable complications, or they are women or girls who could not find an abortion earlier in pregnancy either because of the cost, the restrictions, the stigma, or the outright ignorance about their bodies. Women will always need abortion to be available at every point in pregnancy and this should be available on demand and without apology. The young woman nodded approvingly as I walked this through.
Next, a young guy asked, "What exactly do you mean by revolution?" People throw the word "revolution" around so much and mean so many different things by it. I specified that when I used the word I didn't just mean a lot of social upheaval or a change in attitudes, but, as Bob Avakian puts it in BAsics, "...Revolution means nothing less than the defeat and dismantling of the existing, oppressive state, serving the capitalist-imperialist system—and in particular its institutions of organized violence and repression, including its armed forces, police, courts, prisons, bureaucracies and administrative power—and the replacement of those reactionary institutions, those concentrations of reactionary coercion and violence, with revolutionary organs of political power, and other revolutionary institutions and governmental structures, whose basis has been laid through the whole process of building the movement for revolution, and then carrying out the seizure of power, when the conditions for that have been brought into being—which in a country like the U.S. would require a qualitative change in the objective situation, resulting in a deep-going crisis in society, and the emergence of a revolutionary people in the millions and millions, who have the leadership of a revolutionary communist vanguard and are conscious of the need for revolutionary change and determined to fight for it..."
[from BAsics 3:3] . This definitely clarified for him and others what exactly I was referring to. It also opened up a whole new round of discussion. A senior who is studying environmental science argued for pacifism (non-violence) as the only way that positive change could come about. She argued that the problem with violence, and the problem with communism, has been the outlook that "the ends justify the means." In this way, she argued, violence is allowed to consume the very liberating goals people may have started out fighting for.
I began my response by making clear that I respect many people who have stood up to injustice motivated by pacifism, some of them sacrificing tremendously, and that if she is serious about this outlook that she should politically resist the most vicious and massive organs of violence in the world, the military, police forces, and other organs of imperialist state power. If she follows through on her convictions in this regard, we will find ourselves shoulder to shoulder on many occasions. At the same time, however, it is necessary to take apart whether or not pacifism is a viable approach to emancipating humanity. I also differentiated between oppressive violence and liberating violence, for example the oppressive violence of a rapist is extremely different from the liberating violence of someone fighting off her rapist, even if it requires injuring him.
I made very clear that we are not currently in a revolutionary situation and as such, it would be not only wrong but harmful for individuals or groups to engage in isolated acts of violence; this would only serve to get people crushed and spread demoralization. Instead, there is tremendous need for—and a strategy developed as a key dimension of Bob Avakian's new synthesis and as a foundation of the line of the Revolutionary Communist Party—preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution, for hastening while awaiting the development of a revolutionary crisis. A key part of this is the approach of fighting the power and transforming the people for revolution. However, when there is an all-out revolutionary crisis—when the ruling class is deeply divided and fighting amongst themselves, when millions and millions see the existing order as completely illegitimate, and when there exists a far-sighted vanguard party with deep ties to the masses and a winning strategy—it would be necessary for the masses of people to defeat and dismantle the old order and its organs of massive, oppressive, violence (its courts, police forces, military, prisons, etc.).
While she quickly agreed that there are forms of violence that can be liberating, she limited this to what she described as "self-defense," asserting that in any situation of war the role of violence just takes over and becomes a corrupting force both to those carrying it out and to the goals they began by proclaiming and aiming to fight for. I argued that communists, and this is something that has been fiercely fought for by Bob Avakian, must utilize means that are consistent with their ends. In the kind of all-out crisis that makes revolution possible, including the existence of a revolutionary people numbering in their millions, this would necessarily include revolutionary warfare or else the massive violence and death that this system enforces on the planet every single day will go on without relent. But, even in these circumstances, the way in which revolutionary forces fight would be guided by a liberating morality and vision of the society it they are striving to bring into being.
I gave examples of how the People's Army during the Chinese Communist Revolution had rules of discipline that included things like never stealing a needle or a piece of thread from the masses of people, never raping or abusing women, and that the gun should be guided by politics (as opposed to politics being guided by the gun). I acknowledged that during this young woman's lifetime there haven't been very many wars fought on a revolutionary and liberatory basis, but gave the example of the Vietnamese National Liberation fighters, during the U.S. war on Vietnam. They did political education with many of the soldiers they captured, especially African American troops, and actually influenced the thinking of many of the soldiers right within the military they were simultaneously, of profound necessity, fighting to defeat militarily. And I used an example that Avakian uses in his talk, Revolution: Why It's Necessary; Why It's Possible; What It's All About, from the movie Spartacus. During that slave rebellion, Spartacus led the slaves to use violence to get free. But after they won their freedom, Spartacus stopped the former slaves from torturing their former captors, arguing that by doing so the freed slaves would simply turn into the very thing they had been fighting against. This was another example of the difference between the liberating violence that was necessary to get free, and the oppressive violence of torturing people at any time or for any reason.
The young woman and I went back and forth several times over this question and I won't recount all of it here. But, as we spoke, part of what became clear is that she really didn't see that we live in a system and that there is a state that includes massive organs of violence that defend and enforce (and can only defend and enforce) the existing way of life with all its profound exploitation, unnecessary death and suffering, and destruction of the planet. At one point she argued that everyone as individuals should just stop being violent, including people in the military or police, and that this would be the way to change the world. I argued that that notion was fanciful and out of line with the reality of what the state is. The U.S. military, for instance, is not just a collection of people. It is an institution that acts on behalf of and in the service of the U.S.'s system of capitalism-imperialism and global domination. I walked through the reality that there is not only incredible indoctrination and orders given to ensure the troops carrying out violence in the interests of the system, but there are punishments enforced against people should they refuse.
But I also suggested that we see if others wanted to comment either on the same topic or on a different topic. Off of this, another young professor posed that perhaps in the course of an actual revolution there would be sections of the military and the police forces who would lay down their arms and either be won over to the revolution or at least won not to repress it. Several other hands had gone up, so before I responded to him I called on others.
A young woman began by saying that she knows several people who have gone into the military recently and that when they came home after basic training the things they told her really upset her. "One of them was made to do a practice raid during training where they were told to go into a building and kill everyone in it, including the children!" Off of this, someone else in the room piped up, "Yeah, I don't think they are all going to be won to put down their arms."
Another young woman then raised her hand and somewhat hesitantly began to share something she seemed not to have told all that many people. Her friend's mom used to be a cop in a pretty large Midwestern city and had told her some stories of what it was like, "She said that sometimes, if the police shot someone accidentally or, like, during a chase, and if it turned out that the person wasn't armed, sometimes the cops would just put a gun down near the dead body so that it looked like they had killed the person in self-defense." Her friend's mom hadn't lasted long as a cop and was troubled to this day by the things that she had seen.
I was extremely struck by the two examples that had been brought forward. This was very different than what I had initially anticipated from both of the students when they started their comments by detailing their personal connections to either military or police officers. Their comments served to underscore the reality that both the military and police forces are institutions that serve a certain function and that individuals within them are molded to carry out that overall function, or else punished or driven out. I spoke to this a bit more fully, but then returned to the woman who first raised the question of pacifism. I posed that while I disagreed on a deep scientific basis with the viewpoint of pacifism, I was not at all arguing that the dangers she was posing—of lofty goals being consumed and undermined by the means that people might take up to fight for them—was not real. There are millions and millions of people for whom life every day is a bitter and living hell and who would, if there were an actual revolutionary uprising, form the backbone of the revolutionary fighters. In an actual revolution, there would be strong impulses towards revenge and there would be the unleashing of tremendous pent-up and justified anger. I spoke of the millions locked in prisons, others terrorized by police and locked in desperate poverty in the ghettoes and barrios, women who have been brutalized and terrorized by men their whole lives, and more. If there is not a far-sighted revolutionary vanguard party that can lead this and give it direction, and if that party is not building up growing ranks of revolutionary people and broadly popularizing and repolarizing all of society around its revolutionary aims, methods, and goals, starting now and all the way leading up to such a revolutionary crisis then it is very difficult to conceive of such an uprising going anywhere positive. I spoke to the importance of bringing forward emancipators of humanity and of the aim of the movement for revolution today being bringing forward hundreds who are influencing thousands today and preparing to lead millions when the all-out struggle for power is the order of the day. I spoke of the way this goes on through the work to popularize Bob Avakian, through the distribution of Revolution newspaper and its website revcom.us, and through the ongoing approach of fighting the power and transforming the people for revolution.
She, and others, got the sense that the Revolutionary Communist Party doesn't dismiss the very real contradictions involved in making revolution. On the other hand, this got her thinking even more deeply about the contradictions involved and she asked, as the final question of the official program, whether it really is possible to have the oppressed of this society make a revolution that aims at emancipation, given that the people who are the most in need of revolution have also been the most systematically uneducated. Wouldn't they just "lash out"? She was giving voice to a very big concern and fear that keeps many people from among the middle strata, even many very progressive people who have deep criticisms of this system and deep sympathies with the oppressed, from even considering real revolution.
I spoke a bit more about the RCP's statement on the strategy for revolution and then shared some of the examples of the work that the Party is doing now among the most oppressed, including the efforts to get Revolution newspaper into the prisons and the incredible impact this has had. But I also told the truth, that the impact is still far, far too embryonic and needs to be going on on a qualitatively greater scale. There are enormous and urgent stakes to this. So, I put the challenge back to her and to everyone in the audience that she and others need to be part of making this go on on a qualitatively greater scale and with enormously greater impact. We can see in microcosm the difference it makes to get BA (Bob Avakian) and the voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Revolution newspaper (revcom.us), out very broadly among the oppressed and among others. But this needs to go on all throughout society. It needs to be unavoidable in the ghettoes and barrios as well as the suburbs and the college campuses, in the prisons and in the media and arts, among all strata and every nationality, and people—even people like themselves who are just hearing about this for the first time and just beginning to check this out themselves—have a responsibility not only to get into this, but to help spread it through their own efforts as well as through contributing to the major campaign underway to raise major funds to get BA Everywhere.
We had gone well beyond the time officially allotted for the event and no one had gotten up to leave. I thanked the organizers again for bringing me out and everyone for coming and listening so intently and engaging so seriously and let everyone know I would stick around to speak informally with anyone who wanted to. Most people headed out pretty quickly, but not before thanking me briefly or making some small comment. One young professor said simply, "I had never heard of Bob Avakian before, but I am definitely going to read some of him now." A few students stuck around and after talking for a while we all decided to go to a local coffee shop where we joked and had a lot of fun and continued to dig into these and other crucial questions of philosophy, morality, communism's history and future, and the fate of humanity.
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
December 16, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
I wanted to share with your readers some recent experience in discussing BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! Bob Avakian Live at our local Revolution Books. I’m mainly focusing on one discussion of one particular section of the DVD—“Could We Really Win...Really?” This, of course, is an extremely important part of the speech—for unless and until there is a real revolution, then the horrors that are exposed in this film will go on, and the real possibilities for a future in which humanity actually flourishes will not be realized. Such a revolution does critically involve the defeat and dismantling of the oppressive state power of the ruling class, at a point when the conditions for doing that have been brought into being—with those conditions including a deep-going crisis, owing fundamentally to the nature and workings of the system itself, the emergence of a revolutionary people numbering in their millions and millions willing and determined to fight for revolutionary change, and the leadership of a revolutionary communist vanguard. [For more on how to hasten the development of such a situation, which does not currently exist, see the RCP,USA’s “On The Strategy for Revolution.”
But before getting into this discussion, I’m going to give a little background. Going into this discussion, we had been summing up tendencies to be a bit too unfocused in our discussions. Often, we would play whatever part of the film we were going to discuss that night, then the leader of the discussion would make a few points, and then the floor was thrown open. A pattern developed in which one or two or more of the newer people at the session might raise some general questions pertaining to revolution that they had been thinking about going into the session, and then the more experienced people would attempt to answer these. Sometimes these answers “bounced off” the speech, so to speak, with those who were answered drawing on their general knowledge and understanding, often losing sight of the specific points and examples in the film itself. And sometimes the discussions were a bit unfocused and diffuse. Too often people were not really being led to dig into the rich content of the speech.
To be clear, it’s not that you should never have sessions where people come new to REVOLUTION–NOTHING LESS and respond with all the bottled up sentiments, ideas, aspirations and questions that this film can unleash. In fact, we should have such sessions, and more of them. But the point of these sessions scheduled in the bookstore was to actually walk through the rich unfolding of the speech itself, and that was getting lost sight of.
With that in mind, we began to change the way we led these discussions. When we began the discussion of the part of the DVD that focused on hastening while awaiting a revolutionary situation (the last section of disk 2 and the first section of disk 3), the discussion leader made clear that there were certain questions he was prioritizing, and that he wanted people to “get inside of” rather than “bounce off” the speech in their discussion (that is, to really examine the examples being used, the way the arguments were being unfolded and, most of all, the method and approach being employed by BA). While wider-ranging questions from newer people were fine and overall welcome, he would take these “off-line” at the end of the discussion, more informally, so that the focus could be on the actual content of the film. And this was held to, gently but firmly when necessary.
The discussion leader also began taking a more “forward-leaning” approach to the discussion—not only posing some key questions and focuses at the beginning, but returning people to these when things drifted, posing further questions to those who spoke from the floor, etc. After a while, we noticed that the informal discussions after things broke up were sometimes more lively and cut more deeply into how people were really seeing things and what they were experiencing and learning in trying to apply the line; so we began to just have a brief discussion involving “the whole room” at the beginning (sometimes there are several dozen people at these sessions), after the film was shown, to set a framework, and then broke down into smaller groups—and this led to much richer discussions, with many more people involved in the wrangling. At times, we came together at the end to sum up the key points that had emerged.
This strengthened the “solid core” of the process. The discussion leader took more initiative to set terms and guide the discussion, and to keep bringing it back to the actual material in the film, and this actually enriched the “elasticity” of it all—that is, the ways in which many more people were able to dig into this and bring their questions, their experience, and their observations and ideas to bear on things in a way that further illuminated and enriched what they had just seen (and thus to return to the material later on a deeper basis).
The serious discussion of the material on “hastening while awaiting the development of a revolutionary situation” proved necessary to lay a good foundation to really dig into the section on “Could We Really Win... Really?” In this case, because it is so important to be clear on what is—and what is not—being said in this section, we changed the format. First off, we went back and played the section entitled “A Revolutionary Situation...The Role of Youth...& How to Work Today So That There is a Revolutionary Force When That Time Comes” prior to getting into this section on “Could We...”—just so that everyone was clear that we were going to be talking about a situation that is much different than what we face today, one we are striving to bring into being and prepare for (even as much of what would lead to such a situation would happen independently of “our will”). Just to be clear here—and in the discussion we returned to this point repeatedly in getting into the answers on different questions pertaining to “Could We Really Win... Really?”—such a revolutionary situation would be marked by a deep crisis in the ruling class and structures of government, where the very measures they took to get out of that crisis would deepen it... a general feeling among very broad sections of people that the proposals being put forward by reformers were bankrupt and did not measure up... and a revolutionary people involving millions of all strata, but especially the bedrock base for revolution who catch hell every day... and support and at least “friendly neutrality” from large sections of “the middle.” One thing that defines a revolutionary situation is that masses of people, in their millions, would be ready to sacrifice everything to make revolution; were that to be the case, they would need to have an understanding of how to meet and defeat the violent repressive forces of the established order.
It was also important that people understood what we were, and were not, talking about in the largest sense. While this was in fact made clear at the session, it might be good in doing this again to explicitly ground things in BAsics 3:3.
Then, the discussion leader explained that this session would be structured more as a q and a; this was precisely because it was important that things not be posed or discussed in such a way that enemies of the revolution could twist and distort what was being said and discussed, and because people aren’t that versed in this topic, and there was a need to dig into all this with a lot of guidance.
We began the session by reading “Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation—in Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution,” a very important piece to which BA refers in his speech. In fact, copies of this had been given to everyone who came, but we still decided to read it aloud as well and underline some of the points. The discussion leader then pointed out that we had both a legal and moral right to study and discuss such questions that could emerge in a future situation and, more than that, a responsibility to do so. While revolutionary work today must focus on raising political and ideological consciousness of the masses and developing massive political resistance, there is indeed a parallel track on which people should be studying and thinking about the issues and questions that would be posed when and if the situation did take a dramatic turn. The discussion leader returned to points in REVOLUTION–NOTHING LESS on how the fates of hundreds of millions and ultimately billions rested on this, and the need to proceed in a serious manner befitting that responsibility. He talked about how people should—in keeping with what is true—make clear in their questions that we were not talking about today’s situation, and he did so himself in his answers.
Then he said that he would pose the first question, since a lot of people had it and it would be better to just simply pose it and answer it than either have someone do it in a way that might be distorted, or else just not have it come up. Simply put, why is it wrong to just “get it on” right now? And the discussion leader then mainly drew from the speech itself to answer this, while also referring people to pages 86-87 of the pamphlet REVOLUTION AND COMMUNISM: A FOUNDATION AND STRATEGIC ORIENTATION, within the article entitled “On the Possibility of Revolution.”
This got things rolling on what turned out to be a deep and lively session. In the main, people’s questions related to what was in the material in the speech. In the few cases where they didn’t, the leader either found a way to relate it to key points in the speech, or else just said that we would not be getting into that question tonight, as we were going to focus on really digging into the important material in the speech itself.
Some of the questions that came up included:
There were other questions besides, but these were some of the key ones. People would often bring up how they understood it, or where they had points of unclarity or questions. Sometimes, the person leading would find it necessary to rephrase the question so as to make clear that we were, in fact, discussing something that would not be correct to try to do today, but which in a future situation—one in which there were a revolutionary people numbering in the millions and a whole revolutionary situation had emerged—would be necessary in order to meet and defeat the violent repressive forces of the other side. The leader of the discussion was also prepared to say that on some questions he would have to think further and return to the material before answering.
Overwhelmingly, the answers drew from material and concepts that were in this section of the filmed speech. Some of the concepts that would be applicable were such a future situation to develop, included Mao’s concept that “you fight your way, we’ll fight our way,” and what that was based on; the fact that the other side would almost certainly try to bring down very heavy destruction against the revolution and in fact would be forced ultimately to rely on their ability to wreak destruction, but that they themselves also had weaknesses—not the least of which was the way in which their way of fighting could tend to alienate masses, if the revolutionaries were clear in their program and if their way of fighting reflected the principles and values upon which they (the revolutionaries) were based, and thus how those weaknesses could be exploited by a genuine revolutionary force; how the greatest potential strength of the revolutionaries would lie in their ability to draw on the support of the people in many different ways (the point made in the speech drawing on Mao’s analogy to the revolutionaries being “like fish in the sea” of the masses; how strategic centralization and tactical decentralization pointed again to the need for ideological cohesion among the forces of revolution. This latter point also led into the crucial importance of the party, and one based on and wielding the concept of “solid core, with a lot of elasticity.”
In all, we did get quite a bit into this realm of doctrine and principles in its own right. I won’t try to recount all that here, other than to say that there is quite a lot of content packed into this fairly short section of the speech. At the same time, one very important point that kept coming up was how everything we do today has to be done with the possibility of such a future situation emerging in mind. In other words, it would be necessary in such a future situation for revolutionary forces to have support all over, not just in the central cities, precisely in order to avoid getting confined to and pulverized within the cities; but unless political and ideological work is carried out now to reach out to those areas and develop not only political influence but also organized political ties, the forces of revolution would be coming from much further behind than would be desirable and the odds against success would be greatly increased
Getting into all these points gave people a deeper grasp of what was being said in the speech. I think this session enabled them to return to both the speech and to works like “On the Possibility...” and “Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon” so that they would be able to “mine more” from these works, as they pertain to this arena. This sesssion also drove home in a deeper way the importance of ideology AND, very centrally, the importance of building the Party NOW that is based on that ideology. Indeed, this theme of the importance of building the Party—including carrying forward the Cultural Revolution in our Party, especially around method and approach, as an urgent necessity—kept “unavoidably” coming up.
In sum, this was an important beginning in giving orientation on the importance of getting into these questions and guidance on how to get into them in a way that both maximizes the possibility of avoiding distortion by those who would like nothing better than a pretext with which to repress the movement for revolution and sets a framework for people to pursue further study and reflection in this arena.
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
Editor's Note: Reprinted from Successful Rebranding magazine
January 6, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
When Pope Francis assumed the leadership of the Catholic Church, he took on one of the greatest rebranding challenges in recent history. Pope Francis has turned out to be what the church's adherents would call a "godsend" to a brand that had been in serious crisis.
He has taken on the challenge of representing an institution that has been, in his words, "obsessed" with condemning same-sex relationships and forcing women to bear children against their will by opposing not just abortion but any form of birth control, all the while providing intransigent protection for institutionalized rape and sexual abuse of children. And in a world of vicious inequality, the Catholic Church remains deeply embedded in the most obscene oligarchies while denouncing any attempt of the oppressed to rise up against their oppression in struggle, let alone revolution.
With substance-free but carefully crafted gestures like wearing different clothes, moving to a different house, and occasionally expressing concern about income inequality and saying that he really, really cares about some of the people who his church nevertheless continues to oppress, Francis has miraculously revived the Roman Catholic brand. Talk about resurrection!
Pope Francis has managed (thus far) to convince many otherwise sane people, including people who had in many ways sharply criticized and even broken in some ways with the church, to forget about all the rank injustice, oppression, and insults to reason and truth that outraged them with just a few well-placed words.
Matthew Schmitz, deputy editor at the conservative magazine First Things, observed that the new Pope "says there is no question of what the church teaches. He wants a gentler approach. The way that he speaks masks how orthodox he is and might lead to some confusion."
The rebranding of the Catholic Church has focused on a 17-word excerpt from an interview with Francis declaring the church should not "obsess" over persecuting and condemning same-sex relationships or forcing women to bear children against their will. While that excerpt flooded the airways, the Pope made clear that "The church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or 'modernizations.' It is not 'progressive' to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life [allow women to choose whether or not to have a child]."
What is really so impressive in this Age of Branding is that Pope Francis has been able to do all this while maintaining all of the Dark Ages rules and practices of the Catholic Church which contribute to so much outrageous oppression and needless suffering, including:
May we suggest a new advertising slogan for the Catholic Church?
"When you've just got to justify horrible crimes
and medieval morality with a cover of piety...
Things go better with Pope"
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
December 21, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On December 20, the New York Times reported from Yemen: "A hail of missiles slammed into a convoy of trucks on a remote desert road, killing at least 12 people....this time the trucks were part of a wedding procession, making the customary journey from the groom's house to the house of the bride. The Dec. 12 strike by the Pentagon, launched from an American base in Djibouti, killed at least a half-dozen innocent people, according to a number of tribal leaders and witnesses, and provoked a storm of outrage in the country. It also illuminated the reality behind the talk surrounding the Obama administration's new drone policy, which was announced with fanfare seven months ago."
From Pakistan to Yemen, tens of millions of people live in daily danger of terrorist attack—from U.S. drones. Surveillance and attack drones hover over villages constantly, creating an atmosphere of never-ending tension and fear. They strike seemingly at random—assassinating those targeted by NSA and CIA "intelligence" as threats to the U.S. empire in one form or another, but also wiping out wedding parties, and blowing up homes with women and children. Follow-up strikes are consciously planned to assassinate medical and emergency first responders. Amnesty International reports that "According to NGO and Pakistan government sources the USA has launched some 330 to 374 drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and September 2013...according to these sources, between 400 and 900 civilians have been killed in these attacks and at least 600 people seriously injured."
In the wake of global condemnation and some (but nowhere near enough) exposure and protest in the U.S., Obama claimed (with fanfare) in May of 2013 that he has put in place new policies that the U.S. will only use drones to assassinate people who are a "continuing and imminent threat to the American people." And he will only launch drone strokes when there is a "near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured."
To date, no U.S official has made a case in public that the people targeted in the strike on the wedding party in Yemen posed a threat to any Americans, and the Yemeni press has unambiguously documented that at least many of the victims on were not even intended targets.
As Larry Everest wrote in Revolution: "What kind of empire and global order is it that depends on violence to preserve such oppression and suffering? That murders 68-year-old grandmothers, blowing them to pieces as they tend their small fields, and then attacking their children and grandchildren when they try to help? Or that massacres chromite miners, landless farmers, and near-penniless drivers? What is legitimate about trying to violently preserve a world in which millions upon millions are forced to live in destitution and fear, now, in the 21st century? Yet this is, at bottom, what the 'war on terror' is about.
"Why should anyone accept U.S. drone strikes, Obama's lies, and most fundamentally, this kind of world?" (The Illegality, Illegitimacy & Immorality of U.S. Drone Strikes, available at revcom.us).
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
January 6, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
I am in the middle of rereading BA’s memoir From Ike to Mao and Beyond and I really want to recommend doing so. I have read it a couple of times before, and every time I read it, I am provoked to think about new things, as well as think about some ‘old’ things differently. As I am reading it this time, I am repeatedly mentioning to the person I live with, and others, various things which strike me, either reflections on some historical things, or things which prompt me to think about current contradictions differently. In other words, there is a whole range of things in the memoir to get into and learn from, whether reading it for the first time or many times. Along with the overall impact of the memoir I wanted to share a couple of different things that struck me particularly at this point in my re-reading.
One, a deep sense of how BA has fought for principle and in a principled way at every turn, as he consistently and deeply fought for the most advanced understanding as he saw it at any given time. He is always striving to step back to what the masses of people need and what that demanded of him. He recounts various line struggles—with various members of the Black Panther Party, individually and collectively; with different lines that came up in forming the Revolutionary Union (forerunner to the RCP) and then different lines within the RU; in the struggle to build a vanguard party with the RCP as the result and then in the split within the RCP after the reactionary coup in China. There is something very profound and hard fought in his method at all these junctures. It would have been possible for him to have gotten drawn into thinking that he should compromise his communist principles and proceed from the very real and important contradictions before the revolutionary movement—the need for unity of the revolutionary movement, even the urgent need for a vanguard party. But BA approaches these various line struggles from his deepest understanding of what is needed in the world to actually get rid of this system of horror and bloodshed of capitalism-imperialism—the principles in method and approach have to be applied or the result will not be worth getting, not getting disoriented by the popular thinking in the movement or discouraged by the setbacks including the monumental loss of China. You get a very deep and substantive feel for both the advanced role he was playing, and also how he learned and developed into a communist leader through these struggles and how through that process the line itself was deepened and became more scientific.
The second point is the importance of the vanguard party. There was very sharp line struggle and twists and turns into the whole process to forge this party. One point which really struck me was that in the early 1970s the need for the masses to have a vanguard party in order to make revolution was a mass question in the revolutionary and progressive movement. There were sharp disagreements about this—whether a vanguard party is necessary for the masses to make revolution, and around what principles and line would it be forged, but it was broadly debated and discussed. I was thinking about how the need for a vanguard party, THIS vanguard party—the RCP—in order for the masses to make revolution—needs to be such a mass question today, again broadly debated and discussed, with some people struggling to understand this more deeply, others sharply disagreeing and others trying to make up their minds as they consider the possibility of actually being able to make revolution when the time is right. The expanded slogan of “We ARE Building a Movement for Revolution and Building the Party as Its Leading Core” about the decisive role of building the party is a tremendous tool to be able to do this. The question of a vanguard party isn’t just a question for a handful of people who have decided to devote their lives, creativity, and energy to making revolution, already looking to the RCP for leadership in one form or another. We need to take out this new slogan about the critical importance of the party out very broadly to people of all strata—including importantly basic people in the neighborhoods and students and professors on campuses—as a key part of letting them know there is a way out of this madness.
As I said in the beginning, rereading the memoir provoked me to both appreciate more deeply some things in the past and to think about the implications of those things for the challenges we face today. Read it, reread it, give it to someone who is horrified by the world we live in today.
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
January 6, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
At the end of the Thanksgiving weekend, Revolution Books in Chicago was crowded with people (35+) who came to collectively grapple with the article from 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.” There were veteran activists together with people very new to the movement for revolution. Almost everyone was there from the beginning right through to the end of the discussion three hours later and then stuck around to talk more.
The presenter opened with remarks that stressed why these questions are so important. Lotta’s article is addressing foundational questions about the nature of society relevant to understanding the world we are confronting and acting upon, the basis for change and for a radically different and far better world to be brought into being. Citing the Appendix to the Constitution of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, she brought out that to understand the world, and to change it in the interests of humanity, people need scientific theory. Science is not some set of “mysterious laws belonging to the scientists.” Science aims to learn the causes of phenomena, the reasons why things happen and how they develop—and it seeks these causes in the material world, which includes human society. A scientific approach does not seek supernatural “explanations,” nor does it accept any explanations which cannot be tested, and verified or disproved, in the real material world, but instead develops an initial theory based on evidence from the world, tests out the theory in actual practice and against the results achieved, and through this process arrives at a deepened understanding of what is true. That understanding must then be further applied to reality. Further, she also underscored the importance of the breakthroughs in science made by the leading revolutionary communists—Marx laying the foundation, right down to the breakthroughs by Bob Avakian including in rescuing and deepening a more scientific understanding of the actual underlying dynamics of the capitalist/imperialist system and the material basis for why revolution is not only necessary but possible.
The presenter also stressed that while the subject matter of the article was complex—not something obvious on the surface—she urged the group to approach this discussion as a beginning exploration and introduction to this for those who are new or as a start to a serious re-engagement for veterans of the communist movement who at minimum are likely “rusty” on this understanding of the very fundamental workings of capitalism. This is complex, but understandable.
The discussion did in fact serve to spur further reading and wrangling with the full article at revcom.us on the part of both some people very new to the movement for revolution, excited to get a scientific understanding of society, and some veterans who expressed a new appreciation for the breakthroughs of BA's new synthesis of communism and how that was reflected in Lotta's polemic.
Drawing from Views on Socialism and Communism: A Radically New Kind of State, A Radically Different and Far Greater Vision of Freedom, the section “A Scientific Understanding: The Decisive and Determining Contradictions in All Societies,” the presenter went very briefly into how in all of human society the most fundamental thing is the basic production and distribution of the material requirements of life and reproduction of the basis for life, BUT this is not producing material requirements in the abstract or an economy in the abstract. It is the case in all of human society that this production and distribution is carried out in very definite production relations and these are social production relations. No man or woman is an island—not Robinson Crusoe... and this went all the way back to the earliest period of human history, even “cave men” worked in various ways together in concrete social relations to produce and distribute these material requirements of life. While this discussion could not get into all of that complex history and development of human society, the discussion did focus on what these relations are under the current system of capitalism-imperialism.
The initial brief presentation was followed by watching the chapter “What Is Capitalism?” from the film Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It's All About, where BA breaks down the basic character of capitalism and its driving dynamics. This was a really good way to bring everyone into some of the complex concepts in the article.
There were five points outlined to guide the discussion, and although it wasn’t possible to cover them all in such a large group in that amount of time, it provided a framework including for further discussions and study of the article and related materials passed out in the session.
• What is a commodity, what characterizes capitalism: is it greed, and does it flow from human nature? What are the laws of capitalism and who is subject to having to follow “the rules” of the game: is it just the proletariat and other oppressed or do they apply to the capitalists too? Where does profit derive from and why do the capitalists face a compulsion to expand or die?
• The article and the excerpt from BA’s Revolution talk go into the fundamental contradiction of capitalism between socialized production (on an increasingly global scale) and private appropriation. What are these two forms of motion of this fundamental contradiction and how do they interact with each other? (One form of motion is the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, along with other struggles arising from various social contradictions conditioned by and incorporated into the development of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism on a global scale. The other form of motion is the antagonism between the organization of production at the level of the individual unit of capital, and the anarchy of production in society overall.)
• Dig into the importance of BA’s crucial breakthrough and deeper grounding in materialism in understanding the “driving force of anarchy” as the decisive dynamic of capitalism. What was this breakthrough in understanding in contrast to wrong understandings of this in the international communist movement including in method and approach?
• Exploring the example from Lotta’s article about the environment, including why capitalism cannot solve the climate crisis. Another example of this same dynamic at work: the globalization of food, the crises that followed and why there is no right to eat under capitalism. (In a packet given to all participants there was a two-page handout on socialist sustainable development from the special Environmental Emergency issue of Revolution and two pieces on the global food crisis—the centerfolds from June 22, 2008 and May 1, 2008).
• How could society be organized differently, and why do you need a revolution to accomplish that? (It was clear at the start of the discussion that we weren’t going to be able to dig into this question on any level that was deserved, so the presenter encouraged people right at this point to dig into the handout mentioned above on socialist sustainable development as well as the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) to get a much deeper sense of how society could be organized radically differently.)
The discussion was fast-paced and wide-ranging. One of the participants right away said that the essential character of the capitalists is “without a doubt” greed. The discussion dug into slavery (and the movie 12 Years a Slave) by way of analogy—the slave masters committed monstrous crimes but what shaped and drove their brutal ugliness? And what were the implications of the slave system producing commodities for a capitalist market on the organization of production to extract everything out of the slaves’ toil? What would happen if a slave master wasn’t “greedy” and only worked his slaves for three hours/day? There was recognition that such a slave owner would go under. It became clearer through the discussion that the accumulation of vast wealth and the callous crimes of the capitalists is part of the reason why people spontaneously and erroneously think that the essence of the problem lies in the greed of the capitalists. The discussion brought out in different dimensions how bigger shaping forces are at work and if you don’t understand the actual laws and dynamics of capitalism and imperialism, you will constantly be fooled into thinking capitalism can be reformed through one scheme or another.
Many different aspects of political economy and social relations were spoken to in the discussion—this article can't do justice to the richness and liveliness of the discussion in which almost everyone participated. But to give a flavor of the types of questions that were explored (some in a beginning way and some more thoroughly) through the course of the discussion: how is living labor the only source of profit? Why can’t an individual capitalist be satisfied with a certain level of profit-making but instead is forced to expand or die? How are the social contradictions of capitalism-imperialism manifested not only in class antagonisms but also in the oppression of whole nations (internal and external to the country); the divisions between those who work with their minds and those who work with their hands (mental/manual contradiction); the old and new forms of patriarchy deeply embedded in class society including capitalism? What is the role of the superstructure (including culture, laws, etc.) and how does that interpenetrate with this fundamental contradiction and its driving dynamic in capitalist society as well as how do the prevailing ideas among all sections of people—including the most oppressed—reflect the ideas of the ruling class ideology in a world dominated by commodity exchange?
There was an important thread running through parts of the discussion off this last point on how even basic proletarians end up confronting the world as individuals trying to get the best terms for the sale of their labor power. This engenders looking at the world through the prism of commodity and bourgeois relations overall. Confounding this spontaneous outlook with the goals of the communist revolution has been the source of very sharp struggle among communists going all the way back to Marx. Is the goal of the communist movement “a fair days wage for a fair days work” or the actual abolition of the wage system and radical rupture with all of this—something BA has developed much further in the new synthesis? One person pointed to what was in the segment from the Revolution talk about how something that can be quite beautiful like intimacy between two people based on mutual respect gets turned to shit when commodity exchange enters in and that these are the relations and outlook cultivated by commodity relations and capitalism. There was also some struggle over whether class distinctions were part of human nature.
Other questions arose: Was the one form of motion, the “bourgeoisie/proletariat contradiction,” principal at the time of Marx but later changed to the anarchy/organization being principal or has the anarchy/organization form of motion been principal all along? What is the material basis for people from the middle strata to be won to being part of this revolution and what does this have to do with the anarchy/organization being principal? When the principal contradiction in the world in the 1960s was between oppressed nations and imperialism (when there were revolutionary risings all over the world)—how did this understanding correspond to the analysis in Lotta’s article that the anarchy/organization contradiction is principal in an overall way?
The discussion only was able to touch the surface in relation to the environmental crisis, which would have been a rich example to explore. Similarly, the question of why there is no right to eat under capitalism. Both are important manifestations of the two forms of motion addressed in the Lotta article. There was a recognition that this understanding of the breakthrough by BA in understanding the deep structural dynamics of capitalism, the shaping role of the form of motion of anarchy/organization and Lotta’s polemic need to get out in a major way as part of people seeing that there is a way out of the horrors, including the actual destruction of the planet.
In hindsight, it would have been good to focus even more time on the other lines within the international communist movement, and even though there were people very new to the movement for revolution at the discussion, we could have dug into more substantially what that wrong understanding is and done more comparing and contrasting. As part of this we could have maybe dug more than we did into how the accumulation of capital is not only a dynamic but at the same time a disruptive process of expansion and adjustment and crisis (in short, the fuller complexity of this driving force of anarchy) and how this opens up diverse channels for change and for sudden eruptions. Grasping this scientifically is a critical orientation for building the movement for revolution. Lotta's article in part IV ("The Stakes: A System That Cannot Be Reformed...The Revolution That is Needed) quotes Avakian from Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon (“Part 1: Revolution and the State”):
Now, we may not like all this, but that's where we are. We may not like the fact that capitalism and its dynamics are still dominant in the world, overwhelmingly so at this time, and set the stage for the struggle we have to wage—we may not like this, but that's the reality. And in that reality is the basis for radically changing things. It's in confronting and struggling to change that reality, and not through some other means. It's through understanding and then acting to transform that reality along pathways that the contradictory character of that reality does open up—pathways which must be seized on and acted on to carry out that transformation of reality.
And just after that excerpt quoted in Lotta’s article, Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon continues:
So this was a fundamentally important breakthrough when we firmly identified "the driving force of anarchy" as the principal dynamic of capitalism. And this has to do with everything I've been talking about: why you can't reform this system, in fact, and why you can't just arbitrarily try to replace it with any old utopian scheme of whatever kind, that you might like to impose on reality, proclaimed under whatever banner.
Along with all these dynamics of capitalism, which I've been speaking to, there are other aspects of the relations of production besides the ownership system, which capitalism embodies within its overall functioning, and there are other social relations that are embodied within the capitalist system. For example, what we call the mental/manual contradiction, the contradiction between people who carry out physical labor and those who carry out intellectual labor; patriarchy and the oppression of women; the oppression of various nations and peoples (national oppression); regional differences and disparities which can become antagonisms and often do; and other significant contradictions within a particular country or part of the world and between different countries, or different parts of the world, and different alliances of countries. These are all fundamentally encompassed within, and expressions of, the underlying dynamics of capitalism at this stage in the development of human society—not some predetermined development that was bound to happen, but how human historical evolution has actually taken place, and where it has actually brought us to.
So all that is something to dig into more fully.
Also, the article “ ‘Preliminary Transformation into Capital’ ... And Putting an End to Capitalism” by Bob Avakian was crucial in preparation for the discussion and would have been good to include in the packet of materials given to participants for further study.
The presenter's closing comments returned to the theme that you need far-sighted scientific leadership that understands the world the way it really is in order to change it. This revolution is what humanity really needs. And on that basis we can unite with and lead all kinds of people. But we have to recognize that the dominant ideology out on the street—and among all different sections of society—is a reflection of the prevailing capitalist outlook. You need a scientific understanding that people do not get spontaneously through the experience of being oppressed. The reality in the world today is that well over 10,000 kids die daily from preventable causes; there is extensive malnutrition in this country and yet the productive forces are on a scale where these things can be solved. This party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, is needed at the core of the movement for revolution. We have to get into the science, fight for a new culture. And to people who run that all you can do is try to get “yours” within these awful social relations, we need to say to them "that is the old system way of thinking." We have to do battle ideologically and politically, while we wrangle with ourselves like a team of scientists who are out to change the world.
This was an important beginning discussion and it needs to continue in big and small groups digging into the most advanced scientific understanding of communism, including how capitalism functions as a critical part of being able to change the world in a way that is in the interest of the vast majority of humanity.
As one comrade wrote in the wake of the discussion at Revolution Books, “I have noted recently in conversations with a couple of [veterans of the revolutionary movement], the phenomenon of not getting the significance of the recent work by Lotta, the article and interview (“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” and the interview “You Don’t Know What You Think You “Know” About...The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future”) and the struggle for a scientific epistemology that we are currently waging both in our party, with the masses, and out in the world in terms of the actual possibility of breaking through. Both of these are tremendously powerful concentrations and distillations of the new synthesis of communism brought forward by BA. I feel this is something that we really have to grasp deeply, engage and re-engage, promote broadly and in particular dig into the method and approach being modeled in these pieces. (And this very directly relates to unleashing and uncorking the importance of fighting through and winning in terms of BA Everywhere and raising big bucks and being able to get this out into the world.)”
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
Letter from a Reader
January 6, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
A group of us got together recently to dig into "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" by Raymond Lotta. The leadership of a collective body understood the need to discuss this "urgent polemic" and set up a time and date for people to get together. The group which met was a little broader than just the collective body, including a comrade with a deeper grasp of the overall topic and political economy in particular who was invited to be part of the discussion. This salon proved to be a very important and lively, and initial, digging into the polemic. People’s understanding was uneven, but everyone jumped in to be part of the process at one point or another. Everyone was very exhilarated and wants to do this again soon. I hope a brief report on this session will encourage others to get together and wrangle over this critical piece.
We had to keep coming back to the starting point of "what is true and why" to wrangle on these questions of theory, and as part of that the point made by BA, "we may not like all this, but that's where we are." As a reflection of wielding the epistemological method which proceeds from reality, not formulas or "precepts," it is critical for us not to just repeat what is in the polemic and then figure out how to explain all of this to others. We have to ourselves dig into whether and how the analysis in the polemic is true and how we understand reality first and then, yes, we do need to get this out into the world. There is a crying need for more science and more rigorous and critical thinking, which we tried to wield.
One point that was made in the opening rounds was that our responsibility to struggle through these lines is not just part of taking responsibility for the line of our own party, which is extremely important, but we have a special responsibility in this party in this country for what the line among those who consider themselves communists in the world today will be and forging an international communist organization on a scientific communist line. We discussed the stakes of applying BA’s new synthesis to bringing forward new initiators of a new stage of communism worldwide. If we aren’t having this discussion in the context of these stakes posed by the "sharp debate and urgent polemic" in the context of the whole world, we won’t be having the right discussion.
We started out with a discussion of the development of commodity production and the leap from feudalism to capitalism with people bringing in some study they had done of Engels’ Anti-Duhring. With the help of the more experienced comrade, we dug into the whole process described there and how this process is not driven by "greedy" capitalists or by the struggle of the workers against their exploitation but rather the cutthroat competition between capitalists to each cut their own costs in one way or another—which leads to organization on the level of each enterprise but anarchy in society as a whole as they compete.
We got into examples of how the anarchy/organization form of motion actually is overall the determining factor of the fundamental contradiction in the capitalists' quest for profit. The dynamism generated by this competition for more and more profit produces a very dynamic economic system, but this "dynamism" is not just creative, it is also destructive—destructive of commodities, of technology when it becomes obsolete and, more importantly, destructive of human beings as part of the forces of production either through terrible exploitation or when they are no longer profitable. The example of how in Africa the capitalists of various kinds are now engaged in many different vicious forms of domination and exploitation—taking the form of a huge land, mineral and resource grab, throwing the people off the land and destroying the local agriculture. The movie Darwin’s Nightmare was referenced as well. We walked thru some of the section on the environment to understand more deeply how this anarchy/organization contradiction drives the "ceaseless striving for more surplus," at the potential expense of the whole planet as well as how it interacts with other contradictions like the geopolitical needs of imperialism.
One way this was posed for discussion was: Is "the ceaseless striving for more surplus" driven by compulsion/necessity of the capitalist to survive, or is it a process of opportunity/freedom where the various capitalists are just seizing on the opportunity to make more profit and they could just as easily decide to just stay at the level they are at? As part of that discussion we also examined the expression the "capitalist is capital personified." It is not a choice s/he makes to chase the creation of more surplus value and all the implications of that, but a compulsion to do so as long as they want to remain capitalists. All of this is happening "behind the backs" of the capitalists and their system. It is only by wielding and deepening the science of communism that the vanguard party can arm the masses with the real understanding of how this system works. "And in this reality is the basis of radically changing things. It’s in confrontation and struggling to change that reality, and not through some other means. It’s through understanding and then acting to transform that reality along pathways that the contradictory character of that reality does open up...." (From the quote in the polemic from Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon by Bob Avakian)
We dug into the criticism of this analysis presented at the beginning of the II section of the polemic—"A Refusal to Come to Grips with the Nature of Capitalist Accumulation—Or Why the 'Capitalist Is Capital Personified.'" At first there was a tendency to belittle and dismiss the 3 points in that section in defense of the argument that the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is principal as being superficial and illogical. However it was pointed out that this is actually the main line holding sway in the world today among those who consider themselves communists and among progressive intellectuals who consider themselves Marxists. We got into some of the best arguments made for this position, trying to get at how people were thinking with this analysis as well as what the implications are. We need to dig into this, deepen our own understanding of how reality actually works and be ready to take on very sophisticated arguments for that position, not being satisfied with a superficial approach of a reaffirmation of our own beliefs.
Then we did get into some of the implications of this analysis that the class contradiction is the principal form of motion. We dug into the tendency historically among communists that communist revolution is inevitable because of the internal contradictions of the imperialist system—a ‘general crisis’ of imperialism—and that the masses will surely rise up against their oppression as a reflection of the class contradiction being the principal and determining form of motion.
A thought experiment was posed: Is it possible for the contradiction between anarchy and organization to be mitigated, either by the capitalists directly or by the bourgeois state in its role of safeguarding the interests of the bourgeoisie as a class overall? We discussed how there are no international structures capable of imposing limits, and the dependence on fossil fuels at this point is such that any single unit of capital which tried to go against this "ceaseless striving for more surplus value" would not exist very long. Right now the imperialists are in crisis and don’t have much maneuvering room. But we barely scratched the surface on this and a number of other key questions.
Many other questions were put on the table which we didn’t fully get into this time. There was some discussion of the relationship between economism, reification and identifying the principal form of motion of the fundamental contradiction being the class struggle. We also decided that we need to get more into the interpenetration of the two forms of motion in a future discussion. Often the imperialists attempt to solve some of the sharp challenges they face in ways which then actually heighten the contradiction, like Japan relying on nuclear power. It will be important to go more deeply into all of the three examples in the polemic. And we have to understand that this dynamic of anarchy/organization does not define all the contradictions in society even while it does interpenetrate with them, often in unexpected and perverse ways, for example, the question of the oppression of women.
We closed with an appreciation for why BA Everywhere is in fact what the world cries out for and how this polemic highlights the reality that we have a special and urgent responsibility to make this campaign successful and everything that encompasses about making revolution in the belly of the beast. Again, there is a lot more to get into and everyone is down for another session soon!
Revolution #326 January 12, 2014
January 11, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Revolution is very excited to announce the release of the third issue of Demarcations, A Journal of Communist Theory and Polemic, available at demarcations-journal.org.
This issue, as the Opening Editorial states, appears at first glance to be "straddling two different sets of questions: one the sharpening struggle in the ranks of those who consider themselves communists and revolutionaries internationally, and the other coming out of contemporary experience such as the upsurges of the Arab Spring, where very few sense a connection to the broader communist movement, historically or internationally.... Yet, underlying both, with their seeming complexities, is a simple question: What is the solution to all this madness and horror in the world today? Is there one?"
Emphatically answering Yes is the answer and approach concentrated in Bob Avakian's new synthesis of communism, this has to be popularized and fought for at this historical moment, in contention and polemic with other lines and frameworks—among those newly arising to struggle and with those who consider themselves revolutionary, communist, or part of different social movements.
The new issue of Demarcations features a major article onthe impasse faced by the Arab Spring and what is fundamentally needed, along with a statement from Bob Avakian released soon after the fall of Mubarak in Egypt. This issue also continues to frame and concentrate key struggles on the theoretical framework for a new stage of communist revolution, with important and significant contributions from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, the Revolutionary Communist Organization, Mexico (OCR, Mexico), the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist), and Raymond Lotta.
Following are the articles in this issue:
Egypt, Tunisia and the Arab Spring:
How the Revolts Came to an Impasse and How to Get Out of It
In the space of a few short years, what seemed like all-powerful regimes have collapsed, uprisings and revolutionary hope have surged again and again, often only to tumble into deeper, paralyzing despair. A bloody civil war has emerged in Syria and threatens to spread, pitting religious and ethnic groups against each other. The article provides a framework of analysis for the impasse faced today in these countries, indicating the deeper material roots, what is fundamentally needed in terms of a real revolutionary alternative, and what this would look like.
Egypt 2011: Millions Have Heroically Stood Up...The Future Remains To Be Written
A Statement By Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
A public statement from Bob Avakian, released weeks after the fall of Mubarak in Egypt. Avakian hails the upsurge of the people of Egypt and its shattering of the notion that things can never change, and calls for communist leadership to be forged in the midst of and through this uprising to lead the process for the real revolutionary transformation of society and genuine liberation. Recent events have brought the need and relevance of this into even sharper relief.
Letter to Participating Parties and Organizations of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement
The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
This letter was first distributed privately on May 1, 2012 to parties and organizations that participated in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM), an international grouping formed in 1984 as the "embryonic center of the world's Maoist movement." In summing up this experience, the letter discusses the history, and political and ideological basis, of major line struggles within this movement, culminating in what is now the defining two-line struggle in the RIM, between Avakian's new synthesis of communism as a qualitative advance in the science of communism, and its "mirror opposites"—worship of dry dogma masquerading as "Maoism" and/or outright supporters of bourgeois democracy, the political theories and system that fundamentally are consistent with and enforce the rule of the capitalist class.
The New Synthesis of Communism and the Residues of the Past
The Revolutionary Communist Organization, Mexico (OCR, Mexico)
Communists in Mexico contribute to the two-line struggle in the international communist movement with a fierce polemic in response to some of the detractors of the new synthesis. In the course of dissecting the opposing arguments, the OCR engages with and elaborates on several of the important themes of the new synthesis.
Reviewing the Differences Between Our Party and the Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan
The Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist)
The CPI(MLM) has long been the standard-bearer of revolutionary communism in Iran. In this polemic, they respond forcefully to attacks on the new synthesis coming from a party in Afghanistan, illustrating the need and importance for this theory in the world today. They draw deeply from the experience of the failed revolution in Iran and the errors of the communist movement in that country and internationally.
On the "Driving Force of Anarchy" and the Dynamics of Change
Raymond Lotta's polemic deals with an important and controversial question of Marxist political economy today. How do the laws of capitalist accumulation interact with and set the primary framework for the class struggle? This has everything to do with the understanding the motion and development of human society in this epoch, the kinds of changes that have taken place in the world, especially over the last 50 years, and the ground on which revolution is made. The essay poses the question sharply: What kind of international communist movement will there be, one rooted in science and proceeding from the world as it is, or one that proceeds from "narratives" that force-fit reality into a reassuring belief system?