Please note: this page is intended for quick printing of the entire issue. Some of the links may not work when clicked, and some images may be missing. Please go to the article's permalink if you require working links and images.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
January 27, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
There is great importance to the special issue of Revolution on the history of the communist revolution and socialism in the Soviet Union and China (Revolution No. 323, November 24, 2013, "You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future"). It is not possible to overstate how important this is. Apparently, some people, and in particular some people who have been around for a while, think that this is just for others who are newer to things. Well, let me say this. Everyone needs to ask themselves if they could speak to things in the way, and on the level, that the interview with Raymond Lotta, and this issue overall, does. If you cannot honestly answer "yes" to that question, then that should be a clear reminder that, indeed, no matter how long you have been around, and how much you may think you know, there is a great deal that you can learn, and need to learn, from this special issue. We can all learn a great deal from this.
This special issue should be deeply, and repeatedly, studied—and vigorously wielded, promoted and disseminated far and wide by all those who recognize the importance of the analysis it provides, and the method it applies in making this analysis. There is still much more that can be, and needs to be, done in making full use of this special issue.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
It can be said, without exaggeration, that in fundamental terms—not for any particular individual at a given time but in fundamental terms—without grasping the essential points, of content and above all of method, that are concentrated in this analysis (on the driving force of anarchy as the principal form of motion of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism), one cannot proceed as a communist in a fully consistent way; and, as the other, positive side of this, really grasping this—and continually deepening one's grasp of it—is crucial in being able to approach reality, and its radical transformation, toward the goal of communism, on a firmly materialist foundation and with a systematic and consistent scientific, dialectical materialist, method.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation and thanks to the Harlem-Bronx BA Everywhere Team, and everyone who has worked with and contributed to their efforts. Through the bake sale and overall, in achieving a very significant goal in raising funds for BA Everywhere and helping to spread the word about revolution, you have made a very important contribution to the fight for a radically better future for the youth, here and all over the world, and for the emancipation of all humanity. This is an inspiring example—its revolutionary spirit, boldness and determination is something to learn from, carry forward, and apply, in many ways...everywhere.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Last week Revolution issued a call for the BA Everywhere Campaign to go forward in 2014 and make big advances as the leading edge of the whole ensemble of work to prepare minds and organize forces for revolution.
We called for reaching into the deepest aspirations of the people who have been cast aside by this system, as well as students, professionals, and progressive wealthy strata—bringing to and struggling with them to generously donate to make BA, and the vision and framework for a radically new society and the road to get there, known throughout society.
At the same time we called on people to think and talk about the BA Everywhere Campaign over the past two years to learn from what has been accomplished and what is still to be done. The story of the Harlem-Bronx BA Everywhere team ("A Note of Thanks from BA") working together to meet a holiday goal of $1000 was highlighted as an experience to reflect on. Critically, we posed a few questions to assist in focusing up and unleashing a process of national collective wrangling with what it will it take, and what the campaign should look like in 2014 to advance the goals and the potential of BA Everywhere to raise the large funds so that BA becomes a household word. We asked people to write up this thinking and send it in to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also wrote that we would be sharing some of our thinking and plans for 2014 in this issue. However, we want to give a bit more time for people to send in your proposals. Check this web site because we will soon post some framework and plans for the year.
To those who are reading about the BA Everywhere Campaign for the first time, and to assist all who have been working on BA Everywhere in their percolation and proposals, we will close with what we wrote last week:
We want to get a deep and lively process going with everyone pitching in so that in 2014, BA Everywhere boldly projects and advances its overall mission as a national fundraising campaign to raise really massive sums of money, involving growing numbers of people, so that BA becomes a household word, so that the vision and framework of the new synthesis of communism is known throughout the country, even reaching around the world. So that when people confront the horrors of this society, they weigh this brutal reality up against what BA, and the movement and Party he leads, say: that humanity doesn't have to live this way. So that when people feel revolted by the vicious "me first" putrid culture where everyone and every relationship is turned into a vicious game of who wins and who loses, they think of BA—as the leader who represents a future that is the opposite of all the crap of today—where humanity could get beyond the current dog-eat-dog setup to a world where people would consciously and cooperatively work in the common interest—a world fit for humanity.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
Lessons from Taking BA Everywhere to the Sundance Film Festival
by Annie Day | February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
There is a great deal to sum up from our time at 2014 Sundance Film Festival. In this article and the accompanying piece (see “Making BA Everywhere a Big Deal at the Sundance Film Festival”), we are giving Revolution readers a picture of what we did and a first blush at drawing lessons from this experience.
Along with the broad outreach on the street, revolutionaries participated in the discussions at panels or raised questions to the filmmakers in the Q&A's after the screenings. This brought essential questions of revolution and communism into the discussion and was sometimes part of changing the terms of discussion. We thought it was important to engage what was on the floor in different ways, even as what we were bringing wasn't going to come “from within” the terms of discussion as it was. We made an important distinction that while the basis to struggle over communism does spring from every pore of society (to paraphrase Lenin), that isn't spontaneous. We wanted to listen and learn well, and at the same time, bring in a whole different framework of understanding the most fundamental problem facing humanity... and the revolutionary solution.
One example where we felt we did this well was in a panel called “Exploratory Detours.” This was a discussion about the role of failure in the creative process. While the panel focused on the role of failure in making art, this was also applied to questions of society. It was a rich discussion and people talked about the importance of asking the question of “failure” according to whose standards, the importance of non-conformity, and the need for persevering in something you've deemed to be important.
One speaker, a lawyer, talked about the stakes of failure when you go beyond a specific creative endeavor. He told a story about being a young public defender in the South defending a young Black man facing rape and murder charges. He described this as a classic setup and knew the guy he was defending was innocent but the courts found him guilty. The man was exonerated 25 years later, two years after he died in prison. When the lawyer told this story, this received an audible gasp.
It was an engaged discussion, and people talked about questions of insecurity, the need for determination and at the same time, being open to different creative pathways.
I got called on early in the Q&A and introduced myself as part of a movement to make a revolution in this country and explained that I wanted to come at this from a different angle. I explained that I work with The Bob Avakian Institute and that Bob Avakian is a revolutionary leader who has brought forward a new synthesis of communism, studying the advances and errors of the previous socialist revolutions. And that he has looked at what he calls “the learning curve of revolution.” The experience of previous socialist societies was not a failure, but profoundly liberating. When talking about failures and society, you have to pull the lens back to determine whether the “failures” of a society are an anomaly or a mistake that cuts against the essence of that society or an extension of the society itself. The kind of legal railroad of the Black youth the lawyer described is a concentration of the oppression of Black people which is built into the DNA of the capitalist system in America... at what point do you say “OK, the whole system is a failure, no one should put up with it any longer, we need to make a revolution and bring into being a new system because I think we're long past that time.”
The lawyer on the panel spoke to my comment on one level. He said he appreciated what I was saying and that many would agree with me, but he said even then you couldn't wipe the slate clean and you do have to work within what is. He didn't give a more substantive response than this, but said it was a good question.
This exchange did create some buzz and at one point, I heard two people in front of me joking with each other about “communism being the answer” at which point I intervened in their discussion and said it was. They were skeptical but took info from me.
We had a crew outside the theater distributing flyers about the BA Everywhere campaign and a number of people asked if they were with the person who'd asked the question inside and gladly took more info. I talked with a couple of people outside who work in film, who appreciated the question as well. One said he'd never heard of BA, but wrote down his name so he could look into it more. The other said he appreciated that I introduced myself as someone who sees the need for revolution. He said he wasn't sure he agreed, but realized you have to go against the tide to talk about things in those terms and appreciated the clarity and certitude of that. We talked further about the need for revolution and they raised questions about the history of communism: I gave them both the special issue of Revolution newspaper “You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future,” some materials from Avakian, and a flier about the BA Everywhere campaign. They also raised a question about human nature. The reality is that this system gives rise to and promotes a “look out for number one” mentality, and people see that as some unchanging human nature, which it is not. Also, the fact that this false concept of a fixed human nature is so pervasive is part of what we're working to change now. Here, I brought it back to the BA Everywhere fundraising campaign. People don’t know that there is another way the world could be and another way people could relate to each other. People don't know about the new synthesis of communism developed by BA. Making this known throughout society—and raising the necessary funds to do so—is what we're on a mission to accomplish in the near term, and they should talk with me further—themselves getting more deeply into BA, and contributing to the BA Everywhere campaign.
Both these people gave me a way to follow up and I told them I'd like to talk with them more seriously about Avakian's work and ask them about making a contribution to the BA Everywhere campaign.
* * * * *
Again, this was just one example of hundreds of exchanges and interventions at Sundance, but it was rich and is an example of how things got opened up further.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
We went to make BA Everywhere a big, big deal all over the Sundance Film Festival.
As reported last week, a team of revolutionaries whose efforts were funded by the Bob Avakian Institute spent 10 days at the Sundance Film Festival. The team included a couple of people who had gone before and were able to bring to bear their experience and understanding of the strategic significance of bringing BA Everywhere to this event. This was an opportunity to reach hundreds of artists and funders, critical and creative thinkers, many who had deep concerns over the state of the world and who were all about communicating big ideas on a societal stage.
This year a larger team was added to this effort—a group of mainly young revolutionaries who came to Sundance to work in all kinds of different ways to take out the BA Everywhere campaign very broadly. This additional four-person team wanted to impact the whole scene in tandem with the work being done by revolutionaries inside the festival, participating at the post-screening discussions and panels. They also knew that prominent people working in film were also on the streets and among the tens of thousands who made up the audiences and sought them out wherever they went.
Most of the people in the team had never talked to filmmakers—which included everyone from directors and screenwriters, actors, cinematographers, composers, and those who fund these projects and get them out into the world. And they had little experience in directly engaging with the very wealthy. This would change quickly.
The first few days, the team went out to Main Street. Thousands of people would come to meet up with friends, attend receptions for films, hear live music and see art installations, hear panels and just be in the center of the film festival. They went out with beautiful enlarged posters with quotes from BAsics that were picked especially for Sundance:
In a world marked by profound class divisions and social inequality, to talk about “democracy”—without talking about the class nature of that democracy and which class it serves—is meaningless, and worse. So long as society is divided into classes, there can be no “democracy for all”: one class or another will rule, and it will uphold and promote that kind of democracy which serves its interests and goals. The question is: which class will rule and whether its rule, and its system of democracy, will serve the continuation, or the eventual abolition, of class divisions and the corresponding relations of exploitation, oppression and inequality. (BAsics 1:22)
There is nothing more unrealistic than the idea of reforming this system into something that would come anywhere near being in the interests of the great majority of people and ultimately of humanity as a whole. (BAsics 3:2)
And thousands of palm cards with these quotes advertising the free BAsics e-book went out. Posters went up in shop windows and on big kiosks that lined the street—advertising the film BA Speaks: REVOLUTION— NOTHING LESS! and quotes from BAsics. Store owners and film festival storefronts also took palm cards for people to pick up on their counters. A photo of a revolutionary putting up a BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! poster ran on the front page of the daily Park Record newspaper.
Close to 2,000 copies of the flyer “Contribute to BA Everywhere! The World Needs to be Radically Changed. Here’s Step One” went out. And this call was given specifically to every filmmaker and potential big donor that the revolutionaries were able to meet even briefly, along with copies of key works by or about BA.
The team also put up a big sign on Main Street that read:
Ask Me About Contributing
to Making Known
Revolution and Communism
Re-envisioned by Bob Avakian—
BA Everywhere...Imagine the Difference It Could Make!
This sign was also made into a laminate for the team to put on their bags. This came in handy at a party where the music was too loud to be heard but people would read the laminate and conversations would start from there.
This was how the team stepped to people, talking about BA and calling on people to engage with his work, to talk about why BA Everywhere was the leading edge of a whole ensemble of revolutionary work that was crucial to changing the world—and calling on them to make the level of financial contributions that could enable this to have real societal impact. It was important that all of this be presented not as a set of interesting ideas but as part of building a movement for revolution. One team member put it that they were at first mainly aiming at just getting things into the hands of filmmakers and actors and possibly getting a way to reach them, and this changed when she had her first real struggle with a film director she addressed at a panel—over the need for revolution and why BA was so important in that context. When the director gave her his business card, she knew that he knew what the next conversation would be about and that it mattered.
The two quotes from BAsics were completely on the mark at Sundance as we would find out, in talking to filmmakers who were addressing important issues but without a communist framework would be left looking for change within the context of the existing system. The special issue of Revolution newspaper—"You Don’t Know What You Think You 'Know' About...The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future"—was also given to people, because they really didn’t know.
After the fourth day, when the Main Street crowd was thinning, the team decided to split up and go to as many films and panels and parties as they could. They talked about how they could carve in during the audience Q&As and listened to examples about how a revolutionary spoke out at panels and films, taking the topic at hand but completely reframing it, speaking to it in the context of the larger reality and the need for revolution. She drew from BA’s work in her question and introduced herself as part of a movement for revolution. Everyone teamed up to do the same—less experienced people going with those who had more experience—or just teaming up with each other or going solo—watching films or listening to presentations and figuring it out on the spot. Everyone would each go to a number of movies and panels and parties each day. People would sum up quickly and figure out what was good about what they did and how this could have been done better. And then they would move on—going out to cover as much ground as possible. Doing this was really challenging and also exciting because you really did have to figure out how to carve into the discussions—bringing a whole different understanding to the room about the topic at hand and asking a question that would enable a deeper discussion over the nature of the problem they were addressing. As someone put it—it really is finding how communism springs from every pore of society.
Many films spoke directly to burning issues—on women, on Black people, on abortion, on suppression of knowledge, on the lives of oppressed people internationally, on atomization and alienation, the relationship of truth and morality, and themes about the creative process that have everything to do with how one comes to understand the world around us.
The team learned from the films. A narrative on Guantánamo brought you to appreciate the preciousness of the lives of those imprisoned there and how a rebellious GI comes to learn this. There was a film powerfully showing the lives of three poor white kids in the de-industrialized Midwest—with images of the American flag throughout in contrast to the reality of the American dream—and with one kid getting a letter from his mother in prison with the flag pasted on upside down. There was an important film about the courage of those who took part in the first Freedom Summer in the South during the 1960s. Another film was about how good having an abortion is!
Throughout the festival, they found filmmakers who were telling important stories about the lives of people all around the world—films that raised big questions about the kind of world we live in. A number of filmmakers expressed their appreciation for the questions posed by the revolutionaries, answered them with a lot of seriousness, and even referred to them in later comments. In other cases there was more controversy and this was also a good thing. There was an example where a debate that revolutionaries initiated became the grist for discussions among filmmakers well after the particular event.
The team also went to parties—parties for particular films, some hosted by sponsors and popularizers, and others speaking to various issues—e.g., women in film, Black filmmakers. This was something new for people—just going in to a party where you knew no one and striking up conversations with people. As someone said, you just went in and thought about how we all live in this same nightmare of a world and then you were off and running. We found many people there who never expected to spend the evening talking about the need for revolution and were open and appreciative. As the 10 days passed, there was a growing understanding of the importance of what was being accomplished. On the final night—everyone went to the awards party and was able to reconnect with people they had met and got out materials to award winners and presenters. Some recalled having heard the revolutionaries speak up at a certain event or just out on Main Street. By the end of the festival we had collected contact information from dozens of filmmakers and gotten copies of BA’s most important works into their hands.
Over the ten days at Sundance, a great deal was learned, and everyone felt the whole group had indeed accomplished some important things. People talked about how they themselves look at things differently now—the potential and importance of reaching this section of people—and the basis for repolarization for revolution. One person boiled it down to the fact that in everything we were doing, we had to lead. We had to bring to people a very profound understanding of how the world can be radically changed and there was an all-around desire to take what we had learned much, much further.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
January 28, 2014: Over the weekend of January 18-19, and on MLK Day (January 20), we had a very successful push to get out BA’s New Year’s message, and Revolution newspaper. A central part of all this was playing BA’s message over a new, extremely portable but loud sound system. Many people heard BA’s voice in this way, including a few who stood and listened to the whole message. Among immigrants, we read the message in Spanish. We let BA speak for himself, with little more than an intro that this was an important message from the leader of the revolution to YOU!
Over the three days, we sold around 100 papers and raised a little over $20. We had been struggling for a synergy with selling the paper and raising money for BAE. This is something we're summing up and digging into more.
On Saturday, as we walked through the neighborhood with a large poster/display of BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! we went down a street where the residents had joined us in an impromptu march last summer against the acquittal of George Zimmerman. We stopped in front of a house where two women who were relaxing in chairs wanted to hear BA's New Year's statement. They listened intently. One of them was shaking her head a lot, especially at the passages where BA denounces the oppression of women, and she followed the end of the reading with “Amen.” This also provoked questions like, “Why is the system like that?” “Why did Zimmerman get away with murdering Trayvon Martin?” “What can we do?” They bought a paper and one of them took copies of BA's statement to distribute at her church.
On the next block, a nine-year-old girl responded to one of our crew: “You don't think it's in God's hands? You mean it's in our hands?” Asking if she could help post the statement, she led the comrade to her house, to her grandmother and aunt, who got a paper. One of them saw the centerfold with its bold statement, “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!” and commented that she wished that she had had a chance to choose, back in the day. And then with her permission, the little girl ran off, sticking up posters and asking people to donate, saying, “This is for the revolution.” She demonstrated how people can contribute by picking up a can and putting it in the garbage bag.
We got into some discussion and debate with a middle-aged man who insisted that, while it was good that we are doing what we're doing, that he was already “in the revolution”—by helping inner-city youth to stay in school. To his claim that education is the key to break youth out of the bad situation they are in, we replied, “That's just not true.” This provoked him to think. Meanwhile another middle-aged man, also saying that it's good that we are out there, “but...,”and then he cited the repression the government brings down, and insisted that there is nothing he could do. We told him that there are many things that he can do, very importantly donating money to BA Everywhere. He pulled $10 out of his pocket and put it in the donation can.
In an immigrant neighborhood, where lots of Central Americans have experience with various movements, a group of guys around a truck were among the first people we approached. When we told them we had a message from the leader of the revolution, one guy raised a number of questions related to his different experience of what revolution was. Instead of us having a discussion with them on all these questions, we began to read BA’s message in Spanish, and this changed the terms of things dramatically. People started throwing money into the bucket and took papers. They gave us a way to get back with them, so that they could be part of this movement for revolution, and a copy of “On the Strategy for Revolution” got out to them to address some of what they were raising. We got a sense of the difference it makes when people engage with BA and how it transforms the dynamics, including how their questions were reframed. We continued on up the street and wherever we ran into small groupings, we would read the message in Spanish, getting it out to many more people, and getting out papers along the way.
At the jail, where we have been a regular presence, we played the audio of BA in English, and would periodically switch to agitating in Spanish. It was harder given the flow to switch back and forth between languages with the message. But the voice of BA was continuous, and prompted a Black ex-prisoner to come up to us and listen intently to the whole thing. He said he thought he had heard BA speak before, and asked if he had been on the Coast to Coast radio show. When we mentioned the Cornel West interview with BA on the Smiley and West show, he thought maybe that was where he heard him. He said, “Revolution means solution.” The situation frustrates him, and he feels like he might explode; that we need to wake people up. We put to him the challenge BA puts out that “What is missing is YOU,” and he took up the task of collecting cans to raise money for the campaign. He was with some other guys, and immediately got a can to put in the bag. He is homeless, but knows where he can hook up with us to follow up.
A middle-aged Black woman came over after telling one revolutionary that she agreed we need revolution. As she listened to the statement where BA lays out the situation, she was smiling, nodding her head in agreement, and at points commenting on how true it is what he just said. As BA got into revolution, and that it is communist revolution that we need, her expression got markedly more intense. She asked, “Where is he?” to which we replied, “He needs to be everywhere.” This provoked a broad smile, and led to some discussion of protecting revolutionary leadership. She went to her car to get $2 for the paper, and expressed enthusiasm for coming to our meetings. One point about how there will be unity and struggle with people in building this movement, is that when BA says, “It’s not in God’s hands, it’s in our hands,” she agreed, saying, “God put it in our hands.” We made clear that BA is an atheist, and pointed to the Cornel West interview, and how the two of them discuss their differences over religion and yet work closely together. She responded, “Because they both stand for liberating people.”
In our city there are two Martin Luther King Day parades, one of which attracts a more politically aware crowd. We took out the New Year’s message as our framework. We had a “BA Speaks: Revolution-Nothing Less!” banner and also used the Three Strikes poster. We got out 46 papers, and raised about $10 for BA Everywhere. A youth, who is new to the team, summed up that we had a broad and very favorable response. Many people, upon hearing the agitation, pulled out their money for the paper even before someone approached them. The atmosphere was very different than our experience after Obama’s first election, when people thought this marked the end of the oppression of Black people. There was a real sense expressed by many that things were intolerable and needed to change. The message of reform or revolution resonated broadly among the crowd, well beyond those that actually ended up with a paper. Several people said they had run into the revolution before and appreciated the perseverance of BA and the Party in the face of others giving up or selling out. One person had gotten our paper at a local restaurant, and said he liked it for its honesty.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Editor's note: A Revolution correspondent sat down with a younger generation person who has been active in the movement for revolution and studying BA, to learn about their experience showing Stepping into the Future with friends, over the holidays, and generally connecting them with the work and leadership of Bob Avakian and the whole movement for revolution.
Q: You had experience showing Stepping into the Future to a couple friends, and I want to hear the whole story. First of all, without getting too detailed—who are they, what made them open to watching it?
A: These are both friends of mine from college. One is very into what is going on with the environment, and trying to understand the impact of global warming and climate change. He’s someone I’ve tried to talk to about revolution and communism. We’ve had struggle over the need for leadership, and why just being anti-capitalist doesn’t mean people understand the need for revolution. The other person is really into constitutional rights and defending the U.S. constitution. He’s really outraged about police brutality, and how the police are bearing down on people in the community he lives in—which includes a lot of Black and Latino people. He’s seen a lot of shit go down with the cops that’s made him very upset. He’s largely questioning the legitimacy of the current authority.
So, from my end, I was thinking there was a lot of potential to open their sights to the need for revolution, because neither of them proceeds from how the world could be different. They’re trying to grapple with the horrors of the world but they haven’t lifted their sights to how the world could be and what is the game changer in the current conditions. So I wanted to show them this film—to see how there is a leading edge to this that can inspire people. Yes, the world is a horror, but there is a different way the world can be. So I thought the film, because it’s largely focusing on cultural trends, and taking on a lot of this misogynistic logic and the way people are atomized under capitalism—I thought my friends would agree with parts of the interviews and it would open up a conversation about what they disagreed with.
One of my friends, for example, didn’t know about the Watts Riots [In 1965, there was a major uprising of Black people against their oppression in the Watts district in Los Angeles], and there is an image in the film that captures why people rose up, and what that says about the system we live in.
So one of the things that came up, one of these friends of mine is a musician—when he was watching the film at one point I had to pause it and he was like: that could have been me. Meaning he could have been part of this celebration of the release of BAsics. So, then we got into why is it that these people who are trying to use art—that BA is informing the work they’re doing. Why is it they’re learning from BA, and what is it they’re learning from him? I brought forward to this friend that revolution requires all kinds of people with all kinds of skills and capacities. One thing that comes out in the interviews is what people have to say about how the world could be different.
Q: You raised that one of your friends disagrees with the need for leadership. How did that play out in the experience of watching the film?
A: He said, Oh, I didn’t know this was BA’s experience. I didn’t know he had worked with the Black Panther Party, that he came out of Berkeley, that he was part of forging this whole understanding of what happened in China. Then he brought up: I feel BA has this longevity and that’s why people are drawn to him. And I was struggling with him that it’s not just that BA has been around 40 years but what level of understanding did he put forward synthesizing why we’re in the situation we’re in today and how to get out of it.
Q: What kinds of responses did your friends have to the video?
A: So, when I was watching Stepping into the Future with this friend of mine, he said he never thought about BA in relation to how people relate to each other. The social dimension. We started talking about the quote from BAsics about you can’t break all the chains except one—without a revolution how could you uproot all the ways women are oppressed in this society. It’s not just that women are sex workers, or the opposite end of that, covered in the burka. It’s all the thinking that goes with that—that the role of women is to be wives and mothers.
But he also brought up that the film, what he got from the film, he got inspired by the idea of communist revolution. That he had thought the world was terrible, but didn’t feel inspired by the idea of communist revolution. He hasn’t studied deeply the science of revolution, but he felt inspired by creating a new culture that goes beyond what he thought was possible.
Q: Were there parts of the film that people more responded to?
A: The guy from the Last Poets—the poem that was read, one of them responded to that. They both—a lot of people have said this but they both responded to what Sable [in the film] was saying about socialism changing the whole economic foundation and social relations, where everyone gets a piece of the pie. That requires a whole different culture. They both thought that was moving.
And when Leo from Outernational was saying BAsics makes more sense to him than anything he’s read, neither of these friends has read BAsics. I’ve read them quotes. The one about how people’s individual experience doesn’t define reality, we talk about that.
Q: You “talk about that” - is that a euphemism for arguing about that a lot?
A: Yeah (laughs). A lot of how one of these guys talks about things is his own personal experience, and thinks objective reality doesn’t exist beyond his personal narrative, so yeah, we fight about that a lot. But the interesting thing here is Leo made this point about this: The guy who was in the BPP said I’m gonna be there with you, I’m not gonna leave you alone, we need a revolution, and you’ve gotta do that. Leo commented on that—naming groups of people, how can you do anything less than this. One of my friends responded very favorably to that, that is really true. Things have culminated to this point, that there’s been all kinds of struggle.
I thought it was interesting that both of my friends were responding to points about where we are in the world today. Neither of them thinks, on most days at least, that we can make a revolution. But through watching the film, I think they began to see how it’s possible. Through this cultural dimension, that you have to uproot the culture of the world as it is today. Not only fighting that, but setting totally different terms.
This one friend of mine is really against what the police do, really into constitutional rights. He felt these prisoner letters that are read in the film were very moving, very vibrant. My other friend who saw the film also responded to these prisoners’ letters with, why have they taken up BA and I haven’t? He asked how is it these prisoners have taken this up and I haven’t, what do they understand that I don’t?
Q: How do you see that?
A: The more people delve into BA’s work, the more they have a basis to see the world doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve been struggling with this friend to read BAsics and get into BA for some time now. He is watching the environmental process. He hates misogyny, but he doesn’t see revolution as the solution. And I was saying a lot of these prisoners, because BAsics is in the prisons, through the PRLF [Prisoners Revolutionary Literataure Fund], they have begun to grapple with realities they faced before going to prison. BA is speaking to something a lot of these prisoners understand on a very visceral level. But I was also saying experience doesn’t equal reality. The fact that he hasn’t experienced what these prisoners experienced doesn’t mean he can’t understand what BA means to the world and society.
Q: This event clearly brought a range of people together, occasioned by the release of BAsics, but there was a core to it. How did they see that?
A: One of my friends is more anarchist, and he doesn’t think you need leadership to change things, but then again, he doesn’t think things can be substantively different than things are now. He hasn’t really investigated a lot of what happened in the sixties, what happened in China then, and what people in the world were looking to. One thing that did come up, he didn’t notice that not everyone who was interviewed was a communist. He didn’t point that out. But he did notice that people are taking out different points they find important in terms of BA.
I asked what he meant by that. He said that one artist was talking about how BA emphasizes the role of slavery—I think he was referring to Dread Scott. The other artist, Kyle, talks about the ethos of capitalism, and how things should be. I asked him to go further with that. He just thought that in terms of what BA would be leading he would be talking about the economic system and why it is oppressive to workers, and I was trying to bring out how the movement for revolution has different dimensions.
I tried reading the “Some Principles” thing that is in the paper every week, and how key concentrations of the system are the oppression of Black people and women. And that if we don’t get the substance of BA’s work out there, and having that be a force in society, we’re not gonna be able to move on these contradictions, setting different terms for things. He had a lot of questions about this: You talk about vanguard leadership but how do you know when you’re in power, that won’t corrupt itself—basically this “all power corrupts absolutely” thing. He said every time someone gets in a position of leadership, they get a taste of power and don’t want to share that. I talked about the three different paths– the world remaining as it is, going against things but deepening people’s suffering, and the other is a way out of this. Sorry, I’m paraphrasing. But if we don’t seriously address the problem that right now, people don’t know Bob Avakian is out there, then even people who feel capitalism is totally oppressing people, that people need to rise up and fight, that that momentum gets lost, people get bogged down in not being able to actually rise up in any meaningful way.
Then he said, in response to what I said about the situation we face—he said how are you doing all that? I said we are trying to involve more and more people, and strategizing over which way forward, and what can be done. It’s not like we’re going to people and saying: this is what we need to do. I said I’m trying to get your thinking on how you respond and who we should be going out to.
Q: How did that go?
A: He said nobody ever asks him what he thinks. He never has these conversations. One person he suggested talking to was a relative of his who works with Food Not Bombs. But he said nobody ever asked him how would we get out of this shit. He said I don’t know if we can get out of this shit but I have to think about what you said, why leadership.
Q: In terms of learning from and spreading this kind of experience, did you go through any changes in your own thinking to make this happen?
A: A lot of my friends want to change the world, but they haven’t grappled in terms of strategy. So, among my friends, I have a lot of defensiveness in telling them about important stuff in the newspaper, or new things BA has come out with. Things that deepen our understanding of how to put this out in the world. I thought about this. I get frustrated, what’s wrong with my friends that they don’t get this. I felt like what I was reading in the paper and at revcom.us is that when people go out to their family and friends they were supportive, and that’s not what I’ve experienced. But, I decided to not start with oh crap, they’re not gonna like this, but to just let them watch this and see and engage with what they think. I’ve sent them some things about BA and his vision but not something like this where we watched the film together and were able to talk about what stood out to them.
I know the trajectory of these friends of mine from college, a lot of them don’t think the world can be any different, yet if you gave them a choice of do they want exploitation or not, they’d say not. But they don’t realize that all these other programs won’t get you beyond exploitation. They don’t see distinctions in line. This has come up a lot, and came up again after one of my friends watched Stepping into the Future. He said you’re not the only ones talking about revolution. I said who else is talking about communist revolution, smashing capitalism, and bringing forward a whole new society and set of social relations and way society would be organized. He brought up that student co-ops on campus are anti-capitalist and mention revolution. I said there’s a difference between leading and fighting for a revolution and fighting for that.
Off of watching Stepping into the Future, there are a lot of substantive questions that come up about how we project BA out there, and why is BA’s argument more scientific and more grounded in reality than other things out there. In terms of what changed my own thinking about doing this—you asked about that—first, I don’t think its true that other people really are talking about a system change when they talk about revolution. But I also thought about what it means to be leading with revolution, and not just we’re trying to end patriarchy, and there’s this revolution thing out over here, like on the side or added on to talking about ending women’s oppression. Why is getting rid of patriarchy part of bringing forward a whole new system? Without a revolution, we can’t get rid of women’s oppression. I went to Jackson, Mississippi with the Stop Patriarchy people, getting out in the world, and we would talk about why are we trying to stop patriarchy and why we need revolution.
Q: Is there more to share about things provoked in your friends thinking, or yours, from watching Stepping into the Future with them?
A: My friend who is really into constitutional rights works with attorneys who are into constitutional rights. I was a little nervous about showing him the film. I went back to how the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) (CNSRNA) frames rights, versus how this is framed in the U.S. constitution. So I had to go review the CNSRNA—I hadn’t looked at it in a while. I was looking at it not only in terms of how it frames rights, including positive rights whereas in this society rights are negative rights, but also the whole vision of freedom—contrasting that to the U.S. constitution. My friend thinks we need more amendments and a new constitutional convention. With him, I was nervous, how do I take on this question of rights.
Q: Were there other things in the film that provoked them, or you?
A: One of them thought it was cool how Annie Day was narrating the film and explained BA’s trajectory. There were things people just didn’t know about—like the Last Poets. One of them commented on what Sable [in the film] was saying about how degrading it is to go to clubs and just be hit on. One of these guys like trance music, but notices how a lot of women are harassed. He really united about wanting all the beat and music and passion but not lyrics that make you feel like shit afterwards. A lot of the music hypersexualizes women and treats them as objects.
We’ve grown up in a world where there hasn’t been a revolutionary society to point to, to look up to. We’ve lived with a lot of repression. One of my friends brings up a lot that any movement that’s gonna rise up to fight the powers that be is gonna get crushed, so what’s the point. He doesn’t know the history of the first wave of communist revolution. He hasn’t lived in a society where that’s been visible and real to him. And that contextualizes how this film affected them.
I was raising to one of them, all we can think of is “counter-culture” but that means constantly having to respond to dominant culture, but what BA’s talking about is a whole different culture, beyond our conceptions of culture under this system. Thinking in far more libratory and creative ways. One of these friends is also a musician—and as I said, he said: I could have been part of that. I said these are all people relating to BA and what he’s brought forward. I told him everyone has creativity but under capitalism that gets suppressed. It’s not profitable. So people don’t think in those terms. In any future society, we’d have to be unleashing people to be thinking freely and doing brainstorming beyond the narrow parameters we have now. To get beyond this concept of narrowing people’s understanding. But we’d want to invite a lot of new forms of expression. One of the things that came out of the Riot Grrl movement was spoken word that hit at how women are exploited, with a lyrical content that before that was not given expression to. We’d have to think even far beyond that, examples of how we can maximize and broaden how people can contribute.
Q: As you’re talking about the impact of the film, I’ve been getting more appreciation for the title, Stepping into the Future.
A: Yeah, and that reminds me. My friend who is into constitutional rights, he brought up in relation to the guy in the film who was in the Black Panther Party, Richard, who said get BAsics, and make a revolution. My friend was like, what does that have to do with what I can be doing now? I said the future is unwritten. The trajectory now is very harmful. It is unwritten, but up to us to transform these things. How BA talks about there isn’t gonna be a savior, it is on people living in this country and all around the world, taking this on. There is a level of responsibility here. I said, if you’re serious—BA makes this point in BAsics—you would be serious about getting with this revolution.
He brought up that he’s met people in the Stop Mass Incarceration Network and he finds them inspiring. He was telling me how this comrade was struggling with him—if you want to stop mass incarceration and bringing about a different world, you should come out with us, taking out Revolution [newspaper] and learning from people’s experience under this system. And things are getting worse. My friend was saying, I don’t know much about this, I have a friend who is (he was talking about me), but I’m not ready. And he said this comrade told him, you don’t need answers to all these questions, but if you just say that’s not for me, you don’t contribute to anything but things staying the way they are, and getting worse.
I told him when I first started coming around I didn’t know much about revolution, but I wanted to learn more. For the first time in my life, people told me “that’s not correct” if I was wrong. I had a professor in college who said how are you gonna end rape culture, all you can do is support rape victims. I was very upset by that. But when I encountered people with the movement for revolution, I went out with the newspaper and only said very few things. The more you get into BA’s thinking, the more basis you have to struggle with people and raise other people’s sights and why revolution is possible, the basis for why we can actually do this. Why it’s not a pipe dream.
My friend who is into constitutional rights listened to BA’s New Year’s Message with his dad. He emailed me: his dad “has a lot of disagreements.” I’ll find out what those are.
Q: One thing that strikes me as you recount these experiences is how different dimensions of the ensemble of revolutionary work are impacting people—with appreciating and popularizing BA at the leading edge, along with revcom.us and Revolution, but also other things we’re doing around mass incarceration and ending patriarchy work together.
A: I think they understand we are serious. We aren’t gonna back down. We totally see the current situation for people is untenable. They do respect that. That draws them to a lot of what we’re doing. Even while at the same time being into constitutional rights. We’re struggling over whether capitalism is a SYSTEM or just the prison-industrial complex. Understanding capitalism scientifically. There’s a lot of contradictoriness in both of their thinking. Sometimes I feel like I’m hitting my head against the wall.
Q: I understand that feeling, and share the impatience, but even from this limited experience you’re describing, you can see the outline or embryo of how different elements of our ensemble of revolutionary work are working on people, and how people’s contradictory thinking and the nature of the system are also working on people. And you can get a feel for how this can come together on another level impacting society. Do you have thoughts on that?
A: One thing I think we should do more of is challenge people around revolutionary morality.
Q: How so?
A: Like these friends of mine—neither of them wants to defend what this system does but they don’t see a way beyond this. There is a certain understanding, but also their morality is a product of this system and how it has trained people to think about the world. There are people who go hungry and that is unnecessary, so if you don’t say we shouldn’t put up with this, that allows that to continue. People have to understand that it is on us.
Q: There is, as BA says, a place where epistemology meets morality. How do you see that in relation to what you’re bringing up?
A: How people understand the world has a moral dimension. Understanding and morality interpenetrate. You turn on the news, look at what’s happening, how the media is framing what’s going on through these talking heads of the system saying we need different policies .. they never talk about the right to eat, to housing, to education. That flows from an ethical standpoint—if you didn’t work hard enough you don’t deserve that.
With these friends of mine—I feel like, you understand enough, you should take this out. I was struggled with to do that. It’s not that I’m a certain kind of person or have a certain level of experience, I should be out there, and then raise my questions and disagreements. And I do! Even for people who argue “I don’t know enough,” there is also an importance of being courageous, being able to say, I don’t understand this—raising all your questions—and having intellectual integrity to go deeper into what you don’t understand. One thing that comes through in Stepping into the Future, everyone is grappling with different things in BA’s work, in different ways, but they take it seriously.
Q: You had some more thoughts off of this on the question of morality, right?
A: After I watched the film with one of my friends, we had a discussion about what’s going on in the world and how at every corner you see how people are—all this shit is on people’s backs, what people are facing. He agreed but said there was nothing he could do about it and he wasn’t gonna do anything. And I struggled with him—that he wasn’t acting on the understanding he had now, and how that was perpetrating the things he was against. He got upset, and said I was treating him like he was the enemy.
And I had to explain that there is a moral dimension to him knowing all this is wrong, and not doing anything to stop it, and that being on us. There isn’t going to be some grand person in power, basically some savior who’s gonna deal with these contradictions. People have to understand that it’s a system at the heart of these contradictions.
I told him people struggled with me over this very question: you know this is wrong, what are you gonna do about it!? And that’s why I’m a revolutionary, because it is what’s necessary in the world. Then I asked him whether he wanted to get a copy of BAsics and actually read it. I had asked him before and he didn’t really respond. So I suggested he get a copy of BAsics and we could read through it together. He shrugged and said, I don’t know. I was frustrated, given we had had a discussion leading up to that about what can he be doing right now. He said, I feel I have a lot of questions I don’t have answered. I said nobody has all the answers, but the world is facing enormous exacerbation of inequality and oppression. If you feel you’re going to study up on this to a point where you can be part of this that’s untenable, things will get much, much worse.
Then a couple weeks later I was having an argument with him and he said people who understand capitalism will be for revolution, and I said that’s not true. There are laws and principles of how this system does this all over the world. He said, how do you know I’m not with the revolution—I’m not with your revolution.
I said I’m not trying to be absolutist, but these people who do co-op work that you work with, when they talk about anti-capitalism and mention revolution, that doesn’t mean they’re really working towards revolution. I said I’d be very interested in talking with them about what they mean by revolution and what that is. But if I asked them if they wanted to get into BAsics, if they were serious, they wouldn’t shrug and say I don’t know. So, what side of history are you gonna be on?
This is something that needs to be broken through. When I started coming around, people would argue with me: they’d say, no, you have a point but that’s not what’s principal. This friend of mine told me he mentioned Raymond Lotta, along with others working on the environmental crisis in a presentation he made to a group. He didn’t understand there’s a different framework for understanding the environmental workings of capital.
Q: I appreciate your points on the importance of struggling with people. At the same time, it seems important to note that he did introduce people to Raymond Lotta and a revolutionary analysis of the environmental emergency, and that is all part of the process of the ensemble of our revolutionary work. I raise that in part for us to think about the point in the new editorial of making BA Everywhere a societal question and raising a lot of money to do that. I’m wondering if this reveals something about the potential for that. Where the first thing people do, even if they’re not ready to jump in with two feet, is to donate seriously to helping make Bob Avakian and his leadership and work a point of reference and struggle throughout society?
A: One of the people who saw the film with me is influenced by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. One was supportive of Stop Patriarchy. They do donate to those causes. And one of them doesn’t have a lot of money. I have other friends who are supportive of the Party’s work in those realms. I have noticed that when we approach them to help that they are interested in ideological questions. But there’s a disconnect in their understanding of how this relates to revolution.
Q: That seems helpful in identifying some of the work we need to do. I know others are corresponding on that at revcom.us as well.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
Obama's Speech on the NSA:
February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Seven months ago, shocking media reports began surfacing about how the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) runs the biggest and most intrusive electronic surveillance operation in the world and in history. These revelations are based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, former NSA contractor who courageously stepped out as a whistle blower in order to make people aware of the existence of this vast, secret spying by the U.S. (and its closest ally, Britain).
The NSA programs include bulk collection of information on every phone call in the U.S. about who is calling whom, duration of calls, etc. (known as “metadata”) which can be used to draw out links between different people and patterns of actions, and as a basis for homing in on specific individuals, including the content of calls; vacuuming up data directly from the servers of major U.S.reviewer providers like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook; massive spying on phone and internet communications around the world, targeting ordinary people as well as government officials—not only rivals of the U.S. but also allies like Germany and organizations like the United Nations. The NSA spies on literally billions of people, within the U.S. and across the globe.
New revelations continue to stream out. Among the latest: the NSA and its British counterpart have been developing their ability to collect user data from widely used smartphone apps like Google Map and even games like Angry Birds—not only phone identification codes and location details but also users’ “political alignment,” “sexual orientation,” and other information. Another recent exposure was that in 2009, the NSA spied on officials from various other countries at the global conference on climate change at Copenhagen, Denmark.
As light has been shed on the incredible scope of the NSA spying, and as millions in the U.S. and around the world questioned the legitimacy of massive government intrusion into the details of their lives—Obama responded on January 14 with a speech to announce “concrete and substantial reforms” relating to the NSA and other intelligence agencies. The speech began with Obama saying there was “potential for abuse” in government surveillance—and ended up basically reaffirming the activities of the NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies, with a few inconsequential changes. (See the accompanying article, “‘Reforms’ Aimed at Keeping Mass Surveillance Intact.”)
Obama’s misdirection and lies about NSA “reforms” need to be exposed and opposed. But what is even more crucial is to challenge and break out of the whole framework pushed by Obama, aimed at leading people to think in a certain way—that the spying carried on by the government is (or should be) about strengthening U.S. “national security” in order to keep people “safe,” and that the lives of American people are more valuable than the lives of people around the world.
Civil liberties activists, investigative journalists, and others have done very important work making what has been uncovered through the documents leaked by Snowden broadly accessible, and rightly opposing the blatantly illegal NSA mass surveillance in the face of government threats and attempts to suppress the exposure. But many among them also argue that this spying is not “effective”—that programs like the telephone metadata collection have not “stopped terrorist attacks” and actually make us “less safe.” The ACLU says what’s needed is to “rein in the surveillance state.” According to this notion of a “surveillance state” (or a “national security state”), the problem is that there is a bureaucracy that has gotten out of control. These views don’t get at the essence of what is going on—and actually end up leading people in the wrong direction.
The massive spying on all kinds of activities of people around the world is not a result of “bureaucracy gone wild.” Those who hold power in this country—the U.S. capitalist-imperialists—are facing all kinds of complex, growing challenges to their global empire. The compulsion to respond to those challenges is what is fundamentally driving them to so intensely spy—on their rivals, on their allies, and on billions of ordinary people.
A basic point that needs to be grasped is that the repressive activities of the NSA and other intelligence agencies reveal a system at work—the system of capitalism-imperialism. The NSA is part of a state that enforces the interests of the ruling capitalist-imperialist class—in other words, the dictatorship of the ruling class, the bourgeoisie.
This state serves a number of functions—but first of all and principally, it uses its monopoly on the use of legitimate violence and suppression to carry out the interests of the U.S. imperialist class as a whole, against rival powers and against the masses of people, in this country and worldwide. And the NSA and other intelligence agencies are a key part of this function of the bourgeois state.
As we wrote shortly after the Snowden leaks first came out: “This capitalist-imperialist system enslaves workers in its sweatshops in Bangladesh and its oil fields of Saudi Arabia. It has created a planet of slums and environmental devastation, its morality and culture have produced an epidemic of rape. And this system wages constant wars around the world against the threats from rivals or smaller-scale reactionary forces, and brings down violent repression against legitimate protests and opposition to its crimes. That is why this state sees the vast majority of people on this planet—billions and billions of people—as potential threats, and maintains such intense and broad surveillance. And that is why the state apparatus—the dictatorship of the capitalist-imperialist class (the bourgeoisie)—does what it does to people.” (From “Five Points of Orientation on the Revelations of Government Surveillance,” online at revcom.us.)
The capitalist state also has another important function: to mediate conflicts between different blocs of capitalist-imperialists on behalf of the “larger interests” of their class. These clashes include competing economic interests, but they principally involve political conflicts. Different political representatives of the capitalist-imperialist class have different ideas on how the masses should be led to think and act, how laws should be written and interpreted, what the “acceptable limits” of political discourse should be, and other issues. These differences can at times get very sharp.
In relation to the NSA scandal, we can see how the divisions within the ruling class have become very intense, in the context of questioning among broad numbers of people about the illegitimacy of the spying and growing distrust of the government. In a poll conducted in October, 51 percent of those polled agreed that Snowden is “a hero who should be commended,” with numbers even higher in other countries—this is significant, given the repeated denunciations of him as a “traitor” by top U.S. political and media figures, and serious criminal charges leveled against him by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act.
In one sign of these conflicts in the ruling class, in December two U.S. federal courts came out with different and contradictory decisions on the NSA bulk telephone data collection—one saying it was most likely unconstitutional and the other saying it clearly met constitutional standards.
These differences among the rulers are NOT mainly over concerns about the gross violation of people’s basic rights and privacy. The contention is over how best to pursue the overall interests of their class, in the face of the huge political storm unleashed society-wide and across the globe by the Snowden leaks—over what “reforms” should be made to quiet down this storm and repair the legitimacy of the state in the eyes of the people, while safeguarding the capabilities of the U.S. intelligence apparatus.
And there is a question as to what extent different sections of the U.S. ruling class are concerned that the NSA’s high-tech surveillance techniques could be used against themselves by other sections of the ruling class. Now it’s true that the rulers continually violate their own laws to keep the people down—just look at how they unleash their police to racially profile, beat, shuttle into prison, and often kill Black, Latino, and other youth of color. Or how their FBI COINTELPRO operations in the 1960s worked to attack the Black Panther Party, including through assassinations. But it is important for their overall class interests that certain rules be obeyed among themselves. If one section of the ruling class moves to break those rules, for example by using the state’s spy agencies to snoop on others in their class, that could seriously affect the functioning of their state. And when the rulers themselves can no longer agree on the rules, this can lead to cracks in the “superstitious awe of the state” that people are trained in through school and the media—in other words, it can be part of a legitimacy crisis.
There are also rules that are supposed to be obeyed among imperialist allies, like the U.S. and Germany. The NSA spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and officials of other allied governments, as well as its spying on economic targets and its efforts to crack encryption codes, has caused a huge uproar, and affected U.S. imperialism’s relations with its allies at a time of rising challenges and threats globally.
The mediating function of the state also involves allowing the masses to take some actions for reforms to address what they see as wrong—but in a way that is aimed at maintaining the overall legitimacy of the state in people’s eyes, and through channeling their sights and thinking into how to fundamentally keep the exploitative and unjust system going, rather than overthrowing it.
It’s important to understand how these contradictions among those in power play out. But we can’t get drawn into the terms that the rulers frame all this in. The rulers’ interests and objectives are NOT in the interests of the great majority of the people in the U.S. and around the world.
Let’s examine what those in power, from Obama on down really mean when they declare that they are trying to “keep people safe” from terrorism. What they are concerned about are not the actual lives of the people in the U.S. and certainly not around the world. There is in fact a clash between the U.S. imperialists and Islamic jihadists. But the U.S. is not opposing the Islamic fundamentalists because of their reactionary program and ideology that represent a nightmare for the people—what’s driving U.S. actions is that these forces pose an obstacle to U.S. imperialism’s global interests and plans. The U.S. rulers are concerned about attacks by those forces within the U.S.—but that is because they worry that if the people begin to widely view the government as not being able to “protect” them, that will raise major questions about the legitimacy of the state. At bottom, the fundamental concern of the rulers is to maintain their empire—and they approach the question of “safety” as well as everything else in that light.
It’s NOT in the people’s interests to help the U.S. more effectively track those labeled as “enemies” in countries like Yemen or Pakistan with advanced technology and assassinate them with drones on the president’s say-so, often killing many others nearby. It’s in fact the very actions of the U.S. in its war for empire (under the cover of “war on terror”) that is putting people in harm’s way, in different parts of the world and inside this country. In this contention between the two reactionary poles of U.S. imperialism and Islamic jihad (and of the two, the U.S. has clearly done more damage and poses the greater danger to the people)—if you side with one against the other, you end up strengthening both.
There is also a fundamental point of morality involved here: “American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People’s Lives.” (BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, 5:7)
The U.S. rulers are worried about threats to their global empire from rivals and potential rivals—and as for their allies, the U.S. trusts them like a mob boss trusts his underlings. This is a part of what’s compelling the U.S.’s expanding global surveillance. The NSA spying on the global climate conference mentioned above has to do with increasingly fierce contention among various powers over resources and economic/geopolitical advantage, with implications for U.S.’s superpower position—even as global environmental catastrophe looms. We should not become a party to this fight among gangsters big and small!
And the U.S. capitalist-imperialist rulers are driven to expand their capabilities to monitor and suppress mass resistance and uprisings against the vicious workings of their system, in this country and around the world. This has to do not only with what’s going on right now, but unrest and revolts that could burst out in the future—and is a big part of what’s driving their spying on such broad numbers of people. The surveillance is not just about monitoring everyone’s thoughts now and intimidating people with the power of the bourgeois state (as horrible as that is)—it is about being able to bring the full repressive force of that state down on people quickly, when those at the top see a threat to their rule.
This is a system that wields a huge spy apparatus, along with the military, the police and other instruments of dictatorship. But it’s not all-powerful. It is a system full of contradictions that its rulers cannot resolve—a system driven by its very nature to enforce misery and suffering, and trample on the very rights that supposedly distinguish it as the “freest country in the world.” The workings of this system lead to repeated outrages and crises, drawing millions into questioning and opposition.
Whether Obama and the U.S. rulers can tamp down the storm over NSA surveillance is not a settled question. Differences within the ruling class over how to proceed may flare up even more strongly. What Snowden did in acting on his conscience, and what others have done to voice opposition to the spying, has already changed the political landscape, and more exposures based on the leaked documents could further intensify the worldwide furor.
There is a just demand to put a STOP to the U.S. government’s mass surveillance. As revolutionaries join in the struggle with all who are outraged and refuse to go along with what they see as wrong, there is a responsibility to break people out of the deadly framework that those in power are trying to impose. And there is an opportunity and challenge to sharply bring out the illegitimacy of the whole damn system—and the possibility of bringing about a radically different and much better world through revolution.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The central piece of "reform" that President Barack Obama proposed in his January 14 speech relates to NSA's telephone metadata program—under which the NSA carries out a bulk collection of information about each and every telephone call in the U.S., such as what number was called and how long the call lasted. The NSA has been able to pretty much search through this database at will, without a court order, and then hone in on specific information on a specific caller, track down the actual content of the calls, etc. They have been able to do three "hops" in this search: look at all the phone numbers that the original number has called or been called by, all numbers that those second set of numbers have been connected to, and then all numbers that the third set have been connected to.
In the speech, Obama said he had ordered an end to the bulk telephone metadata program "as it currently exists." But he clearly did not say that the actual collection of the metadata will stop. It will continue—with the records perhaps kept not by NSA itself but either by the telecom companies or by some "third party" and accessible to the NSA. Obama said intelligence officials and his attorney general will come up with a specific plan for this in March.
Obama also announced that the NSA will need to get an approval from the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court before conducting searches into the phone metadata. This is the secret court that has approved almost every request brought before it by the government for spying operations.
And Obama said that the searches of phone metadata will be restricted to two "hops" from the original number from the current three—which still means that each search of a specific "seed number" could involve the phone numbers of many, many people coming under government scrutiny.
What all this means is that the collection of information on all phone calls in the U.S. will go on, with a few restrictions.
As for the massive spying the U.S. conducts around the world, Obama announced that he had issued a presidential directive making clear that such surveillance is "for legitimate national security purposes and not for the purpose of indiscriminately reviewing the emails or phone calls of ordinary folks" and to extend certain "safeguards" to people overseas. But the speech was very vague on what those "safeguards" are—and it will be up to the U.S. government to determine what constitutes "legitimate national security purposes" that call for spying operations, including on "ordinary folk." Obama put all this in the framework of protecting people's "safety"—but the reality is that the "national security" Obama talks about means whatever the capitalist-imperialist ruling class deems necessary to protect and pursue their global interests. As we get into in the main article on the NSA spying in this issue, the interests of the rulers are NOT the interests of the great majority of people in this country and around the world.
On the matter of the NSA spying on heads of state of other countries, Obama said that "unless there is a compelling national security purpose, we will not monitor the communications of heads of state and governments of our close friends and allies." Again, it's the U.S. government that will decide what is a "compelling national security purpose." There is a not-too-veiled threat here—that if you're not among the "close friends and allies," or if you act in any way that cuts against what the U.S. rulers perceive as their interests, then your phone calls and emails will be targeted by the NSA snoops.
Obama's "reform" on the FISA court, which has conducted its proceedings in total secrecy, consisted of authorizing a non-government panel of "advocates" to provide an "independent voice" before the court—not in every case, but just in "significant" cases, with these advocates themselves apparently not having a say in deciding which those cases are. This is merely a fig leaf of "openness" for this spy court that will continue to operate mainly in secret, with people who are targets of the NSA and other surveillance activities (or anyone else in the public at large) still having no say in, or even knowledge of, what's going on.
Obama also spoke about the National Security Letters—which the FBI uses, without having to go to a judge to get approval, to force telecom, banks or other businesses to turn over records on their customers, like financial transactions or data on phone and email communications, while making it illegal for the recipients of those letters to even talk about them. So the targets of these "investigations"—which do not have to meet any legal requirements against unreasonable searches and other supposed constitutional guarantees—have no way of knowing they are under scrutiny. The FBI uses these National Security Letters tens of thousands of times a year. Obama refused to require judicial approval for these letters, while making a secondary change by announcing that the gag order on those who receive the letters (i.e., the telecom companies) will no longer be permanent but will expire after a period of time.
One major area that Obama did not address at all in the speech was what has been revealed by the Snowden exposures about NSA's major programs to develop "cyberwar" capabilities—such as exploiting flaws in computer programs to mount attacks against computer systems—as well as intense efforts to undermine or weaken encryption programs used by businesses and individuals to keep information on their computer systems private.
And there are various other aspects of NSA activities that have come to light that Obama did not speak about, such as recent reports in the German magazine Der Spiegel about an "elite" NSA unit called Tailored Access Operations whose methods include intercepting computers that have been bought by "targets" and secretly inserting software that enables the NSA to spy on or sabotage computers and computer systems.
Glenn Greenwald—investigative journalist who, along with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, was the first to receive and publish Edward Snowden's leaked NSA documents—wrote about Obama's speech: "The crux of this tactic is that U.S. political leaders pretend to validate and even channel public anger by acknowledging that there are 'serious questions that have been raised.' They vow changes to fix the system and ensure that these problems never happen again. And they then set out, with their actions, to do exactly the opposite: to make the system prettier and more politically palatable with empty, cosmetic 'reforms' so as to placate public anger while leaving the system fundamentally unchanged, even more immune than before to serious challenge."
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
from a member of the Revolution Club and Stop Patriarchy | January 30, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
As the anti-abortion movement surges forward on a wave of recently passed legislation that leaves women across the country desperate and trapped in unwanted pregnancies, the movement to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women (StopPatriarchy.org) led a loud and spirited, uncompromising protest against the 10th annual anti-abortion march in San Francisco. The anti-abortion march calls itself the “Walk for Life West Coast” and buses in tens of thousands of church-going abortion opponents to march down Market Street in the heart of San Francisco, to protest the 1973 Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion and to call for the absolute abolition of abortion rights nationwide. This happens as an addition to the original March for "Life" in Washington DC, whose main organizers made great attempts this year to "reach out to" and welcome, along with its usual Roman Catholic crowd, Christian fascist participants and speakers, such as Troy Newman of the vicious anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue and the champion of oppressive "traditional" family values, James Dobson of Focus on the Family.
Stop Patriarchy, after a year of fighting for the morality, the politics, and the slogan "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!" nationwide, spent two weeks mobilizing at Bay Area college campuses, neighborhoods, and meetings with reproductive rights and social justice organizers. We called on people to stand up and openly oppose the "Walk for Forced Motherhood" on January 25, 2014. We talked with hundreds of people—those who we connected with through the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride in the summer of 2013, and also many people who are just now waking up to the intolerable situation we find ourselves in—about the current state of emergency that abortion rights are in. We brought out the real nature and agenda of the anti-abortion movement and the patriarchal system that gives it credibility, the overall war on women raging worldwide, the great need for nationwide resistance that relies on independent political action and projects real moral clarity in telling the truth about abortion, and the need for real revolution to put an end to the oppression of women.
We learned that there is a growing sense among college students, activists, and others, that there is an assault on abortion rights taking place, and found that when people learn more fully the scope and depth of the real emergency, there is among some, shock and anger. By the end of 2013: 70 restrictions against reproductive rights were passed on the state level, five states have only one surgical abortion clinic left, a whole package of abortion restrictions was passed in Texas and then upheld by the Supreme Court, and there are huge sections of women in rural areas—and an increasing number in broad sections of the country—whom are now being forced into motherhood or driven to dangerous illegal abortion methods. We exposed that a slave-like role for women is being aggressively re-asserted and that the future of women is at stake. We argued that relying on the official political process—such as Democratic “representatives” and the electoral system—that is steeped in patriarchy, has proven to be not only ineffective, but has had a dangerously de-mobilizing effect on the pro-choice movement.
On January 22, 2014, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Stop Patriarchy Bay Area called a press conference and stood with the president of San Francisco NOW, an attorney for civil and environmental justice, and representatives from Occupy SF, World Can't Wait, and Revolution newspaper to denounce the Walk for "Life" West Coast flags that still hang from city lampposts, the Walk for "Life" itself, and the entire anti-abortion movement. The flags declare that "Abortion Hurts Women." Representatives for Stop Patriarchy declared:
“This is no time to stay silent. Forced motherhood is female enslavement, nothing less. The real question is this: Should women actually, really, be able to participate fully in society along with men, or will women be stifled, threatened, shamed and subjugated to the state and to male domination?”
“The anti-abortion movement has never been about saving babies as they would say, but has consistently opposed birth control and real sex education... because it has, at its core, always been about controlling women. The idea that women are nothing but breeders and are selfish, immoral, or irresponsible if they choose otherwise is deadly... Stop Patriarchy calls on everyone who believes that women should have the right to abortion, to step into the fray in support of Abortion On Demand and Without Apology. Stop Patriarchy calls on YOU to stand up, uncompromising, AGAINST the Walk for ‘Life’ this Saturday and beyond, with the message that this generation needs to hear the most: Fetuses are not babies, women are not incubators, and abortion is not murder. Because that is the truth.”
“Hunker down”?? Bullshit!
On Friday, January 24, the day before the Walk for “Life,” a notable pro-choice organizer went on KPFA Radio and encouraged advocates of abortion rights to stay home that day. “Given that these folks are from out of town and don’t represent us here,” she said, “we’re essentially encouraging people to not pay more attention to them than we otherwise would... They’ll come here and spend some money and then go away. And then what we really need to do is hunker down—among those of us who understand what this really means for women, and share the belief that we do have here in the Bay Area.”
This is such small and elitist thinking that it should be embarrassing, but such a statement concentrates the unacceptable stance and losing strategy of many major pro-choice organizations at this time. The “hunker down” (a.k.a. “lie down”) strategy and its advocates are in absolute denial of the fact that the anti-abortion message is growing in its influence, both over people's thinking and definitely in its actual effect on women's lives and access to abortion nation-wide. Several generations have come up believing that abortion is a negative thing, even among those who support the right. They've only ever heard it spoken about as either murder (from the Republicans and other anti-abortionists) or a tragic, if sometimes necessary, choice (by Democrats like the Clintons); almost no one really understands the full anti-woman program of the anti-abortion movement.
It is both false and stupid to assert that nobody in “the enlightened Bay Area” is against abortion. Bullshit. Talk to some people on the street and you will find otherwise. Go to the abortion clinic in Bernal Heights and talk to the regular Catholic prayer circles or the Christian fascists with their bloody fetus truck that park outside. Go to the fake abortion clinics in Nob Hill or Oakland, where people who reject basic science are paid to give false medical advice about abortion. Go to the churches in Berkeley and Oakland that happily hosted Rev. Childress of BlackGenocide.org last weekend, the man who says, “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.” People in the Bay Area are being influenced by the attacks on abortion rights from all sides.
Furthermore, it is just outright immoral to refuse to take a stand for something you believe in and something that is desperately needed (opposition to the anti-abortion movement and ideologies) on the basis that it doesn’t directly affect you. Right now, there are women in rural areas and many major cities across this country who are being driven to desperation because abortion is practically illegal for miles and miles around them.
Finally, it is delusional to abstract any one area from the national picture. Will it not affect San Francisco, and everywhere, if this monster of an anti-abortion movement is left to decide what the role of women will be in society? We don’t need little bastions or oases where women can decide their futures, we need that to be the basic, guaranteed, codified culture and reality for women everywhere. We need a society where women are liberated, where the anti-abortion “opinion” with all its venom for independent women as well as its hatred of science, can’t even get a hearing!
January 25: A beautiful outpouring of rage
The day of the Walk for “Life” arrived. 200 people, overwhelmingly youth, came to the intersection at Powell & Market Streets to powerfully confront the anti-abortion march as it came through. Around 100 people going about their business downtown San Francisco joined us, as we told them that an anti-abortion march of 50,000 would soon descend on the street, and why it matters that at this moment there is public opposition to this whole woman-hating agenda. A contingent of revolutionaries and feminists from Los Angeles arrived with a huge banner that read: “El feto NO es un bebé. Aborto NO es homicidio. La mujer NO es una incubadora.” Hundreds of people took up signs and stickers, or bought t-shirts that said, “Abortion on demand and without apology!” A dozen students from Mills College in Oakland came as a force to be reckoned with, grabbed bullhorns, and ran to oppose the “Pro Life Generation” banner, shouting, “Every generation has an obligation to women’s liberation!” As one college student declared, “Today, there are more of them than there are of us, but we have the moral high ground.” When the anti-abortion march came through with drums, we danced to the beat and chanted, “Break! The chains! Break, break the chains! If women don’t have rights, we are nothing but slaves!” and “Hell no hell no, we won’t go back!” People pointed at the anti-abortion march and shouted together, “This march hates women!” and “Without this basic right, women can’t be free! Abortion on demand and without apology!” It was a beautiful outpouring of rage in the right direction, of people coming together and lifting their aspirations to the possibilities of women’s liberation, lifting their voices together in unison and demanding what is right.
It is imperative that we opposed them that day and every day going forward. All these lies about abortion hurting women and babies must be countered publicly with the truth. The full agenda of the anti-abortion movement must be exposed as an all-out push to re-assert archaic-style patriarchy here and around the world. People everywhere need to see that there is a growing force that they can and must join with to fight and defeat this war on women the only way it can be defeated: by relying on ourselves.
The counter-protest followed the anti-abortion march for a mile down Market Street, challenging them all the way and letting them know their Dark Ages morality was not welcome. Then we pulled off on a side street and held a speak-out with many of those who had stood up for abortion rights. Several people on their way to do something else were so disgusted by the enormous anti-abortion action, they were moved to join in. All throughout the speak-out, speakers were applauded and cheered on by the crowd that had clearly stood on the right side of this struggle that day, and knew it. One young woman was buying shoes and was so mad when she saw what was happening that she turned her shoebox into a sign that said, “My body, my choice” and joined in. A middle-aged Black woman said she was at the first Walk for “Life” in 2005 and will never give up this right. She said that first year she stood up against them, she had to ask them, “Are you pro-life? Are you pro-life for the babies that are dying in Iraq? You’re not against children being killed in Afghanistan. Are you really pro-life? Because that’s what pro-life means; you would be pro-life for them too. You’re not pro-life, you’re about controlling women’s bodies... and I’m about sick of it.”
A first-year college student said, “It took me awhile to find this group. I was like, ‘I’m alone!’ This shouldn’t be an issue. What year is this??” and several other young people spoke about how they hadn’t done anything like this before, and they were surprised to feel so accepted, “empowered,” and like they had found their place at this action and with Stop Patriarchy. Another young woman pointed to the Stop Patriarchy stickers many were wearing that say, “We are the Liberation Generation,” and said, “Did you see that group that said ‘Pro-Life Generation’? Can we talk about this? Come on, what do we really want to stand for? This is a movement that wants to take us backwards, and our generation cannot let that happen! And we have to fight like hell to make sure that doesn’t happen.” Someone else said, “Okay, I really believe that we are born equal. You have to be born to get the rights! I should have more rights than something without a brain!” A young Latina from LA said, “I’m going to take all this back to Los Angeles!” and urged others to organize with and spread the core messages and program for women’s liberation that Stop Patriarchy represents in the world.
One young woman said that in 2012 she was in the Walk for “Life,” on the wrong side of the issue. She said that she saw a counter-protest as she was marching along, and was provoked to do some research. So she arrived at our counter-protest with a sign that said, “I was lied to so I’d be pro-life” and another that said, “Not the church, not the state, women will decide their fate.” Another young woman said, “You tell me which church teaches sex education. Where are they? Nowhere.” Then she went on to tell the story of her Catholic cousin in Mexico who committed suicide after she couldn’t feed her three children. This is one of a long litany of devastating situations that the outlawing and the stigma on abortion creates, and it is long past time that we put a real end to the epic saga of unnecessary deaths and foreclosed dreams that the anti-abortion movement wants to multiply and perpetuate.
Several people expressed great frustration that the battle over abortion rights is still an issue. That here we are, 41 years after Roe v. Wade, and there is still such a great need to “fight like hell” for this most basic of rights. Others stood up to say that if we want to see a day when this fight is won, when we can move beyond all this oppression of women into a society where women are truly participating in every realm as equals, we need revolution and socialism with the ultimate goal of communism. Everyone who had fought that day was urged to read and spread revcom.us and Revolution newspaper, and to actively build the movement for the kind of revolution that has the potential to truly liberate women and emancipate humanity; we need to wrench humanity free from the oppressive and exploitative system that by its nature enslaves women, commodifies everything, alienates people from themselves and each other, and enforces impossible and undesirable gender roles.
This day was a living example of the fury of women that exists right below the surface that can and must be unleashed societywide. It is also an example of how stifling and demobilizing the Democrats truly are. Mainstream “women’s groups” that claim to be about abortion rights—but consistently refuse to openly expose and resist the anti-abortion movement because of their ties to the Democratic Party—have got to bust out from underneath that suffocating wing. Everyone who wants to fight for real against the all-sided assault on abortion rights, and for women’s liberation, must discard the “hunker down” strategy as historically debunked. Everyone who wants to stop the war on women: there is an urgent need for you to stand in defiance of those who would see women’s lives and futures openly subordinate to the state and to male domination. If you are pro-choice, there is a need for you to refuse to take counsel from those who urge us to stick our heads in the sand and wait for the “pendulum to swing back” or for “our representatives” in the halls of power to save us. You and many others can and must join in this kind of righteous awakening and massive, uncompromising resistance against patriarchy, in order to change the terms of the debate, turn the tide, and defeat the war on women. Let’s remember this day and build on it, what happened and why it matters that a crowd of a couple hundred, without a shred of intimidation, took on the hordes of archaic thinkers, religious leaders, and misogynist legislators, and said, “We have the moral high ground. Your time is up.”
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
This call was issued by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network:
January 13, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
February 26, 2014 - 2 years since Trayvon Martin was murdered by vigilante, wannabe cop George Zimmerman; 2 years since this 17-year-old African-American walking home at 7:15 PM with skittles and iced tea and wearing a hoodie was murdered because he looked "suspicious" and "up to no good" to Zimmerman.
Zimmerman didn't know Trayvon—had never met him or spoke to him. But America had taught Zimmerman that Black youth are guilty until proven innocent. And he learned this lesson well. Zimmerman called Trayvon "a punk," "a fucking asshole," and said "they always get away...."
He stalked Trayvon, confronted him and shot him dead.
This was a modern day lynching. It sent a message that Black youth have a bulls-eye on their backs that cops and any ordinary racist can use as target practice. The recent murders of Renisha McBride in Detroit, Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida, Jonathan Smith in North Carolina and Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa, California underscore this message.
In response we must deliver our own message: we will not stand by in silence as our youth are brutalized, locked up, murdered and more. On Feb. 26th, we must say NO MORE! to the criminalization of whole generations of Black and Latino youth.
Look at what this case revealed. When the police arrived on the scene finding Zimmerman standing over Trayvon's dead body, they drug tested Trayvon—the victim—and let Zimmerman—the killer—walk free. It took weeks of nationwide mobilization to force the authorities to put Zimmerman on trial.
Then Trayvon was put on trial. Stories of marijuana being found in his backpack and a school suspension filled the media. As Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon's mother, put it: "They've killed my son, and now they are trying to kill his reputation."
In the trial, the judge ruled the prosecution could talk about profiling, but not RACIAL profiling. The prosecutors forgot how to prosecute, putting on Zimmerman's case so well he didn't have to testify. The defense assassinated the character of Trayvon and then unleashed crude insults and racist attacks on Rachel Jeantel, who spoke the truth about what happened the night of Trayvon's murder.
The question is what will we do now in the face of this outrage? Will we stand by in silence as youth like Trayvon die or face lives of brutality, misery and incarceration? Or will we stand up and say NO MORE!—on February 26, 2014, and from here on out? Now is NOT the time to "move on." Now IS the time for basic people and youth, professors and students, artists and writers, athletes, musicians and prominent voices of conscience to rise up in spirited resistance with the clear objective of STOPPING mass incarceration, criminalization and murder of our youth.
On February 26, step off in determined street protests; hold campus teach-ins and cultural events; speak out in the media; spread the image and national sticker "We Are All Trayvon, The Whole Damn System is Guilty" and say NO MORE! to the green light this system has given to police and vigilantes to gun down and murder any youth they deem "suspect" because of the color of their skin or the clothes they wear. Spread the "We Say No More" statement which condemns the murder of Trayvon.
The murder of Trayvon was and is a towering outrage. Remember: when the verdict came down many thousands rejected the call for "calm reflection" from Obama and others and took to the streets in outrage. Many more asked: Why does this happen? And, what can we do about it? There is a challenge before us: what kind of world are we going to live in? On February 26, 2014 we must answer that challenge with a day of outrage and remembrance for Trayvon Martin and all the others like Trayvon.
Hoodies Up! We Are All Trayvon,
The Whole Damn System is Guilty!
The Youth Are Not Suspects, They Are Human Beings!
Stop Mass Incarceration Network, P.O. Box 941 Knickerbocker Station, New York, NY 10002-0900
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
By a Revolution writing team | February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
In November 2011, a group of masked women appeared atop a scaffold in a Moscow subway. While tearing apart down feather pillows and showering the feathers onto the train platform below, they performed “Osvobodi Bruschatku” (“Release the Cobblestones”).
This was the first public performance by Pussy Riot—at the time a crew of about 11 women performers. A blog posting accompanying the performance stated: “Your ballots will be used as toilet paper by the Presidential Administration.”
The provocative performance caused a buzz online—especially in Russia. But the world was soon to hear a lot more about Pussy Riot.
On February 21, 2012, several women—members of Pussy Riot—staged a performance on the soleas of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Russia’s most prominent Christian Orthodox place of worship. The soleas is an elevated extension of the sanctuary platform and a particularly “holy” space in church doctrine—among other things, women are prohibited from being on it in any circumstances.
Dressed in balaclavas (ski masks), and irreverently brightly colored outfits, with exuberant choreography that included boxing moves, they lip synched to a recording of their composition “Punk Prayer—Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!”
It was a cultural explosion of joyous, defiant rebellion. For a tumultuous 40 seconds, church officials chased down and dragged off the performers, while other church functionaries tried to block the video recording of the event. But too late! This protest against the ruling regime of Vladimir Putin, the church’s support for that regime, and on another level, this defiant rebellion against the oppression of women, would be heard, and resonate, around the world.
That evening, Pussy Riot released the performance as a music video titled “Punk Prayer—Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!”
Members of Pussy Riot were making a specific political statement in their performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. But as a work of creative art, the performance deserves appreciation that transcends the specific message and demands.
On an altar to obscurantism, repression, prejudice, and ignorance toward women and gay people, Pussy Riot staged an audacious manifesto of cultural rebellion that anyone who would love to see a world beyond superstition, prejudice, and oppression has got to find heartening.
On the other hand... some forces in the world who don’t appreciate that kind of rebellion did not feel that way. The performance would become an event that would polarize Russian society and the world—especially after three members of Pussy Riot were arrested in March 2012 and put on trial by Russian authorities. They were charged for their performance with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
Nadezhda (Nadya) Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich were put on trial in Moscow on July 30, 2012. The three faced possible sentences of up to seven years imprisonment. Prosecutors said that among their crimes, the group’s song “Putin Zassal” included the lyrics “The Orthodox Religion is a hardened penis / Coercing its subjects to accept conformity.”
The three defendants insisted that they had not, in fact, broken Russian laws—specifically that their performance was not motivated by “hate.” At the same time, they were utterly unrepentant about the performance. Nadya Tolokonnikova told the Russian court the song they performed is “about the fusion of Moscow patriarchy and the government. ‘Holy shit’ is our evaluation of the situation in the country. This opinion is not blasphemy.”
As the trial progressed, protests for and against Pussy Riot took place in Russia. Intolerant, backward sections of Russian society reacted with frenzied fury. The trial was broadcast live, and as people saw the defendants confined to cages in the courtroom, persecuted for their artistic statement, and making articulate and passionate arguments in the face of the regime’s repression, more and more people were moved to stand with them, from different perspectives. (An HBO film on Pussy Riot and the trial, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, documents how different people, including people in the families of the performers, went through changes and came to support Pussy Riot over the course of the trial.)
All three were convicted by the judge on August 17, 2012, who ruled they had “crudely undermined the social order” with their protest, showing a “complete lack of respect” for believers.
Putin, while stating he thought Pussy Riot should not be judged “too severely,” insisted that it was right to bring Pussy Riot to trial because “the country has very grave memories of the initial period of Soviet rule, when a huge number of priests suffered. Many churches were destroyed and all our traditional faiths suffered huge damage.” The three were sentenced to two years in prison. They appealed their convictions. Yekaterina Samutsevich succeeded on appeal in having her two-year jail term reduced to a suspended sentence.
A huge movement developed, in and out of Russia, demanding the release of the locked up members of Pussy Riot. The most profound factor behind that is what it reveals about the depth and sweep of fury over the status of women in today’s world, the state of that world overall, and a refusal to accept this.
After nearly two years in prison, and global protest, Putin released from prison the two jailed members of Pussy Riot. Nadya Tolokonnikova walked out of prison in the eastern city of Krasnoyarsk in brutally cold Siberian weather and flashed a victory sign to reporters waiting outside, shouting “Russia without Putin!”
On her release, Maria Alyokhina told Russian television that had she been given the chance, she would have turned down the offer of amnesty and served out the remainder of her sentence, which was due to finish in March, and that members of Pussy Riot would “be creating very special, colorful, and powerful programs to defend other innocent women in Russian prisons who are being turned into slaves right now.”
And Nadya Tolokonnikova announced that the two women planned a new project: “Russia is built along the same lines as a prison camp at the moment, so it’s important to change the prison camps so that we can start to change Russia,” she said. “Everything is just starting, so fasten your seat belts.”
Pussy Riot’s performance at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior emerged in a world where, from the burka to the degrading commodification of women in “the West,” the oppression (and liberation) of women is a seismic faultline in every society on this planet.
It is refreshing in itself—in a world where culture is far too dominated by pathetic self-absorption, “get rich or die trying,” disrespecting and degrading women, and other forms of channeling of the oppressor’s mentality and morality—that Pussy Riot overtly acknowledges a connection between politics and art and consciously deploys their performance art to oppose oppression of women especially, with art that is daring (artistically and physically), creative, and oppositional.
Members of Pussy Riot have a radical and feminist philosophy, and to their credit, they openly acknowledge it, articulate it, and discuss it. Along with insights into and determined opposition to the imposition of stifling conformity, and the oppression of women and LGBT people and others, the politics expressed in their interviews tend to reflect an identification of the root of the problem in Russian society today in the “Soviet model” and the antidote to that being more “democracy.”
In their identification of the source of repression in Russia in the “Soviet model,” members of Pussy Riot conflate two radically different kinds of societies. There is a tremendous amount of confusion about this in the world, and in Russia especially. “Communism” is generally associated—wrongly—with an era when the Soviet Union called itself “socialist” but was in fact a capitalist-imperialist society, starting in 1956 until the official, formal breakup of the Soviet Union. The actual experience of socialism in Soviet Union, from 1917-1956, and the even more radical liberatory experience of China from 1949-1976 has been subjected to decades of massive lies and distortion. (For the real story of the experience of previous socialist revolutions, see “You Don’t Know What You Think You ‘Know’ About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future.”)
The antidote to capitalism is not more democracy in the abstract. Countries like Russia, and the United States, are capitalist-imperialist societies and the logic of capitalism-imperialism requires exploitation and violent oppression. Democratic forms, like voting for “choices” that channel discontent and rebellion into dead ends, are of a piece with, and complementary to that violent oppression.
In the realm of culture, for example, regardless of the form of capitalist rule, genuinely rebellious artistic expression is met with repression, censorship, and even jail. In the U.S., the crudest misogyny is pumped out over the airwaves while radical voices in rock, hip-hop and other popular genres are marginalized or shut down. And in every society, huge sections of people are locked out of participating in culture of any kind, particularly radical emancipatory culture—something that members of Pussy Riot have expressed a determination to break down.
That is the way the world is. But that is not the only way the world has been, and even more to the point, not the way it could be. The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) provides a vision and program for a society that not only tolerates dissent in the realms of politics and culture, but promotes that, as part of a vibrant and liberating society moving to expose and uproot all oppression.
Anyone who wants to see a world like that, and anyone who wants to see a radical alternative to the oppression of women, and the whole oppressive world order, has got to appreciate the defiant impact of Pussy Riot who, in their own way, are contributing to a revolt against a revolting culture that is suffocating humanity.
The world can use a whole lot more of that!
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
U.S.-Russia Tension on Display at the Winter Olympics
February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The Olympic Games feature breathtaking athletic performances. But in a world dominated by capitalist-imperialist nations with fiercely competing interests, they are even more defined by the promotion of ugly “my country #1” chauvinism. Such is the case with the 2014 Winter Olympics, where much of this is taking the form of promoting the USA as a bastion of gay rights, contrasted with repression of LGBT people in Russia.
Russia, under Vladimir Putin, has enacted outrageous anti-gay legislation. It conflates same-sex relations with child abuse and pedophilia. In some ways, this equating of same-sex relationships with pedophilia (adults having sex with children) parallels the way that very prominent and powerful voices of vicious intolerance in the United States try to conflate same-sex relationships with bestiality.
The United States and Russia are different countries, different societies, and have different histories. And there are differences in the legal status of LGBT people within the United States, and between the U.S. and Russia.
But seriously: who’s calling who intolerant?
We are supposed to believe that having openly gay and lesbian athletes (figure skater Brian Boitano, tennis great Billie Jean King, and Olympic ice hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow) in this delegation shows that life in the U.S. for those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community is not the same compared to their counterparts in Russia. Obama sends his delegation, telling the world how great it is for the LGBT community in the U.S.
Really? In 2004, Obama was still questioning “should they [gays] get married?” Even his 2012 statement endorsing gay marriage failed to give anyone any hope that he would do anything about it and that statement came across as an election ploy. And now his delegation is the great spokespeople for this? Come on Billie Jean King, Brian Boitano, and Caitlin Cahow. Stop being a spokesperson for U.S. imperialism and tell the people of the world what it is really like to be lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender in the U.S. and how we have to put an end to all this madness coming down on the LGBT community in Russia.
It’s a good thing that athletes are speaking out for LGBT rights, and it’s good that Caitlin Cahow says that politics should be at the Olympics allowing athletes to speak their mind about issues they feel need to be addressed. But when Cahow says “the delegation is not about criticizing the policies of Moscow but celebrating progress and diversity in the United States,” we say that’s bullshit! And that lie has to be taken on.
The truth is the opposite; while there are differences, overall, both countries continue to demonize and discriminate against their LGBT people, and life for those in the LGBT communities in both countries is fraught with the daily danger of violence against them, including murder just because of their sexual orientation.
In the United States, big-time professional sports are not just significant profit centers, they play a huge role in defining the culture of this society, projecting “role models” and values that get pumped through TV, video games, sports-talk radio, etc. And, just how many openly gay athletes are there in the major U.S. professional sports (NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL)? Zero, with the exception of Jason Collins, an NBA center who courageously came out as openly gay while hoping to land a contract to extend his career. The world watched to see if the NBA powers that be would prevail on some team to sign Collins. Nobody signed him, and Collins has not played a game in the NBA since coming out publicly.
You want a window into the state of tolerance for gay athletes in America? Consider this from former Minnesota Vikings punter and gay rights advocate Chris Kluwe:
“Near the end of November, several teammates and I were walking into a specialist meeting with Coach [Mike] Priefer. We were laughing over one of the recent articles I had written supporting same-sex marriage rights, and one of my teammates made a joking remark about me leading the Pride parade. As we sat down in our chairs, Mike Priefer, in one of the meanest voices I can ever recall hearing, said: ‘We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.’” Kluwe was an excellent punter for eight years with the Vikings but has been run out of the league. Priefer remains a coach.
In the U.S., state sodomy laws (laws that outlaw several sex acts, mainly those between people of the same sex) were not overturned until 2003. If that had not happened, 14 states would still have those laws on the books. Discrimination around a person’s sexual orientation or what became more known as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy in the U.S. military was not ended until 2011. Transgender people are still banned from the military, and face terrible prejudice in society, and dangerous conditions in prisons. A little known fact is that it was Thomas Jefferson who authored a Virginia law that men who engage in same-sex relationships will be castrated.
There has been a huge battle over same-sex marriage in the U.S., and attitudes are changing rapidly. Currently only 17 states have legalized same-sex marriage and six of those states only reversed their previous ban on same-sex marriage in 2013. Right now 33 states ban same-sex marriage.
The horror of what it means to be an LGBT person in the U.S. is the violence committed against them. A report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Hate Violence in 2012” describes that a huge part of that violence is inflicted by the cops. For instance, transgender people are three and one-half times more likely to incur police violence than those who are not LGBT and gay men are three times more likely to incur police violence.
None of this minimizes the terrible and dangerous situation for LGBT people in Russia, or the importance of people speaking out against and protesting that—everywhere in the world. In Russia, there has been increased violence on the LGBT communities as described by Masha Gessen, a lesbian who has written a book about Pussy Riot, Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot. She was interviewed recently on the NPR show Fresh Air, where she said, “There’s an incredible rise in anti-gay violence. I mean that’s the most immediate effect of all this propaganda and all this anti-gay legislation. ... it’s what happens in the streets. And there are many different kinds of anti-gay violence. ... people are just getting beaten up and the police stand by and watch basically.”
A somewhat different view was taken by Anita Rani, who has a travel show on BBC2, where, on her recent trip to Russia, she found that there is an outwardly gay community in St. Petersburg. “On the one hand, we hear about all the negative stories that are coming out about things like gay rights in Russia, but at the same time, there were Queer Fests going on right in front of me,” explained Rani. “Queer Fest is a gay festival that happens in St. Petersburg. ... It was an absolutely legal festival that they were having. Nobody was there closing it down.” On the other hand her co-presenter found that in rural Russia there were openly anti-gay sentiments among the population “who hold really homophobic views.” (“Russia on 4 Wheels,” by Anita Rani and Justin Rowlett, January 16, 2014.)
In some ways this parallels the situation in the United States and other countries as well, where there is more acceptance of LGBT people in larger cities and more enlightened areas, and vast areas of the country where being openly LGBT will cost one their job and their friends, get them denounced in church, and subjected to legal and extra-legal threats and physical danger.
So for the U.S. to be calling out Russia for its anti-gay law is like the “pot calling the kettle black” or the U.S. calling out Russia for what the U.S. is doing too.
The principal thing to understand about Russia and the United States is that they are both capitalist-imperialist countries, even with some differences between them. What this means is that the laws, the dominant culture, and the relationships between people support and reinforce the capitalist-imperialist system of each country. This is not cut and dried as a one size fits all, but is based on the particular necessities each country faces at any particular time, as well as the struggles of the people in each country that go up against the capitalist-imperialist system.
One very important similarity in each country is the role of religion and how that has impacted the LGBT communities in each country. In Russia, Putin is a born-again in the Russian Orthodox Church. Masha Gessen talked about how Putin’s main base of support comes from the Russian Orthodox Church along with the “traditional values” that support the Russian Orthodox family. In her NPR interview, she said: “Many Russians identify as Russian Orthodox and have this vague idea of a Russian national identity that is tied to the Orthodox church.” And it was just reported that the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church preached against same-sex marriage saying that “the traditional family structure is needed for the survival of humankind.” (christianpost.com, January 30, 2014)
Does this sound familiar?
In our article, “The Shutdown, the Showdown, and the Urgent Need To Repolarize... For Revolution,” Revolution/revcom.us, October 8, 2013, we discuss the two forces in the ruling class and talk about the dominant force within the Republican Party as being a fascist force that “demand(s) a forceful reassertion of ‘traditional American values’ that include “the outlawing of abortion and restriction of birth control, and the all-round re-imposition of the traditional, openly oppressive subordination of women, justified by archaic religious dogma.” We go on to point out that, “In short, these Republi-fascists uphold white supremacy, the subjugation of women, nativism (that is, a hatred of those not born in the U.S.), and religious fundamentalism, along with a general glorying in ignorance and irrationality. Added to this is the very important fact of fascist strength in the military.”
As the article “Same-Sex Marriage: A Basic Right, a Just Demand” (April 7, 2013, Revolution/revcom.us), pointed out: “There are conflicts within the ruling class of the U.S. over how to handle this. Some sections of the ruling class (more or less associated with the Republican Party) argue that a brutal enforcement of ‘traditional values’ is the only way to maintain the system in times of great social and economic turmoil. Within that mix, the head of the Christian fascist Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, told a right-wing talk show host that ‘I think you could see a social and cultural revolution if the Court goes too far on this.’ By ‘revolution,’ Perkins and others of his ilk mean violent fascist repression in one form or another.”
You want a world of tolerance, equality, and liberation? Then don’t get played into being a cheerleader or cheering on a system of intolerance, inequality, and oppression, of “your own” or any other oppressive ruling class.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
From A World to Win News Service
February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
January 27, 2014. A World to Win News Service. To understand the situation in the Republic of Azerbaijan, we need to consider the country's position in the world imperialist division of labor and its role in creating wealth, and in the defence and advance of the interests of the Western imperialists, particularly the U.S., in the strategic and oil-rich regions of Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea.
Azerbaijan is a small country with a population of 9.3 million. It borders on Iran, Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Turkey.
Azerbaijan lost 10 percent of its territory in the war with Armenia in the early 1990s. Nearly a million war refugees are still living in harsh conditions, a section of them still in makeshift camps.
The country has become a haven for reactionary fundamentalists fighting against Russian rule in Daghistan and Chechnya, as well as an expanding territory of influence by the rulers of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran has provided a huge amount of financial and human resources under the cover of "humanitarian activity" among war refugees to obtain popular influence. The IRI unconditionally sponsors and pays good wages to any young Azeri male who wants to come and study in Iran—on the condition that he become a mullah.
Azerbaijan became a separate country after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The separation was not a smooth process. Wars with neighboring countries and brutal and bloody repression and massacres internally were and still are the message Russia left behind: Never underestimate our power!
Following independence came a short period of instability due to the effects of repeated defeats suffered in the war with Armenia, and violent political contradictions within the ruling class due to their tendencies to ally with one or another power. Gradually Western and mainly U.S. influence became predominant. Under these conditions Heydar Aliyev came to power in 1993 and ruled brutally until 2003. During the Soviet era, he was their number one man in Azerbaijan from 1969-1982, when he was promoted to a higher level and went to Moscow. [Note from Revolution: After the mid-1950s, following the death of Stalin, socialism was overthrown in the Soviet Union and capitalism was restored. The new rulers were revisionists—claiming to be "communists," but in reality a new bourgeoisie in power. By the 1980s, the Soviet imperialists headed a rival bloc that was challenging the Western imperialists led by the U.S. for global dominance, until the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.] After independence he tirelessly paved the way for Western influence and penetration in Azerbaijan and managed to stop the war with Armenia by leaning toward the U.S.
His son, Ilham Aliyev, took over from his father and changed the constitution to eliminate the restriction on the number of presidential terms, indicating his ambition to be president for life.
A country with enormous oil and natural gas resources, Azerbaijan is ranked as nineteenth in the world. Its pipelines now carry a million barrels of oil abroad every year. It has seven billion barrels in estimated reserves and explorations for more are ongoing. Due to the oil boom, the size of Azerbaijan's economy tripled over the last decade, creating a trade surplus of $12 billion.
The country's sovereign wealth fund stands at over $12 billion. This money is in the fist of the regime, particularly the president.
But from 2006 until the first half of 2011, the state's foreign debts increased from $1.9 billion to $14. 5 billion, according to Finance Ministry of Republic of Azerbaijan. Private sector debt underwent a similar increase, according to the same source.
Under the clans and circles grouped around the Aliyev family, Azerbaijan's government is one of the world's most corrupt. According to the constitution of Azerbaijan, the president cannot enter into economic activities, but through his family and close relatives they have a web of inter-knitted businesses stretching from Panama to Dubai. Working through eleven off-shore companies in Panama, they have set up branches in Azerbaijan, basically controlling most of the country's highly profitable companies in sectors such as telecommunications, construction, banking, tourism, imports and exports (including monopoly control over cotton exports), aviation, mining and the sale of Caspian Beluga caviar. The family income stream also includes money from the sale of high governmental positions, its direct control and privatizing of income from customs and investments in real estate in Dubai. The president's 12-year-old son owned $75 million in property in Dubai and many more investments.
In a PR stunt meant to garner international respectability for a corrupt regime, two contestants from Azerbaijan won the highly political and commercial Eurovision song contest in 2011. Consequently, Baku, the country's capital, became the host city for the event the following year. Many houses were demolished to build the infrastructure and the contest hall. Often homes were razed to the ground in the early hours of the morning, leaving their inhabitants with nowhere to live. The government moved them into poorly built and serviced high-rise apartment buildings. Many were beaten and imprisoned during the protests against the evictions.
All these operations were carried out by Azinko Holding LLC. In Azerbaijan, people know that this company is owned by the ruling Aliyev clan.
The final cost of such projects is always highly inflated because budget allocations, pricing and quality control are determined at the top. The huge amount of bribery, the lack of transparency and many other factors contribute to the shrinking of oil revenues and the transfer of funds from government accounts to the private accounts of the head of government and his family. This is how many governments of countries under the domination of imperialism are run, giving ruling bureaucrat capitalists in power direct access to funds. The imperialists are the direct beneficiary of such client regimes. This can be observed by studying the small and even large print in the oil and gas contracts.
An example of how such regimes allow foreign monopoly capitalists to grab a country's resources for almost nothing is a gold mine in Azerbaijan bought under the company name of Inglis, which originates from Panama offshore companies. The land belonging to the local community was confiscated, fresh water resources were directed to mining use and local roads destroyed due to explosions and excavations. Highly toxic waste seeps down towards local villages, ruining people's sources of income—very small-scale livestock and farming—and health. At the same time consumer goods have become highly overpriced. The interests of the ruling clan and imperialist investment are intertwined. Local profits go to shore up a regime whose "corrupt" rule allows foreign capital to make totally legal super-profits at the expense of the people and the country.
Khadija Ismaeilova, an investigative journalist looking into the business activities of the president and his family, has been repeatedly threatened with death. Secret cameras were placed in her flat, her private life secretly filmed and posted on the Internet.
The chief editor of Monitor magazine, Ilmar Hoseinov, who was not pro-government, was killed—shot five times in the mouth in front of his house. This was a message to those who want to speak up. The murderers were never found.
When journalist Baha addin Hazif asked the First Lady where she gets the money for her private school building programme, Hazif was kidnapped and his lips cut.
Jabbar Savalan, a young activist, posted his opinion regarding corruption and social injustices. He was arrested, tortured and charged with drug possession.
There is no free social media. Public gatherings are under strict supervision. During the election period, Freedom Square and the open space on the boulevard were boarded up and closed.
Nevertheless, in October 2013 the Azerbaijan government was awarded a non-permanent UN Security Council membership for the first time.
Despite enormous reserves of gas and oil, the supply of gas and electricity to Azerbaijan's towns and villages is extremely irregular. Even in Baku, power and gas cuts are normal routine. The country's energy resources have to be exported. An absolute majority of people find it hard to feed their family. Apart from the export-orientated production of a few raw materials, agriculture and industrial production has become almost extinct.
Managers, high-level technicians and skilled workers in the export sectors obtain good wages, but for the rest of the people life is an uphill struggle. A secondary school teacher makes around $250-350 a month, while a kilo of meat costs more than $11. In the war refugee camps, young women are sexually abused for a loaf of bread. In some cases police act as pimps, selling prostitutes to potential customers. Azerbaijan has become a major centre in the international trafficking of women. Azeri teenage girls are forced into prostitution in many neighbouring countries. Hundreds also work as prostitutes in hotels and casinos in Georgia. Tens of thousands work in Iran, Turkey, the UAE, Russia and as far away as Afghanistan. Domestically, a significant number of brothels are making huge profits by enslaving women.
In April 2013, the Azerbaijan parliament debated the legalization of prostitution as a measure against human trafficking and corruption!
Government officials at different levels reap big money from domestic and international human trafficking. The legalization of such trade only serves the monopolization of the resulting income in the hands of higher officials, who already benefit to a great degree. Legalized or not, those women will still have to sell their bodies.
Azerbaijan is one of the most important and reliable American client states in the Caucasus and Central Asia. The use of its airspace, land, airports and fuel has been vital for the U.S. war in Afghanistan. It also serves the U.S. geographically, in that its existence means that Russia has no border with Iran.
The political and military training of its new rulers has taken place mainly under the supervision of U.S. officials. The regime gives the U.S. and Israel access to an airport near the Iranian border. The country's two billion dollars worth of anti-aircraft weapons purchased from Israel and the huge presence of foreign military personnel in Azerbaijan are part and parcel of threatening Iran as well as keeping Russian influence under control.
The U.S. has dominance over oil and gas exploration, production and export. U.S. political influence through its military and economic might also suits the regime in Azerbaijan, as well as vice-versa. The regime relies on such support to stay in power, and acts as a very junior partner in robbing the country. That is why in recently-revealed secret U.S. embassy cables, the country's president is referred to as "Michael Corleone," referring to the Mafia head in the film The Godfather. The point is that President Aliyev may be a gangster, but he is the U.S.'s gangster.
The regime's energy and military co-operations with the West, mainly the U.S., has improved Baku's negotiating positions over Nagorno-Karabakh and other lands lost to Armenia. The solidification of Azerbaijan's ties with the West, particularly the U.S., is the main factor in Baku's refusal to dance to Moscow's tune. But the whole situation still remains extremely fluid, as we witnessed in the case of Georgia, which underwent a Russian invasion and regime-change enforced by the Russian imperialists.
The Russian imperialists have not only closely monitored events in their ex-back yard, they have also capitalized on any chance to dispute Western control there. Russia took advantage of the political, military and economic problems caused by the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the recent Western financial crisis to push for maximum gains in the region.
Nearly ten percent of Azerbaijan's population benefits from the remittances sent by family members working in Russia, and the number of its people in Russia has increased by almost half in the past few years.
In 2012, Russia signed a $4 billion sale of military equipment to Azerbaijan, including S-300 air defence systems. This volume is expected to increase.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Baku in August 2013, he was accompanied by the heads of most Russian ministries. In this visit, Russia secured its involvement in gas exploration and exports via Russia. The Russian monopoly Rosneft signed an oil and gas agreement with the Azerbaijan state oil company. The details are still to be disclosed. At the same time, Russia made almost no concessions in terms of its support for the Armenian regime and the stalemate in Nagorno-Karabakh. Similarly, Baku resisted joining the Collective Security Organization and Eurasian Union, the Russian-led military and political alliances of former Soviet republics.
Still, damaged relations with Russia due to Azerbaijan's closure of the Baku-Nororossiysk oil pipe line and the Gabala radar station near the Iranian border in 2012 are on the mend. Talks to reopen the pipeline and station 2,000 Russian military personnel on the same military base have reportedly been positive.
An Oscar-winning film scriptwriter, Rustam Ibragimbekov, 74, tried to register as a candidate for the Azerbaijan presidential race. But he was disqualified over his Azeri-Russian dual citizenship.
Ibragimbekov is extremely influential amongst powerful Azerbaijan businessmen in Russia. In 2012 he co-established the Union of Azeri Organizations in Russia whose membership includes power brokers such as Aras Agalaro, now the father of the president's son-in-law. Moscow's attempts to gain influence in Azerbaijan may continue and gain even more momentum as rivalry for control over the region and beyond intensifies. Ibragimbekov complained that the European countries would turn a blind eye to multiple violations in electoral procedures, because of Azeri oil. The possibility of political unrest is strong because of the intolerable conditions of so much of the population.
The October 2013 presidential elections took place in these conditions. The day before the elections, the U.S. television channel CBS reported that Azerbaijan's electoral authorities had announced Ilham Alyiev as winner with 72 percent of the total votes, even before a single ballot was cast. The next day, after the election, he was again announced as the winner, this time with 85 percent voter support.
Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described the elections as "seriously flawed." But then, this is Azerbaijan, a pro-Western regime bordered on one side by Iran and the other by Russia. None of the Western powers is seriously going to oppose the regime or call for a new election!
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
“Opportunity is who we are, and the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise... when people come here to fulfill their dreams... they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone. So let’s get immigration reform done this year.”
Republicans and Democrats both rose to their feet applauding when Barack Obama spoke these words at his recent State of the Union address. “Bipartisan agreement” regarding immigration law indicates that leading figures on both sides recognize the potential volatility and danger to the entire political and economic system of U.S. capitalism- imperialism if they don’t revamp the federal laws and policies meant to manage immigrants and control the U.S.’s borders.
This system relies on relentless exploitation of millions of undocumented immigrants for its profitable functioning. Yet the rulers of this system see many of these same people as remaining of questionable loyalty to the U.S., its government, and its “way of life.” A reactionary Christian fascist Texas politician last week announced his support for a federal law similar to the one Obama mentioned in his talk, saying he would “push to close the border...” and “push for the federal government and the state to bring these people out of the shadows, provide them documentation, and let them pursue their dreams.”
The “reform” and “pursuit of dreams” that Obama and others speak of are concentrated in proposed federal legislation put forward last year by a group of top Republicans and Democrats in Congress and endorsed by Obama. As Revolution wrote, this proposed law has “nothing at all to do with reforming an oppressive situation to benefit the people. It has everything to do with even further ramping up the brutal militarization of the U.S./Mexico border and instituting highly repressive attacks on and registration of millions of immigrants in this country, in order to better control and exploit a segment of the population that the ruling class of this capitalist-imperialist system both needs and fears—all under the guise of extending a ‘path to citizenship.’” (“Proposed New Immigration Law: An Ominous Leap in Repression and the Need for Resistance,” May 1, 2013, revcom.us)
Negotiations between Democrats and Republicans point to renewed efforts to finalize this highly repressive law in the months ahead, and Revolution will have further analysis as that process develops. This weekend, Republican leaders are meeting to try to hammer out some unanimity in their own ranks on how to approach changes in the law. And on January 31, Obama announced that he might consider “immigration reform” that does not even have any plan for undocumented immigrants to gain U.S. citizenship, even under the highly restrictive conditions included in last year’s proposal.
What will emerge from these intense and bitter negotiations is uncertain. But in the meantime, we are going to have a series of short pieces contrasting the reality of life for the vast majority of immigrants who come to this country and the image of “generosity” and “opportunity” presented by Obama and other political leaders.
As you read these stories, ask yourself about the basic nature of a system that routinely chews up the lives and aspirations of millions of people while proclaiming itself to be the “greatest country in the world” and a “country of immigrants,” and compare it to what is possible, as expressed in this passage from the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal):
At the time of the establishment of the New Socialist Republic in North America, all those residing within the territory of this Republic—with the exception of those who played a leading role in opposing the revolution which brought about the establishment of this Republic, and/or who may have been found guilty of war crimes and/or other crimes against humanity—shall have been accorded citizenship in this Republic, with the rights and responsibilities of citizens, in accordance with this Constitution. And, from that time forward, all those born within the territory of the New Socialist Republic in North America, as well as all those, wherever they are born, who have at least one parent who is a citizen of this Republic, shall be citizens of this Republic....
The orientation of the New Socialist Republic in North America is to welcome immigrants from all over the world who have a sincere desire to contribute to the goals and objectives of this Republic, as set forth in this Constitution and in laws and policies which are established and enacted in accordance with this Constitution. (Article 2, Section H)
Deportations have been at record highs under Obama, basically doubling the amount of people Bush deported. In just six months in 2011, 48,486 parents of an unknown number of children were deported from the U.S. Here are a few of their stories.
After Ronald Soza dropped his children Cesia, 17, and Ronald Jr., 14, at their Pompano Beach, Florida, school on a spring day, he returned home. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents were waiting for him. Soza, originally from Nicaragua, was taken into custody.
Cesia Soza said, “Even though we knew my father might get deported we never thought it would actually happen, especially since ICE already took our mother away five years ago.”
Obama claims that ICE is only seeking out immigrants with violent criminal records, but Ronald Soza had never been accused, much less convicted, of a violent crime. A family friend in Miami who took in Cesia and Ronald Jr. said they “lost everything, their parents, their home, everything.”
* * * * *
Fausto Palma-Guifarro came to the U.S. when he was 12. His mother had come to this country six years earlier to escape the violence and poverty of Honduras—a country long under a U.S. stranglehold. After years of struggle, she was able to find a way to reunite Fausto with her in North Carolina. Fausto told what happened to him as he neared the end of his high school years:
“On June 8, 2011, the day before my high school graduation, ICE came to my house and arrested me. I was detained at the ICE detention center in Cary, North Carolina, and I was alone trying to defend myself. My mother, who has Temporary Protected Status (TPS), was in Honduras visiting my siblings.”
* * * * *
In 2010, Ramiro Molina Solis took his children with him on a day trip from the Phoenix area to Sedona, Arizona. “I didn’t expect that my family outing would leave my children without a father. That day the police gave me a ticket for hunting without a license. When I couldn’t pay the ticket, I was arrested and taken to Eloy Detention Center. Two days later, ICE ordered me to self-deport, even though an unpaid hunting license is the only thing they have against me. Five of my children ... are U.S. citizens.”
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
by Orpheus Reed | February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On January 31, the U.S. State Department released its final environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline. Over the next three months, Secretary of State John Kerry is supposed to determine in consultation with other agencies of the U.S. ruling class whether building this pipeline is "in the national interest." Sometime after that, President Obama is expected to make the final decision on whether this gets built or not.
There has been growing opposition and protest to Keystone XL. There is spreading alarm among millions about the future of life on our planet facing a climate and environmental emergency. At this political moment, the release of the State Department report was buried "at the bottom of the news cycle," on a Friday afternoon right before the Super Bowl.
The Keystone XL pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Alberta, Canada, and from the Bakken shale oil formation in the U.S. to Steele City, Nebraska. From there it would be shipped on for refinement to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The carbon dioxide emissions resulting from extracting, shipping and burning this much tar sands oil would result in the equivalent of putting 37 million more cars on the road or the emissions from 51 coal-fired plants. This at a time when carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have topped 400 parts per million for the first time in three million years, long before humans existed on this planet. The extraction of tar sands oil in Alberta is an environmental catastrophe in progress (see sidebar) and Keystone XL would support and extend this unacceptable situation.
The State Department report claims it is not a "decisional document," but it clearly paves the way for approval by Kerry and Obama by claiming that Keystone XL will do little or no environmental harm.
Beyond the specific and terrible environmental damage caused by the pipeline itself, the whole logic behind it is part of a mad race to exacerbate a climate emergency—an impending disaster to earth's living systems, to the ecology and natural balance of the planet on which we all live. Yet this report completely covers over and eliminates this essential reality—in effect, the planet be damned. Instead, the report attempts to frame the basis for how people view the decision on "market reality." It tells us that Keystone XL or not, it's inevitable that tar sands and Bakken oil will be dug up and extracted, so accept it, because that's the reality of how the market works.
Environmental groups—350.org, Credo, Rainforest Action Network and Sierra Club—have called for protests in the wake of the State Department review. Some leading environmental figures are claiming the review contains information Obama could take to reject Keystone XL. For example, Bill McKibben, head of 350.org, said, "This report gives President Obama everything he needs in order to block this project. This is the first environmental issue in years to bring Americans into the streets in big numbers, and now they'll be there in ever greater numbers to make sure the President makes the right call." This is a deadly misreading of the whole framework and logic of this report.
The obscene "choices" defined in this report are either build the pipeline or ship oil using even more dangerous forms of transportation. If Keystone XL isn't built, the report says, there is a vast development of rail lines already going on, and rail transport will simply step into the breach as this shit that is destroying life is ripped out of the ground—and it will be shipped anyway. It tells us to accept this, to accept the "inevitability" that this is "how things work and the only way they can work." It is trying to train people to accept, swallow and roll over in the face of the destruction of our world. This we cannot do.
The report doesn't emphasize the real danger from this rail transport that would carry oil if the pipeline isn't built. For instance, trains carrying Bakken shale oil have repeatedly derailed and exploded, in part because of how easily flammable the stuff is. This includes a train derailment and explosion in the small town of Lac-Mégantic Quebec in July 2013, where 47 people were incinerated and the heart of the downtown obliterated.
The State Department report represents the logic of a system where everything must be turned into a commodity to be bought and sold: people's labor and even all of the natural world, ripped out and poured into production in the drive for profit. This is the logic of a system founded in exploitation of labor, and driven by a relentless, competitive battle among all capitalist corporations and countries for control of production, refining, transport and marketing of oil. Control of these fossil fuels is foundational to control of the world economy and central to strategic rivalry among the imperialist countries.
And in fact, one of the great competitive advantages for U.S. imperialism right now is its growing domination of fossil-fuel capability. The U.S. has now become the world's largest producer of oil, and is leading the way in the exploitation of dirtier, more carbon-polluting, harder to extract sources of "unconventional" fossil fuels like tar sands and shale oil.
Make no mistake, the same logic the State Department is trying to get us to buy will be used by those in charge around every other fossil-fuel project to come. And this will likely be mixed with deadly illusions spun out by chief representatives of this system like Obama, that there can be "trade-offs" where Keystone XL is built but other ways of cutting carbon emissions are planned or "explored." The State Department review appears neatly worded to give Obama the opportunity to approve Keystone XL while pretending to be true to his word that he won't approve it unless it's shown that it won't contribute to climate change. Then meaningless plans to "cut emissions in other ways," or to "wring concessions" from Canada, may be trotted out to fool people into accepting Keystone XL. None of these "concessions" will amount to anything compared to the dramatic and immediate changes to stop carbon emissions that are required if we hope to save earth's environment.
The reality is that what is demanded by the actual situation facing earth is that not only must Keystone XL be stopped, but all means of digging up, drilling, fracking for, transporting and burning all forms of fossil fuels—coal, shale oil, natural gas and even conventional oil—must be moved away from and put an end to. And these fuels must be left in the ground while new, sustainable and environmentally safe means are developed and relied on to meet the needs of the world's people.
This requires revolution, nothing less.
Any system that claims we have to accept the destruction of the eco-balances of earth, that covers over the actual danger of accelerating environmental destruction and the actual danger to life, or that claims what is happening is inevitable, is illegitimate. Any system that throws people out of work and then says the only way to employ them is in jobs that will only further destroy earth's ecosystems and our collective future is illegitimate. This system of capitalism, with its destruction of, and lack of respect for nature, its brutal exploitation and oppression of humanity, is completely and entirely illegitimate.
What is required right now is a massive repudiation and protest of the State Department's criminal whitewash. What is urgently needed is the development of truly massive political opposition and determined political resistance to Keystone XL and to all other forms of fossil fuel extraction and transport and to environmental destruction overall. Make no mistake, our future and the future of the natural world we hold so dear and that sustains life hangs in the balance.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
Letter From a Reader
January 27, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Most students have returned, or are returning, to campus from the holiday break. We can't waste any time in getting out with and maximizing the impact of "You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation: Its History and Our Future."
This special issue of Revolution is a tremendous political-ideological resource and tool in the struggle to "reset the terms" in the societal discourse around the first stage of communist revolution—and for re-polarizing for revolution. The point is driven home in the commentary on "history by memoir" that revcom.us recently posted:
One of the biggest elements of people's thinking that needs to be transformed...one of the biggest dimensions around which the political terrain needs to be radically reshaped...one of the biggest factors keeping people from seeing the necessity and possibility of revolution and the illegitimacy of the current system...one of the biggest things standing in the way of them getting with the movement for revolution...is that people, broadly, in this society do not know that a whole different world is possible, and/or they have accepted the idea that any past attempts to radically change the world through revolution has been a nightmare. In other words: The only actual solution to the horrors confronting humanity—the communist revolution—has been written off the agenda, and people broadly in society have no idea about decades of experience of that revolution in which humanity lived a radically different way than they do now. And people broadly in society do not know about BA's new synthesis of communism, which provides a framework for a new stage of communist revolution, for humanity to correctly understand and also advance beyond even the best of that previous experience. Again, all this keeps people locked into accepting and working within the confines of the capitalist-imperialist system. But getting this special issue way out into society has the potential to change that.
While these points apply to society as a whole, they also have particular relevance to the situation on campuses.
The special issue truly has the potential to transform the thinking of blocs of students and academics-intellectuals, with respect to: a) gaining a scientific understanding of the actual history, achievements, and shortcomings of these first socialist revolutions; b) the struggle over epistemology and method and approach for understanding and changing the world; and c) seeing the necessity and possibility for a "total revolution"—as opposed to the dominant discourse that incremental change within the existing order is the best and really only course for those who "care" about the world.
The title of the special issue is a scientific provocation...and that provocation really has to be the leading edge of how we go out with this issue. What people "don't know" is what these revolutions were really about and achieved, and how these revolutions actually show that socialism really is much better than capitalism... and that communism, as it has been developed and re-envisioned by BA, really will be a far better world.
Going out with this special issue is about re-setting the terms of debate and understanding—and aiming to win a critical mass of students and academics to see the whole historical experience of socialism and the question of communism in today's world in a scientific light.
This is bound up with big strategic questions of "transfer of allegiance." This is the phenomenon of sections of intellectuals coming to reject the political and ideological framework of the current order and beginning to see themselves as part of and contributing to the revolutionary struggle to create a new communist world. This is not something for the far-off future but something revolutionaries have to be working on for the "here and now."
The "brute fact" is: there can be no revolution without radical ferment among the intellectuals and students, and without a communist current exerting real influence in the campus milieu. And there needs to be "fire from below" coming from students that is "working on" the more established academics and intellectuals.
With this special issue, we have to have an "out into the world in a mass way" orientation. We can't let this semester trickle away without impacting the scene on some key campuses. So what does that call for?
There needs to be relative simplicity of plans in our initial outreach on campuses.
There needs to be consistency of work. That requires a regular presence on certain campuses, so that we can be influencing the scene and learning more about it. We should ask ourselves: where, in light of our objectives and the transformative potential of this issue...where can we make some breakthroughs? On what campuses is there a more positive basis to create an impact that can ripple out? Of course, we shouldn't put blinders on; if we can do some classroom presentations at some campuses that might not be part of an overall focus, let's do that. But there is this importance to establishing a consistent presence at some campuses.
And revcom.us has to pulse with experience and lessons in taking out the special issue, as well as ideas and recommendations for going further out with it.
1) Importance of debate. We should be stirring up discussion and debate, small-scale and large-scale. On the one hand, this should have an informal quality—going to quads, cafeterias, common rooms, etc, with the special issue. (Setting up tables has its role, but there should be this pro-active outreach.) On the other hand, there should be real efforts to enter into discussion and to intervene at formal programs and events where relevant questions are getting posed and taken up. I have also heard of some positive experience that people have had in speaking at various student clubs (debating societies, philosophy clubs, Black student groups, etc.); and we should seek out those opportunities. We should also explore openings and look to be creating conditions for big debates that would involve Raymond Lotta (and perhaps others) with major voices propounding anticommunist summations, anarchist and social-democratic summations, and so forth.
2) Classes. People have had positive experience in the past in making presentations to classes. Let's aim to do that widely. Begin looking at programs and courses in modern history, Asian history and Asian studies, Soviet studies, certain political science programs, social theory, comparative economics (or things like that), etc., to see where there might be openings—and reach out to professors (those we know and ones we don't). Be creative: if there are American history classes viewing Oliver Stone's film The Untold History of the Cold War (or using the book), then we need to be there with this special issue. Let's get quantities of the special issue sold in classes, etc. We can hand out the "But How Do We Know Who's Telling the Truth About Communism?" piece and get discussion going; make use of the "pop quiz" on the history of socialism (go to the "teaching resources" page at www.thisiscommunism.org), distribute BA's "Turner vs. Jefferson" article, etc.
By the way, there might be some high school classes where we should do some of this as well.
3) Professors and strategizing with them. We need to make determined efforts to get to professors that people know (and should get to know). We should encourage them to get into this special issue (I mean, really get into it!) and have discussion with them. We should strategize with them about the role they can play in opening up channels for this special issue—from bringing it to students to getting it into the larger intellectual world. Some of these professors are involved with or know about "brown-bag" lunch events—which are more informal gatherings where presentations are made and discussed—and Raymond Lotta will be available for some of that kind of activity as well. These professors might know of conferences where the special issue could be the topic of a panel, etc.
4) Media. Raymond Lotta will be doing interviews and going into the media. Inquiries and suggestions (both campus and bigger media) should be directed to email@example.com
5) The international communist movement, foreign students and scholars. There is a great need—and opportunity—with this special issue to influence the understanding of radical-minded intellectuals and students from abroad. This bears greatly on initiating the new stage of communist revolution worldwide. We should have our antennae out for getting the special issue into the hands of foreign students and professors, talking with them about ways to project it internationally, enlisting assistance for translating the special issue into other languages, etc.
6) Once again: the importance of the revcom.us website. People need to be writing timely accounts, synthesizing questions and controversies, and pointing to new pathways for getting this special issue out and provoking debate. Encourage students to go to revcom.us to learn more: to make use of the interactive on-line format of the special issue, to encounter the new material going up (like the piece on "memoir literature"), to check out the section on the site called "Setting the Record Straight on Socialism and Communism."
Let's have an impact on campus this semester and create conditions for even greater impact as we go forward.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Cheers to playwright and actor Wallace "Wally" Shawn who recently gave a special performance of his play The Designated Mourner to Glenn Greenwald in Brazil. Greenwald is the journalist who first broke the story about National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
In addition to The Designated Mourner, Shawn has written other critically acclaimed plays, including The Fever and Aunt Dan and Lemon, and has appeared in many TV shows and movies over his long career.
Last year, when The Designated Mourner was performed at the Public Theater in New York City, Greenwald did not attend because he feared the U.S. would prosecute him if he returned to the U.S. These fears are not unfounded. The U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper recently said that journalists could be considered accomplices of Edward Snowden. And last summer David Gregory of NBC's Meet the Press interviewed Greenwald and said, "To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn't you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?" To which Greenwald replied:
I think it's pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themself a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies. If you want to embrace that theory, it means that every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their sources, who receives classified information, is a criminal. And it's precisely those theories and precisely that climate that has become so menacing in the United States.
On January 31, Wallace Shawn was interviewed on Democracy Now! and said that performing the play for Greenwald "was a gesture of, expression of respect for the fact that he did what we all should be doing. He has risked his neck. He's risked his physical security and freedom." He also said that he chose this particular play to perform for Greenwald because "it happens to be a play that is on the subject of speaking out, in a way..." He then talks about the relevance of what the characters in the play are going through:
So, they haven't really done anything, and yet, as the political space in the country gets smaller and the regime begins to crack down, the people who are on the fringes are threatened, because artistic freedom, artistic freedom of thought, is dangerous freedom of thought, just the way political freedom of thought is. If people are out there thinking on their own, that's dangerous to governments, if they are repressively minded. And so, it becomes dangerous for the son-in-law—me, my character—to live in the house with these rather dangerous people, or people who are mildly dangerous because they're thinking freely.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
January 21, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Inspired by the letter from a prisoner, "Looking at the World Differently, Scientifically—Thoughts on The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism" which appeared in the last issue of Revolution, #327, January 19, 2014, I have a radically simple proposal for Darwin Day, the international celebration of the birth of Charles Darwin.
Charles Darwin is the scientist who, in the 1850s, discovered how all life on planet Earth evolved from common ancestry and the earliest forms of life.
The great naturalist Charles Darwin caused a genuine revolution in human thought and understanding when he wrote a book published in 1859 called The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. This book presented a great deal of concrete evidence that living creatures had evolved over time. And Darwin went one giant step even beyond that, developing a comprehensive theory and proposing a concrete mechanism through which he thought evolutionary change could take place. Darwin called this basic mechanism of evolutionary change in living creatures "natural selection"; and, in the nearly 150 years since he published his breakthrough theory, natural selection has actually been proven (again and again) to be one of the most crucial and fundamental mechanisms through which life does, in fact, evolve.
The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism, Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters, by Ardea Skybreak, pp. 21-22
Like the prisoner, and for many of the same reasons, I am a big fan of the book, The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters, by Ardea Skybreak. I am a scientist by training and studying this book has given me new insights and appreciation of the science of evolution. While the blurbs from a range of people—from established and prominent scientists to prisoners—attest to the scientific rigor and the accessibility, I personally feel it's a masterpiece in "breaking down without dumbing down" the science of evolution and the scientific method—and there is a lot to learn from this.
In particular, the brilliant and colorful visual displays in the centerfold of the book and its accompanying text, are a concentration of this, walking and working through the entire science of evolution, Darwin's breakthrough, with illustrations and examples, and it seems to me was specially designed for precisely the purpose of popularizing the science of evolution for an audience not familiar with this subject matter. I have utilized this centerfold many times, actually walking through in order with folks, page by page, and this forms the heart of my proposal for Darwin Day.
The centerfold can be utilized in displays and presentations to walk through a presentation on The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters—which can form the theme and topic of this year's Darwin Day celebrations (on February 12 or around) in the neighborhoods of the oppressed, in community centers, church salons, local library presentation rooms, and even people's living rooms—with people from the neighborhood and others. All anchored by a formal showing with the centerpiece being such a presentation, keying off the centerfold of the book.
I have found people really heartened and provoked by readings from the prisoner letters that reference this grappling and debate with the science of evolution, and this could also be part of the celebrations. I understand the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF) is inundated with many, many, many more requests for this book than can be met with current funding, and fundraising could be an important component of these celebrations.
On this basis, there should be a real effort to invite professors, graduate students, and others from local colleges and universities to participate and even potentially present at these celebrations. We cannot underestimate the number and sentiment among some sections of the intellectuals who look at this accursed divide in society—where a few are trained in and have facility in the realm of ideas, including science, the scientific method, and the science of evolution, and the vast majority who are locked out of it by the workings of this system and conscious policy—and are horrified and would like to do something to break down these barriers but don't have a vehicle to do so, don't have the means provided to them whereby they can play a role in transforming this.
This proposal for Darwin Day celebrations should be taken widely to the biology departments of the local colleges, and other intellectuals and students around the Revolution Clubs, Revolution Books, and other groupings that host such celebrations. Some may want to just come and celebrate with others, and some may want to present on accompanying themes, like an account of Darwin's life and his voyage to the Galapagos Islands that was decisive in his scientific discoveries, or new insights and research in the science of evolution, or on particular questions like race—whether it has a biological basis or is a social construct (see page 166 of Skybreak's book for more on this. I virtually always encounter this question when I present on the science of evolution).
I'd imagine these would be fun and lively celebrations—and they also should be full of grappling and debate, on how all life came to be, and on the broader epistemological questions of knowing what's real and why it matters. I am sure readers of Revolution would love to hear about these celebrations, and read about the debates and discussions that broke out.
(I am sure there are more, and would love to hear from other readers on this website)
Everyone needs to understand the basic facts of evolution as well as the essentials of the scientific method ...When people are deprived of a scientific approach to reality as a whole they are robbed of both a full appreciation of the beauty and richness of the natural world and the means to understand the dynamics of change not only in nature but in human society as well.
The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: Knowing What's Real and Why It Matters
I feel this brilliant concentration gives a real appreciation why readers of Revolution—not only those fighting for a radically different and far better world through communist revolution, but also those who care more broadly about humanity and about the masses of people who have been locked out of the world of ideas and science by this system—should celebrate Darwin Day, and really use it as an opportunity to popularize the science of evolution and Darwin's scientific discovery.
Darwin's breakthrough is a critical aspect of liberating humanity from the dark-ages of ignorance of how life came to be, especially concentrated in religious nonsense like the biblical creation stories that unfortunately pervade to this day. In particular, Darwin's theory of evolution—a scientific breakthrough and an application of the scientific method—really struck an epistemological blow against religion—that is, it went right up against the religious approach to the world that the Bible, rather than observation, experimentation, and analysis of the natural world, is the source of truth. And it struck an epistemic blow as well—that is, it actually gave a true picture and analysis of how life did develop, one quite different than the myths of the Bible.
It is also part of why there is such a fierce political battle over evolution and the teaching of evolution in schools across the country, with all manner of Christian Fascists and biblical literalists fighting for the myth of creationism to be taught instead of evolution. Or else they put biblical creationism "on a par" with evolution as "an alternative" theory, while at the same time undermining the epistemological certitude of Darwin's theory of evolution with specious arguments and plain falsehood, relying on and reinforcing the very ignorance propagated by the system that locks a vast section of humanity out of the realm of ideas. Darwin Day celebrations are a boost in this political battle to unite with others to defend and popularize science and evolution, and really take on the myth of creationism.
As a regular reader of Revolution and a student of Bob Avakian, I have been deeply struck by how the process of making revolution—and transforming the thinking of blocs of people—goes through "many channels," including struggles and debates not only in politics, but in the realms of art, culture, history, morality, and the world of ideas and intellectual discourse more broadly.
In this process, the battle over epistemology and approach to reality remains a touchstone question, and forms the crux of why this battle over evolution matters in the battle for revolution. Polemically commenting on this relationship, Avakian states in BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, [4:12,] "...Are we going to proceed according to a scientific approach—investigating reality, to accumulate experience and evidence about reality, and then drawing rational conclusions? Or, are we going to blindly adopt an outmoded way of understanding how the world works and what its driving forces are, and insist upon superimposing that on reality and on smashing down anything which conflicts with that non-rational (or irrational) approach? Are we going to insist on a priori notions of truth—dogmatic assumptions which are not drawn from reality and not testable in reality—and rule out of order things which are drawn from reality and have been tested and shown in reality to be true?"
Science and a thoroughly scientific method and approach to reality and its transformation has everything to do with whether the world remains "as is" or is radically transformed to bring about a far better world through communist revolution.
Epistemologically, religion and a religious approach is enslaving to the masses of humanity under the yoke of oppression and exploitation, depriving them of the critical scientific approach to knowing and changing the world. This goes with an utter slavishness of worshipping non-existing gods and looking to them for salvation and solution at a time of such needless suffering in the world. Evolution strikes a much-needed blow against this worldview. The must-read letter from the prisoner referenced above quotes a section of Skybreak's book on the meaning and purpose of human life—in a world without god—and then goes onto say, in one of my favorite statements, "it kind of throws the last shovel full of dirt on God's grave."
Epistemologically, Darwin's theory of evolution—and science and the scientific method and approach overall—also strikes a much-needed blow against the postmodernist fashionable nonsense of denying the very existence of objective reality, and what is more common, denying the existence of or possibility of ascertaining objective truth. This, it strikes me, is but a mere mirror-opposite of truth by revelation, the religious and dogmatic approach to reality and truth—and is enslaving to this system of capitalism-imperialism which benefits mightily from students and intellectuals going around denying the existence of objective reality—and enforcing this as norm on campuses and intellectual discourse. A fucking cartoon and caricature if it was not so harmful.
In light of all this, Darwin Day celebrations are a really good opportunity to explore and open up discussions more widely on major epistemological questions such as how do we know what is true, and what is science and the scientific method—as the title of Skybreak's book states—knowing what's real and why it matters.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Abortion rights are in a state of emergency! 203 new restrictions to abortion were passed in the last three years. Five states have only one abortion clinic left. Anti-woman bigots harass women at abortion clinics across the country. Ninety-seven percent of rural counties have no abortion providers. Upcoming court rulings threaten to close dozens more clinics nationwide. Forcing women to have children against their will is a form of enslavement!
Meanwhile, women are slammed backwards in every realm: from the mainstreaming of violent and degrading pornography to the global epidemic of rape, from a culture that celebrates pimping to the shaming of women who choose to have sex outside of marriage, and from the sexual enslavement of millions of women and girls in the sex industry to the widespread celebration of Pope Francis while he has changed nothing of church doctrine that enslaves and humiliates women and LGBT people.
Take to the streets this International Women's Day. Through our public resistance we will expose the illegitimacy of this whole war on women and put the woman-haters on notice that we will not sit silently by. We will express our outrage and bring alive a culture of defiance and liberation. We will wake up and rally forth many thousands more, refusing to stop until we win.
The future of women is at stake. Which side are YOU on?
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
By Sunsara Taylor | February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
For far too long, pro-choice people have looked at the courts in this country as the final “firewall” protecting abortion rights. Pro-choice “leaders” point to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling which legalized abortion in 1973, as “proof” of the progressive role of the courts. They love to point out that every time a challenge to abortion rights has gone before it, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the basic framework of Roe v. Wade. The clear implication is that the courts can be counted on to “do the right thing.”
This is wrong on a number of levels.
First, the right to abortion was not “granted” by the Supreme Court because they suddenly became more “enlightened.” This right was won through the self-sacrificing fight of women and others. Only in the face of the rising tide of protest and overall social upheaval of the 1960s and early ’70s, and only in the face of larger changes in the family and the social role of women driven by the shifting economic position and dynamics of the U.S. in the world, did the Supreme Court grant the right to abortion. Even then, they did not guarantee women's right to abortion, but to a certain scope of “privacy” in this sphere.
Further, over this same course of time, the Supreme Court has repeatedly and increasingly restricted the basis on which this right stood and repeatedly and increasingly expanded the scope of restrictions allowed against abortion. To cite just one potent example: In its 1992 ruling, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court for the first time ruled that states could restrict abortion at all stages of pregnancy (through things like mandatory counseling, mandatory waiting periods, parental consent laws, etc.) and that abortion could be restricted for reasons other than women's safety. The Court also changed the legal standard for abortion restrictions. No longer would those proposing restrictions be required to prove a “compelling state interest.” Instead, those challenging new restrictions would be required to prove that the restrictions placed an “undue burden” on women's access to their rights.
The recent spate of abortion restrictions nationwide—70 restrictions to abortion passed in 22 states just in the year 2013—must be understood as the flood surging through a crack that the Supreme Court itself has opened and repeatedly widened.
Finally, the most recent indications and rulings from the courts are even more negative, with even more extreme and deadly implications for women than what has been allowed up to this point.
As many readers will recall, in 2013 thousands of people protested in Texas against laws that threatened to close all but five of the state's 42 abortion clinics. Despite this massive outpouring, the laws were passed. One of these laws requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. This law (like the others) serves absolutely no medical purpose but would force 12 clinics to stop providing abortions. At first, a federal judge ruled that this law should be blocked while it was being challenged in the courts. But just three days later, a higher federal court (the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals) overturned this ruling, causing the immediate cancellation of abortion appointments across the state and shutting down abortion services at eight clinics to this day. When yet another emergency appeal was made, this time to the Supreme Court, the highest court ruled in a 5-4 decision to let this outrageous ruling stand. This not only continues to deprive huge swaths of women of accessible abortions, it portends very negatively for how the Supreme Court might eventually rule on these very restrictions and others. The eventual ruling on the hospital admitting privileges law alone has implications well beyond Texas, as clinics across the country face similar restrictions—including the only clinic left in the state of Mississippi and the only clinic in North Dakota!
All this is not to say that what happens in the courts is unimportant or predetermined. It is extremely important that a fierce fight be waged in the courts to protect and expand the constitutional protections for women to access abortion. The point is that it would be delusional to rely on the courts to protect the rights of women, or to restrict the efforts of the people to merely—or even mainly—fighting these attacks in the courts.
Right now, there is a huge fight going on within the ruling class of this system over the degree to which open forms of patriarchal oppression of women and the “traditional family” need to be re-instituted. A powerful section of the ruling class that is grouped around the Republican Party is deadly serious about criminalizing all abortion, attacking science, forcing LGBT people back “into the closet,” and imposing a theocratic form of rule. Those grouped around the Democrats do not share this full program and make a show of opposing its most extreme expressions, but they are largely paralyzed from really fighting it because they fear the instability this would bring to their system. The deep economic, demographic, political and cultural factors that are giving such initiative to this Christian fascist program and which are largely paralyzing the Democrats are gone into deeply in “A Declaration: For the Liberation of Women and the Emancipation of All Humanity.”
In all this it is important to grasp that the role of the courts is not primarily to safeguard the “rights of the people.” The courts under this system are part of the state apparatus of the capitalist-imperialist system that rules over the people. This system has patriarchy—the systematic oppression of women by men—woven into its foundations, its economy, its culture, and its overall legitimating norms and ideology. It is also a system that is based on exploitation, all of which is protected and codified in the U.S. Constitution (for more on this, read “U.S. Constitution, An Exploiter's Vision of Freedom” by Bob Avakian). The main thing these courts are deliberating today as they consider these new anti-abortion restrictions is how to mediate this fight among the rulers, while maintaining the legitimacy of their system in the eyes of millions.
This is what they were considering back when they first ruled to legalize abortion in 1973, when society was gripped by tremendous resistance and upheaval and the rulers recognized that this system was losing a great deal of “legitimacy” in the eyes of millions who would no longer accept the open subjugation of women. This has been the case since then, as the courts have responded to the growing moves towards Christian fascism among the rulers and the passivity among the people by allowing greater and greater restrictions to abortion. (Think for a minute about how the huge majority of society felt that the murders of abortion doctors and bombing of abortion clinics was illegitimate, but how they then went on to passively accept restrictions on abortion that have affected even more women on an even greater scale when they come through the courts. The truth is all of these attacks on abortion are illegitimate—whether they are legal or extra-legal—but the courts have played a major role in getting people to accept them.) And this is the case today as the courts deliberate over new restrictions that could effectively end abortion access for women all across this country.
The most powerful truth of all is that what humanity most needs is a real revolution to get rid of this system and bring a different system into being. In the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic of North America (Draft Proposal), readers can learn of the concrete vision and policies of a truly liberating society that is dedicated to uprooting and overcoming all forms of exploitation and oppression, including digging up all vestiges of the oppression of women as part of advancing towards a communist world where all of humanity is emancipated. This is possible and we must lift our sights to this and fight for it.
At the same time, and very urgently, it is necessary for pro-choice people to break with the delusion of relying on the courts.
The most decisive factor that the people can affect in defeating these outrageous restrictions on abortion—including in influencing how the courts rule on them—is through building massive and society-wide resistance, fighting for abortion on demand and without apology. Those in power must face a truly aroused and uncompromising population. They must confront a situation where they are forced to calculate whether to back off these attacks on abortion or whether to risk driving even more people to see their utter illegitimacy and the need for another way. The people must be mobilized to stand up together, to get a sense of their collective strength, to lift their sights to a whole better world, and to settle for nothing short of the complete liberation of women. Only in this way can we bring to bear the deep feelings among millions and millions who do not want to see women reduced to breeders and forced to have children against their will. Only in this way can we defeat these attacks and contribute to winning a whole better world.
Revolution #329 February 9, 2014
By Sunsara Taylor | February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On February 14, around the world women and men will take to the streets as part of One Billion Rising For Justice to dance, sing, and protest against violence against women and other forms of injustice. As Andy Zee, spokesperson for Revolution Books in New York City, wrote last week, “One Billion Rising For Justice is a very positive international manifestation against the abuse of women.... The day forges a sense of worldwide community of joyful resistance to what is one of the deepest and most vicious forms of oppression—the brutalization, degradation, denial of the basic humanity of women.” (See excerpts from the letter at revcom.us.)
Andy Zee went on to call for Revolution Books stores to host events and “risings” as part of this international day of protest and to bring the need for all-the-way communist revolution as it has been re-envisioned by Bob Avakian into these and other events all day long. This was a great idea and I am very happy to see that Revolution Books in New York City has taken up the call to do just that and hope that others will follow suit.
I want to offer just a few further thoughts and ideas for people who are part of the movement for revolution and who have joined in the fight against the enslavement and degradation of women, or who are just now waking up to the need to be part of these fights.
In addition to hosting events, and as part of building for the events that Revolution Books stores host, I strongly urge revolutionaries and others to meet up with friends and comrades or go by yourself to as many outpourings in your area that day as you can. You can check the Vday website to find events that are taking place. One idea is to make a big sign that reads, “Talk to Me About Revolution and a World Without Rape! revcom.us.” Join in the dancing and the celebrations and conversations, but keep that sign up high and be sure to have many copies of the special issue of Revolution newspaper that goes very deeply into the source and solution to women’s oppression here and all over the world, “A Declaration for the Liberation of Women and the Emancipation of All Humanity.” If you do not have any more copies of this newspaper in your area, be aware that there is a PDF which you can download and print many copies of so be sure to do this before that day.
At the same time, bring palm cards with quotes from Bob Avakian (BA) that speak powerfully to the centrality of the fight for the full liberation of women to the revolution that humanity needs. In particular, I recommend BAsics 3:22, BAsics 1:10, and BAsics 5:18:
“You cannot break all the chains, except one. You cannot say you want to be free of exploitation and oppression, except you want to keep the oppression of women by men. You can’t say you want to liberate humanity yet keep one half of the people enslaved to the other half. The oppression of women is completely bound up with the division of society into masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited, and the ending of all such conditions is impossible without the complete liberation of women. All this is why women have a tremendous role to play not only in making revolution but in making sure there is all-the-way revolution. The fury of women can and must be fully unleashed as a mighty force for proletarian revolution.”
(Download: PDF | JPG)
“Look at all these beautiful children who are female in the world. And in addition to all the other outrages which I have referred to, in terms of children throughout the slums and shantytowns of the Third World, in addition to all the horrors that will be heaped on them—the actual living in garbage and human waste in the hundreds of millions as their fate, laid out before them, yes, even before they are born—there is, on top of this, for those children who are born female, the horror of everything that this will bring simply because they are female in a world of male domination. And this is true not only in the Third World. In ‘modern’ countries like the U.S. as well, the statistics barely capture it: the millions who will be raped; the millions more who will be routinely demeaned, deceived, degraded, and all too often brutalized by those who are supposed to be their most intimate lovers; the way in which so many women will be shamed, hounded and harassed if they seek to exercise reproductive rights through abortion, or even birth control; the many who will be forced into prostitution and pornography; and all those who—if they do not have that particular fate, and even if they achieve some success in this ‘new world’ where supposedly there are no barriers for women—will be surrounded on every side, and insulted at every moment, by a society and a culture which degrades women, on the streets, in the schools and workplaces, in the home, on a daily basis and in countless ways.”
(Download: PDF | JPG)
“In many ways, and particularly for men, the woman question and whether you seek to completely abolish or to preserve the existing property and social relations and corresponding ideology that enslave women (or maybe ‘just a little bit’ of them) is a touchstone question among the oppressed themselves. It is a dividing line between ‘wanting in’ and really ‘wanting out’: between fighting to end all oppression and exploitation—and the very division of society into classes—and seeking in the final analysis to get your part in this.”
It is also the case that these outpourings are happening at a time of escalating emergency surrounding women’s right to abortion and to the entire war on women. As StopPatriarchy has written in calling for protests around the country on March 8, International Women’s Day, this year:
Abortion rights are in a state of emergency! 203 new restrictions to abortion were passed in the last three years. Five states have only one abortion clinic left. Anti-woman bigots harass women at abortion clinics across the country. 97% of rural counties have no abortion provider. Upcoming court rulings threaten to close dozens more clinics nation-wide. Forcing women to have children against their will is a form of enslavement!
Meanwhile, women are slammed backwards in every realm: from the mainstreaming of violent and degrading pornography to the global epidemic of rape, from a culture that celebrates pimping to the shaming of women who choose to have sex, and from the sexual enslavement of millions of women and girls in the sex industry to the widespread celebration of Pope Francis while he has changed nothing of church doctrine that enslaves and humiliates women and LGBT people.
Take to the streets this International Women’s Day. Through our public resistance we will expose the illegitimacy of this whole war on women and put the woman-haters on notice that we will not sit silently by. We will express our outrage and bring alive a culture of defiance and liberation. We will wake up and rally forth many thousands more, refusing to stop until we win.
As such, I strongly recommend that people also bring copies of Stop Patriarchy’s Call to Action and fliers announcing the time and place of International Women’s Day protests if they are being planned in your area and get these out to everyone in the crowd. If you have enough people, it would be great to bring some of StopPatriarchy’s bright orange signs which read, “Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!” not only to hold up yourself but to share with others in the crowd who might want to also raise that message.
In this way, we can strengthen the expressions of defiance and protest that are taking place on February 14, we can deepen the understanding of those who have taken the responsibility to step out on that day, and we can work to involve growing numbers of people in the ongoing fight for genuine revolution and for the full liberation of women in all its forms.